As you already know, my theme with my students this school year is obedience. In the next couple of months, I will be talking to them about the Ten Commandments. I think we would all agree that keeping the Ten Commandments is God’s requirement of all of us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took the commands a step further as He pointed out that obedience was not just a matter of action but also the heart. While we are not saved by keeping the commands, keeping them demonstrates our love for God and teaches us how to treat Him and each other in a way that honors Him.
A few months ago, Relevant magazine posted an article about “The Most Ignored Commandment”. You can read the article here. I knew what it was before I read it – the 4th commandment about keeping the Sabbath. Exodus 20:8-11 says:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
When I was a little girl, this commandment was still taken seriously. Are you old enough to remember blue laws? They prohibited certain businesses from being open on Sundays. We still had a culture that respected all of God’s Ten Commandments. This is no longer the case today as our society has become increasingly secular and hostile toward God. We don’t need to rely on cultural laws to keep God’s commands. He has already required it of us. It is up to each of us individually to obey His commands.
Even from the beginning there have been many interpretations of how this commandment is to be obeyed even though, if you read the command, it seems straight forward. The Pharisees and teachers of the law had many rules to ensure the Sabbath was kept, yet Jesus made it clear when they accused Him of breaking the Sabbath, their legalism was completely missing the mark. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The Sabbath is for our good!
In my family growing up, we always went to church, but keeping the Sabbath didn’t end there. We usually took a nap after lunch and then we spent time together as a family. We were not allowed to play with neighbor kids on Sunday. My parents thought the day should be different from other days – filled with church, rest, and family activities. I didn’t really like the rule of not playing with neighbor kids, but we were allowed to play with each other and, looking back, I appreciate what a blessing our family times were together and I’m thankful they taught us to respect the Sabbath.
When the girls were little, I adopted a tradition from my mom’s Mennonite background. I would bake Zwieback (little rolls) on Saturdays to serve on Sunday so I wouldn’t have to cook on Sunday. Doing this not only made it possible to work less on Sunday, but it also created an eager anticipation about the Sabbath and made Sundays extra special in our family. We also tried to ensure all homework was done before Sunday arrived. It was a way for the children to rest from their work and set the example for them later in life.
Now the kids are grown and gone. Because I work full time and then spend my weekends trying to do laundry, shopping, and cleaning, I find this a troublesome command. I haven’t quite figured out what keeping this command looks like in my season of life. I know I am not alone in this. Many Christians, if they think about this command at all, are confused about how to obey it in their present circumstances, whatever they may be. We have let meaningless activities crowd out what is really important and our children have quickly discovered that God is not our priority; we haven’t shown them by our example that He has preeminence in our lives.
I am not sure what keeping the Sabbath should look like for me, but I am sure that it should look better than what I am currently doing. So I am asking God to show me what I need to do to keep the Sabbath.
This is my challenge to myself for this new year:
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.