Studying the story of the beginnings of human beings, and their fall in the book of Genesis, I have found five principles that can helps us understand work and leisure from biblical perspective.
The Principle of Dominion
Gen 1:26 tells us that God created us in His image, so that we can “have dominion over the fish of the sea” and over all the creatures of the earth and in verse 28, God asked the first humans to “subdue” the earth and “have dominion” over the created order. Here dominion does not mean aggressive domination or destruction, but must be understood as “skilled mastery” for a given responsibility. We can infer from the passage that the skilled mastery had to do with living in such a way that honours the divinely ordained systems of creation, resulting in service, responsibility and stewardship. We were created to rule and lead our surroundings. We are supposed to protect the creation. We are to protect our lives from anything that leads to death. We are to take control of situations around us to keep ourselves, our families and others protected.
But because of sin, this capacity to have dominion is often twisted and distorted. We now long for this “mastery” and “dominion” in wrongful ways. In our work place, we get into rat race to find ourselves at the top by all means. We find it satisfactory in subjugating people who work for us or under our supervision. From the leisure point of view, people like to identify themselves with the winners of the sport they follow, or while watching a movie or television show, people identify themselves as the characters the movie actors play in conquering the enemy, or in pornography, people unconsciously want to fantasise themselves with those who are sexually subjugating the other person in their distorted world. We no longer find God-given abilities to influence our surroundings pleasurable. But the truth is that we find pleasure in having dominion and having power.
The Principle of Fruitfulness
In Gen 1:28 God blessed human and asked them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” giving them a direction for life—be productive. In this verse, the fruitfulness and multiplication refer to family growth and the spread of human race all over the earth. But in Gen 2:15 God takes the human and places them in the garden and asks them to “work it and keep it.” God wanted human beings to be productive and working. Work included “ruling over the nature (1:28), tilling and caring (2:15) and ordering and organising (2:19).”
From the book of Ecclesiastes, we learn that we are to enjoy life as a gift from the hand of God. In this sense, both work and leisure are enjoyed. They are not seen as distinct, but on a same continuum. Leisure, work, worship, and recreation are integrated in the joy and the wholeness of one’s life.
But because human beings fell into sin, our capacity to work for God’s glory is ruined. Being productive today means how good or valuable is one’s product. The income, profitability and brand name decide the value of a job. Many times we allow our work and wealth to define who we are. We are driven, controlled and fulfilled by our work so much that we fall in love with our work and worship what we do. On the other hand, we are so stressed out because we are working all the time. We hate our work. We want to quit. And thus, we are always looking for leisure activity or leisure goods. We do not see work as a service to God and done as unto God, fulfilling the purpose of God, for the glory of God.
The Principle of Enjoyment
In Gen 1:19 God gives them all kinds of plants, trees and fruits for food. God wanted first humans to enjoy food. A verse later, it says “God saw everything that he made, and behold, it was very good.” God himself enjoyed his creation. In Gen 2:9 it is written: “Out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” God also wanted humans to enjoy his creation. From the book of Ecclesiastes (2:24), we learn that we are to enjoy life as a gift from the hand of God. In this sense, both work and leisure are enjoyed. They are not seen as distinct, but on a same continuum. Leisure, work, worship, and recreation are integrated in the joy and the wholeness of one’s life.
But in sin, we have separated leisure from work. We no longer enjoy work. We are stressed out in our leisure time. And we don’t know how to enjoy God or his creation. Our longing for pleasure leads us to a distorted way of enjoyment. For example, people today take breaks from their work to find pleasure in shopping, spending money to consume the latest gadgets, the newest food joint, the trendiest fashion, or the latest entertainment. On the other hand, some others can’t see how someone can “waste time” watching a movie, walking in the garden, or exercising silence and solitude. Whatever we do, the truth is that we long for pleasure and enjoyment.
The Principle of Company
In Gen 2:18 God saw that “It is not good for man to be alone” and he made a companion, a “helper fit for him.” God is relational and lives in the community of triune God. As made in the image of God, human beings are also designed for community, to have relationship with God and with one another.
But sin has broken that relationship and distorted our understanding of authentic relationship. We now long for relationships with wrong motives. We enjoy the wayward lifestyle. With the exponential growth of technology, the entertainment world is at our fingertips. It is interesting to note that more and more people spent their leisure time alone. We no longer walk and talk with people in the park, we don’t do activities as families, and we don’t find ourselves on dining table together. That’s one of the reasons, we are stressed out. We are not created to be alone.
The Principle of Submission
Gen 2:16–17 tells us that God commanded and allowed Adam to “eat of every tree of the garden but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Adam and Eve were created to function and flourish well in submission to God’s commands. Notice that God wanted them to have dominion but not over all things; God wanted them to work and be fruitful, but not without rest; God wanted them to enjoy all that was created, but not the tree of knowledge of good and evil; God wanted man to have intimate relationship with the woman, but only with the woman God chooses for him as “suitable” partner. God gives us freedom, but with limitations. We need to submit to his boundaries.
The ultimate and deepest rest is found in and through Jesus Christ. The qualitative rest in Christ gives us quality of life, including the heavenly peace, abundant life and the real freedom.
But in Gen 3:6, we see “when the woman saw that tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,” they ate the forbidden fruit. Since then, human beings are constantly and foolishly trying to make their life work without God and his boundaries. We want to work without rest. We want to have fun without end. We want control without limit. We want freedom without responsibility. We want God without submission. We are created to submit to God and worship him. When we don’t, we end up in idolatry. When we don’t submit ourselves to God, we unconsciously submit to things and people that we foolishly think give us pleasure and rest we need.
Jeremiah 2:13 says, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Our thirst for pleasure and fulfilment cannot be quenched by all the titillating stuff that the world offers to us. Like the Psalmist we must aspire for the superior pleasure that is found in Christ alone: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
Work and leisure must dance together but always in the courts of God. The beauty lies in the seamless rhythms of both work and rest. But the meaning and the lasting fulfilment, and pleasures of life are found only in God. The ultimate and deepest rest is found in and through Jesus Christ (Matt.11:28–29). The qualitative rest in Christ gives us a quality of life including the heavenly peace (John 14:27), the abundant life (John 10:10) and the real freedom (John 8:32). The rest we find in Christ is unending and eternal.
God is inviting us to enter into his rest in Christ Jesus, a shadow of God’s rest in the Garden of Eden and a foretaste of the fully realised perfect rest in new heavens and new earth. We enter into God’s rest in faith, enjoying the rhythms and dance of life in the courts of God.