Thoughts on the Sabbath

by Bob Evans, Pastor of Congregational Care
The pandemic sweeping our country has forced considerable changes in the pace and rhythm of our lives. In many ways, this is not a bad thing. We have sought to capitalize on the forced adjustments to our schedules by exploring the subject of rest. For the past two weeks, Eric Ryan has offered thoughtful reflection on this subject.

Today we want to consider a biblical truth that is usually neglected, ignored and even rejected in some corners of the evangelical world, the principle of Sabbath rest. For the average Christian, Sunday is regarded as the day for corporate worship. But increasingly modern life and priorities have even threatened this commitment. In America today, a person who attends corporate worship 28 of 52 weeks is considered a “regular” attender. After worship, most American Christians regard the remainder of the day to be “their” time; sports, shopping, work, outings, parties.

To be fair the Christians who embrace the concept of a “Sabbath day” can easily fall into a legalistic trap of do’s and don’ts. This gets ugly. I should know. I was part of a church with a strong view of the Sabbath but for me it was rarely edifying and even less joyful. But I blame myself for this experience because I did not grasp the liberating richness this day was meant to provide.

What is the theological basis for a Sabbath day of rest? Is this an ancient idea no longer relevant in modern life?

The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word “Shabbat” which literally means “to stop” or “to delight”. Because this idea is found in the Old Testament, it is assumed by many Christians to be irrelevant or at least not obligatory for Christians. There are two considerations which challenge this assumption.

First, the idea of Sabbath rest did not originate in Jewish law. It began in the rhythms of creation. Sabbath rest is a creation ordinance. This means it is part of created order like maleness, femaleness and the institution of marriage. Simply because we are not “under the law” does not lessen our need or responsibility to consider the enduring benefit of “Shabbat”. Why? Because the Sabbath predated the law. It was part of God’s own creation design (Genesis 2:1-3).

Secondly, the Sabbath command is part of the 10 commandments. Even though the 4th commandment is not reiterated per se in the New Testament, we should exercise great restraint in tearing away a commandment from nine others that reflect the moral character of God. So the rhythm of work/rest is built into creation and reflects the moral will of God.

Jesus spoke to the blessing of Sabbath rest when he said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, the provision of a day of rest in our weekly cycle is meant to refresh and remind us that we are not the source of our blessings. We are not the reason life is going well. We are not the producers of our prosperity.

A Sabbath rest of worship and extended contemplation away from the normal hectic responsibilities and commitments of life is meant to re-center us, remind us, re-commit us to the truth that the Lord is our sustainer, provider and ultimate source of joy. There is nothing legalistic or oppressive about being reminded on a regular weekly basis that Jesus is the source from whom all blessings flow. 

This important biblical truth often goes untaught and ignored out of fear it will be misunderstood or degenerate into legalism. This is actually a great setback for our walk with God.

  A.J. Swoboda has said:
"The Sabbath has largely been forgotten by the church, which has uncritically mimicked the rhythms of the industrial and success-obsessed West. The result? Our road weary, exhausted churches have largely failed to integrate Sabbath into their lives as a vital element of Christian discipleship. It is not as though we do not love God….we just do not know how to sit with God anymore. We have become perhaps the most emotionally exhausted, psychologically overworked, spiritually malnourished people in history.” (The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer, p. 152)

In future devotionals, we will look at practical steps to enjoy and maximize the blessings of Sabbath rest.

Thoughts to ponder:

  1. Have you ever considered the importance of a Sabbath rest? Does your heart long for it?
  2. What would happen in your heart and home if you prioritized corporate worship and regular contemplation that the Lord is the provider for everything in your life?
  3. The Sabbath is not meant to confine us but liberate us. How do you think that is so?
  4. Do you know someone who has a healthy view of the Sabbath? What does that look like?
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