How to keep the Sabbath Holy

Just how are we to keep the Sabbath? The scribes and Pharisees tried to legislate in minute detail all that was acceptable or unacceptable to do on the Sabbath. In doing so, they made the Sabbath a great BURDEN which was something God never intended (cf. 1 John 5:3). God gave the Sabbath in Exodus 20 and magnified it in other places in His Word with some specifics, but mainly by expounding broad, spiritual principles. So what does God tell us about Sabbath day observance?

God wrote and spoke these words in the fourth Commandment, “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 manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gatesExodus 20:10. So you are not to do any kind of real work on the Sabbath be it your occupation, personal business, housework or any laborious activity. And neither are those in the environment over which you have control. Of course, preparing or cleaning up after a light meal would not be wrong as we find a number of occasions when Jesus enjoyed a Sabbath meal with others. And He never condemned the practice of hospitality on the Sabbath (cf. Luke 14:1-6). Since Jesus said in Matthew 12:10-12 “…it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath”, such as rescuing an animal or healing the sick, that would no doubt include Essential Services such as Doctors, Nurses and Ambulance etc. Finally, to really understand how God intended the Sabbath to be used, look at what He said in Isaiah 58:13-14If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight...not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth…” So we are not to be doing our own pleasure on God’s Holy Day. That does not preclude doing any enjoyable things on the Sabbath whatsoever, for we are to find delight in it. The point is that, whatever we do, God must be an intrinsic part of it. A family walk through a natural setting for example, is a wonderful way to get in touch with God who made the beautiful creations we see. When the seventh day arrives, we must stop pursuing our “own ways” (the things we normally do), seeking our “own pleasure” (your normal things of enjoyment) and speaking our “own words” (the everyday things we talk about that do not involve God). This last one is often very hard to follow because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaksMatthew 12:34. To truly keep the Sabbath in the spirit, we must focus our minds on God and those things He wants us to be concerned with during His holy time. Then, as God promises, we will be truly blessed. And since it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, we can make encouraging phone calls or write letters to the sick or visit Christians who are lonely. It may also be possible to visit the sick or others in need on the Sabbath or to have them over for an evening meal. Matthew 25:34-36. The Sabbath is also a “…sabbath of rest, an holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:3) and is therefore ideal for worship services. When we fellowship with other people in whom God dwells, we are in fact also fellowshipping with Him (cf. 1 John 1:3, 7). So we should not think of the Sabbath as the day we can’t do this or that! Rather, we should approach this very special day as a period when we can and should really take time to deeply study and thoughtfully analyse the scriptures. It is a time when we can sit quietly, meditating over and thinking through the truly big issues of life. In addition, the Sabbath is the perfect time for unhurried, thoughtful, heartfelt prayer to our Father in heaven to commune with our Creator, to worship Him, to get to know Him intimately. This is how to keep God’s Sabbath holy.

Another way to establish how the Sabbath should be kept is to imagine spending the day with someone you are absolutely head over heels in love with and that you have the opportunity to spend this one specific day with. You would have as many things as possible prepared the day before so you could spend as much time as possible with that person because you are so in love with them and you want every available moment to spend with them. This is NOT legalism - it is LOVE. This is what the Sabbath is all about. Are you head over heels in love with God? If you are then do the same for Him.

The Sabbath is and always has been the real test Commandment (cf. Exodus 16). Many can accept the other nine but the fourth Commandment is quite different. It means living differently from the society around you, perhaps even being looked upon as odd or weird. Yet Jesus said in Luke 14:26-27, “Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well.” Does this mean giving up some personal activity on the Sabbath? The answer lies in what your conscience tells you and what the Holy Spirit lays upon your heart. The main consideration is the rest our bodies and minds need and the most beautiful part is that it is a day that we devote entirely to God, i.e. in everything we do, God should be an intrinsic part. How spending one day a week with God who we claim to love could ever be called legalism or a burden is beyond me. Our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be one of faith and trust believing He will always provide our needs when we trust and obey Him. The sacrifice of moving an activity to another day is nothing in comparison to what Jesus did for us in His sacrifice. He was beaten, scourged and nailed to a cross for us. If the only thing that He asks in return is to keep the Sabbath holy then I think our sacrifice is no comparison. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his Commandments: and his Commandments are not grievous.1 John 5:3

In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold image with dimensions equal to 666 that he commanded all to worship. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not disobey God’s Commandment and refused to obey the king. Since they refused, the king threw them into a blazing furnace heated seven times hotter than usual. The King in amazement said, “Why do I see four men walking around in the fire? They are not tied up, and they show no sign of being hurt and the fourth is like that of the Son of God. Praise the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! They disobeyed my orders and risked their lives rather than bow down and worship any god except their own. There is no other god who can rescue like this.” As a result, the king promoted them to higher positions in Babylon. Here is a beautiful example of obedience to God. This example is a parallel of Revelation 14 showing how we need to respond in end times, i.e. is we should obey God rather than man and not worship the Beast or his image. So do we worship God on the day specified by the Beast and get the mark of the Beast or on the day God commanded and receive the Seal of God? Do you love the “praise of men” more than the praise of God? Or do you have the FAITH and the COURAGE to obey God’s Commandments, even if you were to lose your job and perhaps a few of your friends?

12 Biblical Concepts on how to keep the Sabbath

  1. The Sabbath is a day to cease our creating, working with the creation and appreciate what God has done in the world and is doing in us. Genesis 2
  2. Elaborate food preparation is to be done on the day before the Sabbath so that there is no baking or major cooking on the Sabbath. Exodus 16
  3. The Sabbath is a time to lay our burdens down and rest. We should not do any servile work on the Sabbath. This includes our entire family, even our servants and beasts of burden and strangers who live among us. Jeremiah 17; Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5
  4. The Sabbath is an holy convocation. We should meet and worship with others. Leviticus 23
  5. We should be reverent and show God that we love, honor and respect His authority. Psalms 89:7, Habakkuk 2:20
  6. The Sabbath should be a day of delight and rejoicing, a day which we forsake our thoughts and words for God's thoughts and words. Isaiah 56, 58
  7. The Sabbath is a time of healing. Matthew 12, Mark 1, 3, Luke 13-14
  8. We are not to buy or sell on the Sabbath. Nehemiah 13
  9. The Sabbath is a time to do good and visit and comfort the sick. We should do spiritual work on the Sabbath, serving others. John 5
  10. The Sabbath is a time of prayer. Acts 16:13
  11. The Sabbath is a time to reason with others about spiritual principles and for ministers to teach the word of God. Acts 17:2, 18:4, 11
  12. The Sabbath is a time for Singing. Ephesians 5:19-20, Colossians 3:16, Psalms 92 is called the “Sabbath Psalm”

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