The Command to Work and Rest

By Mark D. Roberts

September 18, 2023

Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest

Scripture — Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.


The way we experience work and rest will vary with our situation and season in life. But no matter our context or age, we will honor God’s design and desire if we live according to a faithful and wise pattern of work and rest.

Series: Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest 


Growing up in a Christian church and family, I’m sure I read the Ten Commandments or heard them read in Sunday School. But, to be honest, I never gave them much thought until I was in graduate school. My second-year Hebrew class focused on translating substantial portions of Genesis and Exodus, including Exodus 20 where the Ten Commandments appear. As I made my way through that chapter, I wasn’t surprised by verse 8, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” But I was startled by verse 9, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” Here, in the middle of a passage about rest is a command to work, and not just work a bit here and there, but 85% of our days. It had never before occurred to me before that God had been clear about the importance of work in a commandment focusing on rest.

Today, I’m not surprised by what I find in Exodus 20:8-11, but I’m still impressed by the way in which work and rest are deeply connected in the biblical record, beginning with creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3. God worked and then rested. Therefore, we are to work and then rest. This pattern of work and rest is built into the cosmos and into our spiritual DNA by the Creator.

The command to work in Exodus 20:9 reminds us that, from the beginning, work was created to be good. It wasn’t given to us as a curse but as a blessing. Sin messed up God’s design, of course. But sin does not obliterate the fundamental goodness of work and the extraordinary opportunity we have to join in God’s work in the world.

I think quite a bit these days about work and rest as part of my leadership of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. So many people today have bought into the cultural narrative of retirement that says, basically, “Once you retire, you’ve done your work. Now you can rest and play for the rest of your days.” While this might sound wonderful, it turns out that incessant rest and play aren’t actually good for us. Why? Because we were created to work and our souls feel the need to make a difference in life. Though this doesn’t mean we should never retire from full-time, paid work, it does mean that even in “retirement” we need to find ways to make a difference in the world through meaningful work. This could include paid work, of course. A recent study found that 32% of post-retirement-age American adults have jobs. Of course the work we do in the third third might well include volunteer work, family caregiving, mentoring, regular grandparenting, helping out at church, working for change in your community, and so forth.

The intimate connection between work and rest in Scripture reminds us that any full discussion of rest must also talk about work. And any full discussion of work must also talk about rest. The two go hand-in-hand from the very beginning.

The way we experience work and rest will vary with our situation and season in life. But no matter our context or age, we will honor God’s design and desire if we live according to a faithful and wise pattern of work and rest.


What do you think about God’s command to work and rest? How do you feel about this?

Do you ever think you are working too much and not resting enough? Or do you ever feel that you’re resting too much and not working enough?

How can we know what rhythm of work and rest is right for our particular season of life?


As you do your work this week, think about your actions as an obedient and worshipful response to God’s commandment in Exodus 20:9.


Gracious God, today we thank you for instructing us to work and to rest. Both are necessary for a full and meaningful life.

Help me, I pray, to know what pattern of work and rest is right in my situation and season. May I know the work I am supposed to do. And may I know when and how to rest. Help me to live into the rhythm of work and rest that is honoring to you and a faithful response to your command. Amen.

Banner image by James Hose Jr. on Unsplash.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Commanded to Rest: The Impact of the Fall.

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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