The origin of Worker’s Day as a public holiday in South Africa is shrouded in politics, protests, power struggles, and prejudice. It is, however, a day of celebrating work by regulating it with the need for rest and relaxation. It explains why the standard work day is now considered to be an eight-hour day leaving time each day for non-work related activities. As Christians we understand this necessary balance much better than politics and protests are able to communicate.
This concept of work VS rest is a Biblical concept. God worked six days in the creation of the world, and rested the seventh. This became a principle of rest throughout the Scriptures and specifically a law of rest for the nation of Israel under God’s rule. But, just because the days of work preceded the days of rest does not mean that we work so that we can rest. Instead, the emphasis of Scripture seems to be that we rest so that we can work.
Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to rest, other than the fourth commandment in the Law of Moses (Exodus 20:8-11), and even that, when explained in the rest of the Law of Moses, is meant as a privilege more than a duty. It was a reminder to the nation that being ruled by the LORD was wonderfully liberating in contrast to the oppression under Pharaoh (Deuteronomy 5:15). Similarly in Ecclesiastes, rest is portrayed, not as a right, but as a chosen activity of the sensible who have realised the futility of work-only living in this sin cursed world (Ecclesiastes 5:12).
Work, on the other hand, is repeatedly commanded throughout the Scriptures. Adam was commanded to work before sin even entered this world (Genesis 2:15). Moses commanded the nation to do all their work in the allocated time (Exodus 20:9). Work is frequent topic for instruction in the indirect commands of the book of Proverbs (for example, Proverbs 14:23, Proverbs 22:29, etc.). The believers in the New Testament were commanded to do whatever work they did, “heartily” (Colossians 3:23). Work is such a basic responsibility of life, that the ‘right’ to eat is even linked to working hard (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Tim Challies, offering a Biblical perspective on entertainment giants like Netflix offered this as a Christian mind-renewer on work and rest:
We must tenaciously hold to our conviction that work, not entertainment, is the purpose of life. Faith in Christ does not compel us to work so we can rest, but rest so we can work.Tim Challies, “Netflix’s Biggest Competitor” accessed 29 Aril 2019
The point is this. As Christians we are privileged to understand the balance between work and rest. Work is not a necessary evil which we perform for the sake of earning the ability and ‘right’ to rest. Instead, we rest sufficiently so we can be skilful, faithful, and cheerful in our work. Even our Lord Jesus, in his humanity, rested frequently – but it was no mindless exercise of perpetual entertainment. Rather, the rest was intentionally had in proportion to the work he had performed.
We do not work so we can rest better; rather we rest so we can work better. That way we will find more fulfilment in our employment, and we will also be more intentional and deliberate in our rest.
Employ your day of rest today to be able to work skilfully and heartily tomorrow again.