Christianity 201

April 19, 2013

Six Days Shalt Thou Labor

Exodus 20:9 (NIV)

Six days you shall labor and do all your work

I couldn’t help but notice this passage a few weeks ago. As I read it, I thought about the number of families that are faced with massive household consumer debt, and wondered if perhaps this offers a solution. Even if one of the income earners in a house picked up something on Saturday, that could mean an extra 20% income, provided such jobs were available.

But the note in my NIV Study Bible was somewhat dismissive, saying something to this effect, ‘A shorter work week in an a modern industrialized culture is not in view here.’

Furthermore, we focus on the distraction of the six-day work week here at our peril, because our entire attention in this commandment should be devoted to the practical and spiritual implications of the concept of cessation from labor for the purposes of sabbath rest (i.e. to rest as God rested, to give God worship, etc.).  The Voice Bible says in essence that you’ve got six days to get everything else done, the seventh is a day of rest.

You have six days to do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath of the Eternal your God…

Still, I believe we skip a possible secondary takeaway from verse nine too easily, especially in western society where ‘long weekends’ and ‘casual Fridays’ push us further and further toward a four day work week.  It’s said that we live in a culture of entitlement, and certainly we feel we are entitled to enjoy a certain degree of comfort and a certain number of consumer goods; so we amass great levels of personal debt to obtain those things.

While we should be pleased if our employer offers us extra work that will help reduce that debt, our labor laws insist that we be paid overtime, which means the employer thinks twice before offering us extra hours. And I do wonder what the agriculturally-based readers of the Decalogue in Moses’ time would think of our modern concept of vacation.

The website Theology of Work Project looks at different areas where the Bible addresses this topic.

John MacArthur notes the erosion of the work ethic in a sermon devoted to this topic that you can either read or listen to online.

When God doesn’t matter anymore, then there is no universal, transcendent standard for behavior. And natural human corruption runs rampant to the degree that any individual person chooses to live. And one of the basic moral virtues that disappears in a culture is work…work. People once worked hard because of the influence of Scripture and because Scripture is a reflection of the will of God. God is the authority and the Bible is the revelation of His will as that authority. Work, you see, is a virtue, work is a moral behavior.

People worked hard because they believed they were accountable to God and they were accountable to the revelation of God in Scripture. They had reverence for biblical authority and they had a basic fear of God. Even those who weren’t particularly evangelical Christians understood the place of God in society, understood the place of Scripture in society that it was the will of God and understood they had a transcendent responsibility before God to behave in a certain way. Now that God doesn’t matter, and the Bible is ridiculed and removed, if not banned from speaking authoritatively on any subject, there is a kind of fearless immorality. And one of the things that’s going to disappear is the virtue of work…the virtue of work. Sinners are happy to think that they answer to no one, but to themselves.

And later

Somebody made the suggestion that originally man was a gardener and the curse turned him into a farmer. Originally man was a flower arranger, and the curse turned him into a plow horse. The Fall did not introduce work, it changed its nature. And as the nature of work that is the punishment, but not work itself. Work neither began nor ceased with the Fall, it just took a different shape. It went from being a righteous blessing solely to being a righteous blessing with a curse on top.

And so, man seeks to restore the glory of work with the sweat of his brow, and all of his ingenuity he goes after this cursed earth, using the wonderful creative gifts that he’s been given because he’s in the image of God to abstract out of the richness of this planet everything that he can possibly extract, to provide value to his life, to provide meaning to his life, to provide provision for his life and those in his family, to provide for the needs of others and most importantly to bring dignity upon himself as one made in the image of God who demonstrates God-like creativity…

…In Psalm 104 we read, “He made the moon for the seasons, the sun knows the place of its setting. You appoint darkness and it becomes night in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God. When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens. Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening.” God has ordained that men work originally six days a week here. You go to work in the morning and you finish in the evening. Work is designed by God to redeem the curse in a measure. You look at the civilized world, you look at the world that has flourished, you look at the western world in particular, and now, of course, many ascending nations in Asia and other parts of the world, and you see the magnificence that is extracted out of the creation by work. Go to Africa, and you see parched lands, starving people, murderous tribal warfare…people don’t work. It’s a tragic reality.

Work was always God’s design for us to be able to draw out all that is in this creation for the demonstration of our nobility being created in the image of God and for the glory of God and for the benefit of all man. It can be redeemed. It must be redeemed and that’s why we work. You know how that works. You redeem your yard every week. And if you went away for six months and came back, you would find out what the curse would do…just no water for six months, that will do it. Or just open all the windows and doors in your house and leave for six months and come back and see what’s inside. See what lives there. It’s a battle and we all understand that battle. We extract goodness out of His creation. That was Adam’s job and now we have to fight against the curse to extract that goodness. We are called to that work because it is noble and because it is God-glorifying.

This is a sermon/article rich with commentary on this topic, and I encourage you to click the above link to get into more of it.

I offer this today not to try to bring back the six-day work week, but rather to allow us to reconsider our attitude and our approach to the five-day work we do.


The Reformation Study Bible offers a theology of work:

God’s purposes in ordaining work

That people should be self-supporting Ge 3:19 See also Ps 128:2; 1Th 4:12

That people should find self-fulfilment Ecc 2:24 See also Pr 14:23; Ecc 3:22; Ecc 5:19

That people should serve others Eph 4:28 See also Pr 31:15; 1Th 2:9; 1Ti 5:8

That people should glorify God Col 3:17 See also 1Co 10:31; Eph 6:5-8 pp Col 3:22-24

Consequences of viewing work as God’s ordinance

Work is seen as a moral duty Tit 3:14 See also Pr 6:6; Ecc 9:10; 1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:7-12

Any legitimate work may be seen as God’s calling Ge 2:15 See also Ex 31:1-6; Ex 35:30-35; Ps 78:70-71; Mt 13:55 pp Mk 6:3; Ro 13:6; 1Co 7:17,20-24

Work is seen as a stewardship from God himself Col 3:23-24 See also Mt 25:14-30 pp Lk 19:12-27; Eph 6:5-8

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