Work and Rest
July 2, 2023
HOW THE GOSPEL INFORMS WORK/REST
Good morning, and welcome to River City Church! If you are a first time guest with us, or you are new around here, thank you for choosing to worship with us this morning! My name is Rodney, I am one of the pastors here, and it is good to be together with you all this morning.
Today we are launching into a 5 week series of sermons I’m calling “Footholds of Faith” that takes a look at how Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension informs various aspects of our lives. And here’s what I mean by that…
The way Jesus lived, the way he died, the way he rose again, and what happened after his resurrection makes all the difference in the world for how you and I can and should live our lives. Jesus lived the way he lived for a reason. There’s a reason he came as a baby, not a 40 year old man. Jesus died the way he died for a reason. There’s a reason the religious leaders failed multiple times at their attempts to kill him before they did. Jesus rose to life on the third day for a reason. There is a reason he didn’t stay dead in the grave. And Jesus ascended to heaven for a reason… there is a purpose for him not staying here on earth just roaming around from country to country, city to city, person to person.
So this morning we’re going to talk about how the gospel, that is the good news of Jesus, should help us to think about work and rest, and why that is an important foothold for our lives. So let’s pray and dive straight into this…
I got my first job when I was 10 years old, and I worked for a farmer about a mile down the road from my house. He had a big chicken house where all the birds were in cages and where the feed would go around the chicken coops on conveyor chains like this one (picture) Every now and then, a chicken would get caught in that chain and that was the end for them. It was my job to grab a wheelbarrow and walk the chicken house every morning and pick out the ones that got caught overnight. I think minimum wage was $4/hr or something like that, I had the potential to make 20-25 bucks a week, and I was pretty fired up about it for a couple days.
Some of those chickens who got caught in the chain were pretty nasty till I would get there in the morning, and when they were really bad, but I pretended I didn’t see them and left them for the boss to find later in the day. I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth. He approached me about it and told me he knew what I’m doing, and basically fired a 10 year old from his first job. I deserved it, but I was not broken up about it.
Pulling dead chickens feels incredibly mundane. You really don’t feel like you’re making much difference in the world, and when it boils right down to it, it’s not generally the kind of work you are excited to get up in the morning to get back to doing again.
According to a survey compiled by Pew Research Center just 3 months ago, only 50% of Americans say they are extremely or very satisfied with their jobs. And what I want to look at this morning, is how the good news of Jesus tells us to think about work, and how the good news of Jesus is the only motivation we need to get out of bed in the morning and hit the grindstone again – even if your job feels as uninspiring as pulling dead chickens.
So let’s begin this conversation (as we will begin every conversation in this series) at the very beginning.
The first 2 chapters of Genesis give us a window into the work of Creation. You can read Genesis 1 on your own later today, but Genesis 2 begins like this: “So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. On the seventh day God had completed his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it he rested from all his work of creation.”
So straight out of the gate, if you were to answer the question “Who is God, and what is he like?” you would have to say that the God of the Bible is a God who works…specifically a God who works for the flourishing of the things he has made. Other creation accounts from ancient history are violent and chaotic, born out of struggle and death and war, and humans are slaves to the gods. But the Genesis account of Creation paints a picture of care, gentleness, order, and a desire for relationship between God and humans… and God’s work is ordered around the flourishing of these humans and the rest of the things he made.
In fact, as Genesis 2 tells in more detail about the creation of humans, verse 15 is crystal clear on what the purpose of human beings is: The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. Then in verse 18, The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.” This working and guarding the garden was not someone to be done in isolation. It required community. So God created a woman and brought her to the man, and now the team was complete… ready to tackle working and watching here in the garden.
- Work is established by God for flourishing and growth! Working the garden speaks toward working with God toward the flourishing and growth of the Garden. God could have made a Garden that was fully functioning on its own, but he created it as something that would require human intervention and maintenance. God could have given Adam a barn full of all the tools he would need for this. Tractors, shovels, planters, pruning hooks, chainsaws, etc. But discovery and invention and trial and error and creativity were all part of working with God to further human flourishing. The humans are not slaves who simply meet God’s needs. They are managers and stewards who participate with God in his work.
- Humans are stewards, not owners. Watching over the garden speaks toward the protection, care, and defense, not just of the garden itself, but of everything in it. Protecting what God has created – protecting his creation, protecting their relationships with each other and with God. Protecting against chaos and disorder undoing what God has ordered. And again, God could have established a Garden that didn’t need protection. Or he could have watched over it himself and taken care of it himself. But in his infinite wisdom and purpose for Creation, he chose to create humans with dignity and value to work alongside him as managers to further and cultivate all he has just created. At this point, the humans don’t know what they are guarding the Garden against, but they will soon enough.
- Work was founded on relationships – The woman is the perfect helper for the man. They are both designed to depend on and value each other, as they together depend on God for wisdom and help. They bring different viewpoints and perspectives to the table, and yet they work together toward the common goal that God established for them. They would discover incredible things together, enjoying each other, and walking in relationship with God – learning from him, listening to him, and enjoying his presence as they worked together to cultivate and watch over the Garden.
Then in Genesis 3-11, humanity completely abandons the idea of working alongside the God of creation. Sin isn’t simply “oops I made a mistake.” Sin isn’t just “oh, we have some dysfunction in our family.” Sin is at its core a rebellion against God’s plan for the flourishing and furthering of Creation. And as God confronts Adam and Eve in chapter 3 with the consequences of this rebellion, what is a bit fascinating to me is that the curse of sin is centered around two things… relationships and work. And would you not agree that to this day, the primary struggles we have as humans are centered around relationships and work. We’ll talk more about the relationships part next week.
But immediately, in God’s talk with Adam and Eve, you see the effects of sin as it relates to their work. They questioned God, doubted his goodness, and chose their own wisdom over his. The results were deadly. Genesis 3:10-20
- Under sin, Work Becomes a Hiding Place (3:7, 10) –
They intentionally separate themselves from him as shame and fear and guilt are suddenly part of their experience. Adam’s first job was naming all the animals. His second job was designing and creating clothes to hide himself from his wife and from God. We still to this day often use work to hide from our families or from God.
Relating with family is hard work, so we stay at the office a little longer. We say “Imma quick do this outside, then I’ll be in” and it takes as long as we need it to. Instead of getting up and giving the first minutes of our day to God, we get up and get right after it, out the door, no time for relationship… Under the curse of sin, work moves from being something we do to partner with God and each other to something we often use to hide from those very relationships. Even stay at home moms or dads can sometimes hide behind their children to hide themselves from other relationships and even from God.
- Under sin, working Becomes Painful. (3:17-19)
I believe that working the garden would still have made Adam tired. Even before sin, he still needed sleep. It was during one of those pre-Fall naps that God did surgery on Adam in order to create Eve out of his rib. So I think work would always have been some level of exhausting. It’s not a result of sin that we go to bed tired at the end of the day. But where work became painful for Adam is that
- The ground will now work against him. It will produce thorns and thistles that you’ll have to work around to get to your desired results. You will now go to work feeling like everything and everyone is against you. You will plow the field and make it perfect for growing corn or beans, and at the same time you are making it even easier for weeds to grow. You will feel the need to get up earlier to get more done, stay out later to get more done. You’ll hire more people and buy more equipment to help you get work done, but more people and more equipment brings more work and more problems for you to deal with.
- Relationships are broken. To the woman… v 16 you will bear children with painful effort – I don’t think this means God changed her body so that giving birth hurt more than it did before. Perhaps. But I think more likely is that the work of raising children will be painful now because they are simply small sinners. They will look so cute and innocent, but they will daily work against you, interrupt your plans, and break your heart. You will want to be relationally close with your husband, to know him and be known by him and be close to him and work alongside him – but sin will make you end up asking him to be for you what only God can be, or trying to hijack his role because he’s not doing it like you would. Husbands, look at that same verse – v16 – sin will make you think you are the king of your castle. You will treat your wife as your servant instead of your helper. You will treat her as if she’s under you, instead of beside you. Under sin you will find her desire for companionship and closeness with you annoying because you have things to do – even though she was designed specifically by God to be the perfect companion and helper for you.
- Under sin, work shapes our identity - (3:20) Adam names his wife after what she does. She is a mother, so I’ll call her “life”. At least here in Western culture, this one is easy to do. Our identity rises and falls on what we do. When one of Adam and Eve’s sons kills the other one, God asks him, “Where is your brother?” Cain replies, “I don’t know, that’s not my job to keep track of him.” In the end of chapter 4, people are identified by what they do – farmers, musicians, tool-makers.
- No finish line. God completed his work in 6 days, and rested on the 7th because he was done. Not you. Your work is never finished. V19, You will sweat until you die, and you will leave behind a long list of things that are left unfinished, and all the things you worked hard for will either be left to someone else to enjoy, or end up in a landfill. That idea frustrated King Solomon to no end, and in Ecclesiastes 2 he wrote this: 18 I hated all my work that I labored at under the sun because I must leave it to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will take over all my work that I labored at skillfully under the sun. In chapter 6 he calls this a sickening tragedy.
- Rest becomes an escape - Sometimes, when work gets to be too much for us and we’re feeling the weight of it or the weariness of it, we say things like “I just need to unplug and get off the grid for a couple days. I need to go where no one needs me…somewhere I’m waited on hand and foot, I don’t need to make any decisions… that will be rest for my soul.”
But even that works against us, because then we come back home and have twice the work we would have had if we would have stayed home! Nothing at home respects your vacation – it just waits for you to return.
God worked 6 days and rested on the seventh day, establishing a pattern for us to follow. ut by the time you get to the end of Genesis 5, a man named Lamech fathered a son and called him Noah, saying “This one will bring us relief from the agonizing labor of our hands, caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.”
Under the curse of sin, work is transformed from being a joyful participation with God in the flourishing of this good world he has made, into a futile and sickening tragedy we can’t wait to escape from.
The tragedy isn’t that we have to work hard in this life… the tragedy is that sin causes us to ask work and rest to be something for us that only Jesus can be. And it’s only in Jesus where we find hope again.
In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul prays that we would know God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that we would walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God…In Col 1:29 – he talks about himself, how he labors for the hope of glory, striving with his strength that works powerfully in him.
Something happened in Paul's mind that moved work and labor from being what Solomon called a meaningless tragedy to something once again worth pursuing like an athlete striving for the finish line, and that something is the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
Here’s the good news: Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God the Father because I couldn’t pull it off. That perfect track record of never sinning was not just for his benefit – it was for ours. On that cross, then, Jesus took my sinful track record on himself and was treated as if he were a sinner who rebelled against God, and in exchange, he gave me his perfect track record and I am treated as if I’ve never sinned. Then, on the third day, to prove that the cross worked and God accepted the payment, He rose Jesus from the grave, very much alive and glorified! Then, God the Father ascended Jesus to the throne in heaven, giving him the name above all names, authority over everything, with no equals or rivals, now ruling and reigning and interceding for us to the Father!
For that reason, in Christ, the work we do is now part of the plan of redemption, whether it’s pulling dead chickens, driving a skid loader, or teaching the word of God. Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people.
You might be tempted to think that fixing a meal, or stitching up a wound, or changing oil is just busy work…That it really doesn't amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but look at the next verse: Do your work for the Lord and not just for the people who cut the check…knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord!
You ready for this?: Slaves don’t get an inheritance. Children do! You are not working for the Lord like a mindless, soulless robot on a factory line stamping out parts – you work as a dignified and valued child of God, who’s faithful labor for Christ – whether it’s changing diapers, or sitting on city council, or running a vacuum cleaner, managing 100 people around the world, working with a budget of $10s of millions or just $10s – comes with a pretty significant paycheck at the end… a share in the inheritance of Christ!
I love how Brian Chapell says it: Work is not merely making a living while trying not to sin; it is about extending the kingdom rule of Jesus Christ. And because Jesus has broken the curse of sin, we are once again able to view work and rest for what it really is. It is no longer a futile and sickening tragedy – it is participation in the goodness of God for the flourishing of the world.
Anytime a boss treats his employees fairly, the kingdom is advanced. Anytime an employee is truthful on their time card, the kingdom is advanced. Anytime a client or a customer is given a fair price, anytime a wrong is made right, anytime a nurse or doctor doesn’t cut corners, but goes the extra mile to care for someone who is hurting, anytime a diaper is changed in a timely manner, any time a messy kitchen is cleaned and returned to order, any time a lawn is taken care of, and finances are balanced, any time you pay a bill or pick up a piece of trash on the sidewalk – the Spirit of God working in you under the sovereign rule and reign of Christ makes those all of those efforts effective, and the kingdom of God’s goodness is shown on earth as it is in heaven.
So, through the gospel, this fallen view of work is transformed.
- We don’t need to use work to hide from God or others – We are hidden in Christ, secure in who he says we are, and so our work is also hidden in Christ, part of his redeeming work in the world.
- Work is still difficult and is often accompanied by physical or emotional pain. But because Jesus is on the throne, and everything in heaven and on earth answers to him, we can be confident that nothing is wasted.
- At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus heard the voice of his Father proclaim loudly over him – “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” That was before he had done any miracles, before he had gone to the cross, before he had preached a single sermon or taught a single truth. If you are in Christ, the same is said about you. You are a beloved son or daughter, and God is just as pleased with you at 2:30am before you’ve done a single thing as he is with you at 10:30pm after a productive day. Your worth is something declared by your heavenly Father, based on what Jesus accomplished, not something you need to accomplish. The good news of Jesus tells us:
- You are not being measured by how clean your house is.
- You are not being measured by whether or not you doubled income from last year.
- You are not being measured by how many people directly benefit from your work.
- You are not measured by how much applause or recognition you get from people.
- You are not being measured by how brilliant you are, or how wise and creative you are, or how far you have advanced in your industry
- Listen up, church – you are not being measured by whether you got a lot done today, or if you think you wasted it. Usually we think a day was wasted because we didn’t get much accomplished. But because Jesus is on the throne today, just like he was yesterday, and because he is sovereign over all of your days – he is the one who oversees and plans our days. What you call unproductive might have advanced his kingdom more than your plans would have. You can simply bow your head at the end of the day and say, I don’t know what that was, but I trust that every distraction, every forgetful moment, every interruption was something that you saw and ordained before I was born, and nothing happened today that will set your kingdom behind a day. Everything is still on schedule, and my identity is in who God says I am, not what my to-do list says about me.
- To those who are hidden in Christ, there is a glorious finish line to run toward with all of our might. And it is to hear the words of the Father over us from Matthew 25:21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’
- Because of sin, you would never in a million gajillion years be able to hear the words “well done” or “good” or “faithful” without Jesus stepping in. You would instead hear “major fail, you wicked and lazy servant.” But when the blood of the one true good and faithful servant, Jesus, is applied to a sinner’s heart by faith, our wickedness is washed away once and for all, and we are judged “good” and “faithful” not by how well we did compared to others, but by what we did with the faith and the resources and the time and the abilities we were given.
- That’s the finish line right there! Sharing in your master’s joy! God is the most joyful being there ever was or will be, and it is his delight, his unbridled pleasure to bring sinners to salvation, redeeming them through Jesus, cleaning all the sin out of them, setting them up with the faith to obey and follow him all their days, and then to welcome them into his presence for eternity… We have never seen a smile quite as big as we will see on that day.
- In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus says “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
- There is nothing necessarily wrong with vacations, but do you notice that Jesus does not encourage you to go on vacation to find rest. He invites you to come to him. There is no anxiety here. No hurry. No fear. No lousy service or bad food. This rest is the same peace Jesus had, and he offers it to you. This is unbelievable news for the poor – You don’t have to be able to afford 7 nights in Hawaii or Bora Bora in order to have soul rest. You can have soul rest and at the same time be as busy as you’ve ever been.
- Part of coming to Jesus for rest is relaxing our grip on the things of earth, releasing control into the sovereign and loving control of God. The other part of rest is embracing our limitations. The average person born in Iowa lives 77.5 years. God has designed us that we will spend around 25 of those years sound asleep. Completely unconscious. No planning, scheming, working…completely vulnerable, lights out. ⅓ of your life. Not only that, he instructs us in Exodus 19 to honor one day a week as Sabbath, a rest from our work. So of the 52.5 years of your life that you are actually awake for, God invites you to take another 7 of those years to simply rest while you are fully awake – one Sabbath day at a time. One day a week to not produce. To not achieve. To not need to “advance” anything, but to trust that he will take care of you and meet your needs.
So, River City – Because Jesus lived, died, rose again, and was ascended to the throne of heaven and earth, you can wrap up the tools or shut down the phones at the office and go home at a decent time with things left undone trusting him for tomorrow. Because everything is under his feet, You can shut off the TV, put down your phone, and go to sleep early tonight… not because it’ll help you get more done tomorrow, but because you are participating in God’s good design for your body, your mind, and your soul. And because Jesus lived, died, rose, and ascended, you are just as loved in a straitjacket strapped to a hospital gurney as you are at the end of a productive day in your prime.
Let’s respond to this with a few minutes of prayer –
- Where have I asked work or rest to be something only Jesus can be? Am I hiding in my work, making it my identity, frustrated that I’m not doing more, asking beautiful places in creation to restore my soul and bring true rest instead of Jesus? Confess those things as sin.
- Ask the Spirit to show you where you still have a grip on your life, wanting to be in control. What would it look like for you to fully surrender to the goodness of God?