As I look over the list of very qualified Berean Staff, I feel I am the least well-suited to write a blog about rest. I rarely, if ever, struggle with this issue. On my days off, I experience freedom from activity and labor. Well, freedom from the activity of my job, but I work like a fool in my yard now that spring has arrived.
My spirit is at peace in the everyday rhythms of life, and I am relatively free from stress. I like this stage of life, being an empty-nester, appreciating my job, and enjoying good health.
When I am at the store, and I see a mom struggling to corral three or four kids through the check-out line, I immediately feel pity for her. “Oh, you poor dear,” I think, “life is so busy for you.” But I soon remember that Sandie and I raised four kids; we both had full-time jobs and were active in our church and community. We survived but more often collapsed rather than rested during that season of our lives. Perhaps that's how you feel in your present season.
When you think of it, the weekly rhythm of rest is most unusual. Days, months, and years are tied to the rotations of verifiable astronomical realities – the earth, moon, and sun. But where does the week come from? For those of us with a Judeo-Christian worldview, the answer is simple.
The Fourth Commandment is a Command to Rest.
Exodus 20:8-11 says, “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.
When I consider the importance of observing and developing a weekly rhythm of rest, I have four responses that all begin with the letter “R.”
1. Rest is Right.
Rest is the right thing to do because God commanded and modeled it. Tied to the creation story – Genesis 2:2-3 – and codified in God’s commandments for his people, we have the weekly rhythm of work and rest. In the midst of this moral code, where we learn how to properly relate to God and other people, we have the command to rest from the rigors of work.
God is the creator of time and work; we are created in his image. By commanding us to take a weekly break from work, God demonstrates that we are not slaves to work but rather his “deputies” who have dominion over all he created.
2. Rest is Respectable.
The Fourth Commandment is the longest, partly because God articulates all to whom rest applies – you, your son, daughter, male servant, female servant, livestock, and the sojourner. Rest is not just for the powerful, nor is it based on merit, but it is universal.
Throughout history, societies have stratified between the haves and have-nots; the genders; the generations; the ethnicities; and the insiders and outsiders. But in the command to rest, God wanted all his creation to benefit from his example when he created the heavens and earth and the directive he gave to Moses as the people of Israel were established as a nation.
His command of rest to all creation includes you!
3. Rest is Refreshing.
In Exodus 23:12, Moses reiterates the Fourth Commandment – “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest so that your ox and your donkey may have relief and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed” – and includes a purpose or a reason for the instruction.
This response may seem the most logical or obvious. In recent years, incredible amounts of research have been done regarding the physical, emotional, and relational benefits of rest. A quick Google search will send you to all kinds of sites highlighting the advantages gained from rest. What does this research prove? Does it somehow validate that God is true and that the Bible is more trustworthy?
Human-based research does not prove the Bible to be trustworthy but merely acknowledges what the Christian faith has said all along – God is good, and his design and instructions are for our advantage. Obeying the Fourth Commandment is not a harsh, joyless religious obligation but a strategy for our relief and refreshment.
4. Rest is Not Rigid.
Anyone who has read the Gospels knows that one of the flashpoints between Jesus and the religious elite of his day was how to observe the Sabbath. In back-to-back stories early in Mark’s Gospel – 2:23-28 and 3:1-6 – we receive two powerful lessons from our Lord.
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Over the centuries, religious leaders and legal scholars added to the complexity of the Law – the instruction that God had given to Moses at the beginning of the national history of Israel.
Obedience to the Law had become onerous and impossible, much more a burden than a benefit. For many, it had become a source of pride: “I more closely follow God’s Law than you do.” For others, it was a cause for debate: “To which rabbi’s interpretation do you adhere?”
As Jesus debated with his religious opponents, he boldly declared concerning himself, ". . . the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” This was a blasphemous statement in the minds of the religiously observant Jews. The observance of the Sabbath and the rite of circumcision were two of the most valued indicators that they were God's chosen people. Jesus was contending with them that they had forgotten the real purpose of the Law (and rest) – to benefit God’s people and to make them more productive.
Jesus said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” In the second encounter, the religious leaders were livid that Jesus dared to heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. The observance of the Law was paramount to the health and well-being of a man with a paralyzed hand.
We must look to God for his truth about rest.
In recent centuries, Bible-believing Christians have demonstrated that they can match the legalistic tendencies of the Pharisees. So many regulations have been enforced both by the Church and the State in observing the Sabbath. For many, keeping the Sabbath has reverted to a source of pride and debate and is rarely seen as a God-given benefit for his people to thrive.
Here at Berean, I'd like to encourage us to steer away from that path and instead look to God for his truth about rest. Let's strive to make rest a norm rather than a rare luxury or a matter of legalism.
I trust that we Bereans will carefully study and interpret God’s Word to benefit from God’s good and gracious instruction regarding rest, as we remember that rest is Right, Respectable, Refreshing, and not Rigid!