Japanese people are working themselves to death. Literally. The work culture is so intense, in the 1970’s they invented a word – karoshi – that translates as death by overwork. Since the 1950’s, in a government sponsored effort to rebuild the national economy, companies have expected significant amounts of overtime. But before long workers began committing suicide, or dying of strokes or heart attacks – the result of stress or lack of sleep.
Beginning in 1987 the government was documenting a couple of hundred cases every year. But by 2015, claims for government and company compensation for karoshi had risen to a record high of 2,310, according to the Japanese Labour Ministry. But the actual figure could be far higher. According to the National Defence Council for Victims of Karoshi, the true figure may be as high as 10,000 deaths per year.
But it’s not just Japan. It’s reported that China now leads the world in the number of deaths from work-related stress, with an estimated 600,000 deaths every YEAR.
And we’re not immune IN THE WEST EITHER. A study published last year in the medical journal, The Lancet, concluded that if you’re working more than 55 hours per week, you’re 13% more likely to suffer a heart attack, and 33% more likely to suffer a stroke than people who work 35-40 hours a week. They think the cause is elevated levels of “stress” hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. As well as other cardiac risk factors, such as lack of exercise, poor diet, and high consumption of alcohol and tobacco – all associated with overwork and work stress.
Over the last five weeks we’ve been looking at what God says about work. And we’ve found that he MADE us to work. And that work is GOOD. And yet, God’s good purposes for us include REST. Work is good, and REST is good. We’re just not created to keep WORKING AND WORKING. For our physical and emotional and psychological and spiritual health, we need regular rest.
In fact, REST is bound up in God’s creation of the world. Right from the START. Even GOD rests. At the end of Genesis 1, God’s finished creating the world in six days. And we read in 2:2
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he RESTED from all his work. 3 And God BLESSED the seventh day and made it HOLY, because on it he RESTED from all the work of creating that he had done.
Six days of WORK. ONE day of REST. He didn’t rest because he was TIRED. But because he’d FINISHED. Everything was DONE. ACOMPLISHED. It didn’t have to be repeated, repaired or revised. And so God could sit back and ENJOY what he’d worked for. That seventh day was DIFFERENT. SPECIAL. HOLY. A day to APPRECIATE what he’d done on the PREVIOUS six days.
He commands us to rest
And as we keep reading, we see that God’s rest is a BLUEPRINT for US to rest. In Exodus 20, God gives the 10 commandments. Which includes, in v8,
8 “REMEMBER the Sabbath day by KEEPING IT HOLY. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall NOT do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, BUT HE RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
God embeds a regular PATTERN and RHYTHM of rest right into the nature of creation itself. Day and night, work and sleep. And six days to WORK. And ONE day to REST. Just like God himself.
There’s the PHYSICAL rest. But it’s also PSYCHOLOGICAL or EMOTIONAL. It’s a day that’s set apart by God as SPECIAL, and he BLESSED it. On the seventh day God ENJOYED what he’d made on the first six days. And so do WE. We enjoy his creation, and the fruit of the work we’ve done. But it’s also SPIRITUAL rest. The Sabbath is to be kept TO THE LORD. FOR him, and in RECOGNITION of him.
It’s not God’s design if our rest is ONLY self-centred and self-indulgent. TRUE Sabbath rest is TO THE LORD. It INCLUDES him. And reconnects with him. And rejoices in his goodness. True rest GRATEFULLY CELEBRATES. We see that emphasised in Deuteronomy 5. Jump forward 40 years, and the people are just about to enter the Promised Land. So Moses repeats the teaching of the Ten Commandments. And he gives a DIFFERENT reason for resting on the Sabbath. v15. No one is to work on that day, even the servants. 15 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.
The Sabbath is REST FOR THE RESCUED. The slavery is over. And each Sabbath, they remembered that. And gave thanks to God their Redeemer. And they SHOWED their appreciation by allowing THEIR slaves to rest. Merciful because they’d been SHOWN mercy.
And if that was ISRAEL, how much more reason have WE got to be grateful? How much greater is our RESCUE?! And how much greater is our REST? So how much more JOYFUL should our rest be!?
If we jump forward to Jesus. (The leader better than Moses. And the one who WORKED to bring US REST. Who rescued US from the slavery of sin and death.) Here’s what HE has to say about rest. Matthew 11:28-30. He invites any who are humble enough to receive like little children
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Modern life is about working and striving for success and approval and fulfilment. And it never ends. No matter how long you work, next week there’s always more work to do. It’s wearying, and often pointless. And there’s frustration and disappointment.
That’s a THEOLOGICAL truth, but it’s also a SCIENTIFIC truth. It’s called the first law of thermodynamics. The Universe is set up so that it’s gradually unwinding, getting more and more random and disorganised. (Entropy increases). Left to themselves, things naturally rust and separate and breakdown. Rooms get messy, gardens get overgrown. Machinery breaks. To work AGAINST the forces of randomness and disorder takes ENERGY. WORK. We exert EFFORT to grow things, and tidy things, and manufacture things, and organise and assemble. Of course God’s work of creation was the GREATEST input of CREATIVE, INTELLIGENT ENERGY.
But our efforts of WORK, paid or unpaid, are always working against the tide of things. We’re always pushing a boulder uphill. And it’s a hill that never ends. And if we stop for a MOMENT, it rolls back on top of us, and crushes us. All we’ve achieved is undone.
That’s EARTHLY, PHYSICAL work. Then there’s SPIRITUAL work. IT never ends, and it’s frustrating and pointless. Humanity has an inbuilt SPIRITUAL hunger. Every culture and people group reaches out beyond what they can see/ to GOD, however they define him. And every religion, in whatever age, is about WORKING to REACH their God. Bridging the gap from the earth UPWARD to heaven. Through prayers or sacrifices or obedience or pilgrimages or study or ritual or initiation. And it never ends. Because the deity is never SATISIFED. He or she always wants MORE. And because it all depends on OUR efforts and OUR performance. There’s no certainty. Or assurance. Or REST.
But, instead, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST.
Isn’t that the BEST NEWS you’ve ever HEARD?! This Sunday, as most of us get to stop and rest, stop and dwell on that promise for a moment. Jesus offers weary and burdened people REST! Knowing God doesn’t depend on building a bridge from EARTH to HEAVEN. Because God HIMSELF, in Jesus, has come down from heaven to EARTH. And it doesn’t depend on your performance, or work, or consistency, or endurance. It’s all about Jesus’ introduction. In the verse just before his invitation to come and rest, he says, (12:27)
27 “All things have been COMMITTED TO ME by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and THOSE TO WHOM THE SON CHOOSES TO REVEAL HIM.
Jesus has the delegated authority – the executive order- to make the introduction. And it’s JESUS who chooses US, not the other way around. And Jesus who REVEALS God to us. Who bridges the gap. Who performs the work. So we don’t HAVE to. Which means we can STOP. And REST. And CELEBRATE. With CONFIDENT, GRATEFUL CERTAINTY. Job done! Come to Jesus. Hand your burdens over to him. Burdens of guilt, and expectation, and impossible to-do lists. Burdens of living in the mess you’ve created by poor choices, wrong priorities, and selfishness. Come in humility and repentance. Come when you’re at the end of your rope, and the bottom of your pit. Come with empty pockets and open hands. Jesus invites you, if you’re weary and burdened, to COME to him. And REST.
But that doesn’t mean you never work again! There’s STILL WORK TO BE DONE. Notice that there’s still a yoke to bear. But Jesus promises that his yoke is EASY and his burden is LIGHT. Because he’s GENTLE. Now we’re following Jesus, work is TRANSFORMED. It’s work that’s done BECAUSE we belong to Jesus. Work done from WITHIN THE RELATIONSHIP. Not work done to ENTER it. Not work done to PROVE something. But work done for a new Master. For a new PURPOSE. With new perspective and new HOPE. With a new power, and a new MOTIVATION.
And that changes EVERYTHING. It changes the PAID work we do. AND the unpaid work. It changes WHY we work, and what we want to ACHIEVE. It changes the way we TREAT people at work. And WHY. It changes the MINISTRY work we do. Gives it a new motivation, and a new energy. And it changes the way we THINK about ourselves if we’re unemployed, or unable to work. Because our identity isn’t found, anymore, in what we do, but WHO WE BELONG TO. And even in the midst of work BUSYNESS and ACTIVITY, we can find REST FOR OUR SOULS. (Peace. Contentment. Satisfaction. Joy.)
Are we still required to keep the Sabbath?
So what’s all this got to do with PHYSICAL rest? With taking regular breaks? And do Christians have to rest on the Sabbath? And if so, WHY? They’re all questions that’d take a little longer to answer than we’ve got time for.
But Jesus, in Mark chapter 2, gives us some help. Out of all the Ten Commandments, KEEPING THE SABBATH is the one that seems to cause the most friction between Jesus and the religious leaders. All the others Jesus affirms, or even STRENGTHENS. But he goes out of his way to DO things on the Sabbath the leaders thought BROKE the command. Like healing people. Or allowing his disciples to pluck grain and eat. He’s not CANCELLING the command. He’s RE-INTERPRETING it. Calling the people BACK to what God had originally INTENDED the Sabbath to be.
And he’s got the AUTHORITY to do it because he’s LORD of the Sabbath. That’s what he says in Mark 2:28. The Pharisees accuse his disciples of doing unlawful work on the Sabbath. And Jesus points them back to what his ancestor, King David, had done. He’d authorised his men to eat the consecrated bread. And now Jesus is doing the SAME. Because he’s the GREATER king. The Lord of EVERYTHING. Even Lord of the Sabbath. And he gives his ruling, in v27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
God gave us the Sabbath FOR OUR GOOD. For our refreshment and rest. It was never meant to be ENDURED. Or to lock us in and restrict us. It’s meant to be ENJOYED.
The Sabbath is for US. But it’s also FOR THE LORD. Just like Israel was to keep the Sabbath TO THE LORD, so should WE. Israel kept the Sabbath to remember how God had rescued them from Egypt, and brought them into the rest of the Promised Land. We should do the same. Our Sabbath rest reminds us of OUR rescue, by Jesus, from death and judgment. And how he’s brought us into rest. And it helps us to look forward to the even BETTER rest that’s coming into eternity. And so our God-designed rest is TO THE LORD. In joyful gratitude for Jesus who gives us TRUE, ETERNAL rest.
But perhaps you’re thinking, “Hang on a minute, David! The Sabbath’s A SATURDAY. Why do we rest on SUNDAY?
It seems like the early churches began meeting on Sundays. For example in Acts 20:7 Luke describes how the church in Troas met on the first day of the week. That is, Sunday. And in 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul tells the Corinthians to bring their collection on THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK. And in Rev 1:10 John says that he was in the Spirit on what he says was THE LORD’S DAY – that is, the day of Jesus’ resurrection – SUNDAY. So, that was probably ONE reason.
ANOTHER likely reason was the problems the Gentile churches were having with Jewish legalists. These false teachers were tying SALVATION to keeping Jewish laws, like circumcision and food laws and Sabbath. Galatians and Acts 15 tell us all about that. And Paul may have encouraged the Gentile churches to SPECIFICALLY MOVE AWAY from keeping the Sabbath. And, instead, to meet on Sunday. For example, in Galatians 4:9, he rebukes the Galatian Gentile Christians 9 But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be ENSLAVED by them all over again? 10 You are OBSERVING SPECIAL DAYS AND MONTHS AND SEASONS AND YEARS! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. It seems like Paul’s worried that by they’re being pressured to keep special days as part of their salvation. But that means they’re letting go of grace. And Paul won’t let that happen!
And in Colossians 2:16, he seems to be thinking of the Jewish legalists when he says 16 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. In other words, keeping Jewish laws, including the Sabbath, doesn’t make you right with God. So don’t let anyone put you down, or make you feel inferior, because you don’t keep THEIR VERSION of the rules.
And then he adds. 17 These are a SHADOW of the things that were to come; the REALITY, however, is found in Christ. In other words. Food and drink, and circumcision, and keeping the Sabbath are just temporary, and shadows. They all point to the REALITY that LASTS. To Jesus. Jesus gives us the REAL rest Sabbath points to. So there’s no need to stick to what’s only a SHADOW. ESPECIALLY if people are making it a condition of salvation.
So, what gave these early Christians the freedom to just change their day of rest from Saturday to Sunday? It seems like it’s the attitude of Jesus in Mark 2. That Sabbath was MADE FOR MAN, not man for the Sabbath. That there’s PRINCIPLES more important than the LETTER of the law. Like doing what’s GOOD for people. And so that’s why most Christians meet on Sundays. And it’s why it’s ok for you to WORK on Sundays if you can’t avoid it.
It’s STILL God’s design for you to REST. And he still wants you to MEET WITH HIS PEOPLE. To HELP you rest TO THE LORD. To gratefully rejoice in his salvation rest. And the BEST way to do that is if we all rest on the same day. And Sunday’s as good a day as ANY.
So, on this Lord’s Day Sunday, if your tendency is to overwork, can I encourage you? For the sake of your HEALTH, and the sake of your SPIRITUAL HEALTH, and the sake of your family, and your CHURCH family. Take some deliberate, targeted steps to taking regular rest. Most of us have SEASONS of overwork. But if you’re regularly working more than 60 hours a week, sit down and, prayerfully, consider WHY. Are there sinful motivations you need to repent of? Is there GREED? (A desire to accumulate wealth) Or PRIDE? The pride of perfectionism – that every project has to be perfect. Or the pride of STATUS? Or the pride of being indispensable? (You can’t take a holiday because no one can do your job but you) Is there the idolatry of finding your importance and self-identity in your EMPLOYMENT, rather than in Christ? Or maybe you’re a people-pleaser, who can’t bear to disappoint people. Or is there faithless WORRY about tomorrow? Jesus says you can’t add a single hour to your life by worrying. And that God knows what you need, and provides.
And whether you’re working, or resting. Keep God’s ETERNAL perspective. There’s a FINAL victorious resurrection rest for us. It will make your WORK TODAY more satisfying and purposeful. And it will make your REST more joyful and thankful. 1 Corinthians 15 is all about Christ’s resurrection and then our resurrection on Judgment Day. And there’s 57 verses describing what that will be like. But then in v58 we read the “SO WHAT.” (How that affects our work NOW.) And I’ll make THOSE the last words (Death has been swallowed up in victory… 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.) 58 THEREFORE, my dear brothers, STAND FIRM. Let nothing move you. ALWAYS GIVE YOURSELVES FULLY TO THE WORK OF THE LORD, because you know that your LABOR IN THE LORD IS NOT IN VAIN. Amen