The Gift of Rest for Blue Collar Workers (Sermon Notes)
We spent time last Sunday discussing what the early chapters of Genesis reveal about God—and about us—in relation to work. We discovered that work is central to the character of God—it’s part of who He is as revealed in what He does—and, therefore (we discovered), that part of what it means for us to be formed in the image of God is that we were made as workers, also! That contrary to a very common sentiment, work is not a curse to be avoided, but a gift to be embraced—that there was work for humanity from the beginning as part of God’s gift to us of a perfect world. And it was significant work, purposeful work, work that continued God’s creative activity and reflected our position as partners with God in ruling the earth!
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)
In the Garden of Eden, our job was to “fill the earth and subdue it"—not just to populate it, not just “load” it with bodies, but to fill it with life, civilization, culture—to continue to develop it even beyond the beautiful place it was when we received it, to partner with God in marching civilization toward its consummation in Christ!
And the truth is—though humanity’s sin altered the challenges of work, it did not change the fundamental character of work as both “good” and “purposeful.” God’s intention for our work is that, in it, we share His regency…and that through it, we cultivate and create and bring order and beauty, just as He did in developing this earth from something “formless and empty” (Gen 1:2) to something full of life and vitality. He shaped it and filled it (it might be more accurate to say He “began the task of shaping and filling it”) and then created us (as part of that process) and generously empowered us to continue the task He’d already begun of “shaping and filling” this world with His goodness.
But God’s gift of work—as good as it is…as “burdened with glorious purpose” as it is—God’s gift of work isn’t (alone) the whole story. Our work—even done in partnership with God and in ways that continue His creative activity—our work is not complete in and of itself. Rather, Scripture makes it clear that our work must be informed by rest.
The same two verses of Genesis that sort of “wrap up” the creation account of Genesis 1—Genesis 2:2-3—…the same verses that describe God as “worker” three times in two verses (I kind of imagine the author of Genesis saying, “What part of God as Worker don’t you understand?)…those same verses tell us something else about who God is and about the pattern God establishes for us. Genesis 2:2-3 says that:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)
Surprise! The same verses that announce so boldly “God as Worker” announce just as boldly “God as Sabbath Observer,” announce that the God who works is also the God who rests! And who—in doing so Himself—calls us to rest, as well!
These two verses are really quite amazing—partly because even when God does nothing, as it were, even when He rests from all his work. He’s still creating. Something new is brought into being that didn’t exist before. “In the first six days,” Bruce Waltke says:
“In the first six days space is subdued; on the seventh, time is sanctified.” Bruce Waltke
Do you see that? Do you see that, by “resting from all the work of creating he had done” God “makes something different” of that seventh day—that He gives it an altogether different character. He infused that seventh day with a distinctive significance—with a purpose all its own…somehow unique from the rest of the week?
I think understanding the significance and purpose of that *seventh* day is as essential as understanding all rest—that understanding “Sabbath” is essential to understanding what it means to be a worker formed in the image of God. And I’ll confess that I’m a little concerned—as I try to speak with you about the significance and purpose of the Sabbath—that what you think you know about the Sabbath…or what you’ve heard other preachers say about the Sabbath (because I’m the guy who’s finally getting it right!)…or perhaps legitimate questions you carry about the Sabbath… are going to get in the way of what I’d really like for you to hear most of all, this morning.
Maybe, you know, it’s a real frustration to you how you see people “disregard” the Sabbath and you think it ought to be observed more strictly…or maybe you’ve never understood why the Jewish Sabbath is Saturday (basically) and the Christian Sabbath is Sunday (generally)…or, you know, maybe there’s something else. Let me ask you this: Whatever your questions or concerns might be—would you be bold enough to just lay those aside for a few minutes and hear my best understanding of the heart of God on this matter of the Sabbath?
I’m convinced if we can hear God’s heart on this matter, it’ll help us with some of the more “technical” and “application-related” questions we carry—like “How do I actually ‘observe the Sabbath’ in 21st century America?” When we know God’s heart on the matter, we get better answers to our questions. More than that, I am convinced ‘observing the Sabbath’—if we can understand it and embrace it—is a “work related” principle that will transform our lives. The Sabbath, I’m convinced, serves Four Critical Functions.
If we can sort of “zoom out” far enough to get our heads (and hearts) around these four critical functions of the Sabbath, not only will we get better answers to some of the more specific questions we have, but—more importantly—we’ll live “better lives” on every level, because we will be living in alignment with God’s intentions for us—intentions He held even as He formed us from the dust of the earth. We’ll live fuller, more satisfying, more God-honoring and influential lives because we’ll be operating within our manufacturer’s specifications (so to speak)!
I jammed up a paper shredder the other day. It was a light-duty unit, made for 3 sheets of paper at a time, not even designed to handle staples or paper clips or anything like that. I tried to run a plastic credit card through it. I knew what I was doing, and did it anyway (ever done that?), and jammed it up and nearly burned out the motor in the process. I was trying to do something it wasn’t designed to do! And when I turned it upside down to take it apart for repair—‘cause there ain’t nothin’ I won’t at least *try* to repair, right?—I saw that my paper shredder had a specified “duty cycle.”
Do you know what that is? It’s a limit on the amount of time you’re supposed to actually *use* the machine relative to how long you have it on. I think it was, like, 2 minutes of “non-use” for every 4 minutes of “use”—but I don’t remember, because I have no intentions of following those guidelines…I’m going to use that machine until I break it! But how many of you understand that the guidelines are there for a reason…and as I persist in ignoring them, I’m gonna burn up the machine and then it won’t be good for anything except taking up space in the paper shredder cemetery!
Well, in Genesis 2 (and in any number of other places in the Scriptures) there’s a pattern of “Sabbath” that God establishes "manufacturer’s guidelines.” Following those guidelines—embracing the practice of Sabbath—fulfills four critical functions. I’d like to identify those for you and discuss them with you just a bit.
So we’ve all got these two key verses in our heads, right?
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3 NIV)
Why does embracing that pattern matter? Why would God establish the Sabbath? First Sabbath is Testimony. When I practice Sabbath, I testify that I am under God’s authority, in partnership with God’s leadership, and dependent upon Him for who I am and all I enjoy.
Now listen—I’m gonna read that little 3-point list again, and I’d like you to ask yourself if you want that to be true of you. When I practice Sabbath, I testify that I am (1) under God’s authority, (2) in partnership with God’s leadership, and (3) dependent upon Him for who I am and all I enjoy.
Let’s assume (for the moment) that God and I become business partners. To be clear, I’m a minority owner—God’s the majority owner, and so God’s the One who gets to call the shots. I’ve pledged to operate under His authority…and in partnership with His leadership…and to remain dependent upon Him for who I am and all I enjoy. (That’s really a pretty good description for what it means to live this life of faith, isn’t it?) God moves us to the great Northwest where we open up a logging business: G & K Lumberjacks: Sawing Logs ‘til Kingdom Come. Like so many business start-ups, we’re underfunded. So we start with nothing more than a two-man crosscut saw. (Abbey—Use pic on flash drive if possible) But the trees are plenteous. We’ve launched on a beautiful Monday morning. So we get to work. We work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. The getting’s good, the sales are moving along, the money’s coming in, we’re feeling good so we keep working. We work Thursday, then Friday, then Saturday, and we are about to break even! If we’ll just keep going, we’ll not only make it—we might even get ahead of the game a bit - we can move this business along! I’m pretty excited, and I want to see this thing succeed! But at quittin’ time on Saturday, God says, “Good week’s work—we’ll take tomorrow off…and start again on Monday.” Here’s my question: What does it say if I decide to work the next day, anyway? If I know my best work is only done in partnership with Him, and I know my true identity and blessing are found in Him (I am who I am because of Him), and I’ve declared He gets to be king, what does it say if He says “six days on—full bore, if you want—and one day off” and I decide to work that seventh day, anyway?
I find this the idea of me—out in the forest alone, trying to operate a two-man saw— the perfect mental image of what many of us have done with the Sabbath. Clearly—as long as I’m out there clearing the forest when He’s said “This day is mine,” I’m not operating under His authority. I’m not in partnership with His leadership. And I’m not depending on Him for who I am and all I enjoy.
Instead, I’m declaring the opposite—that I’m my own boss and I’ll be deciding what to do with my time—…that I’m not working in partnership with Him—‘cause I’m clearly working whether He’s working or not. And that I apparently have decided I have to make it on my own—because I’m clearly not depending on Him for who I am and all I enjoy…I’m depending on what I can get done with one more day’s work!
And that’s exactly what we do when there’s no practice of the Sabbath in our lives— when there’s no time strictly devoted to Him! We do it with our work—when we think we’ve got to work every day regardless just to stay afloat—we make work our source, instead of trusting God’s provision, and end up giving “work” the place that only God should hold. But many do it not only with work…but with leisure, as well—when nothing about our non-working hours says, “Even this time is sacred—even these moments are to be lived under His authority, and in partnership with Him as the source of who I am and all I enjoy!
And here’s the trouble with that: The practice of Sabbath is rooted in creation itself, and comes with the understanding that the purpose of work—that the purpose of life—is not just to stay ahead of the bill collector. The purpose and joy of work is so much bigger than that: Partnering with God toward the world He envisioned when He first began to speak it into existence! That reality begs the question of whether working 24/7/365 reflects the kind of world our God is working for, and, equally, begs the question of whether every spare moment outside of the workplace being spent in a frantic rush from one activity to another really reflects the kind of world our God is building!
By contrast—when I learn to embrace and practice Sabbath—I testify that my life is tied to something bigger than the 9 to 5, bigger than the accumulation of “more,” bigger than the non-stop agenda this world (our culture) would like to impose upon us. Sabbath is Testimony
Second, Sabbath is Celebration. In Deuteronomy, chapter 5—one of the places in Scripture where the Ten Commandments are found—Moses says to the Israelites:
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 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 (Deuteronomy 5:12-14)
And the next verse—verse 15—gives the reason for observing the Sabbath:
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15 )
That command—as it stands—is (of course) uniquely applicable to the Israelites, as none of us were physically enslaved in Egypt. Nor were we physically brought out of Egypt with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” as Israel was. But the principle behind the command is absolutely transferable and applicable to those who count themselves among the people of God. The reason Moses gives for observing Sabbath adds a new layer of meaning to the practice of Sabbath…and gives us one more reason to make sure we observe the Sabbath—as a celebration before the Lord our God!
You see, if Israel’s history is anything, it is a prequel to our history! If Israel’s deliverance from slavery is anything, it is a prequel to our deliverance from sin! What God did for the Israelites through Moses, He most certainly did in greater measure for us through Christ. And so—when Moses speaks to the Israelites and says, “Stop working! Stop your work a day a week—cease from your labors as our God did at creation—and dedicate that day in celebration to the saving act of God when He brought you out of Egypt”—well, there’s no doubt that such a celebration ought to be duplicated in the life of every New Testament believer—and that at least as often!
Honestly—we’re so remarkably foolish in this regard! Think about it. Do you suppose after 400 years in slavery…I mean—I don’t care how long it’s been since you’ve had a little vacation or even a day off…nobody here’s been going at it for 400 years! But please note: the Hebrews were not merely “household servants” in 1950s America, where “Christian or not,” Sunday was considered a day of rest…most everybody got a day off. No—the Hebrews were slaves in pagan Egypt. I assure you—they never heard their bosses say the words “day off,” and never dreamed of a day for Sabbath every week. So do you suppose that, after 400 years in slavery, God had to say it more than once to anyone? “Take the day off! Celebrate your freedom!”
Do you understand—one of the things that says to a liberated slave is, “You are more than just a piece of property—more than just a machine for production. You are a human being formed in the image of a loving God who has delivered you from bondage, supplying your greatest need—and so a God who can be trusted to supply your every need! Your richest identity is not found in what you accomplish, but in who it is you belong to! You are mine—my treasured possession!” Indeed, that’s exactly what Moses says to Israel, just a few chapters later:
The LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised (Deuteronomy 26:18 )
We testify to that when we embrace the practice of Sabbath, and embracing the practice of Sabbath gives us opportunity to celebrate that, as well. That’s why so frequently worship is associated with Sabbath. They’re not the same thing—and by all means, worship should be a constant of every day. But a Sabbath day allows a freedom for worship - an opportunity for worship - that simply isn’t always possible on a day filled with labor. Sabbath is Testimony Sabbath is Celebration
Third, Sabbath is Identity. Certainly that was true for Israel. For Israel, Sabbath observance served—and still does serve—as continuing evidence of what? Not rules and restrictions that bind her from “doing anything” on the Sabbath, but rather, of) her unique standing in the world as “chosen by God for covenant with Him.” God says as much—Exodus 31:13:
This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come. (Exodus 31:13 )
If it is nothing else (and I think we’ve already shown, it’s much, much more, but) if it is nothing else, the Sabbath serves as an identifier, an authenticator: this one belongs to the Lord!
There’s a synagogue near the house where my wife grew up. Every Saturday, without fail, you will see scores of faithful Jews walking down the street, dressed for worship. The first time you see the firs* person, you may be confused—“What’s that about? Who’s that? Where are they going dressed like that?” But if it takes you any longer than about 60 seconds to catch a clue, well, we’ve got to expand your understanding of cross-cultural experiences! Because when there are dozens of people, who every Saturday, dressed for worship, filling the sidewalks of what is, really, a main automotive artery. It doesn’t take long to figure out who they are! Their commitment to Sabbath observance serves identity—and by that I mean not just helping us to identify them—but helping them to identify themselves! Sabbath observance becomes a tool that helps shape their identity! “This is who we are…this is what we do!”
Now, there are a boatload of identities to be embraced in our world. You can identify yourself politically—“I’m a moderate.” “I’m a liberal.” “I’m a libertarian!” You can identify yourself socially—“I’m a hipster.” “I’m goth.” “I’m a member of the Purple Hat Society!” You can identify yourself by your leisure pursuits—“I’m a fisherman.” “I’m a sports fan.” “I like the races!” And the fact is, if you chose to, you could identify yourself as a person who chooses to observe the Sabbath that God himself ordained. You could identify yourself as one who observes, embraces, and practices the Sabbath.
“How could I do that, pastor?” By decided what it is about the Biblical Sabbath that’s non-negotiable to you.
We all have things that are non-negotiable. For some of you, being pro-life politically is non-negotiable. You could agree with every other position a candidate takes, and if they’re not pro-life, they’re not getting your vote. For some of you, being debt-free is non-negotiable. If you had the chance to buy a million-dollar house for $10,000 but had to borrow the money to do it, you’d turn it down because you’ve determined never to be in debt again.
What’s non-negotiable for you with regard to the Sabbath? Here’s the deal: If Sabbath observance—whatever that looks like—is something actually built into created order itself by what God does when He rests on the seventh day…if God really does establish, by resting, a pattern for humanity (formed in His image) to follow—what would it be that identifies you as one who practices what God has ordained?
When you decide what that is, it will serve not only to identify you as “Sabbath observant” to others, but will shape your own identity in a way that helps you say, “This is what I do because this is who I am. I’m not letting the world shape me into its mold. I’m shaping my world to reflect God’s mold, God’s pattern.” Sabbath is Testimony Sabbath is Celebration Sabbath is Identity.
Fourth, Sabbath is Promise. This practice of “Sabbath” is really a prophetic practice. We “cease” our activity—at least once a week, if I read the Scriptures right—we stop with our manipulation of our world, our striving, our clamoring—to rest in what Christ has done for us. To acknowledge that He’s God and we’re not. To strengthen, renew, and celebrate our grace- founded relationship with Him. And we do all that in prophetic anticipation of (we take a prophetic action that anticipates) what He has promised for all eternity, a Sabbath rest for the people of God! There remains, then, a Sabbath rest. Make every effort to enter into that rest.
We are promised a day—an eternal day—when the sin-induced toil that marks our work in this present age will be eliminated…and the heavens and earth will be united in righteousness…under our altogether righteous King, Jesus the Christ. If you had to list a dozen words or so that would describe that age, this would have to be one of them: Rest. Sabbath rest. And so—like so many other things we do—we choose, we determine, to observe Sabbath here and now. We let that choice mark us as unique, and as uniquely His, because we are choosing to live the future, now, to taste the realities of the coming age in this present age.
Do you think, in “Kingdom Come” you’ll be running around like a chicken with its head cut off? Just fighting to get your “to do” list completed? Just hoping to stay afloat? just wishing you could sit down for a minute and rest? Why don’t you show the Devil you can? Why don’t you just trust God enough to do so? To open and use His gift of Sabbath?
What I am talking about involves more than “whether or not” you show up for church on Sunday. There are a million good reasons to be obsessively faithful to church even if God had never ordained a “Sabbath.” I am asking you to make Sabbath as big as God has made it—and ask yourself: “What is it about my life that reflects this ‘Sabbath rest rhythm’ that God Himself has built in to the order of creation? What part of my life is Sabbath?”
Some of us couldn’t identify Sabbath in our lives. But to make work (which is actually the focus of our conversation this month) all it should be, and to make life itself all it should be—ordained and blessed by God and useful for His purposes—we’re going to have to learn to make Sabbath all it should be, testifying by it, celebrating through it, finding identity in it, renewing in our hearts God’s promise through the practice of it! To properly appreciate the gift of work, we must also embrace the gift of Sabbath.
These discussion questions relate to Kent Duncan’s sermon: The Gift of Rest for Blue Collar Workers. Learn more about his integrated outreach to blue collar workers by reading his thesis: Facilitating Marketplace Ministry in a Blue-Collar Context.
Tell us something about yourself by answering one of the following questions:
- Recognizing that leisure and Sabbath are two different things, what is your favorite leisure activity, hobby, or pastime?
- What’s the weirdest “Sabbath rule” you’ve ever heard of?
- As a worker made in the image of God, how do you observe Sabbath for yourself? With others? Why?
- What do others know about your Sabbath and why you practice it?
Discussion Questions relating to this week’s sermon: The Gift of Rest for Blue Collar Workers
Note: while considering these questions, please remember: Sabbath observance is more than just church attendance.
- Bruce Waltke says, “In the first six days, space is subdued; on the seventh, time is sanctified.” What seems distinct to you about the seventh day versus the other six?
- All sorts of labor-reducing, time saving devices have been created in recent decades. Recent advancements have made communication almost instantaneous. The internet puts information, education, social connection, household services, and entertainment at our fingertips. Still, many people seem more pressed for time than ever. What does our practice of Sabbath say to an increasingly time-crunched culture? How can our practice of Sabbath affect us as we seek to live God-honoring lives in that same culture?
- On the seventh day, God rested, marking His work of creating and establishing a patter for Sabbath rest. Israel, newly created by God, testified to her unique standing with God through the same. Jesus himself faithfully observed the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). How important is it for us, as a “new creation” in Christ, to develop a life marked by Sabbath rest?
- Since Sabbath has to do with “ceasing,” Sabbath-related questions often center on what that means – on a suitable definition of work not to be done. Tilden Edwards suggests that “the principle involved here… is not so much the physical nature of an activity but its purpose.” If the restful intent of Sabbath time is to recognize our dependence on God, what kind of work (or other activity) can be done on a day of Sabbath rest?
- Sabbath, according to Willem VanGemeren, is not a word that refers to “remedying exhaustion after a tiring week of work. Rather, it describes the enjoyment of accomplishment, the celebration of completion.” How does this truth inform your understanding and practice of Sabbath rest?
- People develop and express personal identity in a variety of ways. In what ways do you see a commitment to Sabbath observance developing your identity? In what ways does Sabbath observance express your identity? How would this be different from the ways other people express and build their identities?
- In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author announces that “the promise of entering his rest still stands” (Hebrews 4:1) and encourages believers to “make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). Harold Dressler suggests that, even at creation, the Sabbath was “an eschatological*, proleptic** sign indicating some future rest.” In what ways does practicing Sabbath rest today anticipate the Sabbath rest promised eternally through Christ? *eschatological: dealing with ultimate or final things; with Christianity, having to do with the destiny of humanity, the Second Coming, or the Last Judgment. ** proleptic: the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished.
- In what ways might you view your work – and your rest – differently this week in light of these Scriptures?