Our church service is all day on Sunday. However, I grow unusually lazy on Sundays. Sometimes, I see it as the perfect day to sleep in and relax. So I arrive late in the morning for church, and I find it hard to stay in the afternoon. I think of my to-do list at home and for the week ahead, finding it hard to rest in Christ and worship with my church. For many of us, work pressures creep into the weekend and displace regular Sunday worship. Others overcommit socially. Whatever your reasons, not gathering for Sunday worship ignores God’s command to spur one another on towards perseverance (Hebrews 10:24-25). On top of this, we do ourselves a major disservice when we don’t rest. For this impacts everything from physical health to the quality of our work. Below I consider a few Old and New Testament passages on the Sabbath and rest, before concluding with their significance for us.
Old Testament: God Exhorted Israel to Imitate Him through the Sabbath
Let us start with Genesis. Genesis 2:2-3 says: “On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” God worked for six days, and rested on the seventh. This is not because God gets tired, but so that we might imitate him. Genesis 2:2-3 teaches us that work and rest go together. After God had created all, he rested. Work and rest should be the rhythm of our lives, as exemplified by God himself. The Sabbath was about both honouring and imitating God.
Work and rest should be the rhythm of our lives.
While the fall distorted the beautiful movement between work and rest, God’s command that the Israelites rest one day a week demonstrates his plan to return people to this holy, orderly, and creational rhythm (Exodus 20:8; 31:12-13). Although the Sabbath was given as a sign of God’s covenant with Israel within the Old Testament, the weekly rest is creational and given to all nations. Weekly rest was peculiarly tied to the Israelites’ faith and worship, so it should be for Christians too.
New Testament: The Sabbath is a Joy, not a Yoke
To avoid sinning, the Pharisees created extra laws to prevent them and others from breaking the Sabbath. This is not dissimilar from Eve’s twisting of God’s command not to eat from the tree (Genesis 3:3; cf. Genesis 2:17). So the Pharisees refused the plucking of grain to eat (Matthew 12:1-14). They were even critical of Jesus healing sick people on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14; John 5:1-18; 7:21-24). However, Jesus removed these undue regulations, placed on the Sabbath. Instead he used it for mercy.
The Sabbath was given as a day of joy and blessing, not a day of relaxation.
In fact, Jesus restored the true meaning of the Sabbath as a day of joy, not a yoke (Isaiah 58:13-14). For the Sabbath was given as a day of joy and blessing, not a day of relaxation or catching up the week’s tasks. It is a day for worshipping God with his people, tasting heaven. As believers, we know that true and satisfying rest is only found through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus we should not separate any Sabbath practices from what Christ has done. He is the person in whom the Sabbath finds its fullest expression.
Why do We Find it so Difficult to Rest?
However, like me, maybe you struggle to properly rest. Related to this, most of us would prefer some other form of rest on Sundays to gathering to worship as the church. To bring this article to a close, let me suggest three reasons we find it difficult to rest.
1. We don’t Work Hard
I think the first reason we don’t feel the need for a Sabbath break is because we already have so much time off. Some people, of course, don’t work, linked with poverty. That aside, there are many who don’t need rest because they barely work, becoming idle in the workplace. But, as we saw above, God made humans to enjoy their rest and engage in weekly worship after working. So, let’s work hard during the week to properly appreciate and even cherish God’s gift of rest. Work to rest; rest to work. That is the rhythm that God showed us when he worked for six days and rested on the seventh.
Many who don’t need rest because they barely work, becoming idle in the workplace.
2. We don’t Trust God
To understand a second reason why we cannot rest, we need only consider what the Israelites did. They were commanded to gather enough manna for two days to rest from work on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:4-5). They were required to trust God in doing so. But, some of them went out to gather on the Sabbath. I think this is similar to our problem. We don’t truly trust that God will provide for us, so we work towards burnout. Instead, we should recognise that even the day and the night, our very breath is established by God. We should then follow by trusting in his providence.
We don’t truly trust that God will provide for us, so we work towards burnout.
3. We don’t Delight in Fellowship
Finally, we don’t enjoy Sabbath rest because we don’t cherish time with God and his people. We need to examine ourselves if we don’t prioritise sitting under biblical preaching as well as sharing our lives with the people of God. If this is the case, we must turn back to God. We must pray that he would reorient our hearts to his directions, so that we will long for a day of rest and worship.
We don’t enjoy Sabbath rest because we don’t cherish time with God and his people.
Work and rest is a holy and orderly rhythm, written by God into creation. So we need to rest in order to work, and work in order to rest. That is the reason why the Sabbath was called holy since creation. Although the Protestants debate whether Sunday should be called the Sabbath, we can be sure that God ordered the week as six days of work and one day to rest. Remember, this rest is so much more than relaxation.