The God Who Rests, and What We Should Learn
Rev. Ben Montoya, Ph.D. (Student)
In 2013, Chinese Gospel Church of Toronto, ON, celebrated its 50th anniversary. As part of this celebration, we remembered our church history. This remembrance should happen more often because we learn important lessons this way. We heard about our founders, previous pastors, church plants, and even participated in a “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” quizzing contestants regarding the various facts of our local church history. I thought it was an excellent and beneficial experience. But, this remembrance brings something else to mind.
For a variety of reasons, churches often neglect studying or considering the entire history of the church. Perhaps one reason is that Christians, often, would rather read what is supposedly more “relevant” to their lives and, as such, they think that church history often falls outside of that scope. Church history, then, is often considered important only for academics and seminarians. Furthermore, the Old Testament is also viewed in this same lens because of the amount of history contained in it. Is anything wrong with this situation? That is, does it matter if Christians prefer to read books solely within the area of Christian living as opposed to books in Church History or the Old Testament? We know the Old Testament matters because Paul tells us that all Scripture is inspired and, as such, profitable for teaching, rebuke, and correct in 2 Timothy 3:16. But what about Church History – does it matter? Neither Paul nor the biblical writers command us to read Church History. In Hebrews 13:7, the writer of Hebrews, whoever he was, commanded Christians to remember their leaders who spoke the Word of God to them, but the writer of Hebrews did not command Christians to remember everyone from Church History.
Perhaps someone reading this article is thinking, “Well, why does it matter? Shouldn’t we concern ourselves with our spiritual growth now rather than letting the opinions of man influence us?”
My response is that although our spiritual growth matters, and is a matter we should give our attention to because of what the biblical writers teach concerning this topic (e.g, Philippians 2:12-13), Christians should also listen to voices from the past, especially since, as the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote long ago, “there is nothing new under the sun.” That is, often what is discussed in so-called Christian living books today has already been discussed in books written centuries ago. Yet, we often neglect these resources because of our neglect of Church History. One example will suffice. John MacArthur recently hosted “The Strange Fire Conference” addressing the so-called “Word of Faith” movement and the larger charismatic movement. As was demonstrated several times during this conference, meaning of these questions and issues were addressed centuries ago by theologians such as John Calvin and John Owen. Yet, many Christians nowadays have probably never read either of these theologians.
The reason why I mention this point is because our neglect of church history has also lead to our neglect of tools from Church History like catechisms, such as the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Although several of these questions are relevant to this discussion, I want to quote the third question asked in the catechism: “What does the Bible primarily teach?” The answer is “The Bible primarily teaches what man must believe about God and what God requires of man.” Although the biblical writers certainly teach much more than that, the biblical writers teach at least that much and, as such, this question is tremendously helpful
It is my honor to write an article for “By the Stream.” Because we are addressing the topic of God’s rest for this edition, I want to ask and answer the following two questions. First, if God is all-powerful, why did He choose to rest on the seventh day of creation? As Christians, we believe that God is all-powerful, but why does an all-powerful God need to rest? The two ideas seem contradictory.
Second, what are we, Christians, supposed to learn from God’s rest? Although Christians may disagree to the answer for the second question, as Christians disagree on this issue. Although I respect the disagreements on this position, my position will be presented here without surveying the other positions.
I will conclude by explaining how this topic applies practically.
Method: Considering Where We Start
The first place we should start is by considering how we plan to answer this question. Often the starting framework or method will produce the results, in fact. When I have discussed theology, or more simply, what Christians believe about a particular topic, the conversation goes something like this:
Ben (=me): “What do the biblical writers teach about the Sabbath?”
Class: “Well, I was always taught...I feel...we should not judge one another if we have different views.”
These phrases are common from the mouths of Christians; that is, they only reference their feelings and what others have said and caution judging the views of others. Perhaps someone reading this previous sentence thinks this problem is localized; but, in fact, I have had this same experience in a number of churches and contexts and countries. I will ask a question about what the Bible teaches and, yet, people quickly resort to their previous understandings from their previous teachers rather than looking at the biblical verses for themselves. Although I am glad they remember their previous teachers said, I wonder if this method of simply regurgitating what we have previously been taught fits well with our belief in Sola Scriptura, that is, that the Bible is the final authority on matters of faith, life, and practice. If Christians believe we should look to Scripture, then we need to look to Scripture first before discussing what we have been taught. This point transitions well into the method I plan to use.
The method I plan to use is by looking at the text of Scripture in context through considering the words, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, discourses, and context of the entire book and Bible to understand any particular verse of Scripture. The relevance of this method is that I will seek to understand the verses in the broader context rather than merely picking them out of context and, as such, misunderstanding them. One common interpretive remark that I make in our Christian Education courses, (i.e., Sunday school courses) is that a texts without contexts turn into pretexts, that is, misuses of Scripture. As Christians, we want to understand God’s Word as He intended since His meaning is the inspired meaning (e.g., 2 Timothy 3:16). That being said, let’s now turn to Scripture to consider the answers to these questions.
Consideration of Scripture
When Christians open their Bibles to Genesis 1:1, they read that the God of the Bible created everything, in heaven and on earth, a phrase the covers all of creation, by speaking everything into existence, such that when God speaks, things come into existence. I, however, wonder whether or not Christians continue to grasp the awesomeness of this event.
What amazing power! We should not miss this display of amazing power! Simply reading through this first verse in the Bible and missing the awesome power of God is too easy; we should never miss it!
Who among us has that same kind of power?
The answer is obvious: absolutely no one other than the God of the Bible!
Technology has certainly advanced, to the point that some companies like Amazon are considering using drones to deliver online orders. And I enjoy many of the advances; one of them I enjoy is the iPhone.
People who have iPhones can experience a similar phenomenon as in Genesis 1:1 with the Siri feature that allows people to speak certain commands on the iPhone; if I want to send a text message to someone, I tell Siri: “Text Joe: where are we meeting for dinner?” and she sends the text to whichever Joe I want and asks for confirmation before sending the final draft, in case she missed something. This feature helps tremendously, especially for sending text messages and emails on the go.
Nevertheless, this feature is nothing in comparison to the creative power of the God of the Bible; He spoke, and He created something from nothing (ex nihilo). That is something that only the God of the Bible can do. As we read through the entire Bible, however, we learn something more about creation.
As we read through the Bible, we learn more about who God is and what He does. As Christians, we have come to learn through progressive revelation, what theologians term the unfolding of the story of the Bible in how much God tells us at any point. For example, in the Old Testament, we can see that God is one and that there is a plurality in identity of who God is (e.g., Psalm 110:1), but we do not see the Trinity taught until the New Testament is written (e.g., Matthew 28:18-20).
Following from the teaching on the Trinity, we know that God the Father created through the agency of Jesus Christ; that is, when we read that God created everything in the beginning, Christ, the second person of the Trinity, was the One doing the creating work. The Apostle John wrote, “All things were made through [Christ], and apart from him not one single thing came into existence.” In other words, Christ is the agent of creation. Paul also comments on this same theme in Colossians 1:16, “All things have been created through [Christ] and for him,” (emphasis mine).
After God finishes his creation, Moses tells his reader the following in Genesis 2:2 “And God rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had been doing; so on the seventh day, he rested from all his work.” By the time the reader of Genesis gets to this verse, he has undoubtedly seen God create a multitude of things with his all-powerful abilities; yet, God rests on the seventh day. Or, in other words, God takes a day off from his work.
Was his all-powerful ability worn out?
Did He need time to recharge his divine batteries?
I, as a created, finite, and, thus, limited being, can sympathize with taking a day off; if I do not take at least one, full-day off per week, I am exhausted and, as such, get burned out quickly. But, God is certainly not like me; He is all-powerful. I do not have any power whatsoever! God never sleeps; I require seven to eight hours of sleep every day. We are very different.
Why, then, did He decide to take a day off?
The first, and best, place to look is the text of Genesis itself; remember, a text without a context is a pretext; as such, we need to consider the text itself lest we misunderstand the text.
In Genesis 2:3, Moses explains the reason, that is, that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all his work that he had done creating.”
The reason provided in this verse is because he “made it holy.” Holiness is the reason given.
But, what does this word mean? Specifically, when the biblical writers, especially Moses, since he wrote this verse, use this word, what did he mean when he used this word in this context? Let’s consider this question carefully.
Notice the difference of this question from the question “What do I think or feel this word means?”
At times, when Christians read their Bibles, they often ask this question and, if needed, turn to a dictionary of modern English, or Chinese, or whatever language they speak to find their answer. There are several problems with this approach.
This question and approach are problematic because spellings of words, meanings of words, and uses of words change over time. For example, in the 1990s, if someone said they planned to “send me a text,” I would probably have thought they would be sending me a book or a written document of some kind; now, however, if someone were to say that same statement, I know to expect a text message on my iPhone. The use of that same word is now very different; before I would expect a printed document of some kind, and now I expect a message on my iPhone. So also, given the thousands of years that separate the writing of the book of Genesis and now, we need to make sure we are importing our meanings back into the text.
To answer that question, we need to consider the word “holy”. Although this stem has a variety of uses, in this context, this verb is likely functioning in a way that provides an intensification of the root meaning of the world, suggesting that this term now has the meaning of being in “contact with sacred things, and be tabooed from profane use.” That is, whatever is holy is, at least, set aside for a particular use for sacred matters, not something for recreation. There are several lessons that can be learned from this verse. I will point out two.
The God Who Rests: Theological Lessons to Learn from Scripture
TThe Biblical Writers Teach That God Is Holy
First, as the rest of Scripture bears out, God himself is holy. That is one of his attributes. Given that we want to understand God from the biblical writers, we need to consider what Scripture teaches about this concept. Although many texts from Scripture come to mind, one of the first is Isaiah 6:3. In this text, Isaiah records his calling from God as a prophet. During this calling, he sees two seraphim flying round crying out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts.” When I ask Christians, “What is God like?” their first response is often, “God is love,” citing 1 John 4:16. Although God certainly has the attribute of love, if any attribute should come to our mind first, it should be that God is holy; the holiness of God is the only attribute repeated three times consecutively in all of Scripture. Three times! That is noticeable, even in the English or Chinese translations. Christians, too, should notice it as they describe God.
The Sovereignty of God
Second, Christians also need to notice the sovereignty choice of God in choosing this day. God could have chosen any day He wished. He was not compelled by anyone or anything to choose the seventh day. Christians can make the mistake of thinking about God like they think about other people; this kind of thought, however, is misguided because God is our creator, not the created, like us. As such, as Isaiah reminds us in Isaiah 55:9, “my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Before we leave our consideration of God’s rest in Genesis 2:2, we need to consider the kind of rest God took. Moses indicated that God rest specifically from all the work that he had been doing. As such, God specifically rested from his creative work. From reading other Scriptures, we also learn that God continues to sustain all of creation at all times. The writer of Hebrews indicates that Christ is currently upholding all things by the power of His Word (Hebrews 1:3). God, then, could not be resting from his sustaining power, or else we would not exist.
What Should Christians Learn?
The second larger question I want to ask and answer is what are Christians supposed to learn from God’s rest? Again, Christians are divided on this issue and, as such, what I write does not represent every viewpoint. My interpretation of what Christians are supposed to learn from God’s rest is that Christians are supposed to keep a pattern of work and rest in their lives, although the day of the week may differ. Before we consider how to apply this truth, let’s, first, consider how this interpretation is supported from Scripture because Christians differ on this issue, and for good reason. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus indicated that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). I am not indicating that this command has been abolished. But, I understand this command is fulfilled in Christ, but let’s consider the biblical texts.
The biblical writers support this interpretation in several ways. First, of the well-known Ten Commandments (e.g. Exodus 20:1-17), this command is the only one that is not repeated in the New Testament. Second, the writer of Hebrews, whoever he was, indicated that Christians have already entered into God’s rest (Hebrews 4:1). As such, we do not need to worry about keeping the actual day of the Sabbath, which is actually Saturday anyways, although Christian churches meet on Sundays. Finally, Paul indicates that Christians should not be judged regarding the Sabbath because it was a shadow of which the substance belongs to Christ (Colossians 2:16). Perhaps one of my readers is thinking at this point, “How would I actually apply this, though?” That is a great question; it is to that question I will now turn.
Pattern of Rest in Our Lives
This interpretation, then, means that each of us should consider how to incorporate a pattern of work and rest into our weekly schedules. Let’s consider what exactly that means. If we intend to follow the biblical pattern of work and rest, then we should work five to six days per week and then rest one day, but this will look differently for many individuals.
This concept applies in different ways for everyone. My audience for this article is primarily Christians. So, I will seek to apply it in several ways. I will address two crowds of people: (1) the not-so-busy group and (2) the crazy-busy group.
For the not-so-busy group, this group needs to learn to work more. Perhaps some in this group enjoy the rest part of this article, but they hardly work five days per week because they do not enjoy what they do. Furthermore, when they come home, they would much rather watch television and play video games than do chores, house repairs, spend time with friends and family, and more. This group needs to learn a better work ethic learning from the God who works. God is always working and He sets an example for all of us.
Perhaps one of the first questions that comes to the minds of some is how will they take part of a day for rest much less an entire day of the week when they have to work 50-60 hours of the week, workout 5-6 hours per week, take kids to piano lessons, sports, serve somewhere in the community, run a marathon, run errands, manage personal finances, and fill in the blank. Oh, and we cannot forget checking social media like Facebook, Twitter, blog feeds, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. And we should remember that we need to care for ourselves spiritually by attending church, reading the Bible, praying, personal evangelism, having family worship, and memorizing Scripture.
Probably as some are reading this long list of things that people do in one week, they are beginning to feel overwhelmed. How would someone actually do all of these things well? What is the answer?
The answer is that we are unable to do everything on that list altogether well and still do every God has called us to do; that is, we have often become “crazy busy.” None of us have the capacity to do all of those things and do them well without doing one or several of those tasks poorly. Although we may act like we can do those things, we will soon learn we are not Superman, or woman, and, as such, are quite limited.
What should the rest include? Let’s consider what it is not and then some suggestions for what it is.
Rest is not simply sleeping in and watching television all day. Many people I know, when they get the opportunity to “rest,” they interpret that as being lazy all day as mentioned.
Rest is not a free-pass to forget about your responsibilities to family. This lesson is for both moms, dads, and singles. Moms may think they deserve a free-pass from caring from children and leave the kids with the dad. This, however, is not rest for the dad. Likewise, though, the dad should not leave his wife with the entire responsibility either.
Finally, rest should include at least God-honoring recreational activities, quality family time, fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and relaxation. Although God has designed us primarily for God-given work, He also wants us to learn from how He rested.
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