Theology 101

How the Sabbath Keeps Work from Being the Meaning of Our Lives

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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

Man was created by God for work (Genesis 2:15). For the Christian, life without work is meaningless; but work must never become the meaning of one’s life.

Work is one of the primary means by which we fulfill our true purpose: to glorify God, serve the common good and further God’s Kingdom. God reminds us of this on the seventh day of creation.

At the end of the creation story we read,

So on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then 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 rested not because he was tired, but because he had “completed his work” (Genesis 2:2). God wanted to teach us that work is not an end in and of itself. This is why he instituted the Sabbath. God repeats this idea again in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11).

Today we are taught by a culture that views work as an end in itself. It is what supplies our identity and gives meaning to our lives by maximizing success and money through our labor. Our work is never done, and the constant drive to prove ourselves destroys our ability to find rest.

This distortion of work’s purpose cripples our chances of finding true joy and fulfillment in our work.  When divorced from God, all work degenerates into pure self-centered ambition.

How then does the Sabbath deliver us from always feeling stressed, exhausted, and running on empty?

One of the best explanations of the Sabbath and why it is important to Christians today is found in an article written by Tim Keller a number of years ago. Keller suggests that it is not the physical work that exhausts us but “the work under the work” that creates our unshakable weariness.

The only thing that will silence the condemning voices driving so many of us to the brink of exhaustion is the biblical discipline of what Keller calls “Sabbath rest.”

Correctly practicing the Sabbath brings about a new spiritual understanding of both work and the whole of our lives. The purpose of the Sabbath is not rejuvenating yourself in order to be more productive. Nor is it only the pursuit of pleasure.

Instead, the purpose of Sabbath is to set aside time to enjoy:

  • God
  • Joyful worship with God’s people
  • God’s glorious creation
  • Time with family
  • Life in general
  • Your accomplishments, achieved through God’s help
  • The freedom found in the gospel, freedom from slavery to any material object or human expectation

The Sabbath is a time to unplug from our vocational work. The author of Hebrews writes that we have to labor diligently to enter God’s rest (Hebrews 4:11). We have to work hard at disconnecting from what we do the other six days and really enjoy the release and peace that God has designed for us on this holy day. Sabbath keeping has to be intentional.

Setting aside one day in seven to observe the Sabbath will begin to change the way we see our work and what it can and cannot accomplish. This is why Jesus can tell his disciples,

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 (Matthew 11:28-30).

Dante Alighieri wrote,

All our troubles, if we carefully see out their source, derive in some way from not knowing how to make a proper use of time.

We should love the vocational work God has given us so much that he makes us take off a day every week. Let Sabbath rest rejuvenate you and your work.

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  • J. C. Smith

    Excellent! Sadly too many today are so vain as to think they can contradict God’s teachings. Others think it’s OK to make others work as long as they don’t.

  • Dr Esther

    I would expand the view of the Sabbath a little more. It includes a view of life that indicates a rhythm of work and rest. Taking a day of rest is an acknowledgment that we cannot do everything on our own power but rely on Him for our needs. We can toil only so much but God blesses our labors. It also focuses us on the giver of life who provides us work to do. It is a day specially dedicated to thinking of His grace in our life, for we ultimately have the Sabbath Rest Scripture talks about when Christ returns and there is sin no more; we will then no longer toil and begin to experience His Grace to the ultimate degree.

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