Series: Thru the Bible
By Request: To Sabbath or not to Sabbath? Part 2
This is our 2nd Wednesday night where we are learning about the Sabbath and its role in the New Covenant believer’s life – if any.
Last week we looked at the origin of Sabbath way back on the 7th day of this Creation and what God spoke regarding it. We did this to establish original intent, something Jesus and Paul often did in order to clarify God’s intentions with man which are based upon His eternal and unchanging character.
The first thing we did was define the Sabbath, which simply means “cease”. The word includes the notion of rest, but literally means “cease”.
Next we learned that God didn’t have to make our weeks last 7 days. God could have made the day after Creation the 1st day of the week, effectively and forever giving us a 6 day week. The fact that He didn’t do this but made it 7 days communicates much. He established something regarding the life of mankind which would forever be true under this Creation. The scripture tells us that unlike all the other days God ceased from all His labor on the 7th day and He, by His Own sovereignty and power MADE that day holy.
When Israel came along, it was regarding this very day which He called “ceasing” that God gave His VERY first command to Israel. What is also significant is that this was BEFORE He gave them the 10 commandments.
Of course later He gave them the 10 commandments, the 4th of which was to “REMEMBER the day of ‘ceasing’” and regard it as Holy BECAUSE God labored in the work of Creation for 6 days and on the seventh day He ceased from all His labor. So He rested on the 7th day and declared it as Holy, therefore YOU remember that and KEEP it holy.
So like all the other commands, this command was NOT because of man’s fall, nor was it due to the sinfulness of man, nor was it originally created as a lesson to teach fallen man – its entire purpose was found in the character and actions of God Himself.
Just like telling the truth and not stealing and honoring others, this 4th commandment was about WHO God is, not what man has done wrong.
THAT is an important point!
The final thing we learned about the Sabbath is that the original command did not require and in fact had NOTHING TO DO with gathering together on a certain day to fellowship and hear the Word of God taught. Such was a late development probably around the same time the Jews created the synagogue. It WAS however a practice which both Jesus and Paul and the early church always observed.
So then we moved our attention over to the New Testament and discovered that while all the other 10 commandments enjoy a favorable mention in the doctrine of the church and the letters to them, this command of the Sabbath is never DIRECTLY mentioned, though it IS INDIRECTLY mentioned by both Paul, James and the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
Paul in Romans 13:8-10,
“(8) Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) The commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, AND IF THERE IS ANY OTHER COMMANDMENT –all are summed up by this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (10) Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.”
So the 4th commandment is included in this statement by the phrase “and if there is any other commandment”. Also Paul makes it clear here that fulfilling the law is incumbent upon the believer.
We did more than this however, we actually found places where EVERY other commandment is positively mentioned as required under the New Covenant even of Gentile believers.
Now I am NOT going back over than tonight, but you can revisit those by looking at last week’s message – HERE. We also learned about a type of exclusionary writing where a whole is positively inferred by mention of a single part. Much like an entire scene in a movie is often called to mind in our culture by reference to a single quote. This is what the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem were doing regarding the requirements of keeping the moral law of Moses by mentioning the 7th command, the number of completion and the single law the Gentiles were the MOST adept at breaking.
Finally we looked at the early church both Jewish and Gentile along with the life and ministry of Paul himself and saw that they ALWAYS observed the Sabbath in a certain way which we will touch more on tonight.
If we were exempt from the 4th commandment to remember and regard the day of ceasing as holy, then that would have been a great place to say so.
So yes, we are to obey the moral law given by God through Moses.
So we ended last week with a rather firm belief that we are in fact obliged to keep the Sabbath, but had to freely admit that it was largely an argument from silence in regard to an actual statement in the New Testament for believers under the New Covenant.
This brings us to the place in our study where we examine the ONLY two places in the New Testament which a casual reading could lead someone to believe we are free from observing the Sabbath under the New Covenant. In fact, that is precisely how these passages are often used.
The first, and by far the most popular is… Colossians 2:1-16.
The actual verse is found in verse 16, but as always, when we are identifying doctrine we need a context in which to understand Paul’s words.
Also of note is that we do not clearly understand what was going on in Colosse at the writing of the letter addressed to them. All we know is that there are references to paganizing and Judaizing influences in that city directed at these Colossian Christians.
Christians were being judged by others regarding what they should or should not be doing as touching the Old Covenant, as well as pagan practices out of which, no doubt, some of these Colossian believers had come.
Colossians chapter 1 is all about praising their solidity in their devotion to faith in Christ and loving their fellow Christian. Paul then uses this faithfulness and love as the basis for his prayer that they be filled with intimate knowledge of God, and strengthened in the devotion of their lives in Christ to the point of patiences, steadfastness, joyfulness and gratitude to the Father.
He then begins to bear down on the preeminence of Jesus as both Creator God and Messiah. That He alone is the head of the body and that He alone reconciled them from among the Judaizers and the pagan. Paul then sets himself up as an example of suffering for the truth.
All of this was his preamble to what we are about to read in Colossians chapter 2 which begins with his inward concern for them.
He first focuses on the need to draw closer to one another in familial love for encouragement and assurance in Christ alone.
Colossians 2:1-16, “(1) For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for those who have not met me face to face.
(2) My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches that assurance brings in their understanding of the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (3) in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Now Paul addresses his primary issue of concern – pressures and judgements from OUTSIDE the body.
“(4) I say this so that no one will deceive you through arguments that sound reasonable. (5) For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (6) Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, (7) rooted and built up in Him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
(8) Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
(9) For in Him all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form, (10) and you have been filled in Him, Who is the head over every ruler and authority.
(11) In Him you also were circumcised – not, however, with a circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ.
(12) Having been buried with Him in baptism, you also have been raised with Him through your faith in the power of God Who raised Him from the dead. (13) And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He nevertheless made you alive with Him, having forgiven all your transgressions.”
Then Paul addresses how God through Christ has removed our indebtedness to the law. Meaning our requirement to do the works of the law in order to satisfy requirements for right standing with God.
“(14) He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. (15) Disarming the rulers and authorities, He has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
(16) Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days –”
So the context is, as I said, pagan and Old Covenant Judaistic influences. The latter of which was addressed specifically in verses 11-16.
Paul affirms their unity with Christ through baptism and a circumcision of the heart.
He presses more than once on the fact of their deliverance from and forgiveness of sins and our indebtedness to keep the law for such.
THEN after all this he says, “THEREFORE”.
SO the “therefore” is about justification by Old Covenant means of righteousness by works.
The examples he provided were dietary and Israelite feasts or new moons.
New Moons in Judaism were the start of a new Hebrew month which enabled them to keep their feasts and festivals on time and in season. Also the New Moon was a minor Jewish festival in itself on which fasting and mourning were not allowed.
It was in THIS context that Paul mentions “Sabbaths” or “Sabbath days”.
This is VERY telling on two accounts!
Paul does NOT reference the 10 commandments, he is referencing the Jewish calendar with its feasts and festivals and the foods and days of ceasing associated with them.
This is further evidenced by his deliberate use of the word Sabbaths which appears here in the plural.
If this was ‘THE Sabbath’ of the 4th commandment, it would have been stated in the singular “or regarding THE Sabbath”.
As it is, Paul clearly said, “Sabbaths”.
So this is not encouraging them to not observe or to feel free to not observe the Sabbath day (singular) but to not let anyone judge them as sinning, failing to act righteously or as not being forgiven for sins due to not participating in Jewish feast days and festivals – accompanied by their dietary restrictions or their days of ceasing.
So now we will look at the only other passage which I personally have ever seen used in regards to the Sabbath under the New Covenant and then we will sum up our conclusions on what this all means for us in terms of practice.
This passage ends with a guarantee and perhaps a warning that whatever you choose, know that you will stand before the Lord and have to offer an account for what you chose and how you lived it.
It is in Romans 14:1-12 and says,
“(1) Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions.”
In the NKJV it says “over doubtful things” and I think that offers a clarification on the spirit of the command. The word “Doubtful” is diakrisis, meaning “distinguishing, discerning, judging.” It is a compound word comprised of the word krisis, “a judging,” and dia, whose root meaning is “two“. Taken together this means, a judging between two ways or in two directions, resulting in doubt as to which is correct.
So Paul is saying let no one judge you as being 100% wrong about something about which you cannot be emphatic doctrinally.
“(2) One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. (3) The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him.
(4) Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own Master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
So the apostle is telling them that there ARE things which are NOT iron clad in scripture and about which people are free to have their own and differing opinions.
In these matters we are to show graciousness to one another!
As examples of this Paul mentions various foods or diets. The specific example is one who will eat anything and one who restricts their diet to vegetables.
There are some who cannot allow themselves to eat meat because animals suffer and die in order to provide it and such wounds their conscience.
We know for certain that such is the way things are in a fallen world. If we did not eat the animal something else would – and that most likely LESS humanely than we would. Even Jesus Himself ate Lambs and Rams, in keeping with the law and by His working of miracles He killed thousands of fish with a command for them to be caught in the disciples nets.
Do these people have a superior morality to Christ Himself? No, of course not!
However, if it bruises or wounds their conscience they should avoid it, and their siblings in Christ should walk in love and forbearance with them in their weaknesses and Paul does in fact point such a conscience out as being weak.
However, we now need to apply common sense to this. Let me ask you… does anyone believe for one second that this passage is telling either Jews or Gentiles that it is ok to eat things strangled or eat blood which both the Old and the New Covenants forbid? Not if they have any common sense because these things are not DOUBTFUL because the New Testament CLEARLY addresses them.
So are there limitations to this indulgence? YES!
Now Paul goes on with another example…
“(5) One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike [the word “alike” is not in the Greek]. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind.”
Technically this passage actually reads like this in the Greek, “For one judges day from day, and one judges all days.” From this statement translators have converted the statement so that, in my opinion, it adds notions to the text that the apostle did not intend.
“(6) The one who observes the day does it for the Lord. The one who eats, eats for the Lord because he gives thanks to God, and the one who abstains from eating abstains for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God. (7) For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself.
(8) If we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
(9) For this reason Christ died and returned to life, so that He may be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
(10) But you who eat vegetables only – why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything – why do you despise your brother or sister?
For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
(11) For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” (12) Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
With this understanding I don’t think it is in keeping with the doctrines of the Gospel which Paul both understood, taught and lived to say that by this he meant we are free to consider the Sabbath just as common as every day. This is because God Himself declared it HOLY – which means UNCOMMON. He then commanded His people to remember that it is in fact Holy and to therefore treat it that way. Also, He never is said to resend this command. Nor does God ever state that He has now made a decision that the 7th day is now common, not special or holy but should be treated as any other day.
All that being said, this means that this is NOT a “doubtful thing” over which you are free to have your own opinion, any more than you are free as a Christian to have an opinion about lying or stealing that is contrary to God’s word.
So I believe the only way in which this can apply to honoring the Sabbath day, is regarding HOW TO KEEP IT and ON WHAT DAY to keep it. Both of those things are at least mildly doubtful.
So what do we do? Well according to this passage we carefully follow our conscience before God in all sincerity regarding this because we will be judged for whatever we choose.
I believe that even if we are wrong, if we do so in good and honest conscience BEFORE God, there would be no sin. But if it is doubtful, ALWAYS run towards the direction of conservative caution and such should ALWAYS be our default view and practice.
It’s funny how we turn things around to our personal desires. For most Christians, our argument with the world against abortion is that it is murder.
They claim we cannot know that for certain.
We say in return, that they cannot know for certain that it isn’t.
SO we encourage them to follow the conservative approach until 100% proof can be obtained. Don’t keep on aborting only to find out later that you were murdering the innocent the whole time. Stop aborting until which time we can know clinically one way or the other.
Yet regarding something like this, Christians are likely to say “well we don’t know if it’s wrong not to observe the Sabbath… so if you can’t prove it, I’m just going to do what I want to do.” This is NOT a conservative approach which seeks first to honor God above all else!
So, what does all of this mean to us as New Testament, New Covenant believers?
Well since the passage in Colossians doesn’t even address the Sabbath day it cannot be used to teach us anything in regard to it.
In like manner, the passage in Romans doesn’t mention it either, but it does mention making choices by which we can live before God with a clear conscience regarding “doubtful things”.
However, even though the arguments for keeping Sabbath are silent – I think they still speak loudly!
So the two questions remain…
- “Is there a clear command to obey the 4th commandment?” No!
- “Is there a clear statement that we are freed from observing the 4th commandment?” No!
So what do we do?
I believe the inference to the strongest argument is the one which was literally and regularly practiced by Paul and the early church.
While the argument against observing the Sabbath is COMPLETELY one of silence in that it is never specifically mentioned by name as required of New Covenant believers – observance of “the commandments” in general IS mentioned by Jesus, James, Paul and the counsel of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem in the first century.
In addition to this they all practiced a certain observance of it.
So while that is NO proof that they did not go from their times of worship on the Sabbath to their secular jobs, it is certainly not conducive to it.
Consider how the early church observed the Sabbath. It was much like the Jewish community kept the Sabbath only with some additional things added to it.
We see Paul saying more than once that he had delivered to Gentile churches “the traditions” and at least in Corinth he praised them for remembering them and keeping those Jewish traditions [1Cor. 11:2].
These Sabbath day meetings of the early Gentile/Jewish churches included, but were not necessarily limited to:
- readings from the Torah and the prophets (the New Testament was NOT canonized yet)
- the reading of the letters from the Apostles
- reciting liturgies
- formal prayers and blessings
- the moving of the Spirit in gifts
- the taking of communion and
- the enjoying of fellowship in a common meal.
In other words, it does not sound like a modern day “45 minutes and we’re done” routine. It took some time!
Again not proof that it took the whole day, but all of this is certainly painting a picture which would make a common work day impossible.
Regarding the prayers, Acts 2:42 says,
“They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
The word “prayer” here is literally “the prayers”.
This language suggests a commitment to some type of set prayers in a more liturgical context. One of the prayers was undoubtedly the Lord’s.
So again, what does that mean for us in terms of practice?
Well, that is why I spent SOME TIME showing you that while the early church certainly chose the Sabbath for a day of assembling, such is NOT part of the command of the Sabbath.
So though these practices are good and should be done and even CAN be done on the Sabbath they are NOT REQUIRED to be done on the Sabbath.
An additional problem is – what day is the Sabbath?
It has been argued that the early church shifted the day from what we call Saturday to Sunday as the day to observe the Sabbath. Truth is, there are only two passages used to support this and they actually do not say anything of the kind.
Those are the two passages I mentioned at the beginning of our study last week and appear at the end of the list I placed on the website last week, offering all of the New Testament passages regarding Sabbath.
In both passages it says, “On the first day of the week”.
If this was to be translated word for word it would read, “In or on One Sabbath” which makes no sense in English.
The words “On the first” are two Greek words.
The first being in or on or by and the second is just the word “ONE” as a primary number.
The 4 words “day of the week” are also one word – Sabbaton or Sabbath.
So the best translation of this I can think of is “on the first Sabbath”.
What it DOES NOT mean, is “On the first day of the week” of the Gentile Julian or Gregorian calendar of weeks.
You need to understand that Rome practiced a lunar calendar during this time in history which recognized a 8 day civil calendar week. This was replaced in 321A.D. by Emperor Constantine where a 7 day week was now to be observed and the first day of that week was to be what we call Sunday. So there is NO WAY in which Sunday was substituted for a Saturday observance of Sabbath in the 1st century church.
Furthermore these two passages simply do not say that that Sunday or Monday or any other day was the first day of the week and that Sabbath was not to be recognized on that day. In the Greek – it honestly doesn’t even imply it.
So what does it mean? Honestly… I don’t know, but what I DO know is that it is NO proof that what we call Sunday was now magically turned into the Sabbath for that would NOT be keeping the law of the Sabbath.
The day of ceasing was the 7th day NOT the FIRST day of the week. In my opinion it is NOT within the realm of our power to choose to change the 7th day into the 1st day.
Now it is NOT my intention to teach yet another lesson on why we have come to worship on Sunday rather than on the Sabbath day, nor is that even important because remember – worshiping as we do is NOT part of the command of the Sabbath anyway. Only CEASING is!
Did the early church observe something akin to our services on Sabbath – yes, but that was by tradition NOT command.
So rather than messing up our entire world by suggesting that we now need to meet on Saturdays from here on, it is MY suggestion that you observe the sabbath on the very day God told us to and then attend church on the next day.
You might say, well Pastor Mark, you don’t understand. My job will not allow for that or my family will never understand that or blah blah blah blah.
Let me just say that I don’t mean to be hurtful in this but that really is NOT my problem anymore than it is my problem if your employer is asking you to lie. Your requirement before God remains the same. I didn’t write the Bible, it is only my job to teach you what it says and what it means.
We were told by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament that living out our faith would be impossible to do without persecution and oppositions and that the members of one’s own family would be among the greatest sources of such opposition.
So the real question is… do I avoid persecution and break God’s law or do I obey God’s law and by doing so incur some persecution? Well, you tell me!
I’ve told you MANY times that before I was led to full time ministry and being my own employer, I worked for secular employers just like some of you do.
I had resolved before I ever even applied for my first job as a teenager to honor God on what I believed was the Sabbath which at the time was Sunday.
So I NEVER had to go to my boss AFTER I was employed to have this discussion because I made it a condition of my employment to begin with. As such, your situation may be a little more difficult.
They ALL understood that I will not work on the Sabbath. It was not happening ever!
I went so far as to actually say to two separate employers that they could schedule me, but that it would be unwise since when that day came, they would be one person short because I would not be there and I had told them so from the beginning.
One of these encounters occurred when the company I worked for was bought out by Sherwin–Williams. I asked my initial employer if they would see to it that the conditions of our employment would have to be honored by Sherwin-Williams as a condition of sale.
He said they already had done so.
Nevertheless, as soon as Sherwin–Willians took over, I was invited into the office. One guess as to why!
The lady told me that she had reviewed my work and saw I was always off early on Wednesdays (because I was the youth pastor and had to be off early enough to pick up kids for church) and that I never worked on Sundays.
I told her yes, that such was the conditions of my employment.
She told me that would no longer be acceptable.
I told her about my discussion with the former company owner and that he assured me he had ensured that Sherwin-Williams would be obligated to honor every person’s terms of employment.
She claimed that did not happen.
I explained to her that I knew in fact that it did but that regardless, she could schedule me, but my freedom to worship will allow me to not be there.
I made certain that I conveyed that if this caused a problem for them, I would work all the later the day before and all the earlier or longer the day after, but NOTHING would cause me to be there on the Sabbath EVER. It simply was not even up for discussion or consideration.
Now you need to know that I did and said ALL OF THIS with the utmost respect, but also the utmost firmness. It was clear that I was serious and not budging!
More than once I had to remind them that the Equal Opportunity Employment Act protected my right to worship according to my beliefs and could not be used as a condition upon which to not hire me or to fire me in the future.
That ALWAYS ended all opposition!
However, I backed up my claims by being ALL THE MORE diligent.
I was the first to offer to fill in for someone, I was the first to offer to pull a double shift or to cover for them in a pinch. I made myself valuable by honoring them and my commitment!
Let me be clear, I was just a teenager and I had the common sense to be forthright and honest. I also knew that this would place me in a position where they would likely look for reasons they could let me go WITHOUT breaking the Equal Opportunity Employment Act. So I made myself valuable, indespensible, agreeable, helpful, respectful and very VERY hard to fire.
I only had two jobs that attempted to press me on this after I was employed. I respectfully reminded them of the conditions of my employment and the tenants of the Equal Opportunity Employment Act and that ended it both times.
I assured them that if there was any way I could shoulder a burden on the schedule which would make their job easier I would do it. Double shifts, covering for someone else… whatever, but that my hands were tied in regard to this issue.
You know what I got from that – respect!
Sure, there were some disgruntled employees who thought I was getting preferential treatment and so I was mildly persecuted for it, but I didn’t care.
If confronted about it I told them that my hands were tied regarding this, due to my biblical beliefs and practice but that if I could cover for them any other time they were in a pinch or just needed the time off I’d do so without hesitation. This usually caused me to be liked rather than resented.
One time, a store I worked at had a fire on a Saturday night and they needed help on Sunday. I unwisely told them that even if the store burned to the ground I would not be there on Sunday, but I would be there 12:01am on Monday to help them clean up the mess.
Now I say it was unwise only because Jesus taught us that it is ALWAYS lawful to do GOOD on the Sabbath. What I should have told them was as soon as services were over I’d volunteer my help, but I cannot receive payment for work on the Sabbath.
I did say this on other occasions but their hands were tied in that they could not have me work on the premises without being on the clock which helped them understand what it was like to have your hands tied.
So my conclusion is this…
Honor the 7th day of the week by not doing any common work on that day.
Keep it holy before God and reflect with enjoyment and respect the results of God’s labor in Creation and your labors in that week.
You are free to go to the beach or on a walk or enjoy the company of friends, though I would seek to keep those friends restricted to those who share the same biblical beliefs and dedications as you do. Though it would also be my advice, in accordance with God’s word to avoid laborious cooking on that day but otherwise, enjoy yourself and worship God in simplicity of heart, honoring Him in remembering and keeping that day holy – out of respect to the fact that He in His sovereignty declared it to be so!
We are to approach it with a delighted heart. You will find in Isaiah 58:13,14 a good guide.
“(13) You must observe the Sabbath rather than doing anything you please on my holy day. You must look forward to the Sabbath and treat the LORD’s holy day with respect. You must treat it with respect by refraining from your normal activities, and by refraining from your selfish pursuits and from making business deals. (14) Then you will find joy in your relationship to the LORD, and I will give you great prosperity, and cause crops to grow on the land I gave to your ancestor Jacob.” Know for certain that the LORD has spoken.” – Isaiah 58:13-14
Remember that we are free to do acts of service or kindness on a Sabbath, remembering that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and that it was given to man, not man to the Sabbath.
If need be, talk to your employer and explain your situation and serve them all the other days even as you would Christ Himself. As a child of God, you should be the one person they never want to fire because in all other cases except this one, you prove yourself to be their best employee!
I understand that some people have very high end careers and that this could cost them much. I think I have been clear in regard to what the scriptures say about this. Now, yours will be an inward struggle of conscience before God, but not before people.
Now if you have any questions or thoughts about this, I welcome them!