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The Forth Commandment

By Mike Mazzalongo Posted: Fri. Dec 31st 2010
By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
2 By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
- Genesis 2:2-3

God did not "rest," He ceased His work of creating. "Sabbath" means cessation or rest. “Blessed” in the sense that no further creation was done, the creation stood in its glory giving favor to God by its very existence.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Exodus 20:8

The purpose of the command was to give God's people a specific time to worship God. This would be a time to renew the soul as well as the body, a time to permit the worship of God without the pressure of work. This was a new social concept.

Jewish worship was complex and time consuming and this command allowed the time to perform it. No work was permitted on this day, only caring for the sick, priestly functions or rescue of endangered livestock was permitted. By New Testament times when Jesus appeared (1,400 years after the command was given) this ordinance had become more of a curse than a blessing. Instead of a simple day of worship without the pressure of work, the rabbis (or teachers of the Law) had created so many complications for the "no work" rules that the pleasure and purpose of the day was lost.

There were 39 different categories of things that constituted work and thus were prohibited. For example, a tailor could not carry his needles home on the Sabbath, or one could not walk further than one mile from home.

This type of legalism bred a counter-legalistic mindset in order to get around the rules. For example, a person would walk a mile with his sandals on and then to be in compliance, would remove his sandals to walk further.

Of course this adding of rules and resistance to compliance missed the central idea behind the command.

Principle Behind the Commandment

The 4th commandment was given because God wants man to honor Him with his time. The first four commands deal with how man is to honor God:

  1. Honor God by making Him first.
  2. Honor God by lifting Him above all.
  3. Honor God with our lips.
  4. Honor God with our time.

We measure our existence in time. This command required man to honor God with the currency of his existence - time. The Sabbath enabled man to channel his time away from work/business and devote it to God. Man needs sleep, food, exercise, etc. but also needs to worship.

Our sinful nature tends to work and play rather than worship and so this command was given to help man keep the healthy balance between what is physical and what is spiritual. In addition to this, God's perfect and holy nature demands a response from His creation and that response is worship. This command reveals and guarantees that man will receive the blessings of worship.

The Sabbath and the New Testament

One question, or for some groups, challenge, is why Christians observe Sunday as their day of worship and not Saturday as the 4th Commandment required. The "short" answer is that God Himself has revealed to us in a variety of ways that Sunday is to be the special day of worship for Christians in the New Testament era.

Jesus, through His Apostles, has given us this teaching and He has a right to do so because He is "the Lord of the Sabbath,” Matthew 12:8. Jesus rules the Sabbath and directs us to worship Him on Sundays. We know this from many sources:

  1. It was the day God chose for His resurrection - Matthew 16:9.
  2. It was the day He established the church:
    • Acts 2:1-ff - Pentecost was fifty days from Passover Saturday - it is how we know Pentecost was on a Sunday.
    • Pentecost Sunday was also the day that the Apostles received power; the gospel was first proclaimed; 3,000 baptized and the Holy Spirit given.
    • No significant act or blessing occurred on a Saturday after the resurrection.
  3. Sunday was the first day that the Lord's Supper was shared after the resurrection - Acts 2:42; 20:7 and continued to be thereafter.
  4. It is the day which Jesus selected His name be associated with. Revelations 1:10 "...in the Spirit on the Lord's day."

There are some who argue that we should keep the Sabbath - even have religious organizations built around this idea (7th Day Adventists). They have "arguments" supporting their ideas, here are some and the response to them:

A. The Pope changed the true worship day (Saturday) to Sunday and therefore Sunday is not legitimate. It is true that Constantine made an edict/law making Sunday the official worship day in the Roman Empire; however, Christians were worshipping on Sundays long before it was made law (Acts 20:7).

B. The 10 Commandments are God's Word and not to be changed - including the 4th one about the Sabbath. The New Testament shows that this premise is incorrect:

  • II Corinthians 3:7-8 says the Law was ultimately to be done away with.
  • II Corinthians 3:13 - Paul refers to the Law that was abolished in his own lifetime.
  • Matthew 5:18 - The Law remained in force until all would be fulfilled.
  • Colossians 2:14 - All was fulfilled at the cross.
  • John 19:30 - Jesus declared that all was finished or fulfilled.
  • Romans 6:14 - Christians are under the Law of grace.

Every principle contained in the Law concerning man's duty to God and to man is repeated by Jesus in the New Testament, even the one about man's duty to worship. The Sermon on the Mount contains Jesus' expanded teaching on the Law.

However, the New Testament reveals to us that the purpose of the Law is to reveal sin and lead us to Christ - Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:24. Once we are in Christ, we are guided by His word (John 12:48) and His word directs us how and when we should worship. We worship God through Christ and the day Christ's disciples have been given to gather for worship is Sunday.

C. We should observe both the Sabbath and the Lord's Day. The New Testament makes no mention of the Sabbath in connection with Christ and worship or observances. What was done on the Sabbath prior to Christ's coming was done in anticipation of His arrival. Now that He has come and fulfilled all things, there is no longer any religious significance for the things formerly done on the Sabbath. Also, let's not be confused, Sunday is not the Christian "Sabbath."

  • The Sabbath was until Pentecost, after this it no longer exists in God's eyes.
  • They took time to be with God on the Sabbath.
  • Christians have God dwelling within them through the Holy Spirit all the time.
  • The Lord's Day has a different meaning, different worship and different purpose.
  • Sunday is when believers come together for a witness of Christ, not a day of non-work.

D. If Sabbath is no longer, do we still have to go to church on Sunday? Yes.

24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
- Hebrews 10:24-25

The Lord's Day doesn't prohibit work, but it does require Christians to witness their faith collectively. There are many benefits to this but the reason is that the Word tells us that we need to do this and also what to do when we gather for worship (I Corinthians 11).

E. How do I keep the "spirit" of this commandment?

The spirit of this commandment is that we must honor God with our time. We do this in a variety of ways:

  • Daily prayer and Bible reading.
  • Christian service and benevolence to those in the church and out.
  • Investing our "time" in things that are edifying and not destructive.
  • Regular meeting and worship with the saints on the Lord's Day.
  • Christian fellowship and recreation.

If it seems like a constant "sacrifice" to do godly things and be with godly people then perhaps too much of your "time" is offered to the god of this world and not enough in the pursuit of honoring God. Realize that it is not the elder or preacher that places demands on your time; it is God Himself that requires you to offer your time to Him.

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Gerry Bell, Elder,
Saskatoon, Canada - Gravelbourg Church of Christ