Luther, Opposable Thumbs, and the Work/Rest Balance

Opposable Thumbs and the Work Rest Balance

I once read about the concept of an opposable mind. It’s a great way to describe truths which appear to not easily agree.

Think of it like this: Humans have opposable thumbs. Our thumbs apply pressure in one direction and our fingers apply pressure in the other direction – and that’s how we can grab things.

In the same way, sometimes two statements push in opposite directions. But it’s not that they contradict each other. They’re applying pressure so that the truth in the middle can be grasped and truly understood.

Keeping that in mind, here are some great quotes from Martin Luther about the value of rest and work.

Some strong words from Luther to his friend Phillip Melanchthon:

“I command you and the entire circle of my friends to force you, under the threat of an anathema, to observe regular habits for the sake of your health so that you do not commit suicide [by overwork] and then pretend you did it in obedience to God. For we also serve God by doing nothing, in fact, in no way more than by doing nothing. For this reason God, above all things, wanted the Sabbath so rigidly kept. See to it that you do not despise this.”

And elsewhere on the value of work:

“Your work is a very sacred matter. God delights in it, and through it He wants to bestow His blessing on you….For the world does not consider labor a blessing. Therefore it flees and hates it… But the pious who fear the Lord labor with a ready and cheerful heart; for they know God’s command and will.”

“Work should rather be done to serve God by it, to avoid idleness. and to satisfy His commandments, since He says to Adam (Gen 3:19): ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.’”

“No doubt God could create children without man and woman. but he does not intend to do so. Rather, He joins man and woman to make it look as if man and woman do the procreating. Yet He, hidden under this mask, is the one who does it. God bestows every good thing, but you must “pitch in” and “take the bull by the horns.” That is, you must work and supply God with a reason and a covering. You see, God wants no lazy idlers: but we should work faithfully and diligently, every one of us, according to his calling and office; then He will bless and prosper our efforts.”

Photo Credit: Matteo Staltari (Creative Commons)

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  • floyd

    I hadn’t read or heard those quotes from ML. I like them. Seems the world has been this way for longer than I imagined. I like the fact that God had Adam “working” the garden before the fall. It was only working “by the sweat of thy brow” that was the curse. Work is a gift… but you already know that! Thanks for sharing that.

    • Loren Pinilis

      That’s a great perspective on work that most people don’t really think about. We think of heaven as just sitting around in leisure – but I think there will be work in heaven. There is an aspect of a curse in it, but we need to think of how to redeem it. It’s an opportunity – along with rest – to bring glory to God.

  • Eric

    Indeed, Luther was an opinionated individual. He seemed to have strong words for everyone, especially those he disagreed with. I think it would be good for us to heed his advice.

    • Loren Pinilis

      He’s certainly got some rather humorous and bold quotes. It’s interesting sometimes to think of what it would be like to have him or Calvin – or Paul or Peter – or even Jesus – next to us to advise us on the balance between work and rest.
      Then again, we have the Spirit within us – and what’s better than that?

  • mickholt

    When you work, work hard. When rest, work just as hard.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Ha, that’s a good way to state it.

    • Ngina Otiende

      Good one! I agree!

  • Melanie Wilson

    Love those quotes, especially that we serve God by doing nothing. That’s good to know because I feel like I’ve served God a lot this week. 😉

    • Loren Pinilis

      Haha. I think anything can be done to his glory. The key for me is to actively praise God and give thanks to him for the rest. We need to see the rest as a gift from him and use it to draw closer to him, not just as a break where we don’t think of spiritual things.

    • Barb Raveling

      You are so funny, Melanie. 🙂

      • Melanie Wilson

        Just being honest, Barb. 🙂

  • Tom Dixon

    I needed to read this tonight. Glad to see you back in action. I am going to rest this Sunday – I need it.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Haha. Yeah, been a bit busy so I’ve had to prioritize some work things recently. Sorry for the lag. Should be back at it now!

  • Caleb

    I love those quotes! Sometimes it seems like that balance is so hard to find. I think Luther has a good point, good habits help make sure that our rest/work is in balance.

    • Loren Pinilis

      I think a lot of times the balance is hard to find because we blame “balance” for a lot of other issues. We sometimes load ourselves down with too much, or procrastinate, or think wrongly about work, or a host of other issues – and then blame a lack of balance. It’s tricky.
      But you hit it dead-on: good habits are important.

  • Kari Scare

    As a culture, we seem to believe that work and rest are in opposition to one another. This just isn’t true. They compliment each other and create the balance that is essential for doing what God wants us to do. Not only that, but we can be restful WHILE we are working too. So, in that, rest is a state of mind as well as a state of the body.

    P.S. I grew up in the Lutheran church and did’t switch to another denomination until I was 28. I still get a lot out of Luther’s wisdom, though I don’t hear it quite as much as I used to.

    • Loren Pinilis

      I think it’s natural to see rest and work as opposed to each other. I think it’s kinda the same as we see family and job as opposed. That’s just the way we naturally see things, although it’s not really totally accurate. In a way it makes sense because they are “competing” for our time, but the best way to think about it is that there are different areas where we serve God.

  • Barb Raveling

    I love, love, love these quotes! I find it extremely interesting that I struggle with both laziness and workaholism when it comes to writing and blogging – so I need both quotes. 🙂

    • Loren Pinilis

      That’s funny, because I think a lot of people (myself included) are the same way. It all has to do with how we view work and rest. It’s also the result of self-sufficiency. The workaholic parts are when we’re all self sufficient and the lazy parts are when we realize our self sufficiency isn’t working too well.

      • Barb Raveling

        Wow, that makes me feel much better that a lot of people are like that – misery loves company, I guess! Interesting insight, as well! So what’s the key? I’m thinking it might be to live so closely in fellowship with God that we’re not relying on ourselves.

        • Loren Pinilis

          Hmmm…I guess I will have to write a blog post on it, 🙂 Stay tuned!

          • Dan Black

            Looking forward to it!

      • Dan Black

        I also tend to be the same way. I though I was the only one:)

        • Loren Pinilis

          Haha – not at all. In fact, I bet most people are like that!

  • kimanzi constable

    These are great and I’m reposting! Like the one about work.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Thanks. Luther has some timeless wisdom.

  • Ngina Otiende

    Great post Loren. And great comments too 🙂 I like that part of serving God by doing nothing. To some people that’s a serious oxymoron 🙂 But I’ve learned to pace myself, even when am not taking a complete rest. I think God doesn’t like his workers to burn-out (or workers that are resting because of burn-out)..don’t know if that makes sense :). Great post!

    • Loren Pinilis

      Yeah, absolutely. God is a fan of rest. I mean, the Sabbath day of rest was his idea after all 🙂 He created us to where we NEED to rest – chew on that for a while!

  • Dan Black

    Great post and quotes. I really like this section: “Work should rather be done to serve God by it, to avoid idleness. and
    to satisfy His commandments, since He says to Adam (Gen 3:19): ‘In the
    sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.’” What a powerful statement! I think when we do work onto the Lord he multiplies our effort.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Great point about multiplying our effort. Work not only is God working through us to effect the light of Christ around us, but it’s also working in us to make us a different person. That’s something that God gets behind – and that’s when the powerful results come.

      • Dan Black


  • Jason Vana

    It is so important for us to find that balance – to work hard and do what God has called us to do, but also to find those places of rest and connection with him.

    • Loren Pinilis

      It’s a difficult balance to be sure. I think half of the battle is just relaxing and not freaking out about the concept of balance. Giving ourselves grace to get things wrong occasionally.

  • TCAvey

    These are really powerful quotes, Loren. In fact, in the middle of reading I stopped, prayed, cried and praised God…then kept reading.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Glad that these quotes could impact you like that. These are simple truths to understand but tough truths to really live out in day to day life. It’s a constant battle it seems.

  • Ben Nelson

    That is a great concept – not contradiction, but opposable mind – I love it!

    • Loren Pinilis

      It’s been a very helpful thing to keep in mind when approaching scripture. Check out Matt Perman’s post which I linked to – good stuff.

  • Dan Erickson

    Good stuff, Loren. Work matters.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Thanks, Dan. Rest does too 🙂

  • Mike St. Pierre

    Loren, awesome quotes. Of all of the commandments, (guilty as charged) honoring sabbath time is probably the least followed. Glad that Luther had particular insights into this important mandate.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Honoring the Sabbath tends to be one of the biggies for a lot of people. It’s interesting to me to see how important it was to God in the Old Testament laws. I think it was one of the ways in which believers were set apart from the world. And I think today it’s a great way to do the same – to remind ourselves that we’re in the world but not of it.