Earlier this month, Dr. Wellum helpfully reminded us that labor is a gift from God to be done for His glory with our whole hearts. For many of us this was a much needed reminder to reorient our view of work as a burden and a curse. While it is true that some of us lean towards the extreme of laziness and a disdain for work, others of us drift in the opposite direction. Nowadays, those who lean this direction often go by the name “workaholics,” and it is safe to say America has its fair share of them. Consider the following statistics:
- One Gallap poll found that a higher percentage of Americans work over 45 hours a week than in Canada or Great Britain.
- A 2014 study found that only 25% of employees in American take all their vacation time and 15% of employees took none at all. That same study found that 50% of employees say they work during their vacation time.
- In one survey, 11% of employees said the reason they did not take all their vacation days was because “work is their life.”
Taken together, these statistics tell a story about American culture: some of us have a hard time resting. According to Scripture, however, rest ought to be a regular and important part of our routine. Many reasons could be given for this, but I am going to focus on three big ones here.
1. Rest Is a Part of the Rhythm of Creation
As many of you will know, in the Old Testament God prescribed one day a week for Israel to cease all their labor called the Sabbath (a word which means “cease” or “rest”). To take just one example, consider God’s command in Exodus 20:8-11:
8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: 9 You are to labor six days and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates. 11 For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.
Notice two things about this passage. First, God commands even the slaves and livestock to be given rest on the Sabbath. Rest was not a luxury for the upper class, it was a part of the rhythm of creation itself. Even the land, according to the Old Testament law, was to be given a rest every seventh year from cultivation (Lev 25:1-7). Second, we rest because God rested. The rhythm of rest is something God established in His own work of creation. God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh; therefore, we too ought to make rest a regular part of our week as well.
Jesus, likewise, illustrates the importance of rest in His handling of the disciples. We read in Mark 6:30-31:
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.
Jesus understood that the disciples could not continue to labor, even for the gospel, indefinitely. They needed a time of rest and recovery.
2. Rest Reflects Faith in God
Part of what drives many of us to “workaholism” is the fear that if we ever stop working, our well being and our worth will diminish. Recall the 11% who said “work is their lives.” Regular rest reminds us that ultimately our well being depends upon someone far greater than ourselves. As one scholar put it, “The sabbaths were a way of teaching Israel that ‘one does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD’ (Deut 8:3).”1
3. Rest Now Points Us Towards the Rest to Come
The author of Hebrews, reflecting upon Israel’s rest as they entered the promised lands, makes an important point:
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. 10 For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.
A great and final rest is coming for a people of God. Not a rest free from activity and purpose, as Dr. Wellum reminded us, but a rest free from the wearing effects of sin. When we pause to rest from our labor now, it ought to remind us of the greater rest that God has in store in the new heavens and the new earth.
Like most virtues, labor is a balance between two extremes. On the one hand, there are those of us who look at our work as a curse and a burden, wishing we could give ourselves totally over to rest and leisure. On the other hand, for some of us “work is our life.” All our hope and all our value is bound up in the tasks we accomplish with our own two hands. Hopefully, these last two posts have been a helpful reminder that a biblical view of rest and labor strikes a balance between these two extremes. Work is a gift from God to be done with our whole hearts for His glory. At the same time, God set within his creation a rhythm of rest: the need to step back from our work and to trust in the faithfulness of God to preserve us.
1 Laansma, J. C. (2000). Rest. In T. D. Alexander & B. S. Rosner (Eds.), New dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., p. 729). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.