Work and Leisure

Philip Ryken, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Work and Leisure

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. On if you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates, 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 (Exodus 20:8-11).

A few years ago a friend telephoned with an urgent request. "Phil," he said, "I'm calling to ask a favor. I need the most precious thing you have."

Can you guess what he needed?

He was asking for my time, of course. As the pastor of a large church - not to mention the father of a growing family - few things are more precious to me than my time. I need time to work, time to worship, time to rest, and time to play. I need time to spend with the Lord. I need time to prepare sermons and meet with people. I also need time to love my family. It all takes time, and there never seems to be quite enough.

Many people have the same frustration. We often feel rushed. We never seem to have time for work and leisure, for family and ministry. So we complain, "If only I had one extra day this week; then I could get all my work done." Or we say, "You know, I could really use some time off." Or, "If only I had more time to study the Bible and serve the Lord." Thus, we grumble about being overtired and overworked. It is all part of the frustration of living as finite creatures in a fallen world.

Out of His great mercy, God has provided a remedy: one whole day out of seven to rest in His grace. He has given us a rhythm of work and rest, with six days for labor and one day for leisure. And He grants us our leisure specifically for the purpose of His praise. The Sabbath is a day for worship, a day for mercy, and a day for rest.

Keeping the Sabbath holy may not seem very productive. In fact, sometimes it keeps people away from Christ. They would rather do something else - anything else - than go to church on Sunday.

When billionaire Bill Gates was asked why he didn't believe in God, he said, "Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning." 1

Remembering the Sabbath

Devoting a whole day to God may not seem very efficient, but it must be important, because God has commanded it:

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. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 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 (Exodus 20:8-11).

This is the longest commandment, and it comes in three parts. Verse 8 tells us what to do, verses 9 and 10 specify how we are to do it, and verse 11 explains why.

What God wants us to do is to "remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8). The word remember has a double meaning. For the Israelites, it was a reminder that they had heard about the Sabbath before. On their journey to Mount Sinai, God provided manna six days out of seven. The seventh day was meant to be "a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD" (Exodus 16:23). So when they reached Mount Sinai, God commanded them to "remember" the Sabbath.

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