SERMON – Work, Rest, and Play: The 4th Commandment

SERMON – Work, Rest, and Play: The 4th Commandment April 6, 2008

Yesterday morning I preached a sermon at Jubilee. The following notes are almost identical to the notes I used while preaching. You can download the audio or listen to it right here.

“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.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

Do you remember the Mars bar advertisement? “A Mars a day helps you work, rest, and play!”—That was smart, because the advertisers knew that we all value those things. And some of us are much better in one of these areas than in others. Are you a good worker? Do you love your work? Are you committed to it? Many jobs these days demand much from us. Do you feel imprisoned by work? I found this on the Internet:

IN PRISON—You spend the majority of your time in a 10×10 cell.
AT WORK—You spend the majority of your time in an 8×8 cubicle.

IN PRISON—You get three free meals a day.
AT WORK—You get a break for one meal and you have to pay for it.

IN PRISON—You get time off for good behavior.
AT WORK—You get more work for good behavior.

IN PRISON—The guard locks and unlocks all the doors for you.
AT WORK—You must often carry a security card and open all the doors for yourself.

IN PRISON—You can watch TV and play games.
AT WORK—You could get fired for watching TV and playing games.

IN PRISON—You get your own toilet.
AT WORK—You have to share the toilet with some people who pee on the seat.

IN PRISON—They allow your family and friends to visit.
AT WORK—You aren’t even supposed to speak to your family.

IN PRISON—All expenses are paid by the taxpayers with no work required.
AT WORK—You pay all your expenses to go to work, and they deduct taxes from your salary to pay for prisoners.

IN PRISON—You spend most of your life inside bars wanting to get out.
AT WORK—You spend most of your time wanting to get out and go inside bars.

IN PRISON—You must deal with sadistic wardens.
AT WORK—They are called managers.

Are you a workaholic? Here’s my definition of a workaholic:

Like an alcoholic, the problem is not work itself any more than it is alcohol. The real problem is simply not knowing when to stop!

People are workaholics for different reasons. For some of you this is due to fear of losing your job, or because things aren’t good at home so you throw yourself into work outside of the home. Or maybe it’s because your identity is with your work, and you want people to value you. Maybe you feel indispensable. The truth is, you are not! All of us have an identity in our work (or what we do instead of work). After the service when we have our teas and coffees, lots of first-time meetings between people will occur. People will say, “What do you do?” It’s not wrong to get a sense of who we are from our work. It IS wrong to let it totally define us. We should be defined by who we are—A CHILD OF THE KING. This is why I am so glad that often people here don’t even know what I do for a paid job. Or do you wish you had a paid job? Or a better job. Work is what we do with our hands or our brain or a combination of both, so we ALL work. Never ever say, “I am just a housewife” or “I am only a cleaner!”

Or are you like some who say, “Sure I love work, I really love work—I could watch it for ages!”. Some people make it their goal in life to do as little as possible and earn as much as possible. The image that springs to mind is the ‘surfer dude—you have every TV channel going and your idea of a great day is when you watch a WHOLE series of “24” in one sitting! Or maybe you are someone who spends a lot of time on hobbies or sports.

The Bible has a lot to say on the topic we are looking at today. In the Bible there are 652 verses on work, 643 verses on rest, and 65 verses on play. Today’s message is, in a nutshell, that God wants us to be good at all three of these and to do all of them in an appropriate rhythm—rather like marching. “Left, right, left—work, rest, play, work, rest, play.” Let’s look in more detail at the words we just read from Exodus 20.

What Did This Commandment Originally Mean?

  1. To keep one day each week special to remember God and to rest. But notice that it also says to work hard for six days!
  2. Be a good employer, and give rest to those under your charge.
  3. If God could take a rest, so can you! God is God and you are not. Rest reminds us we are not indispensable, and whenever we sleep the world goes on just fine without us!
  4. What we see here is a biblical principle that says,” You need a rhythm in your life.” You need good habits, you need work, rest, and recreation. All of these need to be properly balanced.

How Did Legalism Distort This Commandment?

The Old Testament contains ever more complicated rules about what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath. There are 39 categories of work described. For example, “winnowing” (separating wheat from chaff) becomes any activity to separate edible food from inedible, so picking out fish bones or filtering water is prohibited. On the other hand, “lighting a fire” leads some today to ban driving a car or switching on an electric light, or even going in a lift.

How Does the New Testament Apply This Commandment to Us?

Jesus was criticized for breaking strict Sabbath rules, and also for doing good on the Sabbath:

“One Sabbath he was going through the grain-fields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read w
hat David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mark 2:23-3:6)

Jesus seems to argue that the Sabbath is for man, i.e. for his benefit. It is not to become an oppressive law. He also says it is fine to “do good” on the Sabbath.

It’s amazing how easily we tend to turn something that’s meant for our benefit—first into a duty, and then into a legalistic command. For example, take church attendance, small group attendance, and prayer. Each of these things is designed to give us a break from our weekly routine and to refresh us; to give us a chance to worship and/or study the Bible together. We would do well to get into the habit of just doing them every week. But too often we think of each of these things as “work” and “an effort.” We come home from a busy day and think, “Shall I go to small group?” That is our mistake right there. We would do well to build it into our lives in such a way that we don’t have to make a decision, we just go! For when we try and decide, we are tempted instead to watch TV. I, for one, don’t think I have ever regretted forcing myself out to small group because when I get there I am refreshed, invigorated, and I go home feeling so much better than when I started. But we don’t ask you to turn attendance into a duty, still less a law. Rather, we commend it as good for you! If you love God and want to grow in your faith, just resolve now that you are not going to constantly be deciding whether to go or not, but instead you build it into the rhythm of your life—you make it a habit.

The New Testament clearly says that we are not under law (Romans 6). So when it comes to the Sabbath, the key issue is not following precise rules about what we can and can’t do. Under the New Covenant, God’s laws are written on our hearts and it becomes a heart attitude rather than a ritualistic legalistic rule. As Christians we are not bound to keep the Sabbath in the way that the Jews were. In two places Paul declares our freedom from the Sabbath and such religious festivals:

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” (Galatians 4:9-11).

Every day is a Sabbath day for the Christian—separated to God, for worship, and to rest from our labors.

“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest. . . .

[God’s] works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works. . . .’

[T]here remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:1-11).

How Do We Strive To Rest?

Abandon our trust in our own righteous acts to please God both here and/or to get us into heaven! Grace truly does mean there is nothing I can do to make God love me more or less than he does.

“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:2-5).

We enter into a glorious liberty of knowing we have no law, no duties. But instead we have a relationship with Jesus and we love him and want to follow him.

Work with all the energy he gives us.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Do everything for him, and do it well.

Expect to be successful at work, be the best you can be! It’s not wrong to earn money as a Christian!

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

“. . .obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:22-24).

God is not glorified by Christians who are slack at work, and have no desire to work well, and perhaps no desire to even pursue a career. He wants us to be his representatives at work, or in the home as we work—what has God called you to be? To be the best you can be at work! Work is your mission. We have been SENT! We are:

SALT—to make our workplace less rotten!
LIGHT—to show Gods glory.
YEAST—to quietly infiltrate and multiply.

Sometimes it is hard to speak much about the gospel in certain careers. We should live the kinds of lives that lead people to ask questions of us.

I do believe God wants us to enjoy our work. Sometimes we don’t enjoy it because we fail to appreciate what work gives us. Without work we couldn’t afford to eat, drink, or for that matter play! We should be happy we have that job and try to enjoy it as best we can. I remember meeting people in factories when I was working there as a student. I was mainly doing it for the paycheck, but many had the same job for years and some said they liked the fact that it didn’t tax their brains too much so they didn’t feel tired when they got home. What are the good parts about your job? If you really hate it so much, is there possibly another job you could do?

Find your calling.

God is not looking for a place for you—he made you for a place! When you know you are in the right place, the place God has placed you, it will lead to contentment and a sense of ease.


Learn to be intentional and disciplined in your lifestyle.

  1. Come to church EVERY Sunday, not as a duty, but because it brings refreshing. Similarly, come every week to your small group where tiredness will give way to renewal for your souls. Know when it is the right time to STOP work, go home, or take that holiday. But don’t live for the beach!
  2. Build a rhythm of work, rest, and play into your life. Make resting and playing a part of your discipline.

We need different spheres in which we can find identity. This can be through relationships and shared activities. It can be with workmates, family, or friends. It was good enough for Jesus. That was how he lived on earth.

“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2)

If we get our rhythm right, we will not only thank God it’s Friday, but we will also thank God it’s Monday!


Come to JESUS and allow him to strip away your weariness and false sense of responsibility.

“Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:30-31)
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart,and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Come to Jesus. He has:

  • A word to the workaholic or the weary person who is in need of refreshment—RECEIVE GOD’S REST.
  • A word to the lazy—RECEIVE GOD’S YOKE—new enthusiasm for the work he has for you.
  • A word to the non-Christian or backslidden—STOP STRIVING TO LIVE YOUR WAY.

Come to Jesus and find rest.

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