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The Biblical Leisure Ethic

“Leisure ethic” may sound a bit odd to those of us who have lived all of our lives in the world’s largest economy, but this is exactly what the Sabbath required.

…in it you shall not do ANY work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you (Exodus 20:10).

My guess is that this would take some getting used to.  Can you imagine doing NO WORK AT ALL for 24 hours?   Sometimes even our leisure is exhausting.  In fact, much of our vacation time is spent in what the old Law would classify as work. I want to emphasize that I do not want to encourage sloth.  But I do believe that balancing what the scriptures taught on work and leisure would give us a better understanding of what God expected of his Old Testament people and also have implications for his expectations of us today.

  I  believe that our Creator knew the inherent need that all of his creatures have for rest and also provided for this in the fourth commandment.  Human beings were made so that each day we need the relief of sleep just as surely as we need water and nutrition.  Recent studies have associated the long term lack of sleep with a host of physical and emotional problems.  Miss a few hours sleep over a few days and our bodies let us know through fatigue that we need to catch up on our rest.  However, our need for rest is not entirely met by that which we receive at night.  Often our days are so stressful that sleep eludes us or even intrudes on our dreams.  I can remember many nights when, in my dreams, I worked on a factory production line stacking product all night long and the line always seemed to back up on me. This problem seems to be even further compounded by the anxiety that comes with the hectic jobs that require mental rather than physical labor.

Sadly, the stress perceived immediately may not be the worst of the problems we face by lack of rest.  Hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, some kinds of cancer, and a host of other ailments are frequently being medically traced to the pace of the lives that we lead.  To be quite clear, our lifestyle is likely diminishing the quality and length of our earthly existence.

God’ ancient solution to the world’s rest problem was the Sabbath!  With this in mind, “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27), given by God as a gift to His people to provide time to renew their bodies, their spirits, and the leisure needed for true reflection and priority selection.  Certainly He intended it as an exercise of faith on the part of the Israelites.  But as our Creator, He also showed by initiating the Sabbath that He knew and wanted what was best for His children.

What can we jettison from our lives to provide the Sabbath rest in this life that we need?  Isn’t there one day a month that we can devote to complete relaxation with nothing planned at all?  Perhaps there is just an hour a day that we can rest our bodies and collect our thoughts?  I fear that if we do not set such voluntary margins in our lives that we maintain inviolably, our time on earth will have been wasted and our lives expended on transient things, never having taken time to meditate and reflect on spiritual priorities.  Hell will likely be filled with exhausted individuals with an eternity to regret that they never redeemed the time (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5).