Work and Rest

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By way of introduction let me state what I understand by the terms 'work' and 'rest' and make a few passing observations concerning how I think they are experienced in our culture.

I take it that work includes all those things that are obligatory in our lives, all those things that sustain life whether at home: housework; personal care of ourselves; looking after dependants, or away from the home: the job that brings an income; studying; the social responsibilities that we all have. For followers of Jesus Christ I'd include our service to him in our daily living and amongst his people here.

How does western society perceive work? Studs Terkel after undergoing a detailed study of peoples working habits concluded in his best-seller 'Working': 'This book, being about work, is by its very nature, about violence - to the spirit as well as to the body. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.'

So much for how we all apparently view our work. What about rest?

I understand the term 'rest' as being all that we involve ourselves with in our discretionary time, in entertainment, sports, hobbies social events, who we want to spend time with. For followers of Jesus Christ I'd include our service to him in our daily living and amongst his people here.

How does western culture approach rest? With seemingly growing uncertainty about how to do it! Here's the author Paul Elmen 'much of what marks our rest is boredom, the search for distraction, the fear of spending time with oneself.' An inability to know what to do with free time.

Our culture it seems is as unsure about how to rest as it is about why we work, we simply don't know how to spend our time off!

Moreover, there is much evidence in our society of extreme positions between work and rest. On the one hand some readily describe themselves as workaholics who never do anything but work. They go to work, bring work home with them, eat, drink and sleep work. With a seeming inability to rest; to stop what they're doing. On the other hand, others seem never to do any work at all. Work has no value to them they are rest addicts who are constantly craving and seeking the endless weekend or leisure activities.

Well for the remainder of our time this morning we're going to look at what God through his word the Bible has to say.


From our reading in Genesis (1.31 - 2.2) we see clearly that

a) God is a worker

Look at Genesis 1.31

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning - the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work that he had been doing…

In the opening chapters of Genesis we see God the worker. He plans, organises, develops, evaluates, he does. In Psalm 104 we read

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all.

The living God is a worker. Man made philosophies have no notion of a god working. In Greek philosophy the gods are regal, king like. In Roman philosophy the gods are statesmen who preside. Work is completely foreign to them. But the God of Christianity, the true and living God, works. When he came and lived amongst us, the God-man Jesus Christ what did he do? For much of his life he worked as a carpenter.

How much do we consider the work of almighty God? How he has designed the world in which we live, how he has designed us! Do we praise the Lord for we are fearfully and wonderfully made, do we bring our creator God thanks for his wonderful works? Do we consider the creation and give God the worship he is due? How good and gracious is our God, in all that he has made and all that he provides.

Work then is in the character of our maker, which leads us to the next point on the sheet;

b) God has made us to work too

Look down at verse fifteen of Genesis chapter two; there we read that after God had made man;

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

So God has made us in his image. He works and we are to work too. Work is part of the created order. Human work has meaning partly because it expresses the divine image in people. However in the verse we are looking at we also see the mandate to work. God… 'put him in the garden to work it and take care of it'. This command shows that human work is part of the divine plan for history, it is a command of God. So Alan Richardson in his book The Biblical Doctrine of Work writes:

Since to labour is the common lot of mankind, it is important that men should accept it without complaining and thus with cheerful obedience to the intention of the Creator for human existence … The basic assumption of the biblical viewpoint is that work is a divine ordinance for the life of man.

Now at this juncture it is vital to remind ourselves that the Bible teaches us that our work is cursed because of our rebellion against God. We have all turned away from God and have done what is right in our own eyes and the result of that is a cursed creation. Turn a page in your Bibles and look at verse seventeen. God says to man who has disobeyed him;

'Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground; since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return'.

So whereas work before the fall was a blessing, now it is cursed. One commentator endearingly notes that man was made to garden, whereas now he must farm. Because of our rejection of God and his ways our work in life is spoiled, frustrated and painful. However, though our rejection of God changed work it did not cancel it. We are still meant to work. Moreover, God through his Son Jesus Christ has made it possible for the rebels that we are to find forgiveness with him. Which means that though in this life our work is still cursed, the follower of Jesus is able to recast the work that he or she does into its right perspective, the right way of looking at why and how we are meant to work.

That's why followers of Jesus confess the sanctity of all legitimate work. In 1 Corinthians 10.31 we read;

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

It's a well known verse to many of us. But the all encompassing truth of it is rarely lived out in every area of our lives. Our work is a necessary ingredient of Christian living. It brings glory to God. And that is true of all work. There is no job better than another as though God favours, taxmen over taxi drivers, dustmen over dentists, home makers over home sellers. All work that is not in disobedience to Gods law to his ways, is good and pleasing to him.

And that is a real encouragement to us, isn't it? Whatever job, duty, responsibility you are engaged in, see it as obedience to God who delights in your labour. We should never let the work that we do seem insignificant, or unimportant. Don't let yourself think those things, never underestimate in a sense of worthlessness or overestimate in a sense of pride the work you do. As the reformer Luther said; 'If we viewed the matter of work aright, the entire world would be full of service to God, not only in the churches but also in the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop, and the field' and we could extend Luther's list on and on.

So for the follower of King Jesus all jobs are "kingdom jobs" - we means we all work for the same boss!

Well so much for what the Bible has to say about work.


Let's just remind ourselves about how we are understanding this notion 'rest'. I take it as being all that we involve ourselves with in our discretionary time, in entertainment, sports, hobbies social events, who we spend time with. For followers of Jesus Christ I'd include our service to him in our daily living and amongst his people here. And the first bullet point under this heading reminds us that;

a) God is a rester

Look down at the final verse of Genesis chapter one. There we read;

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning - the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

God is a rester as well as a worker. That's the model we see laid down before us. In Genesis chapter one we see 'breaks' in the creative activity of God, where he views all that he has done and surveys the goodness of it. And here in the verses before us we see a seventh larger, longer break where God ceases from his work, stops what he has been doing and rests.

Picture the sculptor labouring away on some stone, hammering, moulding as he shapes the stone. Now and again he will take a break to examine what he has done and then continue with his work. But there comes a point when he actually finishes what he is doing. When his work is complete. Now his rest is final, he stops and enjoys what he has made.

So also with God. We read that God comes to an end of his productivity, and enjoys what he has made. We read in verse thirty-one that God consider how very good his work is. Here is joy, pleasure, satisfaction with the creator. And God in his wisdom has made us resters too, which is my second point under this heading;

b) God has made us to rest too

My understanding is that the narrative of God's rest in Genesis two;

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work,

serves as a model for us to take rest from our work. Like God's rest, we are to break from the act of productivity, and enjoy what has already been made, including who has made it. So what should our rest involve?

Well we read in the Old Testament, that God's chosen people the Jews were commanded to take a special day of rest called the Sabbath each week. Exodus chapter thirty one says;

The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites for ever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.

What can we say about the Sabbath? Let's turn to Matthew chapter twelve verse eight. Jesus is contending here with a group of Jewish religious leaders, about what the Sabbath is for. We read;

For the Son of man [which is a title Jesus uses for himself] is Lord of the Sabbath." Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, 'Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" Jesus said to them, "If any of you has a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

Well what we can certainly say, is that Jesus kept the Sabbath and that he is Lord of the Sabbath - it comes under his jurisdiction! And that it's purpose is to serve man. 'Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath'. I take that Jesus is at least teaching that when we rest, whether in a whole day, or an evening, or part of a week, whenever we cease from work, it should be for our good, it should do us good. And we should do good to others as Jesus examples by healing this man.

So in answer to that question; 'What should our rest involve? Rest means that we enjoy creation all that God has made, we rest in his care and provision. Rest means we enjoy ourselves with all the blessings and good things God has given us. The leisure activities that we find pleasurable for example. But most importantly of all rest means we can enjoy God. In our rest we continue to serve him as in our work.

As followers of Jesus, just as we are able to recover the right perspective on work, so we are able to do the same with our rest. We see the importance of reflecting in our lives the pattern that God himself established of resting and of using that time in a way that is pleasing to him. Which means that it's often important to evaluate our times of rest. Is it being used for all that God intended? For replenishing, for others, for Him.. Does our rest, like our work please him? Does our rest anticipate the final rest in heaven for those who trust in Jesus? Or do our times of supposed rest feel more wearisome and burdensome than our times of work?

As I close I must mention the rest that the Lord Jesus speaks of in Matthew. Look at chapter eleven verse twenty-eight, there we read;

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

You see without Jesus, this life is anything but rest. It is utterly burdensome - it is soul destroying. But through Jesus Christ, through trusting in him, following him, finding forgiveness for sin through his death on the cross, we find rest. Rest for our souls. But to continue to rebel against him means that not only will we find this life full of pain, but also all eternity as we experience the judgement of God. In Jesus alone there is rest.

To summarise, we have seen this morning that our gracious God who is a worker has made us to work to. That work is part of our make-up, obedience to God and glorifying to his name. We've also seen that as God rested, and as Jesus taught, rest is meant for the good of ourselves and others. We are meant to replenish ourselves, finding enjoyment in the world that we live in and the God who is to be adored. God helps us we pray to use our work and rest rightly to the glory of his name and the extension of his kingdom.

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