In the earliest of days, God ceremonially worked, and then he ceremonially rested. We believe this was the rotation presented by God to Adam. Six days he was to worship by laboring; one day he was to worship by not laboring…It is not even a day when one has to keep the tight ceremonial additions temporarily given to Israel by God. It is a day of delight, or rest, or holy festivity and partying. The sabbath concept or the “One-in Seven Rotation” is a gift from God to aid a distracted, anxious, troubled, judgmental, divisive, and brash people.
There is certainly a time for us to sacrifice, labor, toil, work, serve, or minister. God gives all of us spiritual and temporal gifts, and he expects us to steward and spend them for his glory and our neighbor’s good. Yes, it is good for us to work as did Moses, labor as did disciples, minister as did Paul, and serve as did Mary.
There are certainly benefits when we do serve. As the Father witnesses our obedience, worship, and selfless service, he smiles. It thrills him to see what he does through the hearts and hands of his redeemed children. He loves to see us loving and looking like his Beloved Son. Yes, when we labor, God grins, brothers and sisters are benefited, the Gospel is promoted, and our own souls are encouraged and made glad.
However, despite the duty and benefits of service, something better is before us. According to Jesus, it is better for us when we sabbath than when we serve:
Luke 10:38–42 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was serving the Lord and his friends. She was dutifully using her house, her food, and her energy. She was generous and not selfish. She was not industrious and not lazy. All of this is good.
However, she was distracted and not properly focused. Her focus was first on her own performance; Martha was very proud of her labors. Secondly, her focus was on her sister’s non-performance; Martha was greatly displeased with Mary’s work ethic. Then her focus also turned to her Lord’s non-performance; Martha expressed her displeasure with Jesus’ complacent response to Mary’s just sitting there. And what were the consequences of the distracted Mary? She became anxious, troubled, judgmental, divisive, brash, and lovingly admonished.
Jesus loved his distracted and beloved Martha, so with tenderness he helped her focus on that which was most beneficial to her. Though there was a duty to serve, and though great benefits flowed from her service, it was far better for her to sit at Jesus feet, like a disciple, and be blessed by him. Yes, she could and should spend herself feeding others, but she had best spend ample time communing with Jesus and being fed by him. Sabbathing with Jesus was necessary; it was the good portion; it was lasting.
Friends, do you understand your duty to serve? Everything you do today — whether you eat, drink, or whatever you do — it is to be done for the glory of God and the love of your neighbor. Whether clergy or laity, man or woman, elder or younger, all are to be sons of the Father working diligently for him.
In addition, do not discount that which God can do through your faithful service. Through the Spirit’s gifting and enabling, the Father is honored, the saints are edified, the neighborhood is improved, and the Kingdom of God is advanced.
However, hear the instruction of your Savior. It is far more important that you sit, be taught, and be fed by Jesus than for you to wear yourself out acting like Jesus to others. Service is important. Sabbathing is important. And sabbathing is far more important than service.
But notice, it is very easy for us to get distracted and let our good service squeeze out our very good sabbathing. Therefore Christian friends, how can we maintain our proper focus on Him who is necessary, good, and lasting? Here are three practical applications:
First, read the Scriptures regularly and listen to all the commands of God. In doing so you will be reminded of the labor, work, toil, service, and duty demanded of God. You will be found guilty. You will be rightly humbled. You will be forced to find comfort in the glorious and finished Gospel of Jesus Christ. Reading the Law will result in your finding renewed rest and confidence in Jesus Christ and his performance for you.
Second, pray without ceasing, but make it your regular practice to cease everything but prayer. Specific times dedicated to prayerful intercourse is delighted in by the Father, and it is most beneficial to your neighbors and your own soul. Several times throughout the day, take a sabbath from your labors and commune with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Third, take advantage of the “One-in-Seven Rotation.” In the earliest of days, God ceremonially worked, and then he ceremonially rested. We believe this was the rotation presented by God to Adam. Six days he was to worship by laboring; one day he was to worship by not laboring. God presented this gift to Israel along with the duty to collect manna. He presented again when he penned the Fourth Commandment on tablets of stone with his finger. Imagine that, God has given us a weekly holiday to help us with our distraction problem. Therefore, cherish the Lord’s Day. It is not a day when one has to meet all the expectations of either modern-day or first-century legalists. It is not even a day when one has to keep the tight ceremonial additions temporarily given to Israel by God. It is a day of delight, or rest, or holy festivity and partying. The sabbath concept or the “One-in Seven Rotation” is a gift from God to aid a distracted, anxious, troubled, judgmental, divisive, and brash people. Yes, service is indeed important, but sabbathing is vital.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.