Matthew 12:1-14: “Work” on the Sabbath

Read: Matthew 12:1-14

Right after Jesus gives the great invitation to those who are weary, he illustrates his point by “working” on the Sabbath, an act that would be considered unlawful by the Pharisees. They say that his disciples are doing something unlawful because they picked grain on the Sabbath. There was no explicit command in the law that forbade anyone from doing this. Rather, what the Pharisees were doing is layer on additional burdens on top of what was commanded concerning the Sabbath, which was a general command not to work (Exodus 35:2-3, Deuteronomy 5:13-15), so the question here is whether or not what Jesus and his disciples were doing actually constituted work.

In his defense, Jesus gives two objections. The first is an illustration from the Old Testament wherein David eats the showbread at the temple (1 Samuel 21:1-6). The law required however that the bread be eaten by Aaron and his sons who were the priestly line (Leviticus 24:5–9). What the priests points out here though is interesting in 1 Samuel. He allows them to eat it if they had “kept themselves from women”. In other words, he was asking if they were ceremonial clean. Jesus is nuancing here why the showbread was for the priest based on the text – it had to with the bread being consecrated bread to be consumed in a holy way. The letter of the law does this by making it available to the priest who should have been that way while serving God. The second illustration Jesus gives more context to the actual alleged offense though. He says that the priests themselves who offer sacrifices on the Sabbath, thereby profaning the Sabbath because of their “work” on the day. In other words, Jesus is saying that what the Pharisees consider “work” is not what the law considered “work”, because if it was even the priests in the temple would be guilty which they clearly weren’t.

The next episode that the Pharisees attempt to trap Jesus on is another accusation of “working” on the Sabbath by posing a question, asking if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. This time, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. Jesus in his defense on this one makes an argument to the stronger alluding to a law found in Deuteronomy 22:4. Here, the law says that if a bother’s donkey or ox is fallen on the road, you should help lift the ox or donkey rather than ignore it. Naturally, if such an incident was to happen on the Sabbath it would seem that there would be a conflict there. But Jesus says argues that it is even more imperative when it’s a person in need, not merely an animal, and such an action is not “work”.

Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). In other words, the Sabbath was never intended to be a burden for man as the Pharisees had made it, but rather a day of rest from burdens. When Jesus declares that the “Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” in a way drives this point home. Jesus often used this phrase to appeal to his humanity. As Lord, he is the one who instituted the Sabbath, and as a man he is the one who benefits from the Sabbath. In both respects, any regulations or otherwise are to make the Sabbath serve man’s need for rest, not add unnecessary laws on top it.

Christians today do well to take a Sabbath day of rest, but at the same time should not become so legalistic about it. The purpose is to set aside time to worship God and rest for one’s job day to day tasks.

Lord, you are Lord of the Sabbath

Help me to find my much-needed rest!

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10: Work With a Purpose

Read: Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

This isn’t the first time that the Preacher has encouraged men to enjoy the fruits of his labor. The Preacher had earlier said that enjoying the fruits of one’s labor was a blessing from God (Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 5:18, Ecclesiastes 8:15). He also thinks that overwork and laziness are some things that should be avoided too (Ecclesiastes 4:4-6). The preacher gives a longer description saying that one should be merry, let one’s garments be white, and enjoy life with the loved ones. These things are “approved” by God. The Preacher also encourages his readers to find something and do it – that is be industrious too.

The encouragement here though he given in the context of the certainty of death. The certainty of death is a pervaded the thoughts of the Preacher and is apparent especially in chapter 9. The Preacher calls the life that one lives “vain” – that is a life void of meaning and purpose. The Preacher seems pretty certain that the readers and he alike are bound for Sheol, the abode the dead in Jewish though. When one died, whether righteous or unrighteous, he or she went to Sheol and remained there. The New Testament follows the tradition of the Septuagint, the Greek New Testament where translating the word “Sheol” into “hades”. The New Testament uses another word to describe the place of punishment called “Gehenna”. Ghenna is mentioned in the context of judgment particularly in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 5:22-29, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:9, Matthew 23:15,33, Mark 9:43-47 Luke 12:5, James 3:6). What the Preacher does not seem to take into account is that there will one day be a judgment and all will be resurrected from “hades”. When one is judged, he or she is either condemned or is lives forever with God. The hope of the Christian gospel is made real by the fact that Jesus himself rose from the dead, showing that resurrection is indeed possible.

A life for a Christian does not have to be meaningless and without purpose. Acts 17:22-31 talks about how a person’s existence is tied up in God. Paul actually quotes a a philosopher named Epimenides saying, “for in Him we live and move and exist”. The totality of one’s being is contingent upon God, and the Preacher realized that man’s hearts are set on this. When Jesus came to earth, his mission was not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). In other words, he was about the business of making sure people do not have to endure “Ghenna” – that is judgment – when they are judged. Jesus taught his disciples what they needed to know and then gave them the new work of telling the world about the pending resurrection and judgment at the end of days and how Jesus provided a way to escape this by dying on the cross and resurrecting from the dead so the one’s facing judgment would not have to. A Christian who makes this sort of work his or her work does something that has eternal implications. Such a life is not “vain”, rather full of meaning because of the one who they serve, namely Jesus!

Lord, your work is to seek and save that which is lost! Help me to do the same!

Ecclesiastes 4:4-6: Laziness and Overwork

Read: Ecclesiastes 4:4-6: Laziness and Overwork

The Preacher in his day was undoubtedly devoted to his pursuits, which were many, the found the time to accumulate wealth and wisdom and complemented it with pleasures of all sorts (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). In all his pursuits, he said that they were meaningless like one chasing after the wind. In light of that, the Preacher has a healthy appreciation concerning work, saying that it is right for man to work and enjoy the fruits of his labors (Ecclesiastes 3:11-12). The preacher does disdain two things: laziness and workaholism.

To laziness, the Preacher says that a fool folds his hands – that is he does nothing – and this leads to ruin. This is consistent with the rest of wisdom literature and the Bible in general. Proverbs is replete with verses about laziness. Here are a few: Proverbs 19:15, Proverbs20:4, Proverbs 21:25, Proverbs 26:12-16. 2 Thessalonians makes a sting remark concerning those that do not work, saying they should not eat. The passages continues, speaking about busybodies – those that full their lives with fruitless endeavors and have the appearance of work, but they themselves are not working at all.

To workaholism, the Preacher says that it better to have one handful and be tranquil than two with toil. In other words, one should not work overwork himself so he or she can have two handfuls when one is enough. The Preacher speaks to the matter in Ecclesiastes 5:12, saying that the sleep of a worker is satisfying, but the one who is wealthy cannot sleep. That is, he cannot sleep because he is consumed with the acquisition of wealth. 1 Timothy 6:6 and Philippians 4:11 speak to the matter of contentment too. Paul had struggled in life having plenty and not having anything at all. He says that he learned to be content in all things when there was abundance and when there was not.

Overworking and laziness are nothing new. They existed in the day of the Preacher and they exist even now. Psalm 127 is a word to how one should orient his or her work. The Psalm says that unless the Lord builds a house, then the builder labors in vain. All the toiling and hard work is of no purpose unless they are for the purpose apart from God. The Psalm also teaches that children are the “heritage” of the Lord and a blessing from him. The warning against work for purposes other than those that are Godly purposes goes against the true blessing of the Lord serves as a warning to those who work: don’t forget the blessing, namely the family that God has given. Work for purposes that are in accordance with the Lord, and one will find contentment in this!

Lord, you build my house!

Ecclesiastes 2:18-26: Work is Good

Read: Ecclesiastes 2:18-26

The “Preacher” seems to be a grumpy old man as he reflects on all his labors. He is not sure concerning the nature of inheritance in that the one who will inherit his estate will inherit something he did not work for. The Preacher has labored all his life, pouring himself into his work. Yet the one who inherits the will not have to work for it. The Preacher sees this as vanity, empty of meaning. Furthermore, the Preacher does not know whether the one who inherits his estate will be a fool or will be a wise person who will inherit his estate. The Preacher will have no control over his estate, but whoever inherits it will. The preacher sees this as vanity, and empty of meaning.

The one good thing that the Preacher does take away from the whole of his work is that it is gift from God to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. He reiterates this same thing later in his discourse (Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 5:18, Ecclesiastes 8:15, Ecclesiastes 9:7-9). The principal of hard work is reiterated in the Scriptures (Ephesians 4:28, Proverbs 10:4-5, Proverbs 12:11, Proverbs 28:19). Paul claims that it is right of every person to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and even more so for one who makes his job the work of spreading the gospel, although he does not partake in these privileges (1 Corinthians 8:1-15, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10). In all things, it is right for a person to labor for his portion.

Christians should make every effort to work hard in every respect. The Preacher was caught up in in trying to gain wealth for wealth sake, and at the end of his days saw the futility of this. He could not take it with him and someone else would be the beneficiary of his work. The purpose of work is not for purpose of accumulating wealth, rather for the purpose of living out one’s life in a worthy and honorable manner in accordance with God’s principals. Some professions do indeed pay well, and there is nothing inherently wrong with being wealthy or being paid well for ones work. One should enjoy the fruits of his or her labor too, finding a balance between work and the enjoyment of that work. Ultimately, blessings are for the purpose of blessing others so that God will known among the nations (Psalms 67).

Lord, help me to work hard and enjoy the fruits when they come!