Troublesome Topic: Can I Work on Sunday?

Don’t Do Any Work So Rest Can Be Made Holy

Here I will attempt to answer that question honestly, without being overly legalistic and without saying “it doesn’t matter.” But first I must highlight a few principles that relate to these questions, then, at the end, I will strive to address this question directly.

A Proper Perspective on Work

The story told in Mark 2:23-28 shows that the Pharisees focused their discussions on the definition of “work.” Was picking a few grains of wheat the same as harvesting wheat? If so, then Jesus’ disciples had performed work on the Sabbath. The Pharisees thought that if they could define work clearly enough they could wield control over others’ lives while finding loopholes that would allow them to do what they wanted and not be in violation of the Sabbath. Jesus refused to get involved in those arguments; He would not play the game of whose definition was best. Instead He said, “The Sabbath was made for the sake of man, not man for the sake of the Sabbath. So then, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27-28). He thus pointed out that they were trying to make men slaves to a bunch of rules, some of which were their own rules.

Jesus knew that the Sabbath was intended to liberate, not enslave. In contrast to the legalism and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Jesus lived the principle of wholeness; He demonstrated that a proper heart attitude, coupled with proper time connecting with God, brings a very different result—it does not produce a Pharisee!

Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and to guard it” (Gen 2:15). This was before sin had entered the picture. Labor will always be a part of man’s existence. But contrary to common notions, labor is endowed with divine dignity. Just as we are commanded to keep the Sabbath, we are commanded to labor. The Hebrew word for work or labor is closely tied to the idea of service. We will always be serving someone, either God, or self and Satan (these go together). Serving God and serving others is part of our calling. It is honorable to work and to serve. However, after Adam ate of the tree of knowledge he was condemned to toil. “Labor is a blessing; toil is the misery of man.”

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“In regard to … outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude—to have them and to be able to do without them.”

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A day of rest gives us the opportunity to practice having things yet doing without them for a period of time.

God Always Asks Us for a Common, but Precious Commodity

Under the Law God asked Israel for time, livestock and foodstuffs. That is what their offerings and sacrifices had to be. Everyone had those things, but they felt it. Living under the law was not easy, and it certainly was not “cheap,” but it was possible. God did not ask everyone to sacrifice a bull because not everyone had a bull.

Likewise God asks us for what we have, but we will feel its price. He asks for time, energy, mental and spiritual focus, and material goods. If we value communion with God, we will pay the price for such communion, and the biggest part of that price is time and focus. We demonstrate our commitment to Him by giving up something costs us dearly. In I Chron. 21:24 David said, “I will not . . . offer a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

Following God was never intended to be cheap or easy; it never goes on the clearance rack; while cheap imitations can be found at the Dollar Stores of spirituality, they remain imitations that cannot bring joy, peace, or forgiveness.

Old Testament Laws about Work

Hang with me for a few minutes as we look at a couple things from the Old Testament. In the Law God gave the children of Israel clear and strict commands in order to teach them His principles. He did not give them a list of what is important to Him, rather He showed them what is important to Him by how He structured their society, relationships and activities. He could not have been more clear about how important the Sabbath principle is:

Exodus 31:14


Therefore, you must keep the Sabbath for it is holy to you. Anyone who defiles it must surely be put to death, for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among His people.


Therefore, you must guard the Sabbath; you must treat it as holy. Anyone who desecrates or profanes the Sabbath must be punished with the death penalty, and anyone who works on the Sabbath shall be removed from God’s people.

Exodus 31:15


For six days work may be done, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest,

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it is holy to YHVH (read Adonai); whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death.


You have six days of the week during which regular work may be done, but the seventh day is a time to pause for rest, it is dedicated to THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD as a special time. Whoever treats it in an ordinary way by doing ordinary work on the day for pausing, shall be given the death penalty, without fail.

Usually, when we read the words, “shall be cut off from among his people,” we think this means being kicked out, excommunicated. However, at least in this case, I think it means being separated from the community through death. The passage says, “must surely be put to death / shall be cut off from among His people / shall surely be put to death.” I think “put to death,” and “cut off” refer to the same punishment. The important thing is this: we know God was serious about this one because the punishment was death!

In my opinion, the precise regulation (do not do any work) with its corresponding punishment (the death penalty) are not carried over into the New Covenant; what is carried over is that “Sabbathing” with God is still of great importance to God and should be to us too.

Keep it Holy

Ex 20:11 “For in six days the YHVH (read Adonai) made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the YHVH (read Adonai) blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.”

“Holy” means to set something apart. When God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy, He set it apart as something special, as something not to be violated. God expects us to do the same.

Things created in six days He considered good, the seventh day He made holy.

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The Sabbath gives us the opportunity to sanctify time.

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In the Bible, no thing, and no place, is holy by itself. The quality of holiness is a preciousness bestowed upon things by an act of consecration and persisting in relation to God.

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Yet the Sabbath was called Holy from the beginning.

“The sense of holiness in time is expressed in the manner in which the Sabbath is celebrated. No ritual object is required for keeping the seventh day, unlike most festivals on which such objects are essential to their observance. . ..  On that day the symbol of the covenant, the phylacteries, is dispensed with. Symbols are superfluous: The Sabbath is itself the symbol.”

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Three acts of God denoted the seventh day: He rested, He blessed it and He consecrated the seventh day (set it apart as holy). To the prohibition of labor is added the blessing of delight and the accent of sanctity.

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I must leave the unfinished tasks in God’s hands. The world will not stop if I don’t finish my to-do list.  It is more important for me to be still and know that He is God, to draw closer to Him, to talk to Him, and hear from Him.

To Work or Not to Work on Sunday

So, is it okay for me to work on Sundays, or not?

First of all, what day of the week are you talking about? While there are benefits to resting on the same day as everyone else, that is not mandatory; it is not about what we call that day, but about enjoying time with God and setting apart one day out of seven. So whether you set aside Saturday or Sunday or Thursday or Monday or any other day of the week is not the issue.

A second point is that we now live in a secularized society. There is no such thing as a Christian nation, only people can be Christ-followers. Therefore, there can only be a nation made up primarily of Christ-followers, or a nation made up primarily of those who do not follow Christ. America is no longer made up primarily of Christ-followers. That means you are likely to have a boss that requires you to work on Sunday at least some of the time.       

My sense is that, as long as you do set aside one day a week for purposeful connection with God and family, you are indeed fulfilling the biblical requirements for rest. If someone has to work every Sunday, but consistently sets apart another day to enjoy time with God and family, that person is more obedient than the person who never works on a Sunday but also does nothing to enjoy extra time with God and family on that day. The issue is really quite simple—it is a matter of connection. The question is not, “Should I work on Sunday?” The question is, “Am I connecting with God and family on a regular basis?”

That being said, I have a few points to make that will hopefully bring balance to the issue.

If you choose to work seven days a week and you try to justify it by saying, “it is not about rules,” you have not even begun to understand the entry level concepts of the Bible’s teaching on this topic. You are obviously focused only on making money. That’s all you care about, even though you say you care about God.

However, if you are forced by an employer to work seven days a week, find a different job! That one will kill you.

There are benefits to resting on the same day that others rest. There are reasons God assigned a specific day and did not leave it up to the people to decide. If everyone is resting, no one is spending money and no one has to work. If this were not a secularized culture it would work for all of us to take Sundays off. But sadly that is no longer the case, and we are partially to blame for the change.

It would be beneficial to our Christian testimony if all believers in Jesus did not run and do and go and come on Sundays. That way people would know we truly do value time with God, and we strive to obey His word.

It would also be beneficial to our witness if all of us who claim the name of Jesus did our best to not buy things on Sunday. Financial exchanges are part of the ordinary things of life, we would do well to avoid those ordinary things and make the day special.

If you must work on Sundays, do so, but make sure you enjoy adequate time with God and family some other day of the week.

 If you do not have to work on Sundays, good, but make it holy, set it apart as special, and be purposeful about connecting with God and family on that day.

The keys are: Don’t get legalistic about the Sabbath, but don’t ignore it either. It is important to God, so find a way to make it important to you.

The next lesson is Can We Eat Out on Sunday?



Abraham Heschel. The Sabbath, p. 28.


Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 28


The Hebrew has two words here that both come from the same root, one is the noun Sabbath, and the other is also a noun but we would render it “Sabbathing.” We could say it this way, “The seventh is a Sabbath for sabbathing, a pause for pausing, a Sabbath day on which sabbathy things are done (not ordinary things).”


Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 75.


Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 75.


Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, pp. 79-80.


Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath p. 82.


Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 14.