Sabbath Rest for the Christian

A Christian Perspective on Work, Part 5

Work is a good thing. Work is a major part of who we are as human beings and is part of the created order, not a result of the Fall. We should find satisfaction in our work. It is good that God provides through our work. Also, work is the means by which we cooperate with others for the good of society (the biblical idea of “Shalom”).

There are two extreme positions in our culture as it relates to work.

The first is echoed in what the rock band Loverboy used to sing, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” Work is a necessary evil – it provides the paycheck that allows us to enjoy what life’s really about: Leisure! Those who declare “T.G.I.F.!” would find the idea of “thanking God for work” a strange notion. Work is only the means to the end: Friday, the weekend, fun, vacations, etc.

Another extreme is echoed in how we ask people to introduce themselves: “So, tell me, Bill, what do you do for a living?” Our society has allowed our work to be the major way we identify ourselves. If we are not working in a prestigious position, we may feel less of ourselves. If we feel that we are not accomplishing incredible things on a daily basis in our work, our identity as a human being is somehow lessened. This leads to what we call “workaholics.” But unlike other “-aholics,” a workaholic is often admired. He or she is driven to succeed, is seen as a leader, and is often offered the promotions.

How do we guard against these two extremes? The answer is found (can you guess?) in the Bible. The Fifth Commandment was, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:8-10). Following the example of God found in the Creation Week of Genesis 1, the people of God were to rest on the seventh day. But why were they to rest? To remember that God is their deliverer. They had been in slavery in Egypt, but were saved from that bondage and brought into the Promised Land of Rest. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)

The Sabbath rest not only reminded the Old Testament people of God who their creator is, but also who their savior is. Honoring the Sabbath was essential to remembering that God had delivered the Israelites from bondage. They were to take one day each week and rest, meditating on the freedom that God had provided for them. Honoring the Sabbath also meant that they ceased working in order to show their trust in Yahweh’s provision. The promise God gave to the Israelites was that in honoring the Sabbath they were to not find their identity in their work alone, but that they would “find their joy in the LORD” (Isaiah 58:14).

That’s fine for the ancient Israelites, but what about today’s Christians? How do we move beyond the two extremes of either working for the weekends or finding our whole identity in our careers?

Jesus offers this wonderful promise:
“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

The new kind of sabbath rest is offered in Christ, and it is not limited to the weekends. The New Testament paints the picture that since Jesus did all the work of salvation on the cross, we are able to enter God’s rest, the work has been accomplished.
“Now we who have believed enter that rest… There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also rest from their own work, just as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:3, 9-10)

Jesus Christ delivered us from our bondage, he did all the work on the cross. Therefore, for the Christian, the sabbath is not just limited to a Saturday off of work. It is an attitude that flows from the grace of Christ’s work on our behalf. Because we have already entered into the "rest" of being in a relationship with Jesus, our perspective is different. We not only take time each week to stop from our work, but we see all of life with the orientation of what Mark Buchanan (in his book, The Rest of God) calls a “Sabbath heart.” He writes, “A Sabbath heart is restful even in the midst of unrest and upheaval. It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling. It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea.”

But even with this beautiful gift of rest, we still struggle in a fallen world. We must find balance in our lives that reflects the rest that we have in Christ. Establishing a rhythm of work with rest is a wise practice in order to find this balance.

In order to find a sabbatical balance in life, consider these ideas:
1. Sabbath means ceasing from work. In Christ, we cease from works-righteousness, but we also must train ourselves to cease from our frantic focus on productivity. Taking a time away from work tells God (and yourself!) that God is actually the provider, no matter how hard you work. Since the Sabbath is truly fulfilled in Jesus, I can cease from trying to prove myself to myself, to others, and even to God! Since Jesus frees me from the burden of good works, I can enjoy doing good work – without trying to win God’s approval in doing so.

2. Sabbath means resting. The rhythm of work with rest is set in all of us. As we need to sleep each night, we also need to rest from bread-winning each week – so that we can rejuvenate our bodies, our minds, and our emotions. Not only that, we need to be refreshed and reinvigorated spiritually, so that we can be ready once again to do our work in a fallen world, because it is often very hard work to be creative and/or redemptive in our tasks for the glory of God.

3. Sabbath means worship. We need to take time out to purposely recalibrate our lives onto the person of Jesus Christ. We need to deliberately reconnect with other believers as we worship together the Lord of our lives. As we celebrate who God is and what he has accomplished in Christ on Sunday, the effects are felt throughout the rest of the week. As Gideon Strauss wrote, “If we give corporate worship its proper place, we have done perhaps the most important needful thing in the process of putting work in its proper place.”

4. Sabbath means celebration of life. Yes, we need to enjoy the goodness of all that God has given us. Rest is not only taking a lazy Sunday nap, but also playing a fun game of tag with the kids. It’s going for a hike in the state park. It’s enjoying your favorite hobby. It’s enjoying music. It’s having a wonderful meal with friends and family.



Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks for posting this series, I've been encouraged with each one. I'm still fighting the Loverboy syndrome (as I continue to battle "the flesh" when the "old man" rears his ugly head!), but you've helped me to place "work" in the proper sphere of our true humanity as image-bearers.

I have a thought that has been on my mind recently and in light of your latest post, tell me what you think. Does my understanding at least somewhat follow what you're getting at here?

Here goes:

Even had Adam not sinned (if I can speak in this way for the sake of argument), I believe that man would have entered into God's Sabbath "rest" with his cultural mandate to "cultivate" the earth and their lives in it (work?) still intact. Man would have been "working" while at "rest", so-to-speak, in unbroken, intimate communion with his Father/Creator in the context of universal Shalom as he went about building the "city of God" on earth.

Since the entrance of sin and the subsequent curse on all things, this "work/rest" paradigm has been "vandalized" (to borrow from Plantinga). Now our work is not unto His glory or in cultivating "shalom" within the created order. In Christ's redemption, however, we are once again able to "work" in conscious awareness of our calling as image-bearers in the "Sabbath rest" of Christ's atoning work.

In this way, we take pride in our work/activities in whatever we do as we do it for His glory in the context of our participation in the New Creation in Christ where "shalom" reigns in our hearts.

After re-reading this, I'm not even sure if it makes sense. Oh, it makes sense to me, of course...but it's difficult to tell how anyone else will understand what I'm trying to say. Oh well, give it a shot if you'd like and let me know what you think.



Bob Robinson said...

I like it! I really do. Well said.

Red Letter Believers said...

Very well put. Work and Sabbath do hand in hand. That's why the crops were rested, the land was rested, the people were rested.

Work six and rest one and you'll find the ultimate productivity!

A blog on work and faith

Ted M. Gossard said...

Excellent words, Bob!

I was especially hit by the thought of the Sabbath pointing to God as our Savior, as well as Creator.

And much more here. Yes, the attitude. We need to live in that, but sometimes hard in this fallen world. A couple of times this week, parts of two days when it was all I could do to manage. Good exercise maybe, but not necessarily helpful to maintaining the attitude of rest. Thankfully days like that are not many.