Thursday, September 29, 2011

Should Christians Keep the Sabbath?

I would assume most Christians see the “Ten Commandments” as being an authoritative rule for our lives. But we only seriously try to follow nine of them. We willfully ignore Commandment 4. 
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Exodus 20:8-11
Even if we try to keep Sunday as a day for God we are not keeping the Sabbath. Saturday – not Sunday – is the Sabbath. But are we as Christians supposed to observe the Sabbath? Can we willfully ignore this commandment?

One thing that we need to remember is that keeping the Sabbath went further than not doing any work on Saturday. Both Exodus 23:10-12 and 15:1-7 speak of taking a Sabbath year as well. Every seven years it was to be a year where the people did not work the land. Rather the land was to rest and whatever it provided on its own was to be the food for that year. It seems quite obvious that we as Christians do not really observe Saturday or every seven years as the Sabbath. But should we? Is this a law for us to follow?

The Law as given to Moses is what we consider the Old Covenant. It was given to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai. It was for the people of Israel. It was not given to Gentiles – or non-Jews. On top of that God spoke in Jeremiah 31:31-34 of his New Covenant – which was made complete in Jesus. Jesus reiterated each of the Ten Commandments (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 8, 9, 9, & 10) throughout his ministry except for the commandment on the Sabbath. Rather he challenged the common understanding of the Sabbath. Jesus made the point that the Sabbath was made for man to rest rather than man being made to observe the Sabbath. That, I think, really changes how we should view the Sabbath.

When the Disciples were debating what rules the Gentile believers had to follow in Acts 15 they came up with the following list:
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
Acts 15:28-29
This is far from a complete list in that it does not say anything about murder, stealing, bearing false witness or coveting. But it seems safe to say that these things were not considered optional. What is also interesting is that the early followers of Christ started gathering together on Sunday to worship God.

Paul speaks of our freedom in Christ in terms of the Sabbath in both Colossians 2:16-17 and Romans 14:5. It is my take that we are free from keeping the Sabbath as a requirement of the Law. However, I do not think that we are free from the principle of needing rest that is conveyed by the Sabbath Law. We as human beings are not blessed with unlimited energy. We are like a rechargeable battery that needs to sit and recharge every so often. So while we are free from the requirement of the Law we are not free from the spirit of the Law. We should take a day of rest every week. 

Further Reading:

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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