Who Gets to Rest from Working?

By Mark D. Roberts

September 19, 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.


In Exodus 20, God says that sabbath rest is for everyone, including “you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” Each of us must take seriously the implications of this commandment for ourselves. And if we have authority over others in the workplace, we must make sure they have the opportunity to rest and refresh on a regular basis.

Series: Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest


If you haven’t read the sabbath law in the Ten Commandments recently, you may well be surprised to discover that it explicitly requires six days of work in addition to one day of rest (Exodus 20:9). But that’s not the only surprise in the sabbath regulations. What follows is even more unexpected: on the sabbath, “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” (20:10).

It’s not hard to imagine a society in which the privilege of regular rest is reserved only for people of prominence, influence, and wealth. In fact, many of us live in such a society, where time off is given in abundance to people in authority but denied to those who work for low, hourly wages. The sabbath commandment in Exodus 20 goes in an entirely different direction. Slaves are entitled to weekly rest, as are livestock and non-Jewish immigrants. Rest is for all beings, not just the privileged few.

The inclusiveness of the sabbath commandment is quite stunning. It’s also quite convicting for us in a variety of ways. If we are working too much and resting too little, this commandment challenges us to reshape our lives. If we are in authority over others at work, the sabbath commandment compels us to make sure that the people who work for us are being given the time they need to rest.

Consider this negative example. A friend of mine served in a high-level position in a thriving technology company. It was not uncommon for him to get emails from his boss in the middle of the night. And it was not uncommon for the boss to call my friend on the phone and complain, “Why haven’t you responded to my email yet?” “It’s three o’clock in the morning,” didn’t satisfy this boss as an acceptable excuse. He wanted my friend to be on call at every moment of the day and night, every day of the year. This is an extreme case, of course. But it does encourage us to look closely at our practices and expectations for the people we manage.

Consider this positive example. In 1946, Truett Cathy opened a restaurant in Hapeville, Georgia called The Dwarf Grill (because it was so small). From the very beginning, he made what seemed like a risky decision: his restaurant would be closed on Sundays. Why did Cathy establish this policy? He explained, “Closing our business on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is our way of honoring God and showing our loyalty to Him.” But Cathy was also motivated by a desire to care for his employees: “Some of Cathy’s most significant business decisions were made with employees in mind. For example, his decision to close on Sundays, a practice started to give restaurant employees (and himself) a day to rest.” Twenty-one years later, Cathy opened a new restaurant called Chick-fil-A, which also closed on Sunday. Today, Chick-fil-A is the third-largest restaurant chain in the U.S. behind Starbucks and McDonalds. Its employees still don’t have to work on Sundays, unlike those at the other major chains.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that every business must be closed on Sundays (or Saturdays, for Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists). I’m glad that markets, hospitals, and some restaurants are open on Sundays. But I do believe that every manager of people should take seriously the implications of Exodus 20. Sabbath isn’t just for the owner, the boss, and the managers. God intends for all people to live with a pattern of work and rest. Our care for those who report to us will include making sure they are given the opportunity to rest on a regular basis. We can’t control what they do on their own time. But we can make sure we encourage them to rest and give them what they need to do so.


When it comes to regular rest, how are you doing? What helps you to rest? What makes it hard for you to rest?

If you have authority over people in your work, how concerned are you for their ability to rest on a regular basis? Do you do anything to encourage them when it comes to rest?

Are you aware of policies or practices in your workplace that make it difficult for certain employees to rest on a regular basis? What might be done to improve those policies or practices?


If you have people at work who report to you, ask them graciously about how they’re doing when it comes to regular rest.


Gracious God, thank you for instructing us to rest and to make sure others are able to rest too. Help us to live and work according to your priorities for us, establishing a pattern of work and rest in our lives. And if we have people at work who report to us, help us to know how we might encourage and support their experience of regular rest. Amen.

Banner image by Marcel Heil 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: Chick-Fil-A: More Than Just a Chicken Sandwich (Video).

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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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