Those Whom God Uses to Heal

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(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and made their Top Ten blogs of 2020.  It was also published by the National Christian Foundation website, and was posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

Over the past two months, I have been teaching a class on Wednesday nights on the topic of God’s presence at work.  I have had only student.  He is a U.S. Army orthopedic surgeon, working at the hospital on post.  When we got to chapter eight in my book, regarding the kinds of work that we may be doing in the New Jerusalem at the end of the ages, I was concerned about how he would react.  I had written that doctors (among many other professions) would no longer be needed because all residents will be healed.  This is based on Rev. 21:4, where it states in part, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (For further discussion on the eternal value of work, read my article here.)

As I have gotten to know my brother in Christ better during this time, I have come to a deeper understanding and appreciation for those who work in the healing profession.  I will address this topic from a biblical and theological perspective to encourage those whom God uses to heal, as well as those who are on the receiving end of their valuable work.

Healing in Scripture

A good place to start this discussion would be to provide a brief biblical overview of Jesus’ healing ministry and His purposes for it.  I see a few obvious ones:

1) His ability to heal pointed to His divinity.

2) Jesus clearly wanted to relieve suffering when He had the opportunity to do so, even on a Sabbath.

3) His healing also pointed towards the day when God’s Kingdom would come in all its fullness, and there would be no more sickness, pain, disability, or death.

Throughout the Gospels, we see that Jesus worked as a healer.  We see in Matt 4:23 and 9:35 that Jesus healed “every disease and sickness” among the people.  In Matt. 11:2-5, when Jesus was asked by John the Baptist’s disciples whether He was the Messiah, Jesus replied, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

The list of the kinds of people that Jesus healed is impressive: a woman with internal bleeding (Mark 5:25-26), a crippled man (John 5:2-9), a man born blind (Acts 10:38), and many others.  Jesus’ healing ministry is another example in Scripture of the concept of Immanuel labor, God’s divine presence that is clearly linked to human work.  Peter states in his gospel presentation to Cornelius’ family that Jesus healed because “God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

What do healers bring to the table?

I know and love many kinds of dedicated healthcare workers.  My eldest sister is a medical laboratory technologist; my youngest sister is a physical therapist.  My daughter is a speech therapist.  I have over twenty friends who are doctors, physician’s assistants, nurses, pharmacists, or dental hygienists.  God uses each of them to bring healing and restoration to thousands of people every day.

If we were to consider the kind of work that God models today, as described in Amy Sherman’s book, Kingdom Calling, you might categorize what they do as compassionate work, God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding.  (See previous article written two years ago.)

Like most professions, this is not a single-player game.  In my discussions with the surgeon attending my class, he has emphasized on many occasions the importance of teamwork in this field.  In a rather complicated and potentially serious procedure he did recently, he painted a clear picture of the absolute necessity of relying on a variety of workers at the hospital who were responsible to handle critical pieces of the joint operation.  He mentioned fellow surgeons, radiologists, nurses, and anesthesiologists, to name a few.  Every link in the chain was needed.

If we were to expand that list a bit more, we would have to include the wide range of healthcare workers that God uses to meet the medical needs of our families, friends, and us.  I know that when I have been hospitalized on several occasions for various procedures, I have personally benefited from all who maintained the equipment, cleaned the floors, delivered the meals, scheduled the appointments, issued my medications, and handled insurance claims, plus the hospital administrators who kept everything running smoothly.

As we see the value of each worker who contributes to the healing process, the natural thing for us to do is to express appreciation to those we come into contact with. It may also give us opportunities to mention that when we pray for healing, God is using each of them to bring restoration of health to us.

What are their thorns & thistles?

Like any other profession, there are unique challenges in this field.  Things that make our jobs more difficult than necessary are referred to as thorns and thistles.  (See Gen. 3:17-19.)

One struggle is the long or irregular hours, especially when these professionals go through their rigorous training.  Another is the mountains of paperwork that accompany each patient or client they encounter.  My daughter works as the speech therapist at an elementary school mentioned this specifically a while ago.  It never ends.  Additionally, there are often unexpected delays in insurance approvals for expensive procedures, which can negatively impact the health of patients in their care.  And occasionally, you lose a patient you thought you could save.

Those who serve in professions like these are often perceived as workaholics.  In their defense, I asked this question in my book: Can Christians be doctors, young mothers, or farmers?  Of course they can!  I would not accuse any of them of being workaholics merely because of the extremely long hours they normally have to put in to meet their God-given responsibilities that come with those callings.

However, I would counsel them to find a way to keep the Sabbath in some manner—not as a legalistic requirement but as a pattern for living a balanced, healthy lifestyle, enabling them to rest, worship, and recreate so they can pace themselves to survive and thrive over the long haul.

Final thoughts

As I wrap up this discussion, let me return briefly to the discussion with my surgeon, re: his possible vocation in the New Jerusalem.  He totally surprised me with his reaction that I was so concerned about.  He said that since the majority of his surgical skills involved reinforcing various joints with screws, he could see himself performing carpentry work for all eternity.

What a great perspective!  I appreciate my brother’s humble servant’s heart so much.  This is the power of a transformed life in Christ.

I have one final word for Christians who serve in this field.  God has placed you right where you are to best glorify Him.  You know the Great Physician and you are His healing hands. His power to heal can flow through you to others in very practical ways.  You know the limitations of medicine that often fail to bring healing to many of these finite bodies.  You know that when medicine fails, death is not the end.  You can bring comfort to those who mourn.  You also know that complete healing of the mind, body, and soul is ultimately found in Christ alone.

Those whom God uses to heal, keep doing this great work, in His strength and for His glory.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

How Can We Be Agents of Racial Reconciliation?

untitled(Note: This article was written by request for the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and was published in July 2018.  It was also posted on the Coram Deo blog and the 4Word Women blog.  I invite you to read a related article I wrote on the value of diversity in the workplace in February 2019.)

On a Focus on the Family radio program last fall, I heard Benjamin Watson, an African-American pro football player and Christian speak intelligently, compassionately, and frankly about racial issues.  His balanced and biblical perspective opened my eyes.  Right away, I ordered his book, Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race – And Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us.  I finally finished it a few months ago.  This excellent book helped me to understand the challenges that my co-workers of another race face every day.  I would like to offer a brief review.

Watson begins his introduction by taking us to the tragic events that took place in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, two hours from where I live.  Three months later, in November, a grand jury concluded there was no probable cause to indict the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager.

Initially, Watson articulated his gut reaction to this decision in a lengthy Facebook post.  He shared that he was angry, fearful, embarrassed, sad, sympathetic, offended, confused, introspective, hopeless, hopeful, and encouraged.  He rearranged and expanded on these feelings, which then became the framework for the chapters in his book.

Injustice should make us angry

In chapter 1 he recounts, “I’m angry because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.”  This is disheartening to me.  He continues. “I’m angry because white people don’t get it.  I’m angry because black people don’t get it, either.”  At least he has confronted us equally.

He indicates that it has been over 150 years since slavery was abolished.  He painfully points out: “You’d think that after all this time we’d have reached real parity between the races, that there would be truly equal opportunity, and that we’d be seeing and experiencing fairness in society between blacks and whites.”  Sadly, he reports, “A lot of white people believe that’s actually where we are.  A lot of black people know we aren’t.” I have to agree with him here.

These thoughts may seem controversial.  They may make us uncomfortable.  For me, I was grateful to see these issues through Watson’s eyes and experiences.  I cannot be part of the solution if I do not understand what the real problems are.

My own reflections on race

I was brought up by my parents to respect people of all races.  In my early elementary school days in Long Island, New York, I thought that kids of various skin colors were no different from kids that wore a red, blue, or yellow shirt.  It just did not matter.  This background made for an easy transition to active duty military life, where we served and lived with many Soldiers of diverse races who all got along with each other due to our shared Army values and unity of purpose.

A spiritual dimension to this issue was introduced at a Promise Keepers conference in the mid-1990’s, where I was challenged to be active in racial reconciliation.  This conviction influenced my thinking and shaped men’s ministry events I led over the next several years.  This concept was reemphasized during the 2016 Faith@Work Summit, as one more than one speaker pointed out that the movement had become too male and too pale.  Since then, I have been seeking more opportunities at work to bring racial harmony when I can by ensuring that I, and those who work for me, treat everyone with dignity and respect.  This radio interview and book came at the right time, pushing me further towards what the Lord had laid on my heart a long time ago.

The gospel should bring us encouragement and hope

The passion and honesty that Watson expressed throughout the book was refreshing and on target.  Every once in a while, Watson gently taught me something that I truly needed to hear.  He writes, “The problem of racism is not in ‘that guy over there.’  It’s right here.”  He confessed that racism is inside himself and suggests that it is inside all of us as well.  He believes that the solution is for each of us to look inside ourselves, honestly confront the biases we have, and begin to change the evil that is in our hearts.

In the middle section of the book, I read with great interest his exposition of the fears that he and other men and women of color experience.  My heart was deeply grieved to read statements like this: “Black people have little expectation of being treated fairly by police in any situation.  We have a high expectation of being demeaned, abused, and possibly treated violently in any encounter with law enforcement. . . This is a reality that white people simply don’t know.”  I only had a glimpse of how bad this problem really is, only because I have asked Soldiers of color that have worked for me in the past to help me to see what I have never experienced firsthand.

At the end, Watson expresses a sense of encouragement, despite the fact that “we still have race issues in America”.  He asserts, “ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem.”  He is encouraged “because God has provided a solution for sin through his son, Jesus, and with it a transformed heart and mind.”  He concludes that the cure for these front-page racist tragedies is not education or exposure, but the gospel.  The gospel, he reminds us, “gives mankind hope.”

I highly recommend this book if you want to better understand the complex issues of race in order to be agents of reconciliation.  Isn’t that why we are here, to tell people that Jesus’ free offer of salvation is available to all?  Ultimately, there will be a vast number of men and women “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Observations from the Book of Hebrews (Chapters 1-4)

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I am currently reading the book of Hebrews.  I thought it might be helpful to record some observations.  This is not meant to be a verse-by-verse commentary, nor an in-depth grammatical, historical, theological analysis, just my own thoughts about what jumps out at me as the Holy Spirit instructs my renewed mind.  What I appreciate most about this book is that it is Christ-centered, it quotes the OT frequently, and it helps me understand how Jesus fulfills not only OT prophecy but fulfills the entire message of the OT.

I invite you to prayerfully and carefully read what I have written below, then go back and read the chapters for yourself.  See if what I have said makes sense to you.  What new things did you learn?  What things did I miss?  How are you going to apply what you have read in your life?

Chapter 1

  • (v. 1) The first thing I notice is that “God spoke”; in the past, He spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, in many times and in various ways
  • (v. 2) Now (when this was originally written), God has spoken to us by His Son
  • (v. 3) Jesus, the Son, is described as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”; note that Jesus the Son is equal in essence, but distinct in person from God the Father
  • Note several references to Jesus’ involvement in creation (verses 2 and 10) and at the end of the ages (verses 2, 8, and 11-13); Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega
  • Note references to Jesus’ rule, authority, and superiority over all (verses 2, 4, 8-9, 11-13)

Chapter 2

  • (v. 1) Because of what we have just read about God speaking to us and Jesus’ divine nature (that He has ruled since before Creation and will rule to the end of time), we (I) need to pay more attention to what we (I) have heard so that we (I) do not drift away
  • (vv. 2-4) The message of salvation that we have heard, which was brought to us by God the Father through angels, prophets, and Jesus, was delivered by John the Baptist and by Jesus, who announced boldly :“the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17 and 4:17); God confirmed it by the apostles, signs, wonders, miracles and spiritual gifts
  • (vv. 6-8) The writer quotes Psalm 8:4-6, where David marvels at God’s care of man that He created in His own image; man (and the son of man, which is a veiled reference to Jesus)was made “a little lower than the angels” and put in charge of all creation as co-regents with the Creator (see the creation or cultural mandate, found in Gen.1:26-38)
  • (v. 9) Jesus is described as one who was “made a little lower than the angels”, a clear tie in with what we had just read in verses 6-8 where the writer quotes Ps. 8; this was done to make it clear that Jesus is not only fully divine (as stated in Heb. 1), but fully human
  • (v. 14-18) The humanity of Jesus is emphasized; Jesus shared in our flesh and blood so that he could die in order to destroy Satan’s power over death and set us free from slavery to fear of death (verses 14-15); Jesus was made like us in every way to be qualified to be a merciful and faithful high priest to make atonement for our sins (verses 17-18) (more on that subject in chapter 8)

Chapter 3

  • (v. 1) This chapter starts out just like chapter 2, verse 1, reminding us to pay attention so that we do not drift away; because of what we have just read about Jesus, who was made like one of us (i.e., human) and calls us brothers (sisters is inferred) since we are children of God (see Heb. 2:11-14), we need to fix our thoughts on Him
  • (v. 1) I cannot overlook the use of the word “holy” here; the writer mentions that we share in a “heavenly calling”; back in Heb. 2:11 we see that Jesus “makes men holy” and that we are “those who are made holy”; in order to become men and women who are becoming more holy (i.e., sanctified) in Christ, we need to pay more attention to Him
  • (vv. 2-6) We see the word “faithful” repeated four times; twice it refers to Jesus (verses 2 and 6) and twice it refers to Moses (verses 2 and 5); we are not only considered family, but are considered part of God’s house, if we remain faithful to the owner of the house
  • (vv. 7-19) Although the majority of the readers of this book were faithful followers of Jesus Christ, as evidenced by them being referred to as “those who will inherit salvation” (1:14), “sons” (2:10), “those who are made holy” (Heb. 2:11), and “brothers” (2:11-12, 17; 3:1, 12), the writer of Hebrews will occasionally give stern warnings to not fall away (i.e., 2:1, and other passages down the road); he quotes incidents in the OT where Abraham’s descendants (referred to earlier in 2:16) hardened their hearts and rebelled against Yahweh; they are warned not to do the same

Chapter 4

  • (vv. 1-2) We see another “therefore”, reminding us to bear in mind all that has just been discussed in chapter 3 about not hardening our hearts; unlike most of Abraham’s unfaithful descendants, New Covenant believers can experience the promise of entering God’s rest; the key is our belief in the gospel, followed by faithful obedience to it
  • (v. 3) There is a reference to Matt. 11:28-30 in the margin of my Bible next to the phrase “we who have believed enter that rest”; as we are yoked to Jesus, we find rest in our labors; it is His finished work on the cross that matters, not our own works (v. 10)
  • (vv. 14-16) Following a long section of stern warnings to believers about missing God’s rest due to disobedience (vv. 6-11) and after explaining the power of God’s word to penetrate and judge our innermost thoughts and attitudes of or hearts (vv. 12-13), we are given some much needed encouragement regarding Jesus’ role as our high priest; as a result of His atonement, we are urged to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (v. 16) so that we can “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (i.e., when we disobey)

Spiritual Implications of Hamlet

P1000966I shared some of this story about my son in chapter 11 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  In the discussion of what Proverbs teaches us about how wise and righteous men and women who walk with God should work, I made this statement:

In contrast, Proverbs 22:29 instructs us that a man who is skilled in his work will eventually go far in life. This is one of the biblical principles I intentionally highlighted to my youngest son after his face was plastered on a billboard on the main drag of his college town after he had been cast as the lead in Hamlet. My son’s hard work and passion for his craft motivated him to learn technical aspects of his field, improve his skills, stretch his wings, and audition for big roles. I pointed out to him that if he faithfully used his God-given talents as they developed slowly over time and polished them to perfection, his work would catch the eye of people who could make a difference in his life. Then they would find it easy to trust him to take on more and more responsibility.

Since it has been eight years to the day that this major achievement took place, I thought it would be worth sharing my original thoughts that I posted on my personal blog in early November 2011.  My intention is to help my readers see ordinary work through a biblical and theological lens and to know that God is present in it.  I also want to show other parents of adult children one way for them to encourage their own kids to see the many blessings God provides for them in His mercy and grace.

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So, my youngest son sends me a text between 3:30-4:00 this afternoon.  Not so unusual.   That’s how my kids communicate with me, when appropriate.  I was excited to hear from him.

What was it?  He’s in college.  Did he need money?  (Probably not.  He’s got a good handle on his money this semester, living off-campus for the first time.)  Was it something about this weekend’s long awaited family get-together at Cape Girardeau to see him play the lead in the best-known drama in the history of theater?  It was!

He sent me a photo of his ridiculously good-looking face, taken from the Southeast Missouri State University Theatre Department’s Hamlet publicity poster, that had been placed on a huge billboard on the main drag through town.  Holy cow!  How cool is that!

I must say that at that moment, I was a pretty proud papa.  I showed the picture to several co-workers.  I posted it on Facebook.  (I did send him a reply, too.)

However, as I headed out to the parking lot about an hour later, I got to thinking about what I wanted to say to him face to face.  There appeared to be several spiritual life-lessons, applicable to all ages, that immediately came to my mind for such a time as this.  I believe they are worth sharing with anyone who is willing to listen.

1) God’s amazing grace.  When something this big happens to you, you have to understand that it is a clear demonstration of the grace of God.  Grace is getting more than you deserve, and it’s a gift; it’s not earned.  Although my son definitely worked extremely hard to land the role of a lifetime over several older, more experienced actors, an opportunity like this doesn’t come along every day.  It is not unlike graduating from college or graduate school, getting married, celebrating your 30th wedding anniversary, or getting your first real job; all wonderful things that have happened to people I know really well over the past couple of years.  You just have to stop, acknowledge, and marvel at God’s abundant goodness to you, because events like these are beautiful gifts that many people never get to see.  My entire family is extremely blessed, and I don’t think any of us take it for granted.  It says in Ephesians 3:20 that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

2) God exalts the humble.  One of the reasons my son was selected for this role was that he had developed a reputation as a quiet hard worker.  He made the best of the small roles he had his first two years in college.  He was not boastful, arrogant, or a prima donna, which can be typical of some young talented actors.  The funny thing about humility, though, is that just when you think you have it down, and become just a little bit proud of your success at being completely humble, you have to go back to square one.  James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  (Perhaps He may even lift your face up on to a billboard.)

3) Hard work, skill, and reputation will open up doors for you.  This relates to what I said above.  However, no one gets picked by the director to tackle a role like this just for being a man of humble character.  You have to have the potential to bring the fictional character to life and carry the play squarely on your strong shoulders.  (No pressure, there!)  Whatever your God-given talents are, as they are developed slowly over time and polished to perfection, people who can make a difference in your life can’t help but take notice.  They find it easy to trust you to take on more and more responsibility.  My son’s passion for his craft motivated him to learn technical aspects of his field, improve his skills, stretch his wings, and try hard to reach for better results.  I’ve seen this rare combination of passion and hard work in his sister and brother in their respective young careers also, as well as in my wife’s dedicated work with preschoolers.  Proverbs 22:29 states this, “Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.”  Your work matters to God!

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4) God always has a purpose and a plan for the places that He puts you.  Who knows where this will eventually lead to.  Future employment after graduation?  I certainly hope so.  But more than that.  Opportunities open up for a reason.  We are blessed to be a blessing to others.  And, it’s all for His glory.  Ephesians 3:21 explains the purpose for His power that is at work in us, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

5) This is a really big show; but life is mostly made up of little things.  So, enjoy them all.  You can see evidence of God’s amazing grace every single day, if you just look for it.  James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

(Note: readers who enjoyed this article may want to check out an article I wrote on the value of the arts from a biblical worldview.)

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

How Can I Possibly Rest from my Labor?

1wefanscc25vyhb8pjhafy2yeqegc0w0rfneokw9fv9shk1uisdnt70bjclmlxnfbk97ddq5ywoig6t9en2jm5ytds5zlgsqrbzvgh9hh9u8xw14lq8t3gkfs66d6uohge7znuspyfya6j7asg9poddy(Note: This article is an excerpt from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, which was published by WestBow Press in February 2018.  I invite you to check it out.  It was also posted on the Coram Deo blog.)

This seems like a good place for my thoughts on rest.  The Sabbath is critical to our understanding of a theology of work because God put a lot of emphasis on it for His people.

I had a great scoutmaster when I was in Boy Scouts back in high school. He had a favorite saying, which he told us was from his army days.  He would often say, “Hurry every chance you get.”  Although there is certainly a time to have a sense of urgency, this approach may lead to a heart attack or stroke if one would apply it to every task every single time.

The first thing we see in Scripture is that God rested from His work of creation (Gen. 2:2–3). God does not get tired, so why did He rest?  Perhaps it was because it was good, which He said at the end of almost every day during the creation process.  There was nothing more to add to it.  It is likely that Yahweh was setting an example for His people.  If He could rest, we could learn to do the same.

Remember also that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, including Genesis.  The Law was established in these books, which included numerous Sabbath regulations in Exodus, and it was repeated to the new generation of Israelites in Deuteronomy.  The fact that God rested gives keeping the Sabbath a proper theological foundation.

Keeping the Sabbath was explicitly required by God in the Ten Commandments (Exo. 20:8–11; Deut. 5:12–15.)  It was reinforced often. (See Exo. 23:12; 31:12–17; 35:2; Lev. 19:3; Jer. 17:19–27.)  This was one of many commandments that set the Israelites apart from their pagan neighbors, which were designed to bring glory to God.  In addition to the weekly Sabbath, the Israelites were instructed to do no work on certain holy days.  (See Lev. 16:29; 23:3–36.)

Throughout the NT, we find that Jesus fulfills the OT ceremonial and dietary laws.  Thus, in the Gospels, we find several occasions where Jesus healed on the Sabbath, much to the consternation of His adversaries the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Jesus states boldly that “the Son of Man was Lord of the Sabbath” and that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1–12; Mark 2:23–28).

However, most would say that the biblical principle of working six days and resting on the seventh still applies to Christians today, although we do not need to be legalistic about keeping it.  Its purpose is to find rest, reflection, renewal, and relationships.

Jesus had something else to say about rest.  In Matt. 11:28–30, we hear an encouraging word that I personally appreciate.  Jesus beckons, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

A yoke was an instrument of farming work.  Jesus invites those who labor to find His rest by becoming coworkers with Him as two oxen who have been yoked together.  Again, this verse connects human work with divine presence, exemplifying the idea of Immanuel labor.

The writer of Hebrews also emphasizes this concept of rest, which in this context is more than merely keeping a commandment to not work from the Law.  We read, “There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his” (Heb. 4:9-10).  The writer had explained earlier that only those who believed the gospel message of life found in Jesus Christ could enter God’s rest (Heb. 4:3).  We can rest from working when we rest in Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

The Theology of Work Biblical Commentary reminds us that “God made the Sabbath for us—for our benefit (Mark 2:27) … When, like God, we stop our work on whatever is our seventh day, we acknowledge that our life is not defined only by work or productivity … Part of making Sabbath a regular part of our work life acknowledges that God is ultimately at the center of life.”

Wittmer adds, “Sabbath rest is essential for enjoying life, and only Christians are wholly able to keep it holy.”  He acknowledges that “we are free in Christ to consider ‘one day more sacred that another’ or to consider ‘every day alike’ (Romans 14:5).  However, every Christian who neglects the Sabbath should at least stop and ask why that is.  Is it because we are free in Christ?  Fine.  Is it because we don’t think we can afford a break?  Not fine.”  Well said!

Cosden offers this insight:

Central as it is, work is not all there is to this life … Work, both for God and for us, has its limits. Although work is essential and is in one form or another the context for so much that takes place in our lives, the final word both for God and for us is the Sabbath. An existence without rest and space to reflect on our lives—what we have done, what we are doing, who we are and who we are becoming—is no existence at all.

Ironically, I know I need to work a little harder at resting.  (See Heb. 4:11.)  I need to take the Sabbath more seriously.  As important as work is, like Cosden and others indicated, it has its limits.  Taking a Sabbath day is good for us in every way—physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially.

Take it. Enjoy it.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.