Teaching Kids the Glory of God’s Work/Rest Rhythm

The Bible teaches us to set apart the Lord’s Day in some way for the Lord, meaning time with him. The whole concept of sabbath—a day for rest, reflection, renewal and recalibration was designed by God to be a great blessing to us. Some Christians have turned it into a legalistic rule about whether you can eat out at a restaurant or watch football games on Sunday afternoons. (Believe me, I know. I was one of them!) But the fourth commandment, as all God’s commandments are, IS GIVEN TO US BY GOD AS A GREAT BLESSING, which is why Jesus said, the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). In fact, I believe that giving God the firstfruits of our time is very much like giving God the firstfruits of our earning power. 

One of the words used to describe the worldview of the culture in which we all swim is secularism, or sometimes called naturalism, which describes a lifestyle of preoccupation with the visible, material world to the neglect of the world of the spiritual. The result of swimming in this polluted water has been, in my view, a largescale disregard of the fourth commandment by Christians and consequent loss of its benefits. The lost benefits are understanding the eternal value of work and understanding the need to regularly shut out the secular world to be renewed and reconnected to the Spiritual Being who created us. This episode seeks to recover what is often lost by the neglect of the fourth commandment.

One of the complexities of faithfulness to Jesus through obedience to his moral law is understanding how to apply the fourth commandment in today’s world. As I mentioned in the first episode of this series, there are three categories of law. There is ceremonial law, religious rituals practiced in the OT, which are no longer binding, having been fulfilled in Christ. There is civil law. It provides universal principles of just treatment in our horizontal relationships in society. But those laws were for the theocracy of Israel, which no longer exists. The third category is moral law, which does continue into the NT. As Jesus explicitly taught,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:17-19).

In fact, in this same sermon, Jesus taught that the scribes and Pharisee’s understanding of the Law was not strict enough. The prohibition against murder covered not just the physical act but hostility towards another that injured his soul by treating him with anger, attacking his character, or making him feel stupid. The prohibition against adultery covered not just the outward act by the inner heart lust for another man’s wife. The OT moral law was not delegitimized by Jesus; to the contrary, Jesus sets a moral standard that goes way beyond the external way if was often interpreted. Moreover, these commandments are the path to LIFE, the path to loving God and others, which we were created to do and be most fulfilled by following. So, the fourth commandment cannot be thrown away as given only to Israel. It is part of the moral law.

Yet, its application is complex because it has a ceremonial component—setting aside one day a week for worship, and a civil component—requiring the whole country to stop conducting business on the Sabbath. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the early Christians changed the day of worship from the Saturday Sabbath of Judaism to Sunday, the Lord’s Day, because Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. Paul went to the synagogue to preach on Saturday and met with the Christians to worship and celebrate communion on Sunday. The early Christians did not stay home from work to worship on the first day of the workweek, Sunday. This was not the cultural practice in any area of the world. It was like our Monday, the first day of the workweek. For the most part the early Christians who were spread across the Roman Empire were slaves and those with low status. They had no power to get their culture to give them off on the first day of the week to worship Jesus. So they met for worship after work, which explains why Paul was preaching until midnight in Acts 20. Sunday, the first day of the week has been celebrated by Christians as the DAY OF WORSHIP since Christ’s resurrection. But Sunday was not a DAY OF REST FROM WORK until three hundred years later, when Constantine made Sunday a day of rest for the Roman Empire. Refraining from work on Sunday cannot be a moral absolute. If it were, we would have seen widespread rebellion by Christian slaves in the Roman world by refusing to work on Sundays.

I believe the core principle in the fourth commandment is to “set apart” one day per week to commune with God our lover, to restore our soul, and recover God’s perspective on creation. I also believe that the fourth commandment gives us a creation ordinance concerning work—that there is a built-in pattern that God designed into creation that follows his pattern—six days of work and one day of rest. We’ll look at these components in a moment. But let’s not overlook the way this commandment begins—with the significance God places on our work.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).

The Biblical Worldview of Work

Six days you shall labor

A.  In the beginning there was work. The Bible begins to talk about work as soon as it begins to talk about anything. The Bible refers to God’s actions to create the universe as work. In fact, he depicts the magnificent project of cosmos invention with language that refers to the regular workweek. Genesis repeatedly shows God “at work” using the Hebrew word, mlkh, the word for ordinary human work. Tim Keller observes, In the beginning, then, God worked. Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted inauguration (Every Good Endeavor).

B. Our calling to work, is fundamental to bearing God’s image. The opening chapters of Genesis leave us with a striking truth—work was part of paradise. It is part of God’s perfect design for human life, because we are made in God’s image and part of HIS glory and happiness is that HE WORKS“My Father is always at his work to this very day,” said Jesus, and I too am working.” (John 5:17). The fact that God put work in paradise reminds us that it was not a result of the fall, as is often thought. Work was part of the blessedness of the garden BEFORE the fall. Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer, and sex… Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness. People who are cut off from work because of physical or other reasons quickly discover how much they need work to thrive emotionally, physically, and spiritually (Ibid).

C. The job description of our work is to fill the earth and subdue it and exercise dominion over it. The word, “subdue” indicates that, though all God made was good, it was still to a great degree undeveloped. Al Wolters writes:

The earth had been completely unformed and empty; then in the six-day process of development God had formed it and filled it—but not completely. People must now carry on the work of development: by being fruitful they fill it even more; by subduing it they must form it even more…as God’s representatives, (we) carry on where God left off. But this is now to be a human development of the earth. The human race will FILL the earth WITH its own kind, and it will FORM the earth FOR its own kind. (Creation Regained).

D. The material world matters. Developing the potential of creation is our primary calling because God’s creation matters greatly to him. In fact, the story of salvation is the story of CREATION. Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck, argues, “The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the CREATION of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and RECREATED by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.” For Christians, all work has dignity, no matter how menial, because it reflects God’s image in us, but also because the material universe we are called to care for matters to God. The biblical doctrine of creation harmonizes with the doctrine of the incarnation in which God takes on himself a physical body. It harmonizes with the Biblical view of marriage, which commands the joining of bodies in sex to accompany the joining of hearts in marriage. It harmonizes with the calling of the Messiah in Isaiah 61 to both proclaim the Word and restore physical flourishing. It harmonizes with resurrection doctrine, in which God redeems not just the soul but the body. It harmonizes with Romans 8:21 where we are told that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption. God’s purpose for the earth is that it should become his dwelling place; it is not simply made to house his creatures…

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