Our American Labor Day holiday commemorates values associated with the relentless nature of our work. On Labor Day, we honor the work and work ethic of our fellow laborers, and the way this prospers our nation and us in both the personal and the common good. We celebrate by taking a holiday from our work, perhaps enjoying the fruits of our labor with an end-of-summer picnic and BBQ as we spend time with our families and friends. Labor Day can also be a day to reflect on the importance of rest in the labor and rest cycle. Rest is essential for our physical and emotional health. It allows us to recharge, and to come back to our work refreshed and poised for productivity.
The Bible tells us that God both worked and rested. “On the seventh day God 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.” (Gen. 2:2-3) Made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), Christians rightly believe that God created us also to both work and to rest. Work is good for us, properly appreciated and undertaken. Solomon tells us that it is good for a man “to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.” (Ecc. 5:19)
Labor Day differs greatly from the biblical Sabbath, and being tired is not the same as being weary. A friend once said, “If you’re tired, get some rest. If you’re weary, go before the Lord.” The first of that counsel deals with the effects of hard labor on the body; the second has far more to do with the condition of our spirit. We are a tripartite entity of spirit, soul, and body (1 Thess. 5:23), and for us to function well requires rest also for the soul, but that is a rest which only comes properly within the dominion of the Holy Spirit. When He controls our submissive spirit, we develop the capacity to be Spirit-led in our soul and body. There is a stark distinction to be made herein; it has very much to do with understanding the differences between doing and being. At issue is comprehending who we are becoming in Christ in our spiritual pilgrimage.
The Sabbath is not just a day of rest, dedicated to the body. It is meant to be a day of worship dedicated to God; in fact, this is a command – one of the BIG TEN: “You shall honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Ex. 20:8) It is a day, not once a year, but of every week, that we honor God’s work of creation and celebrate His goodness. It is a day to reflect on His providential salvation made manifest in our own lives, and perhaps to make a personal inventory about how well we value living as eternal beings in a temporal world.
Jesus says of himself, “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt. 12:8) Amazing God! He identifies with us! And as we identify with Him, the author of Hebrews says of us, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.” (Heb. 12:9-10)
Rest of body, rest of soul, rest of spirit—how tantalizing this sounds to us during our dry seasons, when it seems we may be too weary to go on. Can we really “do everything through Him who gives me strength?” (Phil. 4:13) This only becomes something we can appreciate and appropriate by actualizing spiritual disciplines that align us with Jesus’ wonderful promise: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)
Brothers and sisters, co-laborers in the gospel (c.f. 1 Cor. 3:7-9), may this Labor Day holiday become for you a holy Sabbath-day of rest.