Hard Work and the Sabbath


Our elders recently decided that at the beginning of this academic year we were going to have a three-week series of messages on practical Christian living, with different messages preached at King’s Cross, CCD, and here. These nine messages will then be bundled together for broader circulation. And so it is that we are taking a brief break from our series through Philippians.

The topic of our message this morning is going to be “hard work and the sabbath.” Because we are living in the time of the new covenant, we will begin with a look at the Lord’s Day—in the old covenant, it was six days of labor followed by a day of rest. In the new covenant, the day of rest is foundational—it is on the first day, and the six days of labor follow after, and are built on the foundation of gospel rest.

The Text

“And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27–28).

“The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: But the slothful shall be under tribute” (Proverbs 12:24).

Summary of the Text

The perennial sabbath snare is that as soon as we learn that the Fourth Commandment remains binding, we gravitate immediately to a list of things we are not permitted to do. This was the case with the old sabbath, and it has been a recurring temptation for sabbatarians under the new covenant as well. This is why Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, was routinely accused of sabbath breaking. How did He manage that? He knew that the day of rest was a gift to men, and that men were not to be sacrificed on the altar of sabbath strictness. The text from Mark 2 is from a context where the Lord’s disciples had been picking grain on the sabbath. But rest is grace. Rest is a gift.

What kind of work needs to be built on the foundation of gospel rest? Such work needs to have two characteristics. It needs to be industrious and diligent (as in our text), and it needs to be skillful and competent (see Prov. 22:29).

A Brief Sabbath Primer

The fourth commandment is not the only commandment of the Ten that has somehow been retired, or put out to pasture. But the fact that it is among the moral commands of the Decalogue does not mean that it cannot be amended as redemptive history progresses. For example, we see this when at the first giving of the Law, the ground of sabbath observance was the fact that God had created the world in six days and had rested on the seventh (Ex. 20:11). But in Deuteronomy, the text of the fourth commandment is altered, and the ground of observance was now given as the Exodus (Dt. 5:15). The text of this commandment is altered within the first forty years.

And in the new covenant, the ground of sabbath observance is altered yet again. The fact is that Christ entered His rest after the work of redemption was complete, and did so in an analogous way to how God rested at the end of the creation week. He did this on the first day of the week, which is why we still have a sabbath, and it is why our sabbath is on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day.

“There remaineth therefore a rest [a sabbath] to the people of God. For he [Christ] that is entered into his rest [in His resurrection], he also hath ceased from his own works [of redemption], as God did from his [works of creation].”

Hebrews 4:9–10 (KJV)

The Lord pointed to this new reality in numerous ways. In the old covenant, God had said a number of times that the seventh-day sabbath would last as long as the old creation did, which it did (Ex 31:16-17). But when God ushered in a new creation, what then? The sabbath was fulfilled and transformed. The Lord rose on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1; John 20:1). He appeared to the disciples one week later (John 20:26). The Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, fifty days later, also on a Sunday (Acts 2:1). The early Christians consequently began gathering on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). And we have been honoring this day as the Lord’s Day in this way ever since (Rev. 1:10).

A Weekly Cycle

But we need to take note of what this does. Every Lord’ Day when we gather together, we are pouring a foundation. We want our worship to be Christ-glorifying, which is another way of saying that we want the foundation walls to be straight. When the foundation walls are straight, you are in a good position to have the (hard) work you do line up with that foundation. And what will that mean for your work? In order for your work throughout the week to be truly productive, there needs to be one day in seven when you are not “productive.” And also, as you think about this, and as you configure your schedule, make sure the sabbath is a rest for your wife as well.

What It Looks Like

What does work with “straight lines” look like? It should be diligent, industrious. We are not just commanded to rest for one, but also to work for six (Ex. 20:9). It should be competent, skillful, intelligent (Prov. 22:29). Your work should be honest, not conniving or devious (Prov. 20:10). Your work should be imitative. You should not be too conceited to learn from others (Prov. 13:20). Your work should be creative. You must not be afraid to try something new (Eph. 2:10).

A Ritual of Rest

Christians ought to be the hardest working people around, but the work we do must not be tormented, or driven, or under the lash. Work is a true privilege, work is a grace. Work was granted to Adam before the Fall (Gen. 2:15), and was not the result of the Fall. Work became more onerous after the Fall (Gen 3:16-19), but that is quite a different thing. The work itself is a grace. Christ came as the second Adam to begin the process of restoring Eden. That is the image we are given with Ezekiel’s Temple, and the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven. The work we now do we have been liberated and recreated to do.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

Ephesians 2:8–10 (KJV)

Think of all of this as God’s grace to you. He does not say that if you come unto Him, with your vocation in hand, offered to Him, He will take the opportunity to choke you with even more rigorous new covenant scruples.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28–30 (KJV)

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