Work and Leisure
Christians are not called to live their lives in a spiritual environment but within a secular framework. Or, to put it another way, God has to rule in the whole of their lives: work and free time, family, business and church life. Here then we look at two activities, which between them take up most of people's time: work and leisure.
In general in society today, work and leisure are regarded as opposites, governed by different principles. The one involves bondage, strenuous effort and tiredness; the other suggests freedom, relaxation, and refreshment. The one represents pleasing oneself; the other usually involves pleasing someone else, an employer.
Because work is a burden and leisure a joy, there is a clamour that less of one's time be spent in work and more of it be available for leisure. The workaholic is despised. People aren't meant to live to work but rather to work to live. Their employment is a necessary evil which provides them with the resources they need to spend the rest of their time as they please.
Christians are part of society and, on this matter as on many others, tend to have their minds conformed to the thinking of those around them. So we have to ask:
What are the Biblical principles which should mould our outlook in this area? What is the distinctive Christian outlook on "work" and "leisure"?
Back to Basics
The Biblical basis of both work and leisure lies in the original mandate given to man at creation: "Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." This is a farreaching command which makes man God's viceroy over the world he has made — ruling it in his place and in his name.
It speaks of a relationship between man and the world around him which is referred to elsewhere in the Scriptures. For example, the Psalmist teaches that God gave the creation to man: "the highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man" (Psalm 115:16). Man's "dominion over the creatures" — and over everything else in the world as well — is reiterated in another Psalm: "You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet" (Psalm 8).
This original divine mandate implies that man has a right to use and develop the resources of this world — it's animal, vegetable and mineral resources. It also implies a responsibility to do so in a beneficial and God-honouring way. On the Biblical view, man is not a selfish exploiter of the world's wealth — he has to fill the earth, not empty it — but a steward who has been appointed by God to the task of caring for creation. The background of the original command suggests, too, that it is man's kinship with God that equips him for this kingship over God's creation. Because he was made in the image of God, man enters into the work of the Creator: his task is in a real way to be "creative" in his use of the resources committed to his trust.
This mandate was given to man in his state of innocence, when everything in the world was perfect. This makes it — like marriage and the Sabbath, which were also instituted at that stage — a basic principle of fundamental importance, a part of the original blueprint for man's conduct. It remains in force — again like marriage and the Sabbath — even when sin entered the world. The statements quoted above from the book of Psalms clearly indicate that this "creation ordinance" is still a guiding principle even in man's sinful state.
Practising the Basic Principle
People are in fact fulfilling this creation mandate in a great variety of ways day after day. Usually what they do is not considered in that light. So where do we see man actually exercising his lordship over the physical creation today? The answer is: wherever people use the resources of this world positively, responsibly and creatively.
Obviously our minds might turn to those that have immediate contact with the raw resources under man's care. For example, the fisherman, the farmer, the forester and the miner clearly develop the animal, vegetable and mineral resources of the world. But fulfilment of the creation mandate is not limited to these occupations. We should also think on all those who develop or use the basic resources supplied through such labour. The catalogue of those that develop the materials supplied by the fisherman, the farmer, the forester and the miner, is unending.
There is the housewife who takes basic resources — meat and cereals, salt and milk, etc. — and bakes and cooks with them. There is the joiner who takes the wood provided and shapes it into objects of usefulness or indeed of beauty. There is the chemist who develops the materials derived from various sources and combines them into substances that bring health to the human body. In the exercise of these tasks they are expressing their dominion over the world and all that it contains.
Pushed yet further all those who use goods manufactured from the material resources God has provided also contribute their own part to the fulfilment of the creation mandate. Thus the editor, who sits in front of his plastic computer with its minutely engraved silicon chip and uses these as instruments to record his words of wisdom, is part of this great operation. So is the musician, who takes the instrument, which others have manufactured out of wood or metal, of gut or horsehair or whatever, and uses it to produce sounds which move people's emotions or stimulate their imagination. Even the cricketer's activity fits into the same pattern. He wields a piece of willow against a round leather-covered piece of wood and does so with a grace, power and sense of timing which bring pleasure — or dismay — to those who watch.
Under the One Umbrella
With this creation mandate as the background of our thinking, we can look at the whole range of human activity and we notice that virtually all (legitimate) activities can, in principle, be brought under that concept. They are rooted in the original mandate given to Adam and are covered by the general principles implied in that command. Here is an "umbrella principle" which covers a wide variety of human activity.
It is not surprising then if we begin to recognise the basic unity of all this activity. Whether it is called "work" or whether it is regarded as "leisure", doesn't matter: it is an outworking of God's gracious act in making man king over creation
The person who takes a fish out of the sea and uses it for nourishment is ruling over the fish of the sea as God commanded. He is doing this whether the fishing is part of his normal, paid, employment or an enjoyable way in which he spends his free time. The one who takes flour and yeast and salt, etc., to make bread is exercising dominion over the created world. It doesn't matter whether that is done in the course of employment as a baker, as part of the normal domestic chores for the family or just for fun, as a change from bought bread — it is still to be dignified as a fulfilment of a great God-given task. The violinist is under the same obligation to God whether he is playing for his own pleasure at home after "work", or whether he is the lead violin in a symphony orchestra.
Of course, depending on the setting of these activities, other principles will entering in to guide them. For example, if bread is baked in the course of employment, then respect for the employers' wishes will also be a guiding principle; and if done for the family's benefit, then considerations of taste and economics may operate. But whichever the setting, the most basic principle operative is the original mandate of God.
At that level, then, there is no essential difference between work and leisure. We are obliged to God for the use of material things (and for the time and ability to use them); we are required to act wisely and beneficially in our use of them; and our use of them has to be creative. Whether we do this as "work" or as "leisure"; for "ourselves" or for our "employer"; for "fun" or for "money", makes no difference — it must be done for God, because our right to engage in these activities rests upon his original mandate at creation.
Using the Umbrella
What we need to do as Christians is to pay attention to this underlying unity of "work" and "leisure", rather than to go along with others in driving a wedge between them. Boiled down to basics they are essentially the same, hence it is fitting to emphasise what they have in common, rather than to magnify the differences.
Of course, the argument is that "leisure" is more necessary than ever in this busy lifestyle that we now lead. We need relaxation to relieve stress and recuperate our energies. The faster the pace of life, the more leisure we need. To link leisure and work under the one principle, it is alleged, destroys what it is essential to keep apart in this day and age in which we live. All work and no play makes Jack (and Jill) a dull boy (and girl); and, to mix our pictures, Jack and Jill will then fall down the hill into breakdown and depression.
But to that point of view we have to say: not at all. This view, which unites leisure and work under one umbrella principle, will enrich both "work" and "leisure" in a way which will only be for our physical and spiritual wellbeing. If "work" were to be organised and conducted from this Biblical standpoint, there would be less need for "leisure". And if "leisure" were directed by this principle then a little would go a longer way.
It will take another article to develop that theme properly, I want only to rebut the view that to unite "work" and "leisure" under the one umbrella makes "leisure" just another form of "work", with all its negative overtones — that it makes life dull and uninteresting.
Variety is the Spice of Life
The original divine mandate opens up to us a vast field of legitimate, God-approved activities. This encourages us not only to engage in secular activity in a more Christian way; it also encourages us to engage in a wider variety of activities. Variety of activity will flow from an awareness of the variety in God's creation.
The inspired Psalmist exclaims in wonder: How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number...Psalm 104:24-25
The fact that it is a rich variety of resources which God has given into our care means that we cannot be one-track-minded or live a narrow, confined, abstemious life or be content to keep our nose to the one grindstone 24-hours a day, six days a week. The activities open to us are as varied as the resources of the work God has committed to our care.
The Bible's doesn't say in as many words that variety is the spice of life, but that I believe is a proper deduction from its teaching. An interesting passage in Ecclesiastes 3 lends some support to that view. It reminds us that all sorts of activities are appropriate for us to engage in at one time or another: "there is a time for every activity under heaven".
To realise the rich variety of God's works can lead us to a life of rich variety. We don't need to stick to Scotch broth, roast beef and trifle: we can also have coriander-carrot-and-orange soup. Moroccan lamb and Wicked Jamaican. (I write this under the influence of a festive dinner enjoyed at a neighbouring manse.) As the (legitimate) and useful ways of developing God's creation are innumerable, so the scope open to us in obedience to God's command is wide-ranging indeed.
To say that "work" and "leisure" are both founded on the one Biblical principle doesn't lead to the boring life of drudgery usually associated with "work"; it opens up the prospect of a rich, varied existence, lived in conscious obedience to the divine mandate.