“In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for he grants sleep to those he loves.”
Our desire for rest is actually built into our bodies by the God who gave us a day to come apart from the work week so we won’t come apart at the seams. God even set the example when He rested from His creative work on the seventh day and “made it holy,” setting it aside as special (Gen. 2:2-3).
Later, the Sabbath was incorporated into the law (Ex. 20:8-11), forbidding Israelites to do any work on that day. It allowed them to give their attention to worshipping God while refreshing their bodies and spirits.
By the time of Jesus, the Jewish leaders had turned the Sabbath from a blessing into a bondage. There were so many rules that this day fit like a straitjacket. And the Pharisees were greatly appalled when they saw anyone breaking the rules.
The principle that one day of the week is to be devoted to rest and worship is important for us to learn. If we ignore our responsibility to be good stewards of our time, we misuse God’s gift and pay the price of stress on our bodies, minds, and spirits. And God may withhold His blessing if we are stealing from His worship and from the time He has given us for rest, to try to get ahead.
Many of the arguments about what violates God’s standard of a day of rest revolve around specific activities, such as professional sports or various forms of recreation. The Bible gives us principles the Holy Spirit uses to guide us in any situation if we are seeking God’s will.
For instance, Psalm 127 teaches the futility of work to the point of exhaustion. It’s not only tiring, it also deflects God’s blessing.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples were picking grain to eat, which was allowed under the law (Deut. 23:25) but not under the Pharisees’ rules. Jesus’ defense of His men teaches us that God created a day of rest for our benefit–not to put us under bondage. What we do on this day, in addition to worship, is something we need to determine in our hearts before God (see Rom. 14:5).