Do you work on the Sabbath? Do you play on the Sabbath? Do you do chores, or scold your children or spouse, or gossip on the Sabbath? Do you sit back and have a good time, eat, drink, and be merry on the Sabbath?
You may think that at least two of the above – playing and having a good time – are acceptable on the Sabbath. Some of you may think that really anything goes on the Sabbath. Others may know it, but not really think it’s that important.
However, the answer may shock you, because for the most part, none of the above are acceptable to do on the Sabbath.
[Update: I have changed all instances of “Sunday” in this article with “the Sabbath”. The Sabbath is Saturday, as evidenced in the Bible and by virtually every historical source. Jesus honored the Sabbath on Saturday.
For more info on Saturday Sabbath, read here, until I complete my article on the topic. I now honor the Sabbath on Saturday – which is sunset on Friday night to sunset on Saturday night (sunset, not dark).
This article will focus on honoring the Sabbath.]
First, a history lesson. The Pharisees on Jesus’ day were some of the most up-tight legalistic religious leaders to have ever walked the Earth. Jesus called them a “brood of snakes” (Matthew 23:33) because they were like “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity” (Matthew 23:26).
The Pharisees, who were the religious leaders in Israel when Jesus lived his life on Earth, were very legalistic. What this means is that they focused too much on the law and not enough on the heart. Because of this, the Pharisees had very strict laws for every Biblical precedent. For example, in response to Exodus 20:8 which says “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”, the Pharisees came up with a long list of items which were prohibited on the Sabbath. This included making two loops (of thread), or writing two or more letters (Sources: one of many sources).
Were the Pharisees wrong? Not necessarily. The Pharisees’ problem was not their strict adherence to Biblical law, but rather the fact that this superficial adherence was as far as it went. Their hearts were dead inside, according to Jesus; wicked and full of evil. While on the outside they appeared good because they strictly followed all of God’s laws on the outside, they followed none of God’s laws on in the inside.
It seems that today’s Christians often have the opposite problem. While on the inside they try so hard to always mean good and have the best intentions (even though they often fail, they at least try), on the outside however they don’t seem to follow any of God’s laws. From lying to cheating to stealing to bearing false witness to lusting and committing adultery, to deceiving and manipulating, to dishonoring God in all of their works – and additionally, to dishonoring God’s Sabbath every week.
Setting aside all of the other obvious issues, which any learned Christian although not following them will admit as valid (stealing or lying for example), let’s discuss the matter at hand – the Sabbath. Many, if not most Christians today, do not regard the Sabbath as really a holy day at all. They may say so or even think of the Sabbath as a holy day, a day for church; but this is not evident in their actions the moment they step their foot outside of the sanctuary.
Even before the singing ends, it is probable that most Christians are thinking not about God but about their long list of things to do for the day, or even how they will get revenge on their friend or some other mischief. Christians today seem to have forgotten the Sabbath.
Even those who honestly “try not to work on the Sabbath”, albeit very few – even they have mostly forgotten the true significance of the Sabbath. Most Christians forget that “keeping the Sabbath” is not some simple suggestion that God doesn’t really care about. No, in fact, keeping the Sabbath is so important that God put it in his Top Ten list of most important commands, when he gave the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments to Moses.
The Sabbath: one of the most important commandments
Not only is Keeping the Sabbath in the Top Ten of the most important commands we are given in the Bible, but additionally it is listed at Number Four, which is listed even higher than Murder, Adultery, and Lying.
If you ask most any Christian “which is worse, murdering someone or working on the Sabbath?”, what will they tell you? Undoubtedly, they will say that murder is certainly far worse. However, it seems that God disagrees. God listed keeping the Sabbath higher on his top ten list than any of those sins, including murder.
It is sufficient to say that most people will never murder someone. If someone has wronged them, they probably will not take out a knife and stab them to death. This would seem heinous. Why then, do they disobey an even more important commandment, to keep the Sabbath? Of course, the reason for this is because culturally, it is worse to kill someone than to work on the Sabbath. It is the way people were raised.
In Israel in Jesus’ day however, this was much different. The culture of that day taught people from early childhood that doing certain things on the Sabbath could result in a public execution. This included simply sewing two loops of thread. Committing this crime would result in a public execution where members of the community would pick up stones and throw it at the offender until the offender who sewed the two loops of thread died bloody and horribly. An overreaction? Not according to God.
Exodus 31:14 reads, “Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.”
Now, whether sewing two loops would result in this public execution is up for debate since I’m pretty sure no one would risk getting caught sewing on the Sabbath if the penalty was a bloody public execution. People probably never put that to the test.
Today, however, it doesn’t seem that anyone really cares about the Sabbath. Not only do people sew on the Sabbath but they work, they toil, and they even commit heinous evils against God, through saying God’s name in vain (third commandment), lust and fornication, anger and malice, gossip and hate, and many other grievous sins.
Today’s people have forgotten the Sabbath, because our culture has forgotten the Sabbath. We have a culture which encourages dressing lewdly, breaking the Sabbath, cursing God’s name in vain casually, turning away those in need, and hating their brothers and sisters in Christ, among a slew of other evils.
People have forgotten that the Sabbath is so important to God that God placed it at the number four in the top commands that He ever gave to humanity, and put the penalty of breaking this command as death by a bloody public execution. If this is the penalty that the Almighty God placed on breaking the Sabbath, then why do Christians today break it?
We know that the direct reason is ignorance due to a godless culture. However, Christians should be getting their commands and beliefs from the Bible, not from their culture.
What should we do on the Sabbath?
The Bible states that working on the Sabbath is a heinous crime with a penalty of death. God commands us to use the day as a time to devote to God, a time of rest without work, a time of ministering (as a minister for God), a time of doing good and charity, and a time to refrain from any selfish, malicious, or otherwise evil thoughts. We are commanded to quash any thoughts of anger, hatred, malice, ill-intention, disdain, disrespect, or otherwise ungodly thoughts toward any other person, or possibly even ourselves (2 Corinthians 10:5). Instead, we are to direct all our thoughts toward God and His goodness.
We are commanded to love God first and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). And as described in the previous article on love, this “love” is not some generic “feeling of goodness”, but rather, in order for it to truly be “love” – that is, agape love which is the word used in Matthew 22:39 – we absolutely must pair this with a positive action.
For example, love the poor by volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Love your neighbors next door by talking with them even though they rub you the wrong way. Love your friends by listening to them even though you find them annoying or tedious. Love your family by being gracious, kind, and patient with them, even when you don’t think they deserve it. Love your enemies by praying for them and doing good for them, even though they have wronged you (Matthew 5:44).
Of course, Christians are commanded to do all of these things anyway, every day. However, it is all the more important on the Sabbath. In fact, we are commanded to be perfect. Of course, Christians should be perfect all the time. But while for example lying on a Thursday is bad, lying on a Sabbath is much worse, as now you have broken not only the ninth commandment (bearing false witness), but also the fourth. Moreover, lying alone did not carry the penalty of a gruesome and humiliating death. Breaking the Sabbath did.
Christians today need to get their priorities in order. It may be that a person cannot be perfect – even though Jesus Himself commanded us to be perfect in Matthew 5:48 when He said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Even so, one can take extra and extreme precaution not to sin on a Sabbath.
Moreover, there are many things which we are not a victim of by either a sin nature or bad behavior patterns. It takes nothing but a simple choice for a person to choose not to do work on a the Sabbath. To choose to cook something fancy on Saturday so that they only need to eat the food on the Sabbath. To choose to take off work on the Sabbath and forego the seemingly much-needed income, trusting that one does not live by money alone but by God’s supernatural providence. Matthew 4:4 says, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We are not to trust in worldly things like food and money, but rather the word of God and all of its precedents. This includes keeping the Sabbath.
It is just as important for a person to choose to make a commitment to be graceful in their actions and deeds – even just for a day. It is tragic that we even need to stress the importance of this to any Christians on any day; however, it is even more important to even just abstain from perhaps yelling at your spouse or kids for just one day – the Sabbath. To abstain from saying a curse word on that day, for you know that today is the Sabbath. To decide not to send that malicious text message because you know that today is a day of God’s holy day, and the consequences are grave.
Consequences today of breaking the Sabbath
I believe that in fact, while God may not force you to a bloody public execution today, there are most certainly physical consequences that are directly the result of you breaking the Sabbath week in and week out.
The single mother who cannot afford to pay her bills or even buy groceries this week despite working 7 days a week. Perhaps it is not despite working 7 days a week but because she works 7 days a week. Maybe if she decided to take off on the Sabbath despite the appearance of monetary need, she would be surprised to discover how miraculously her bills still get paid off and she seems to have more leftover cash than when she worked all 7 days a week, all because she trusted God and took off on the Sabbath and kept the day holy.
The young couple who can’t seem to stop constantly fighting about everything from money to childcare. Perhaps, this incessant fighting is in part a consequence of repeated offenses against the God of heaven by continually breaking the Sabbath.
The college student who just can’t seem to get a break no matter how hard they work. They study every day of the week and just can’t seem to make their grades! Maybe, if they stopped on the Sabbath and instead put that energy into worshiping God, then God would gift them for their faith with better grades despite taking that one day off studying.
It seems that in today’s materialistic, self-serving culture, people have completely forgotten that our success and blessings are not dependent on our own works – although it may seem that way – but instead by the grace and power of God who has His hand in all things. That additional bill you weren’t expecting, or hardship that is making things so much more difficult, may in fact be a punishment by God for failing to keep His Sabbath, and by failing to trust that even by putting aside what you think needs critically done now – on the Sabbath – that God will supernaturally make it all work out even better when you keep the Sabbath and choose to abstain from working on the Sabbath, as well as keeping the Sabbath holy.
My testimony that God will provide if you keep the Sabbath
In response to this, as I write this God has brought to my mind my own testimony. It must have 6 months or maybe 1 year ago since I really started to grasp the importance of the Sabbath. It was only months ago that I really committed to actively begin doing nothing on the Sabbath that would be considered work. While in the past few years I have tried not to work on the Sabbath, merely trying was not enough. Thinking back over the past few months, I discover something amazing from actively keeping the Sabbath. Despite apparently doing less, I have been amazed at my level of productivity. It has seemed that week over week my productivity has been the highest in years.
For example, currently I am in some of the best physical shape in many years. I have been trying to get back in the gym for years, but only recently have I had the discipline to do so. Many days in the past few months I kept asking God, “please make me extremely productive today”. And guess what, I have been extremely productive. It has been amazing how much I have gotten done. Sure, I have a ways to go. But I can tell you for certain that despite doing less work on the Sabbath (none), I am actually getting so much more done on the other 6 days than ever before. Possibly than ever before in my life. I can almost guarantee you that this is directly related to having been keeping the Sabbath.
So even by my very own testimony, it is clearly evident that God can and will, even supernaturally, allow everything to get done, even if you choose to let the messy house sit, and the things that are broken unrepaired, and the homework undone, and not making the additional hundred (or thousand or million) or so extra dollars you would have made by working on that day.
When you trust in God instead of yourself, and prove it by setting aside your work and tasks and chores on the Sabbath, and instead devote yourself to God for that whole day, God will provide for you financially and make sure to get things done.
Due to honoring the Sabbath, I cannot fix the paint on my vehicle, or vacuum it out; that must wait until the Sabbath concludes for the week. I cannot clean up my desk, that must wait. I cannot sell my things on craigslist, even though I am planning on moving away to seminary very soon. I can’t continue planning my move or packing or getting my move figured out. I cannot study for that macroeconomics class.
However, if I trust God then I really won’t need this extra day, because my faith is that God will provide for me some way or another. Maybe, He will make me more productive. Maybe He will give me more energy I would not have had, resulting in me getting twice as much done. Maybe he will make the paint repair take half the time. Maybe he will give me some packing inspiration that in the end will save me more than that additional day. Maybe God will provide the right buyer that comes and buys my items with no hassle instead of having to entertain 5 or 6 before finding one who follows through.
There are an endless number of contingencies which I could never predict or make happen on my own. All I have to do is put my trust in God, and devote this one day to God and God alone. Moreover, by doing so, we are also practicing our faith, strengthening our trust in God, and showing God that He matters to us more than our own frivolous lives. In doing so this will build character, patience, perseverance, and strength that will allow us to live the life that God ultimately intended for us, and to achieve what he has planned for us.
It seems that by not keeping the Sabbath, the Christians in our society are actually hurting themselves. If you would only trust God, you would discover that keeping the Sabbath is not a hindrance, but actually a gift. By keeping the Sabbath, we are enabling the power of God in our lives. So remember that this the Sabbath.