Friday, August 29, 2008

The Labor and Toil Involved in Entering His Rest

This weekend is the symbolic close of the American summer with the observance of Labor Day on Monday. Labor Day was instituted by Congress in 1894 as a national holiday in celebration and appreciation of “the working (or laboring) citizens” of the United States. The Labor Day holiday, however, has given those of us who follow Christ an excellent object lesson regarding the hardest thing a laboring human being will ever be called upon to do.

Most of our lives are spent “laboring and toiling” and we are all taught from the earliest age that there is great profit in such labor. The same mentality permeates religion, and people everywhere, naturally bent toward toil and labor, are called upon by religious leaders to "labor and toil" for God, as seen in the prophet of Islam's own words . . .

"O mankind, Verily you are ever toiling on towards your Lord --painfully toiling-- and you shall meet Him." (Inshiqaq 84:6).

Or as in the Book of Moroni, a book of the Mormon religion, where it is written . . .

"For if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness . . ." (Book of Moroni 8:6).

Labor and Toil in the Heart from the Biblical Perspective

Israel's King David, however, under inspiration of the Spirit of God, calls the heart filled with "toil and labor" a wicked heart. David begins Psalm 10 by asking God "Why do you hide yourself in my time of trouble?" (v.1). David then points out that his trouble comes from the wicked who oppress him. He describes how the wicked man hunts down others for his advantage, and how he always seem to prosper materially. David then declares that there is no room for God in the heart of the wicked; he doesn't have time for Him (vs. 2-5). David concludes his description of a wicked man by saying his mouth is filled with "cursing and deceit and oppression" (v. 7). Then David makes a startling statement:

Under his tongue are mischief and iniquity" (Psalm 10:7 ESV).

The average reader of the Bible, particularly those of us cultured in Southern Baptist lingo, will read that verse and gloss right over "mischief and iniquity." We consider those words to be fancy Bible words for "sin." Yet, if all we think David is saying is that the wicked have hearts of sin we will miss the rich teaching of this text.

"A heart full of mischief and iniquity" is a very specific phrase in the original. The word "mischief" is the Hebrew word amel and has as its root the idea of labor and toil, or more precisely, the suffering that comes from it. It does not mean deviousness, or what we might call mischievousness, but rather it means "the dissatisfaction that comes in life because we work, toil, and labor, and never find real contentment." The same Hebrew word is used by Moses in Psalm 90:10, "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble (Heb: amel)."

The second descriptive word is "iniquity." It is the Hebrew word awen (pronounced and often transliterated aven). This word refers to the trouble caused by idolatry that arises from emptiness, as we human substitute things for God. When the city called Bethel (literally, "the house of God") became a place filled with idolaters, God commanded the prophet to change the city's name to Bethaven (Hosea 10:5). Bethaven has the Hebrew word aven as a suffix to describe the idolatry within the city. "Aven" in the heart represents a person who lives life working to find fulfillment or happiness in work, or material success, or fame, or achievement or anything else, and never finds real contentment. This is why the word is translated "vanity" in the King James Version, as in Solomon's heartfelt cry about life, "All is vanity." It is this toiling (amel), idolatrous (aven), dissatisfied heart that leads to a mouth full of cursing and deceit.

Therefore, when you hear cursing, or swearing, or taking God's name in vain; or when you hear people lying and catch people being deceptive; or when you listen as people "slice and dice" others with their cutting, biting words - all these kinds of speech are nothing but symptoms of an idolatrous heart. We would be wise not to focus on the treatment of the symptoms, but rather, show the cursed man the cure. Too often, we Southern Baptists focus on the syptoms of a wicked culture (homosexuality, adultery, sexual immorality, taking the Lord's name in vain), and never understand the root cause of such behavior, or show our culture the power of Jesus Christ to cure the heart.

"Under the Tongue" Is a Description of the Heart

When David writes about the wicked man saying, "under his tongue are mischief and iniquity," he is showing us the source of the problem. David does not say in his tongue. Nor does he say from his tongue; David says under his tongue. One commentator points out that this phrase "under his tongue" may be an allusion to certain vipers in Middle Eastern deserts that carry poison bags "under their tongues." Regardless, the phrase "under the tongue" is David's way of pointing to the heart of a man. As the old Puritan John Trapp put it, "Cursing men are cursed men." Just as the temperature taken "under the tongue" is an indication of the health of a human body, so the words that flow from a person's mouth is indicative of what it is like "under the tongue" or in that person's heart. When someone curses, lies, and speaks oppressively, it should cause everyone to look deeper.

The Soul That Finds Rest Has Found It In Christ

The Christian life is also a life of “labor” or “toil.” You may, however, be surprised in what way the Bible speaks of labor for the believer. Most Christians just assume that the Bible encourages us to “labor” for good, or to “work” by doing acts of service as in the old American hymn “Toiling On.” In reality, the Bible tells the believer to “labor” to enter His rest.

The heart that is struggling to find satisfaction in this life must come to the realization that there is ultimate and absolute emptiness in finding contentment in anything other than Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "Come unto me all ye that labor . . . and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). The writer of Hebrews puts it like this, "If you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts . . . [lest you] not enter his rest" (Hebrews 3:8, 11a).

To enter Christ' rest involves a specific change within the heart. "For he that is entered into Christ’s rest , he also has ceased from his own works. Let us labor therefore to enter into His rest . . ." (Hebrews 4:11). Do you see the irony in that last verse? Let us "labor and toil" to enter His rest.
The hardest thing you will ever do as a believer in Christ (your labor), the most difficult chore you will ever take on as a follower of Christ (your toil), the toughest task every one of us will face as one who trusts in Jesus Christ (your work) is to learn how to enter His rest. You must work at it.

"Labor and toil" in the heart to gain the approval of God or man is not something the Bible commends. The only labor God accepts is that labor involved in throwing off EVERYTHING that does not lead your soul to rest in Christ. All other labor and toil is simply a search for satisfaction in life, and it is empty (vain) and leads to idolatry. When you miss out on the rest that comes from Christ, then you look to a spouse, or a boat, or a job, or a reputation, or a career, or money, or sensual pleasures, or a hobby, or religion, or prestige, or any thousands of other idols to take the place of Jesus Christ, who alone can give the soul rest.

This Labor Day weekend is a time to refocus. It is a time to labor to rest in Christ . I choose to trust nothing of my own actions for, promises to, or commitments toward God, and I believe that Christ either accomplished for me all I will ever eternally need, and He gives it to me freely, or I will never receive it at all. I am choosing this day to not sweat the spiritual stuff. I am resting in Him.

Every fiber of your naturally wicked heart will urge you to labor for God, and you are called upon by God to resist such temptation. Rest. Every brain cell that fires in your head will tell you that free grace cannot be true. God calls you to resist such thinking. Rest. Every worldly, man oriented religion will call you a heretic, and tell you will have to labor, fight and toil for God. God tells you to turn away from religion and enter a relationship with His Son. Rest.

Jesus was clear. "Come unto me all ye that are laboring and weighed down . . . and I will give you rest."

Toil this weekend against every demonic thought that calls upon you to bargain with God for His favor. Labor this weekend to suppress every thought that would lead you to proposition God ("I will do this for you God, if you will do this for me"), and simply rest that He will always do for you what is best. Work this weekend to throw off the urge to be religious by living as if God is dependent upon you for His favor to be displayed, and realize that He sings and dances with joy over the soul that rests in His Son, and showers unmerited grace upon all who have labored to TRUST HIM.

The priests in the Old Testament were commanded to wear linen. The Jewish forefathers passed down the oral tradition to their children that the priests were commanded by God to wear linen because there "was not to be a drop of sweat in the holy Presence of God."

This weekend, I don't plan to sweat. I've found my Rest.

In His Grace,



James Hunt said...

Excellent post, Wade.

With you - I rest in our Sabbath, Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Wow, with your permission, I would like to preach your post this Sunday. Outstanding stuff!

How do you find the time to write like this? May I use it?

Charlie said...

Thanks James. You too, Charles, and yes, use anything you'd like.

Blessings to you both.


Lin said...

Oh Thank you for this! It reminded me of something I read in a bio of George Mueller. He was very concerned about poor people who were working 15-16 hour days/6 days a week that they would have time to not only teach their children but have time to 'enter into His rest or even study scripture, pray and meditate on the Word thoughout the week.

Steve said...

Inspiring words!

(My wife may be in touch asking why I haven't got the garden weeded yet, BTW!)

Scotte Hodel said...

This is a lesson that I am very slow to learn. Since my diagnosis with lymphoma last February, I am constantly reminded and prodded to rest in Christ - not to be inactive necessarily, but to trust in him. Phrases like

"I am with you always, to the end of the age"


"Be still, and know that I am the Lord"

come to mind.

In the latest issue of Christianity today the author of Celebration of Discipline suggests that solitude is a missing factor in our lives - to be quiet and let Christ be the focus of our attention for awhile.

Good advice! (And, Wade, a belated welcome back. I am grateful for your encouragement to stay the course!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good words, Wade. I'm reminded of Wayne Oates' book
"Your Right to Rest."

F. in KY

Anonymous said...


I have been beating lymphoma for over 12 years, so there is hope. Hang in there.

I know this is eisegesis and probably several other bad examples of misinterpretation, but it can still be a useful word for those who need to slow down from doing too much. I tell people who need to hear such a word: Even God rested. (Genesis 2).

Again, Wade, welcome back.


Anonymous said...

Glade to have you back.Excellent post, Wade


Anonymous said...

Excellent words and a great call to the Family. We must rest in Him and enter His Jubilee. We have a huge ministry of rest and reconcilition as His ambassadors - may more enter that ministry wholeheartedly.

Anonymous said...

Most holy thing a tired Christian can do: REST.