I have always wondered why so many seem against the fourth commandment – except for Jews and Seventh Day Adventists? Well, I had a conviction to find out. It’s not just that people are ambivalent towards it, but actively renounce it. Why would there be so much resistance to it, unless it were spiritual?
Setting aside one day a week to focus on relationship with God – it’s like weekly date night with your spouse, but as your Creator and Sustainer, God wants a whole day. That’s not that unreasonable is it? I mean, it’s for our benefit – a closer walk with God, increased faith…. “Did God really say you should set aside one day a week for him?” You can almost hear the serpent hiss.
“You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’ Exodus 31:13-17
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord…
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:5-23 (selected verses, bolding mine)
So what do we see?
- God designated Saturday, specifically, from the dawn of creation, to be set apart.
- God ordained the Sabbath to be a day of solemn rest, holy to the Lord, as a covenant of Israel throughout its’ generations (forever). It is a reminder of creation week, as well as a reminder of the Lord’s sanctifying us (the act or process of becoming holy). The day is to be set apart for God, distinct from the other days of the week.
- Rest was defined by God as not doing any work (including no buying or selling). The Jews added a whole host of definitions of “work”, but these are legalistic traditions of men.
- The Sabbath was given to Israel in covenant relationship with God. Gentiles are “grafted in” to the Branch of Israel. We are not separate from our Root (Israel). We are the “wild branches” on the cultured tree. Gentiles are not commanded specifically to observe the Sabbath, nor are we discouraged from doing so.
- Jesus observed the Sabbath when He was on earth (the “rules” He broke on the Sabbath – healing/caring for others and picking and eating a snack of grain – were man’s legalistic additions to God’s Law – not the requirements of the Law itself), and didn’t ever say not to continue observing the Sabbath. On the contrary, when He is talking about what will happen in the end times (when the Abomination of Desolation comes) states:
Matthew 24:20: Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.
Why would He say something like that unless He was indicating that people would/should still be observing the Sabbath?
- Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (collective Old Testament) but to fulfill it. Because of Jesus’ finished work of salvation through the cross, we who believe are no longer under the burden of the letter of the Law. What an amazing way to celebrate the Sabbath each week, if we choose to! We get to celebrate our rest in the finished work of Christ!
Hebrews 4:9-10 – So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.
- We are free under grace to worship any day (the early church actually met daily to worship in Acts). We are not bound to Saturdays, or Sunday mornings for that matter. In fact, we are to continually present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice – this is to be our spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1). We should worship God every day!
- Some believers will esteem all days as the same. We are NOT to pass judgment on other believers on whether they do or do not observe the Sabbath. Our actions are to proceed from faith, and we are to be fully convinced in our own minds. (Rom 14). We will each give an account of ourselves, and ourselves alone, to God.
- We are NOT to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another Christian and are to pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14)
I tried to ascertain whether or not the Sabbath (Saturday) was honored by Christians in the past:
Traditional Jewish people celebrate the Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, as they have done from time immemorial. They do this based on the creation account in Genesis, “and there was evening, and there was morning – the x day”, as well as a commandment about one of the biblical feasts being celebrated from evening to evening. As far as starting the day at sundown, there are varied historical opinions on this (even within the various Jewish sects).
Traditional Christianity (since the 300’s AD) celebrates a day of rest/worship on Sunday. I found out that this gradually came about through pagan and political influences…While Sunday is considered the “Lord’s Day” and supposedly commemorates the resurrection, early Christians actually kept the 7th day (Saturday) Sabbath while ALSO getting together on the first day of the week (Sunday) for worship. The Saturday Sabbath was changed to Sunday by decree by the Roman Emperor Constantine to promote segregation from the Jewish people, as he was anti-Semitic. It seems that Constantine did a real number to other aspects of the Christian faith as well. (to read more on Constantine and the Sabbath click this wikipedia link)
Does the Sabbath commandment, specifically, still apply to the church age? YES (the Spirit, or heart of the command). If we DO observe the Sabbath, we observe it in honor of the Lord. (Rom 14:6)
Will it affect our salvation if we don’t obey it? NO. Keeping the Sabbath (legalistically) is not a Salvation Issue.
Will it affect our relationship with God if we don’t obey it? MAYBE. It certainly honors God if we obey His commands. And since spending time with someone is one of the best ways to improve our relationship with them, Sabbaths make logical sense from a spiritual perspective.
If we esteem all days alike, perhaps that doesn’t mean we view all days as secular, but that all days are holy, as we obey God literally to “pray without ceasing” and “continually offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, to be our spiritual act of worship” as the Holy Spirit dwells in us as a living temple (1 Thess 5:17, Romans 12:1). This would make sense from a New Testament perspective – taking the OT letter of the law (Sabbath Saturday) and applying the Spirit of the Law behind it (every day, every moment is holy). This would follow a consistent pattern of expansion of the 10 commandments to include the heart issues behind them.
My personal convictions:
I believe God allows us, as free thinking individuals, to explore how this looks to us – with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. As always, it’s the heart that matters. Observing the Sabbath just to “keep the rules” is not pleasing to God – that’s legalism. Observing the Sabbath to honor Him and glorify Him is what is pleasing to God. Sabbath keeping is meant to be a joy of spending a day with our Most Loved One – God Himself.
1 John 5:3 – For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
The important point, I believe, is to faithfully set apart regular times (whether Sabbath, or daily, or another day) to remove myself from “the daily grind”. Rest is important, for sure, but the Sabbath is not meant to be a time of rest and relaxation (focused on self, entertainment, etc.). It is a day to focus on God. To remember Him as Creator. To devote myself to worshiping Him, learning about Him, thinking about Him, doing acts of service for Him. To consciously think about my sanctification – am I becoming more Christ-like? Maintaining a relationship with and focus on God requires effort on my part, as with any other relationship.
Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27-28
The Sabbath was made for man, because we have such a tendency to forget God. To get choked out by the weeds and thorns – the concerns of daily life. To forget about what is truly important – the eternal.
My own convictions are to live EVERY DAY as an act of worship to God. I try to set apart parts of EVERY day for God. However, I also desire to honor Saturday (regardless of its start and endpoints) as a Sabbath day of rest for the Lord as much as I am able. This is what I desire to do. Real life includes young children with pressing needs, a husband who is not keen on the Sabbath, and society pressures against Saturday Sabbath.
My goal list looks something like this:
- Minimize regular work (try to prep cooking the day before as much as possible, try to accomplish housework and house maintenance type things on other days, no career type work).
- No buying or selling except in an emergency (take the focus off the material, and place it onto the spiritual)
- Focus on:
- Reading, Studying, and Meditating on the Bible
- Acts of service (visiting people, helping others)
- Creation (getting out into God’s world)
- Spiritual Discussions, building others up in faith
- Spiritual journaling/blogging
I still wash dishes, pick up toys, shower, and do light cooking. And hey, if my 2 year old has an accident, I’ll throw in a load of laundry. But if you choose not to do any of those things, or if you choose to do different or more things, or nothing at all, Colossians 2:16-17. I won’t pass judgement.
Colossians 2:16-17 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
How fortunate we are to be able to celebrate the shadow and the substance – which again points ahead to our eternal rest in Him! Come, Lord Jesus!