“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work (Exodus 20:8-10). We generally focus on the prohibition in the Fourth Commandment. God commands us to cease from our labor on the Lord’s Day to commemorate His creation and our redemption. We enter His rest by ceasing our work. Thus, we remember that God saves us by grace and not on the basis of our works. We celebrate the work of Christ rather than boast in our own.
But to cease from our labor in order to enter God’s rest directs us to His positive command. God requires work: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Exodus 20:9). Yes, God requires us to work. This was God’s design from before the fall. “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it [literally, ‘work it’] and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).
This work included naming the animals (Genesis 2:19), and what we call the Cultural Mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Adam and Eve were to build culture and society to the glory of God.
As keeping Sabbath is a creation ordinance, work is also a creation ordinance (Genesis 2:1). Working the ground, discovering and naming what God created, and building a culture and society to God’s glory were all part of God’s mandate for his human creatures from the beginning. As such, this work was not a toilsome burden. Rather, it was a joy.
It is sin and the fall which introduces toilsome labor. To raise a family and build a society of believing households in this world becomes painful. “In pain you will bring forth children (Genesis 3:16). To work the ground and carry out daily tasks becomes toilsome. “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). Even so, because it is a creation ordinance, the command to work remains our obligation to this present day.
Sin not only made work toilsome but because of sin, men and women pervert work. They use God ordained work to further their own glory rather than God’s glory. They refuse to build the city of God. “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name (Genesis 11:4). Even though work has become more and more toilsome, people use their work to oppose God and build cultures and societies which reject Him. And they use the Sabbath for their own relaxation and entertainment.
Jesus Christ saves you from this self-centered cycle of work and rest and returns you to the God-centered cycle of the rest and work. You rest and worship on the first day of the week as a sign that your work does not merit heavenly rest. You trust the work of Christ to open the ultimate rest of heaven for you. Then you work to the glory of God for six days. Your work is in the proper place. It vindicates your faith (James 2:26).