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I have to imagine that they were terrified—thankful, but terrified.

The long-forgotten God, revealed to Moses through the most unusual kindling, had just put the world’s biggest military on the bottom of the sea while providing a way for His ragtag people to scurry to safety through two towering walls of water. Who was this God? What is He like? What does He require from the people who are called by His name? Will that people, could that people, ever end up on the bottom of a large body of water? These must have been the questions that were on the Israelites’ minds—these and the giddy gratitude of being free people for the first time in their lives.

God would provide answers to these questions, answers that would be framed in His abundant, steadfast love. These answers would come through this law, especially the Ten Commandments, patiently given twice, no less. In those laws, the Israelites would find that this God, their covenant God, was far from capricious. In that simple Decalogue, they would find a brief summary of human life the way God intended it to be lived, a summary response to all the big questions of life.

The reason I begin here, with the Decalogue, is so that we can frame our use of time as individuals, as people created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27) and as people being redeemed into God’s image (Rom. 8:29), according to God’s blueprint of the individual’s use of time. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but a quick run through the Ten Commandments with the topic of time as a filter leaves us squarely at the end of the first table, on the fourth commandment. The fourth commandment reads:

Remember the Sabbath day, to 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. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex. 20:8–11)

The retelling of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy sees the only content change to any of the Ten Commandments in the fourth commandment, as the commandment is rooted now in redemption—“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15)—as opposed to the emphasis on creation we see in the Exodus version of the fourth commandment, a change that bookmarks the experience of the slaves-turned-freedmen: created by God and redeemed by God. We see then that the Decalogue specifically speaks about the individual’s use of time and does so within the framework of redemptive history—creation through redemption.

The fourth commandment, like the other commandments, says as much in what it does not say as in what it says. Some commands balance an unspoken positive with a clear negative—don’t murder clearly implies the positive command of protecting life. But when we come to the fourth commandment, it is not a negative-positive that we find but, instead, a rhythm—rest and work. In the Old Testament economy, rest came at the end of the week, a point all too clear for anyone who breaks a sweat Monday through Saturday. But, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Sabbath day is gloriously, and seemingly incongruously, changed from the last day of the week to the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). This change in the Sabbath makes sense on a number of different theological fronts, not to mention the way the redemptive work in Jesus reframes church time from a focus on creation to a focus on redemption or how we begin our weeks as Christians from a place of rest, since our Rest, Jesus, has come. But this weekly calendar change is also a fulfillment of sorts of the creational pattern.

This weekly calendar change is also a fulfillment of sorts of the creational pattern.

What many Christians miss in their study of Genesis is the way that days are defined. The refrain throughout the first chapter is that “there was evening and there was morning, the . . . day” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). The important point is that each day began with evening to be followed by the morning. What we find in the Christian Sabbath, and what is useful for our consideration on the individual and time, is that both in the creation days and the week under the New Testament economy, rest comes before work. An active commitment and planning for passivity precedes an active commitment and planning for work. This is the apparent incongruity of time under God’s provision of sovereign grace.

Why have we spent so much time in the fourth commandment? The simple answer is that before we consider the theme of this article—time and the individual, especially focusing on personal rest and refreshment—we have to recalibrate how we think about rest. The current state of biblical thinking on these themes is deplorable. Rest and personal refreshment are not things that occur after we have worked so hard that there are no other options for the use of our time. We are not machines. We don’t perform duty cycles. We don’t “recharge.” All these views of time, the individual, and rest pervade our modern notion of productivity. Should we be productive? Absolutely. We should be abundantly fruitful for the Lord (John 15:16). Is laziness a sin? Absolutely (2 Thess. 3:10). Can rest and refreshment become viewed as luxuries rather than biblical commands? Absolutely.

It is this point that the fourth commandment, the only commandment about time, proves: when we talk about time, especially the individual’s use of time, the emphasis is on rest. This point is further emphasized by the two proofs we’ve seen. First, the commandment on time that commands both rest and faithful work is framed to make rest—Sabbath rest—the focus, as it appears first, while the command to diligent, biblical labor follows the command to rest. Second, the definition of the day at creation and the definition of the week after the resurrection of Jesus both emphasize that we start periods of time from a state of rest and only then move to work—a restful evening begins the biblical day and a day of rest begins the biblical week. This change in our view of how we spend our personal time is so radical that it will need more than just a new view of a command, a day, and a week.

I should also point out that the focus of this article is on our personal use of time, time we typically order outside our vocation, time we might call our downtime, time for refreshment. This time stands in contrast to our work hours, no matter how those work hours may be defined. And my contention is that God intends for us to start from rest and refreshment and only then to go about our work. In order to practice a biblical view of personal time, we have to have a correct view of ourselves in reference to God. Let’s compare two views.

The first view we might call the modern deistic view of time. Our average Christian—let’s call him Jack—holds to this view. He loves God, his church, and his family. Jack is in corporate finance and is able to afford a home for his family in the suburbs. Jack works sixty or more hours a week during this stage of his vocation, what folks in corporate finance call “your prime.” He earns a good salary and pays dearly for it at the end of the day. Exhaustion is the norm. His family gets the leftovers, when leftovers are available and not already committed to what Jack calls “me time” in his “man cave.” Saturdays are for his kids’ sports. Sunday mornings are for church. Jack doesn’t know what to do with Sunday afternoons. Jack is being slowly run down, but he doesn’t quite know it. His relationships at home are suffering. It’s been awhile since he last read the Bible or prayed for longer than the twenty seconds it takes him to fall asleep at night. As I tell the men I disciple, this kind of week annualized doesn’t end up in a good place. Jack has lost a biblical view of time and rest.

In our second view, we’ll try to reorient our view of time around the fourth commandment, creation, and redemption. Now let’s look at Bob. Bob holds a more biblical view of rest. Bob is also a Christian and works in the same office as Jack. But while a diligent worker, Bob isn’t at the office as much. He doesn’t stay after hours for the “optional” work on important projects. In fact, Bob believes that appropriate rest will allow him to accomplish more at work than overwork will. Bob sees rest not only as God’s command to him but as God’s gift. Because Bob purposefully avoids overwork, he has more of himself to offer to his family. Bob’s time in the early evenings is spent with his wife and kids. He isn’t obligated to collapse on the couch. He chooses to refresh in restorative family activities. Bob intentionally gets enough sleep at night, prays, reads his Bible, and enjoys worship and rest on Sundays. Bob sees rest and personal time as God’s gift to prepare him for diligent work, not the scraps of time that remain after diligent work.

In those descriptions, we are tempted to compare Jack and Bob by their activities. But that is the wrong comparison to make. Jack and Bob, though both earnest Christians, have radically different views about God’s sovereign grace. The only way you can prioritize rest is by believing in God’s gracious and providential control over all things. If God is not in control or is not abundantly gracious or is not the One who assigns our tasks each day, then our future protection and success are completely up to us. We have to forgo rest, have to sacrifice rest to our idols of success and safety. We place ourselves in the position of securing what only God can provide and, as a result, have no place in our lives for rest. But when we start with God’s sovereign grace, we can begin from rest and move to work. Each day we begin with the evening—we are asleep and God is awake working (Ps. 121:3–4); we wake each morning to join God in His work, to set about the work He has already prepared for us (Eph. 2:10). Each week we begin with a day of celebration, a day of inactivity, a day of rest; we begin the week on the second day of the week proclaiming that our God is so strong that He doesn’t need our help to get each week started—He accomplishes it on His own.

Beginning from rest and moving to work, as we’ve seen, includes both a biblical view of the fourth commandment and of God’s sovereign grace. Practically lived out, this means that our rest takes on a different flavor, incorporating different practices, specifically physical rest, the rest of worship, and the rest that comes from celebrating in friendship.

Christians are commanded to physically rest. That is a big part of the fourth commandment, the Sabbath day, and days that begin with sleep. A big part of physical rest is getting enough sleep. As Matthew Walker says in his book Why We Sleep, “Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day.” Walker discovered this in his scientific research; Christians know it as biblical truth. We must sleep. God designed our sleep in such a way that we are effectively paralyzed while we sleep. Sleep is God’s way of ensuring that we will deal with time, rest, and our own mortality. One of the most powerful things you can physically do to demonstrate your trust in God’s sovereign and gracious rule is to get a good night’s sleep (Ps. 127:2). The other aspects of physical rest tend to fall into place around this one central practice.

Christians are also commanded to enjoy the rest of worship. In the end, God is our rest (Ps. 4:8), He is our eternal Sabbath (Heb. 4:11). It is in this way that worship is restful to our souls. We receive spiritual refreshment when we spend private time in prayer and Bible reading. We receive a unique rest when we worship with our brothers and sisters each Sunday. Christianity far excels banks for number of holidays. Our God has commanded a weekly holiday—a day to rejoice and rest in Him.

Third, Christians are commanded to experience the rest of celebration with friends and family. The Lord’s Supper on Sunday is a pattern of the feasting we should enjoy throughout the week—gathered with friends and family to thank God for His provision, to sing, and to laugh. When secular social scientists speak about the importance of family dinners together, they are only echoing biblical anthropology. We were designed to receive rest and refreshment as we celebrate and feast with friends and family.

So, practically speaking, the best thing you can do enjoy your personal time is first to jettison unbiblical views of work, rest, and God’s gracious character. Then focus on glorifying God by physically resting—a few hours each day and a day each week. This physical rest will especially be seen in your commitment to getting enough sleep. Also focus on your spiritual rest, the renewal that comes from the public and private worship of God. Last, focus on the rest that comes from relationships—celebrations, activities, and feasts with family and friends, rejoicing with gratitude in the God of your salvation.

In the end, what we find these practices and the fourth commandment drawing for us is a picture of the life of our Lord, Jesus the Christ. He obeyed all God’s laws, including the fourth commandment, for us and for our salvation. He came to do the will of His Father, and He trusted the sovereign rule of His Father, even to and through His cross. Jesus rested and slept, sometimes sleeping so soundly that a stormy squall couldn’t wake Him (Luke 8:22–25). Jesus frequently ate, celebrated, and feasted with His friends and family (Luke 7:34), as He, too, in His humanity, benefited from the refreshment of friendship (John 15:15). It is Jesus who invites us to follow Him into the biblical use of our personal time for rest and refreshment in the service to Him and others. It is ultimately in Jesus that we find our rest (Matt. 11:28).

Time and Vocation

The Time to Come

Keep Reading Time

From the September 2020 Issue
Sep 2020 Issue