In the Christian world-and-life view, both work and leisure are considered good things. Both come as gifts from God’s hand and are rooted and discerned from the Lord’s foundational act in creation. Yet these gracious endowments can be easily misused and become idols that wreak havoc in people’s lives. The diabolical nature of sin is that it so enslaves people that they not only do bad things, but they also misuse good things. And Christians, though they are forgiven sinners through embracing Jesus Christ as Savior, nevertheless still struggle with sin’s weighty power.
Let’s briefly explore how both work and leisure are justified as good things in light of God’s work in creation. We’ll then go on to reflect upon how such good things can be unfortunately misused in life.
Made to Work
It is interesting that upon his creation, Adam was almost immediately assigned to work by God (gardening: Genesis 2:15, zoology: Genesis 2:20). These assigned tasks in the Garden of Eden certainly came long before Adam fell into sin through rebellion against God. So it seems that human beings were created to work, and in a Christian context, to carry out one’s discerned vocations before God and to earn one’s living (Ephesians 4:28). Moreover, slothfulness and laziness are identified as serious character vices in the Bible (Proverbs 6:6–9, 13:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:8). So work and vocation can involve all occupations that are consistent with a Christian worldview.
Made to Rest
Leisure in the life of God’s people is derived from what God did after creation. Upon creating the world, the sovereign Lord declared the creation “good” (Genesis 1:31) and “rested” from his work (Genesis 2:2). This period of rest (even apart from how one understands the controversial theological issue of the Sabbath1) and the goodness of the created order justifies the general idea of leisure as a divine mandate for humanity. Leisure involves a rest from work, but it should not be thought of as mere idleness. The activities of leisure should never be sinful in and of themselves, nor should they interfere with a believer’s ultimate devotion to God (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:23). Some Christian traditions have connected appropriate leisure with the pursuit and enjoyment of truth, goodness, and beauty as found in God’s world.
Work and leisure then are from a divine perspective, and meant to come as a package. People need to work but they also need necessary breaks from their work, so leisure isn’t a mere luxury. Many recognize that times of leisure are most meaningful and enjoyable when a person has been working diligently. But there is also the awareness that too much leisure quickly losses its bliss and serves to drive people back to work.
The Danger of Idolatry
Work and leisure are very important features of most people’s lives and especially those who live in the modern, technological, and economically prosperous parts of the world. But it is amazing how easy it is for either work or leisure to become the central focus of one’s entire life. So many people, both nonbelievers and believers, are consumed with their work, their career, their vocation. This is in some ways understandable because work provides so many important things in life (financial stability, fulfillment, challenge, etc.). But many people become workaholics and other critical areas of their life significantly suffer because of it.
Others are forced to work but they really live for leisure in its various forms. They thus live for the weekends or their days off. People can be consumed with the pursuit of leisure to the point where it takes the form of hedonism (the view that pleasure is the greatest good in life). For those given to this form of pleasure-seeking, boredom becomes the great enemy in life. Yet when one is consumed with leisure there is often a deep price to pay as well.
When work or leisure come to dominate one’s life, then many critical goods are neglected, such as faith and family. The Bible has a lot to say about the danger of idolatry (Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 30:17, Matthew 4:9–10, Colossians 3:5). Idolatry can take the form of anything that distracts the believer from being strictly faithful to God. Scripture even seems to closely connect the sins of idolatry with adultery (Jeremiah 3:20, James 4:4–5), for idolatry equates to spiritual adultery. Both reflect a fundamental unfaithfulness to one’s primary or central commitments in life.
No doubt when Christians think of idolatry they think of the Old Testament stories of the worship of images such as a golden calf. Few may recognize that being consumed with work may constitute a modern day, socially accepted, form of idolatry. Likewise when leisure dominates a person’s life it can also constitute a trendy form of modern vacation-oriented idolatry.
As I said earlier, sin so corrupts the human being that it results not just in doing bad things but even in corrupting truly good things. So for many people the sin of idolatry lurks in twisting and polluting the honorable things of life such as work and leisure.
Grace and Discipline in Life
Given the diabolical nature of sin, thank God that salvation in Christ is the free gift of God’s grace solely apart from human works (Ephesians 2:8–10, Titus 3:4–7). So the sin of idolatry in both its ancient and modern forms can be forgiven. But may we by God’s grace live prayerful and reflective lives that will allow us to discern a balanced and good life and approach work and leisure in appropriate and God-honoring ways. May the good Lord by his grace keep us faithful to our fundamental commitment to know and love God above all things (Matthew 6:33).
Reflections: Your Turn
As a Christian, how do you balance work and leisure? What are your thoughts about common modern-day forms of idolatry?
- For a thoughtful book on the topic of work, see God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr.
- Here is a helpful article on how Christians can think through the topic of leisure: “5 Reasons Not to Waste Your Leisure Time” by Jeff Robinson.
- For a thoughtful book on the topic of leisure, see Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives by Paul Heintzman.
- See D. A. Carson, ed., From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Investigation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999).