Balancing Work and Rest

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church


**Credit needs to be given to Sara Wenger Shenk for shaping this sermon

Proverbs 24:30-34

30I passed by the field of one who was lazy,
by the vineyard of a stupid person;
31and see, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior.


            I guess I was somehow misinformed.  I was under the impression that once Christmas had passed that I would have more free time.  Once the hustle and the bustle and the noise were past, I would be able to spend more time doing what I wanted to do.  Play a game of basketball, shoot some pool, go to my favorite restaurant and maybe take in a show.

            But reality is, when you finish up one thing, it is time to start the next.  There is always something that we should be doing.  And if we are doing something for fun, we can probably think of something else that we really should be spending our time on.

            But what does the Bible teach us about time management?  What can we learn from an ancient text concerning how a person living in the 21st century should spend their time?  Plenty.  Today we are going to look at several scriptures that teach us how to keep a healthy balance between work and rest.

Our first passage from Proverbs describes for us an observation made one day while on a walk.  The Proverbs are believed to have been written by the wise king Solomon.  And while Solomon was out strolling along he came across a field that is kept up by a lazy person.  Or maybe kept up isn’t the right term.  The lazy person is not keeping it up.  The thorns have overgrown the vineyard and the nettles have overgrown the ground.  And even the stone wall that was surrounding the land was breaking down, allowing critters and varmits to enter in and steal the fresh fruit of the vine before the lazy land owner ever gets a chance to harvest it.

As Solomon looks out over this overgrown, under kept field, he had a bit of a word from the Lord, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior.”  Because the lazy man chose to rest rather than getting out there and pulling weeks, cutting down thorns, and rebuilding his wall, he was going to become poor.  He was going to go hungry.  Or as the Apostle Paul clearly puts it in 2 Thessalonians 3:10b, “Anyone who does not work, does not eat.”

I think that there is a lot of wisdom in this simple phrase.  If you don’t work, you don’t eat.  Why should you expect someone else to pay your way for you?  That is what Paul was saying in Thessalonians. 

Now I need to make sure that we are using a wide range of understandings of the word work.  My mother did not hold a paying job from about 1976 until about 2000.  But just because she didn’t get paid doesn’t mean that she didn’t work.  During the 24 years that my mother was absent from the world of being a paid laborer, she managed to raise three boys.  And if you don’t think raising three boys is work, then you have probably never raised three boys.  So when Solomon and Paul are talking about the need for a person to work, they don’t mean to say that everyone needs to put on a suit and tie everyday, jump into the car and drive to the office from 8am until 5 pm.  But what they are referring to is that everyone should help out.  It is a critique of lazy people.  If your primary role is that of the breadwinner, then you should do so in order that others don’t have to be always giving to you.  If your primary role is that of a care provider for someone else in the family, then you need to do so in order that others don’t have to do it for you.  We are to share the responsibilities and resources as a family, as a church, and as human beings.

Now obviously there are times in life when people need a little help.  They need a financial assistance because of a need that arises such as medical bills, physical and mental handicaps, and even old age.  Age catches up with even the best of us.  There will come a time when all of us need to slow down a bit, when we cannot continue to work like we used to.  My Grandfather is a good example.

My maternal grandfather worked his entire life in a factory.  From the time that whistle blew at 8:00 in the morning until the whistle blew at 5, you knew you could find my grandfather in the box factory.  40 hours a week, every week, for 40 years.  And when he turned 65, my grandfather retired from that factory, got his gold watch, his social security, and he never held a paying job again.

Now, 24 years later, my grandfather, who is 89 years old, is technically retired.  But when the winter snow in Ohio melts, you know that my grandfather will be right back out on the tractor, tilling the soil on my dad’s farm.

However, now that my grandfather has been “retired” for 24 years, and now that he is slowing down physically and not able to do as much around the farm as he once could, grandpa doesn’t just do a lot of what we would call work.  But he has paid his dues.  No one would call him lazy for the life that he has lived.  The thorns did not overgrow his vineyards, the nettles never did cover his grounds.  Because he put in his time.  Whether paid labor or helping out, he was far from just some lazy person.

As I look out in the congregation, I find that we are all in different places in life.  There are some like my grandfather who have put in their time and are near or at retirement age.  There are some that are still working.  Regardless of whether you are in a paid position or in a position where you rely on someone else for financial support, it is important that we not grow lazy.  I think that is the message that we can take from our scripture.

My first year of Seminary was definitely an adjustment.  When I started back to school, Sonya and I kind of had the agreement that Seminary would be my form of work for the time being.  My job was to learn how to be a better servant of Jesus Christ while Sonya was the primary bread winner.  Now I have to admit that I have a bit of an addiction.  I am addicted to the television.  If I turn it on, I will sit there and watch whatever comes on.  And to make it worse, when we first moved to Virginia the cable company was offering a special on basic cable package for $19.99/month.  So we had all of the channels that I wanted to watch; ESPN, TNT, TBS, music stations, news stations.  I was set.

For someone like me that is addicted to television, having basic cable is not a good thing.  It’s like having a drug addict work at a pharmacy, or a food addict work at a buffet.  Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.  I am kind of surprised Sonya didn’t kick me out of the house when she would come home from a long day of work and see me sitting in front of the television when I should have been studying.  And I am a little worried about what she might have done if she read that passage from 2 Thessalonians that says, “If a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat.”?

Laziness can be a huge problem.  It can cause us problems financially, and it can cause us problems spiritually.  When we read about not being lazy and neglecting our work, God isn’t trying to just look after our finances and relationships.  God is also trying to look after our spirituality.  The work that is described is not just our secular or family jobs, but our work for the kingdom as well.

You see, I don’t believe that we can really separate our secular work from our kingdom work.  Anything that we do in this world should be done to please God.  A father is to be a father in a way that will lead his children to be followers of Jesus Christ.  An accountant is to keep good and accurate books so that the numbers are fair, rather than trying to cheat people out of every penny possible.  Because our secular jobs and our callings as Christians are so closely related, it is my belief that if we are lazy in our work here on earth, we will be lazy in our work for the kingdom.  We cannot live two separate lives.  A hard working Christian will likely be a hard praying Christian.  A lazy worker will likely be lazy when it comes time to study their Bible at home.

Therefore today I ask you, to over come any slothful nature that you might have.  We are called to work, work for the kingdom and work for one another.  When we give our lives to Christ, we give him our all.  Let us not be slaves to the television or the pillow.  Let us be servants of Jesus Christ.  Let us give not only our soul to Jesus, but our life.

Song: “Work for the Night is coming”

Matthew 11:28-30

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


            Today is Sunday, the Sabbath, a day of rest.  In the creation account we are told that God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and on the 7th day he rested.  In the 10 commandments, Moses is given the commandment to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  When Jesus is questioned about plucking heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath, Jesus answers, “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.”

            What do these strings of Sabbath comments have to do with one another?  Well the first two show the importance of the Sabbath.  If God rested on the 7th day, then so should we.  In fact, God commands it.  The Sabbath was established as a day for the Israelites to remember all that God had done for them, it was a day of worship and it was a day of rest.  How could someone really worship God if they were out chasing around dollar bills?  You can’t.  The Sabbath is a reminder to the Israelites that God needs to come first in their lives.  And it is a reminder that God will take care of God’s people.  Because if the Israelites were under attack on the Sabbath day, guess what, they wouldn’t try to defend themselves. 

            But even more than a Sabbath Day, the Israelites were to observe a Sabbath year.  Every 7th year the land was to lay untilled.  Nothing was to be planted and nothing was to be harvested.  Again, this is to remind the people that God will take care of God’s people, and to remind them that they and even their land needs rest.

            After 16 weeks in a semester of studies, I know what it feels like to need a little rest.  Months of stuffing Hebrew and Christian Ethics into my brain while juggling work and family life gets a little difficult.  Oh, sure, it would be possible to study year round.  It would be possible to have classes over Christmas break, spring break, and summer break.  It would be possible, but would it be beneficial?

            Growing up on a farm really prepares you to be a worker in life.  And I think a dairy farm probably prepares you more than anything else.  Growing up, I can only recall taking two vacations in my life that lasted more than one day.  You always had to be home by chore time.  I remember that at one time, I didn’t leave the county for a couple of months.  A neighboring farmer has even been known to not leave his home for an entire week.  He will come home on Sunday after church and then not leave again until the next Sunday.  And why should he?  He has his work right there!

            But Jesus knew the benefits of rest.  And he knew that sometimes people like the Pharisees would forget the reason for the Sabbath and just focus on the law of the Sabbath.  Humanity was not created for the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was created for humanity.

            Jesus knew the importance of rest.  And he offered others rest as well.  Our scripture from a couple of minutes ago, from Matthew “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Jesus offers rest for the weary, and to lift off the burdens of those who bear them.

            But sometimes it is just so hard to rest.  There is always something that we should be doing.  We feel guilty when we are lying around, talking with friends, while others are off working.  And I don’t know about you, but I like people to think that I am always busy.  Because in our society, a busy person is an important person.  Ask anyone if they were busy today, and I bet they will say yes.  Even if I did nothing but watch Opera and Dr. Phil all day, I would tell you that I was busy today.

            But the average person today is working more hours than ever before.  Today we have single mothers that have to hold down two jobs just so that they can put food on their children’s table.  More than 1/3 of people today claim to work more than 50 hours a week.  And when these people finally do get a chance to lie down at night, they can’t fall asleep.  It is believed that about 25% of people in the US have used sleep aids in the past year.  Why can’t we fall asleep even after all of this work?  Even when we are so tired?  Because of the stress that we are putting ourselves through!

            We are to avoid being lazy, but we need rest.  No where in the Bible is that clearer than in the story of Mary and Martha.  Mary and Martha are sisters and they welcome their friend Jesus into their home for a while.  Well Martha decides that it is necessary for her to clean the house, bake bread, and try to do as much work as possible.  Mary on the other hand is spending her time sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him and resting.

            Well Martha isn’t too fond of Mary taking this opportunity to rest up.  So she approaches Jesus and she says to him, “Lord, don’t you see that my sister is leaving me all of this work while she just sits there?  Tell her to help me!”  But Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, Mary has chosen the better thing.”

            We are left with this tension in the Bible.  We are called to work as we are able, but yet we are told that we must find rest.  If we do not work, if we do not pull our own weight around here, we will go hungry.  But yet we must find time for ourselves.  We must keep the Sabbath as a day of rest, we must take time for the things that make life worth living.  We must take time to sit at the feet of our savior to listen to him.  Because he calls all who are weary to bring their burdens to him.  For his yoke is easy, his burden is light.


About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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2 Responses to Balancing Work and Rest

  1. Shameka Dunbar says:

    Question: Based on your quote “Or as the Apostle Paul clearly puts it in 2 Thessalonians, “Anyone who does not work, does not eat.”

    … If you don’t work, you don’t eat. Why should you expect someone else to pay your way for you? That is what Paul was saying in Thessalonians. ”

    Where exactly in what verse states “Anyone who does not work, does not eat.”? I read 2 Thesolonians and I do not see it.

  2. kgbuckeye says:

    I did paraphrase a bit in that text. But the verse I am referring to is 2 Thessalonians 3:10b, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” (NRSV).

    Thanks for keeping me honest. I need to have better direct quotes when I publish sermons. But I think the essence of the message is the same. Paul is encouraging believers to not rely on the hospitality of other followers of Christ for their daily bread. Paul himself exemplifies this as he seems to have continued his role as a tent maker while also being an itinerant evangelist.

    Obviously there are times when we as Christians are called to help one another out by providing food, shelter, financial assistance, etc. It is not as clear as night and day, as my sermon might be considered overly simplistic in this area. Paul seems very concerned about the poor (Gal 2:9-10), as am I. But I do believe that those that can work should. I also understand the difficulty that many Americans and people of other nationalities have in aquiring a job.

    Thanks for asking


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