Christians know of the importance of Sabbath and rest. We are not robots, built to do nothing but work. We are not slaves, forced to do nothing more than labor. Indeed, we were created in such a way that if we don’t rest, we will suffer. Our bodies weren’t made to keep going around the clock. This is a warning that many need to hear and receive. Rest is important. Even more so, Sabbath rest is important, which is not a time where we bingewatch our favorite show or sit around and look at our phones, but a time that we spend in the presence of God. For just as God’s presence rested with us in Eden, so we must pause each week to rest with him again and reorient our lives.
But there is another important message that Christians need to hear too, and it might be more important to hear after going through a pandemic: We need to work. In Genesis, humanity was not created to rest at all times, but commissioned to work. Should Adam and Eve had done their job rightly, their descendants would have eventually left the ordered Garden of Eden to turn the rest of the unordered world into an ordered Garden as well. In the age to come of the new creation, an ultimate Sabbath rest will come to the earth, but in this current age, work is a part of the created order of things. (Though I think work will be in the age to come too, just a different, pleasant kind of work.)
Granted, work is not simple for everyone. Some are incapable of doing so due to a disability or a political/legal complexity in which working actually makes their life more financially or sociologically unstable. These are confusing times to be sure, and everyone’s case requires a different approach. But for those of us who can work, it is one of the major ways in which we go on to impact society. We are called to do something. Our work may not always come back to us in the form of a paycheck from a business, but our investment should be seen in some capacity (like how a stay-at-home parent finds their investment in their children). Perhaps we can take a note from Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians here:
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.2 Thessalonians 3:6-12
Some of the Thessalonians were not “busy,” but “busybodies.” It’s perhaps as though these particular individuals did whatever they wanted in life and came to rely on the church to meet their needs, while being totally capable of work themselves. They had a certain sense of entitlement it seems. I’ve run into such cases before. For example, our church is supplied with pre-packed bags of free food that we can deliver to people whenever they call and ask for it. A few months back I went to deliver one of these bags and the recipient was rather cross with me because it wasn’t the kind of food they wanted. They had clearly misunderstood what this particular ministry was, but their sense of entitlement was impossible to miss. They nearly seemed to reject it at one point after I had already driven it out to them. Many have come to recognize that the church’s hospitality can sometimes cause these kinds of backwards scenarios, which is why we have books like, When Helping Hurts.
In order to illustrate to the Thessalonians that work was important, Paul refused to take their missionary money which he was Biblically allowed to have. Instead, he paid for all of his food and supported himself, likely bi-vocationally. And he did this in order to be an example to them of how they needed to work. Indeed, Paul seemed to be working constantly in life to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth as he spread the gospel nonstop.
When we stop to look at our lives through an ordered Edenic lens, it’s important to ask ourselves Eden’s questions. Do I rest well? Do I work well? Am I busy with the right things? Am I a busybody with the wrong things?
My liturgical devotion today is based off of the themes of 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18, found at CommonPrayer.net.