God gave the Sabbath as a gift to man. It was instituted at creation when God rested from His work (Genesis 2:1-3). The purpose of the Sabbath is to give much needed rest to the mind and body and at the same time enrich the soul. The Sabbath by definition is a weekly Holy Day, a day of solemn rest, an appointed feast and a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:3). In addition to rest, it is a time set aside to spend with God in worship. The Sabbath allows time to focus on the Creator God and look forward to a new creation when God’s Kingdom is established on earth. Through God’s gracious gift of the Sabbath, He, in His infinite wisdom, has allowed for yet another character building opportunity for each of us. Making personal decisions about what one will or will not do on the Sabbath is one way each individual may develop godly character and the mind of Christ.
The importance of the Sabbath is revealed in many places in the Old Testament. God set the example for the Sabbath. It is the day God “rested” and ceased from His labors of creation…”and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17). God gave a clear example here, He rested from His weekly labor therefore man should rest from his weekly labors too. What should one do on the Sabbath? Rest from his/her weekly work.
Jesus and the Sabbath
In the New Testament the principles of how to keep the Sabbath were given by Christ. As Christ’s ministry approached, the Sabbath had become a burden, not a joy due to man’s rigid legalistic and exaggerated interpretation about how the Sabbath ought to be observed. Fortunately, for all of mankind, Jesus came and clarified the “spirit” of keeping the Sabbath.
During Jesus’ time, there were religious leaders who on many occasions claimed Jesus had violated the Sabbath. In Mark 2:23-28, Jesus and His disciples plucked grain and ate it on the Sabbath. This was allowed in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 23:25). So why is it Jesus was considered a Sabbath-breaker? The religious leaders deemed what one could do on the Sabbath. Picking grain was in the non-permissible column of their ledger. Reaping and rubbing loose grain was considered a violation of the Sabbath. How did Jesus respond to His accusers? He showed how ridiculous their laws were. Jesus told the story of David eating the forbidden showbread in the temple. Afterward, Jesus made the point that God created the Sabbath for man’s benefit, not for His. God does not get tired. Therefore, he does not need to rest (Isaiah 40:28). Jesus’ point to the Pharisees was they were making their laws about how to keep the Sabbath more important than the purpose of the Sabbath.
Another forbidden Sabbath law was not to treat a person’s sickness if that individual was in no immediate danger. In Matthew 12:9-14, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, He used the analogy of pulling a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath day to show there is nothing wrong with relieving suffering on the Sabbath. One would surely help an animal so why wouldn’t a person’s life be just as important? The Pharisee’s were so concerned about their rules, they forgot about loving their fellow man. Jesus’ examples of what He did on the Sabbath certainly indicate that physical activity is not prohibited. Doing good and serving others in need is not wrong on the Sabbath. What is wrong is pursuing one’s own business interests.
What can I do on the Sabbath?
The Sabbath is not a day about what is or is not permissible. It is a day when we don’t have to perform certain daily requirements. In other words, the Sabbath has set us free. We are not in bondage to the responsibilities of the workweek. For one day out of every week God has given us the liberty not to worry about all the things we worry about for the other six days. Every Sabbath is a blessing and should be approached from a positive point of view.
In my youth I focused on what I couldn’t do, today I think about all the things I get to do. It is not the job of the church, the ministry or other individuals to create a handbook for Sabbath observance. The church and our ministry teach the broad principles and it is up to each of us to apply those principles as we meet each situation.
When deciding what my activity for the Sabbath day will be, I have found asking the following questions helps make the decision easier:
- Will the activity be a joy and a blessing to those around me?
- Is the Sabbath activity a delight or a burden?
- Is the activity drawing me closer to God?
- Will this activity violate the spirit of the Sabbath?
- Does it bother my conscience?
With these questions in mind, I evaluate each activity and situation I run into on the Sabbath.
Many turn to Isaiah 58:13 to prove one should not take personal pleasure in the Sabbath. Over the years, I have heard the list of activities one is not to participate in. Activities such as watching television, swimming, going on a bike ride, listening to music,
reading the newspaper, taking a walk, visiting with friends who are not in the church, playing a game with one’s children or having marital relations. Using this list as an example, I ask myself my five questions. My conclusion, none of these activities violate the spirit of the Sabbath as long as I don’t abuse or overdue anyone of them.
There is no simple solution or formula to apply to what one can or cannot do on the Sabbath. God gave us His law, principles to apply and a mind to decide with. Facing difficult decisions throughout your Christians walk is inevitable. How each situation is handled is what will determine the quality of the character you are building. Whatever you decide to do on the Sabbath, be sure your activity shows respect and love toward God and make it a day of delight.