The Fourth Commandment
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:8-11 NIV).”
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. This is the most ignored of all the ten commandments in my opinion. In almost any discussion of the role of the law in sanctification there is one commandment that causes considerable debate—the commandment on keeping the Sabbath day holy (Exodus 20:8-11). It is certainly the commandment that seems to gives Protestants the greatest discomfort. Many, while agreeing to hold the other nine commandments remain in place, believe that the fourth commandment has ceased to have an obligatory role to play in the Christian life. Here, more than anywhere else, any suggestion that there might be a moral demand that we honor Sunday as a Christian Sabbath is likely to be described as ‘legalism’.
While the other nine commandments appear to be quoted or alluded to in one way or another in the New Testament, the fourth commandment is conspicuous by its absence in the writings of Paul and the other NT authors. Why? One reason might be because of what Jesus did on the Sabbath day and what He said about the Sabbath day.
Where Pharisees jumped on Jesus for performing a miracle on the Sabbath, Jesus remarks that, “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man.” Then when they tried to trap Him into healing someone that was sick in the Sabbath, He asked them ,right before He healed the man, “Is it lawful to do “good” or “evil” on the Sabbath?” We know that Jesus did not break the laws—ever—so HE is our example of Sabbath observation. And He did do “good deeds” on Saturdays. It’s recorded clearly.
As you know, almost all Christians worship on Sundays, because of the resurrection, and we have adopted Sunday as the “Sabbath” or day of rest. The last day of the week is Saturday, of course, and nowhere in the Bible are we ever told to switch the Sabbath to Sunday. It is something the early church did to honor God’s command and honor Christ’s command about the day of His resurrection. The idea was to honor the Sabbath command and remember the day of the resurrection. So we often call Sunday the “Sabbath Day”.
Today most of Europe still have laws that keep businesses closed on Sundays. On my last trip to Switzerland I could not find any restaurant open on Sunday! Secular as they are, the Swiss still honor the Sunday Sabbath! But the Swiss seem to have done just fine financially in honoring the Sabbath.
Many of you recall the “Blue laws” that kept stores closed on Sundays. When I was a child all Publix grocery stores and restaurants were closed Sunday. Today only Chik-fil-a maintains the observation. And I for one think it’s a pity that we don’t refrain from going out to eat or getting our groceries on Sundays. But when you and I frequent a restaurant or store on Sundays we become one more reason that people don’t get a sabbath day of rest.
Why not honor the Sabbath? Are WE not better off resting one day a week? Cambodia has the most holidays on any nation in the world—-28—and Norway the least 2. We have 10 national holidays in the USA—-days when we do not work to honor people or events. We consider those ten days to be worthy of rest. But these are “holidays”—-days we honor something or someone—-by not working. Why not Sundays? There’s no more important day in history than the day Jesus conquered death.
By choosing to not work on Sunday, we’re doing two very significant things: We are honoring God and we are caring for of our own bodies.
Here are five things we know that we gain by taking a day off from work and really resting:
1. It reduces stress. A growing body of evidence, according to the CDC, shows that skipping the day of rest leads to stress and exhaustion..in short, the kinds of things that fill the day for most of us.
2. Completely divesting from our work on a regular basis reduces inflammation and the risk of heart disease. We will live longer.
3. Studies show that people who do not know how to detach from work one day a week experience increased exhaustion over the course of one year and are less resilient in the face of stressful work conditions and diseases. Taking a day off is good for our minds, soul and productivity.
4. Taking a day off makes you more creative. Are you the creative? Thinking is one of the crucial benefits of stepping away from work. Just as quality time off fuels energetic resources on the job, reflective time is critical to producing solutions and creative breakthroughs and you become more productive. Data from the OECD shows that working more hours means less productivity. The most productive countries are Germany and France--each mandating more than 30 days of vacation and weekends off. You'll focus better at work if you take your weekly rejuvenation time seriously.
5. Your day off improves short-term memory. Separate from work, enjoy life, and as many studies show, you will probably remember where those keys are.
Taking a day off is wise. Our Creator knew what He was talking about. The day off is good for us and it shows our love and respect to Him. So how do we honor Him with this idea of having a day of no work—-a holy day? What does this look like in practical terms? Does it mean attending a weekend church service, or turning off the computer, or volunteering to help with the youth at night?
First, our salvation is not connected to obeying any of the commandments, but if we love God we will choose to listen to Him and comply with those things that He’s telling us is in our best interests. Resting a day is something God commands.
Sabbath rest is an invitation to trust in God’s wisdom and to remember that we were not only created to work. We have to make that choice to not work on Saturday or Sunday—-because our culture will certainly not encourage it. Are you and I able to stop working and truly rest in God’s presence? When we practice this intentional stop, we make room for him to take up residence in our individual lives. When we do this together, we’re making space for it in our communities. It’s a good thing to give up one day a week——the One that engineered us knows this.
Our Father worked for six days and rested on the seventh in order to provide a pattern for you and me. ‘God … rested on the seventh day … God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.’ The Hebrew people knew of Sabbath rest before the law was given to them by Moses. The first thing God ever required of man, prior to the fall of mankind, prior to the ten commandments, was to keep the Sabbath day holy. It was a command to all people before the Israelites even existed as a nation!
So you see, the Sabbath is not, first of all, a redemptive law but a creation law. Think about it: Where did a seven-day week—observed by all people all over the world—come from? If there is no Sabbath, is the seven-day week simply an accident of history? Is there no divinely-planned rhythm to life? Often in this debate it is forgotten that the fourth commandment regulates not merely one day in the week but seven. It is actually a commandment to work six days and rest one day.
The Sabbath was not first introduced or explained on Mt. Sinai by Moses, but in the Garden of Eden by God. He had worked for six days in bringing creation into being. Adam and Eve were made in His image—and therefore he made provision for them to imitate him. So He therefore ‘blessed’ the seventh day and set it apart from the other days (Gen. 2:1-3). It was the rest day—a day free from work; a day to bless and call holy, just as God himself had done—a day to reflect on and enjoy the wonders of God and to worship for them.
Although Jesus made no command to make Sunday the new Sabbath day, and indeed the New Testament provides us with no extended explanation, it is a very remarkable phenomenon that Christians seem to have begun almost immediately to live life according to a different weekly Sabbath. They met on the first day of the week, not the last day: they called that day ‘The Lord’s day’. It was the day on which the Lord had risen, and the day on which he had gathered with them. What creation had looked forward to—the new creation in Christ; what the Exodus had pre-figured—the exodus that Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31)—had now been realized. Now the new creation had been inaugurated—and it had a different calendar from the old. The Lord of the Sabbath had come; he had entered into his rest from his atoning labours; now he fulfilled his promise to give rest to the weary and heavy-laden who trusted in him.
So let me suggest these things about the fourth commandment:
1. The same command, and the very first command that God ever made to mankind, was that we should work six days and take one day off to hold special and holy. Do you and I?
2. I am better, and my family and friends are better off and better served, when I take a day off and rest.
3. There’s a need for vacations and holidays beyond just the Sabbath day. We’re healthier and happier if we turn off the computer and stop work for a season each week and for special events like the holidays and vacations.
4. By choosing to not go out on Sundays, we provide a greater incentive for business owners to not open on Sundays and allow their employees a rhythm to their lives of work and rest.
5. I am not living what I am teaching right now—-but after I go to the grocery store today. I intend to change—what about you?