Work & Rest

Original Date: 
Sunday, October 2, 2016

Exodus 20:8-11 The Ten Commandments: Work and Rest

A Hard Question
It was the first question I was asked as a pastor.

Back in the winter of 1997, I was a senior in seminary when Beth and I were invited to spend a weekend at Pleasant Valley Church with the possibility of becoming their pastor. I was interviewed by the search team, spent time with the consistory, and preached on Sunday morning. We stayed with a farming couple—Herman and Shirley. He was an elder.

So I remember one day we were driving between the church and the farm when Herman asked his question. He said: “There’s a man in the church. He’s been a deacon. And sometimes he farms on Sunday... What should we do?”

Now that is a tough question! I don’t remember exactly how I answered it, but I must have done O.K. because they hired me to be their pastor. We spent 9 good years at Pleasant Valley, and I don’t remember Sunday activity ever becoming a big point of contention.

But it is something that believers have wrestled with ever since Moses came down Mt. Sinai with the two tablets of the law: How do we properly keep the Sabbath? In the book of Exodus, Sabbath breakers were subject to the death penalty (Ex.31:12). In the book of Isaiah, the prophet takes the people to task because, not only were they working on the Sabbath, but they were actually doing evil (Isaiah 58:13-14). And in the New Testament, one of the main points of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees was what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. (i.e. Mark 2:23-28)

How do we properly keep the Sabbath? That’s the question before us today, as we come to the 4th of God’s 10 Commandments. You can find it in your Bibles in Exodus chapter 20, verses 8-11. Here’s what God says:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Now, here’s a little irony. Last year, we did a four week sermon series that we called “Slow.” We talked about God’s promise to give us rest, and we did a sermon on sleep and a sermon on controlling our calendars and a sermon on keeping the Sabbath. I looked it up, and it was September 20 of last year—so almost exactly one year ago. And I read over the sermon, and I think it did a pretty good job of covering the issues. If you want to look it up, you can find it on our website. It is called the “Gift of Sabbath” in the sermon series “Slow.”

So I don’t want to repreach that message, but I’ll probably still say some of the same things I said a year ago.

On the other hand, there is still a lot to be said about this commandment. In particular, what struck me this week is that there are actually two commands here. The big commandment is verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” but then, in the explanation, God actually commands two things. There is a command to do something, and a command to not do something else.

I’ll show you what I mean. Verse 9 says: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” God wants us to work. Work is good. He gives us six days a week to do our work. Here’s something that we don’t think about when we think about the 4th commandment: we think it’s just about what we can’t do. But God wants us to work and be productive.

Then, verse 10, the command to not do something: “But the seventh day…you shall not do any work.” God also wants us to rest. Rest is good too. And He gives us one day a week to take a break from our work.

It was that contrast that caught my attention this week. God talks about work, and He talks about rest. And He wants both for us. So I decided that would be how we’d shape the message today. We’ll talk about God’s will for us when it comes to work, then we’ll talk about God’s will for us when it comes to rest. And here’s the crazy thing: for each of those main headings, I have five points. Five things about work, five things about rest.

God of Work
So let’s start with Work. God says: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” God cares about your work, and He gives you six days out of seven to do it. So what can we say about work?

For one thing, Work is God’s Idea. Productive, creative, diligent work is one of God’s purposes for us. We are meant to be laborers.

Sometimes we think that work is a necessary evil. That we work because we need to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs, but in a perfect world we wouldn’t have to work at all. But that’s not the case. In fact, from the very moment human beings were created God put them to work. Genesis 1:28 says:

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Theologians call this the “creation mandate,” and it gives us the responsibility of caring for and making something good and productive out this world we have been given. Similarly, Genesis 2:15:

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

These two verses are significant because they both come before the introduction of sin into the world. Sometimes we think that work is a consequence of the curse that sin brought into the world. And while God does mention work in the curse—He notes that the ground will produce thorns and thistles and that man will survive by the sweat of his brow (Gen. 3:17-19)—He’s saying that sin is the reason work will become hard and frustrating.

But that doesn’t change the fact that God has always intended for us to work and takes an interest in how we do our jobs.

Or, again, All Work Matters to God.

At times in the world’s history there has been a distinction made between work done for God and work done to eat. Sometimes the impression is given that a 9 to 5 job is something to be tolerated, while the things God really cares about are what we do for the church, our time spent in prayer, or whatever. Too many Christians, unfortunately, believe that they can only serve God when they are doing something “spiritual”, and so they separate their lives between the secular (what happens during the week) and the sacred (what happens on Sunday).

But that is definitely not a Biblical point of view. The Bible says that being a Christian means bringing your entire life into sync with God and His revealed will. In his letter to the Colossians Paul writes:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. (3:23)

R.C. Sproul writes:

The Christian who compartmentalizes his or her life into two sections of the religious and the nonreligious has failed to grasp the big idea. The big idea is that all of life is religious or none of life is religious. To divide life between the religious and the nonreligious is itself a sacrilege.

This means that if a person fulfills his or her vocation as a steelmaker, attorney, or homemaker [for the Lord] then that person is acting every bit as religiously as a soul-winning evangelist who fulfills his vocation. It means that David was as religious when he obeyed God’s call to be a shepherd as he was when he was anointed with the special grace of kingship. It means that Jesus was every bit as religious when He worked in His father’s carpenter shop as He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. (

Again, Pull Your Own Weight.

The Bible has a strong sense of personal responsibility. 2 Thessalonians 3 says:

6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

This is written by the Apostle Paul. Besides being a preacher and a leader in the early church, Paul was also a tentmaker. And so, when he traveled from town to town to tell people the good news about Jesus Christ, he also set up shop as a tentmaker and sold tents.

It’s not that he didn’t have a right to be paid for his preaching—he says in verse 9 that he did have the right (and the Bible is clear that pastors and preachers should be paid for their service)—but he chose not to so he could be a model. He didn’t want to burden them and keep them from the gospel, so he paid his own way. He didn’t eat any food without paying for it.

And he puts it in the form a rule in verse 10: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

Eating food without paying for it is stealing. It’s ripping somebody off. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t accept gifts from somebody else, or that there won’t be seasons when you are dependent on the kindness of others--but if you are consistently eating food when you have done nothing to earn it, you’re a crook.

Again, Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playground. God wants us to work because when we are busy, we keep ourselves out of trouble. The next two verses in 2 Thessalonians 3:

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.

Paul uses a play on words to make his point here—those who are idle are not busy, they are busybodies. That is, these people who don’t work end up hanging around and getting into other people’s business. They make nuisances of themselves. They engage in gossip. If they’d find something to do—if they’d get busy—then they’d be much less of a bother.

Now, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Just because you have a job, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be free of sin. And, if you aren’t working, that doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to give in to temptation. But the old saying rings true: idle hands are the devil’s playground. It’s when we have nothing else to do that we often find ourselves getting in the most trouble.

The fact is, if you’re busy shoveling slop out of the barn, then you don’t have time to vandalize the school. If you’re busy writing a report, then you can’t afford to daydream about sex. If you’re busy taking care of the kids, then you have a hard time getting to the bar.

Then, last point about work: Work is our Witness. How we handle ourselves at our job is part of our testimony to Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12:

11 make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Those outside of the church are watching those of us inside the church to see how we conduct ourselves. In many cases, those outside of the church are working right alongside those in the church. And so, if those who call themselves Christians are slacking, if they’re shirking work, if they’re cutting corners, that doesn’t reflect well on the Savior they say they represent.

But if they work hard, if they give it their best every single day, if they resolve to serve God by the way they do their jobs, then bridges are built for the gospel so that people can cross over and be saved.

People are watching us to see what it means to believe in Jesus. There is a very close connection between the way we do our work and the attitude that unbelievers will have toward the gospel that makes us tick

The Gift of Rest
So, that’s work. God gives us six days a week to labor and do all our work. And our work matters to Him. But the commandment is also about rest. The main part of the commandment says: “Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” So, what can we say about rest?

For one thing, Sabbath means resting. The Hebrew word “Sabbath” comes from a root word that means “to cease or to rest.” God literally wants us to have a day when we step back from life’s ordinary routines. Exodus 20:10 puts it like this:

On it you shall not do any work,

God knows: we need a break. Our bodies are not made to go 24/7. The rhythm of six on and one off is designed by God and better for our overall health in the long run.

This isn’t just a religious thing, either. The medical community is finding that we need a day off. Dr. Matthew Sleeth, an ER doctor wrote a book called “24/6: A Prescription for a Happier, Healthier Life.” In an interview with CNN he said:

I find that there's a growing epidemic, really, of depression. We're the most depressed country in the world….

When we're constantly going, we pour out chemicals to try to meet those stresses. We have short-term stress hormones like adrenaline, and longer-term hormones like the steroids that we pour out. Those chemicals constantly being "on" are bad for us, and they lead to anxiety and depression and to, I think, diabetes and being obese…We're constantly bringing stress into our life, and the idea of having one day a week that I can count on to stop is very reassuring.

Even if on Monday I'm very, very busy -- and that proceeds throughout the week -- if you know you have a habit of a weekly day of rest, of stopping, then you always know that's out in front of you. A lot of people "go" and never know when it is that they're going to come to rest. (

God commands us to take a day of rest because it is good for us.

Or, again, Sabbath is for God. The rest that we receive on this day is not to be aimless rest, but God-centered rest. Listen to the command again:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy… 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

What does it mean to keep the Sabbath day “holy”? What does God mean when He says the seventh day is a “a Sabbath TO the Lord your God”? It means that God is staking a claim to this day. That attention is to be directed to Him in a way that is more concentrated and steady than on ordinary days. That we keep the day holy by keeping the focus on the holy God. (John Piper,

The Puritans referred to the Sabbath as the “market-day of the soul.” The other six days of the week are for ordinary commerce, but the Sabbath is the day that we conduct spiritual business, trading in the currency of Heaven. (Philip Ryken, Exodus, p. 392)

It’s not that you cannot or should not do spiritual business on the other days of the week. You certainly should. But God wants us to set aside one day for more intentional and sustained attention to Him. A time for prayer and the ministry of the Word, for singing His praises and presenting our offerings to Him, for celebrating the sacraments and sharing Christian fellowship. (cf. HC #103)

God claims the Sabbath and He asks His people to use that day for doing business with Him.

(And, by the way, let me say something here about why we have our worship services on the first day of the week rather than the seventh. When Jesus was resurrected from the grave, it was on the first day of the week. It became known as the Lord’s Day, and very quickly Christians began to meet on Sundays rather than on Saturdays. For the most part, Christians ever since have understood the principle of Sabbath to mean one day out of seven, and have been comfortable equating Lord’s Day observance with Sabbath observance.)

Again, Sabbath-Keeping Includes How we Treat Others. That is to say, there should be no fudging on this command by avoiding work yourself, but having others do it for you. Back to the commandment, verse 10:

On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

It doesn’t work for the owner of the estate to put his feet up on the Sabbath, but to hang a carrot in front of his ox’s nose so that it will keep the threshing wheel moving all day. We are not to get around this command by expecting others to work so that we don’t have to.

Now, of course, there are certain occupations that we need to continue working on Sundays. We need doctors and nurses to be available if we take ill, we want our police and firefighters to stay on duty even on the Sabbath. But if you are a business owner, this command directs you to shut down all non-essential operations for at least one day a week. If you are hiring someone to do work on your home or car, you should not ask them to work on Sunday.

This raises an interesting question: What about going out to eat? I will admit that I have often gone out to eat on Sundays, without giving it a second thought. But when I was growing up, that is something we would not do. Why ask others to work on a day meant for rest?

There is certainly room for different applications of the Sabbath law. Romans 14:5 reminds us that each “should be fully convinced in their own mind” when it comes to considering one day more sacred then another. I think a helpful principle to keep in mind is the way Jesus answered the Pharisees when they challenged His decision to heal on the Sabbath. Luke 6:9:

9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

I’m not sure if that answers the restaurant question, but it does remind us that the Sabbath is a day for treating others well and fairly. It is a day for doing good.
Again, Sabbath Follows the Example of the Creator. This is God’s explanation for the commandment given in verse 11:

11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

When God created the universe, He did it in six days. Then He took a day off. He didn’t need to, but He did it anyway. The God who never sleeps, who never gets tired or grows weary, who doesn’t need to relax… took a break and rested. He blessed that seventh day and made it a special day of enjoyment of Himself and His work. Why? So that He could set a pattern for us.

So He could teach us.

Mark Buchanan says this, in a book called The Rest of God:

The Exodus command, with its call to imitation, plays on a hidden irony: we mimic God in order to remember we’re not God. In fact, that is a good definition of Sabbath: imitating God so that we stop trying to be God…Sabbath-keeping involves a recognition of our own weakness and smallness, that we are made from dust, that we hold our treasure in clay jars, and that without proper care we break. (p. 87)

We have a tendency to think that everything we have comes to us because we have earned it. And so we have a tendency to think that we have to keep working or we’ll lose out. We find we have a hard time slowing down, letting go, taking a break, because we fear we’ll fall behind, drop the ball or miss out. We feel we cannot rest until our work is done, and our work never feels done.

So, we put ourselves where only God belongs. We attempt to engineer our own lives. We believe ourselves to be the masters of our own fate.

And then God comes along with the fourth commandment and tells us to remember that we are not God. He requires us to just stop, and remember that we cannot control everything. To just stop, and leave some things in His capable hands.

Which leads to my final observation: Sabbath Reminds us of our Salvation. In Deuteronomy 5 there is a restatement of the 10 Commandments. The fourth commandment there is worded pretty much the same as it is in Exodus for the first three verses. But in the final verse, the reason for the commandment is phrased differently. Deuteronomy 5:15:

15 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.

Instead of pointing back to the example set at Creation, this time God points back to the great salvation event in Israel’s history: the escape from Egypt. And it’s as though God is asking a rhetorical question here. He’s saying to the Israelites: How’d you get out of Egypt? How’d you escape the slavery chains? Was it because of your great skills as warriors? Was it because you had Harry Houdini-like escape abilities? No, God says, it was my mighty hand and my outstretched arm.

So, God says to Israel, you need a day off a week to teach you that it is I who works in this relationship, not you.

And, of course, He could say the same thing to us. We could have worked and worked and worked for our salvation forever, and we never would have earned it. 1000 years of labor wouldn’t even make a dent in the debt we owe. But Jesus came and paid our debt for us. Then He called out to us with the gospel. And He took our stony hearts and made them into hearts of flesh so that we would believe. And He’s given His Holy Spirit who is at work in us to sanctify and save us.

And so, the Sabbath is given to us to remind us of God’s grace. That we need Him to come and lift the heavy load of our sin. A load we cannot carry on our own.

There’s a lot more that could be said about Sabbath. In fact, my original outline had one more list of 5. But I think this is as good a place as any to stop. Because as much as God wants us to take our vocations seriously, and to give Him His day, more than anything He wants us to find our rest in Him.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Ultimately, Sabbath is not a day but a person. We find our real rest in what Jesus has done for us. And so we can work hard six days a week, and make sure we give Him His day as a day to remember how hard He works for us.