What Can I Do on the Sabbath?

Ten Commandments

In this post, I’m going to assume you are on board with the idea that Sabbath observance continues to be binding in the New Testament church. If not, you can review my posts here, here and here. The question for today is how to set apart the Sabbath as holy as New Testament believers. Whenever you start talking about setting apart the Sabbath, the main question many people want to solve is whether or not their particular activity of choice would be permissible on the Lord’s Day. “Is it okay for me to do activity X on the Sabbath?” Other people have made artificial lines in the sand in an effort to maintain the sanctity of this day. I think we can do better. I think Scripture gives us a very clear picture of what the Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, should look like. The directives of the Bible on this commandment can be broken down into three main areas.

First, the fourth commandment clearly states that our daily labors are to cease. The Lord commands that on his Sabbath we “shall not do any work.” It is directed at individuals. Of course, works of necessity and mercy are not included in this command to rest, but by and large, we are to cease from our labors.

Second, the fourth commandment also states that the daily labors of those under our care should cease. From children to servants to cattle to foreigners, none are to do any work. The best picture of the implementation of this commandment comes from Neh. 13:15-22. There Nehemiah forcefully implements Sabbath rest, not only for the people of Israel, but also for the Tyrian merchants who tried to set up shop outside the gates. He understood: the Sabbath was a day of rest.

Third, as is so often the case in Scripture, mere external action is not a sufficient expression of our love for God. It must be accompanied by the appropriate motivation. Is. 58:13-14 tell us that on the Sabbath day our hearts are to be turned aside from our own pleasures and instead directed toward delighting in the Lord.

With these broad-stroke principles laid out in Scripture, we can determine the appropriateness of many, if not most, activities on the Sabbath. We simply translate the principles into questions and subject any activity to them: 1. Am I working? 2. Am I making anyone else work? 3. Am I turning from my own pleasure and delighting in the Lord? So long as we answer honestly I think these questions will take care of 95% of the activities in question. I will give only one example:

Can I eat in a restaurant on the Sabbath after morning church? Well, assuming there is no emergency crisis at your house you can ask the three questions. Are you working? No. Are you making others work? Yes. Are you delighting in the Lord? Maybe. For the Christian asking the three questions helps us see there is something in behavior that goes against God’s instruction. We are causing others to work and the 4th commandment says we should not. If our actions violate God’s commandment the Christian is not free to act in that way.

Do not forget. The Christian obeys God’s laws evangelically. What I mean is, we do not obey because we are hoping for God’s approval. Instead, we know and believe what God has done to make us acceptable, so we delight in being able to obey him. In Rom. 7:24 Paul, in agony of spirit cries out about how wretched a man he is. He does not cry this way because he has to obey God’s commandments. He cries out this way because he continually disobeys the commandments. So ask the three questions about your choices of activity on the Sabbath and be prepared to delight yourself in obeying the Lord.

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