Series: Thru the Bible
By Request: To Sabbath or not to Sabbath? Pt. 3 – Lingering Issues
Tonight we will be wrapping up our teachings on the Sabbath, at least as far as I am able to go into it at present.
What we have learned so far are these things:
- Sabbath means “to cease” or “ceasing”.
- God was deliberate in making the week 7 days long. He was purposeful in creating our world to have a day of ceasing from the beginning rather than ending one 6 day week of labor, only to begin another 6 day week of labor the day after with no ceasing in between.
- We learned that God commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath regarding manna BEFORE He ever gave the 10 commandments to them through Moses.
- We learned that like all the other commandments, this command was entirely based upon the person, character and actions of God. It had NOTHING to do with the fall of man or man’s sinfulness. It was not even instituted as a lesson for fallen nor redeemed mankind. Genesis is very clear that on the 7th day God ceased from all His labor and as a sovereign decree of His Own power declared the day itself as holy FROM THE BEGINNING.
- We learned that the way to keep it holy was to observe no common labor on the 7th day. To honor God by remembering what He did on the 7th day and doing likewise, this includes the idea of observing with appreciation and delight all He and we have made in our days of labor.
- We learned that Sabbath and the commands regarding it NEVER had ANYTHING to do with gathering together in fellowship or hearing God’s word. That such was a contrivance of the Jews in the creation of synagogue probably towards the end of the 5th or 3rd century B.C..
- We learned that even though it was not “officially” part of the command, attending synagogue and hearing the word was the practice of Jesus.
Upon turning our attention to the New Testament we learned…
- We learned that even though it was not “officially” part of the command, attending synagogue and hearing the word was also the practice of Paul and the early church, including both Jews and Gentiles.
- We learned that even though all of the other 10 commandments enjoy a favorable mention in the New Testament as being incumbent upon ALL New Covenant believers – Jews and Gentiles alike, the 4th commandment regarding the Sabbath is never directly mentioned.
- We learned that Jesus, Paul and James all indirectly assert the need for believers to observe the Sabbath by mentioning the need to keep the commandments as a whole. When they do so they NEVER once mention excluding the Sabbath.
- That in Paul’s letters of Romans 14 & Colossians 2 cannot rightly be used to say the Sabbath has been annulled under the New Covenant.
- In Romans 14 the entire section is referring to judging your sibling in Christ regarding “doubtful things” which means things which are inconclusive, about which there is no clear doctrine and therefore you are to follow your conscience. IF the early church changed the Sabbath from God’s ordained 7th day to the 1st day, would have required an apostolic declaration of the 12 – NOT PAUL, but the 12 Apostles of the Lamb in Jerusalem who alone had binding and loosening authority. So this swings two ways. IF THEY HAD made such a declaration – this would NOT be a doubtful thing. It would be established by Apostolic authority. If they had not, it would still not be a doubtful thing because that would mean that the 4th commandment was to be understood now as it always had been understood. Furthermore, there is some evidence that the phrase about judging days is poorly translated. That in the Greek it actually is closer to saying, “For one judges day from day, and one judges all days.” The one thing that is certain is that NONE of the above constitute a declaration from Paul that your requirement to keep the 4th commandment was a matter of one’s own personal opinion and conscience.
- In Colossians the entire context of the passage was about establishing righteousness and justification by the observance of feast days, new moons all of which had accompanying Sabbath days. The use of the plural form of Sabbath clarifies along with that context clarifies that Paul was NOT talking about The Sabbath Day of the 4th commandment. Furthermore, even if he were, the context was not about observing those things, but about seeking righteousness and justification from the observance of those things. That would be wrong even if it were the 1st commandment or any of the others for that matter!
This week we are looking at yet three other passages and then expressing my misgivings about the whole topic.
It came to my attention that along with these two passages Galatians 4:8-11 is often cited. This should NOT be surprising to me, even though it nearly always is. The entire letter to the Galatians was focused upon Judaizing influences coming in among them and convincing them that only through adherence to the Old Covenant laws AND faith in Christ can one have righteousness, justification and the Holy Spirit. So ALL of Paul’s statements are not against the law itself, but of seeking to be justified by the law. Again, Paul would be just as much against observing ANY of the commandments if your reason was to obtain what can only be given through faith in Christ Jesus!
The passage says, “(8) Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods at all. (9) But now that you have come to know God (or rather to be known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless basic forces? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again? (10) You are observing religious days and months and seasons and years. (11) I fear for you that my work for you may have been in vain.”
That he was in fact talking about seeking righteousness, justification and the Spirit by these means we just need to look at what he said before this and just keep on keep on reading past this.
In chapter 3:1-9,
“(1) You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! (2) The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? (3) Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? (4) Have you suffered so many things for nothing? – if indeed it was for nothing. (5) Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard? (6) Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, (7) so then, understand that those who believe are the sons of Abraham. (8) And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the gospel to Abraham ahead of time, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” (9) So then those who believe are blessed along with Abraham the believer.”
In verses 21 he asks them –
“Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not understand the law?”
Gal. 5:1-4,“(1) For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. (2) Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all! (3) And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. (4) You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace!”
So again, this is NOT about the observing or even the failure to observe months, days and years, but about seeking justification by that means as a replacement for faith in Christ alone for these things. It does not in any way speak to our need to observe those things or the lack thereof. Those things ARE specifically mentioned in other books and NONE of them say we are free from observing ANY of the 10 commandments.
Next is found in Hebrew 4, which when coupled with Deuteronomy 5:15 makes for a compelling argument but it still falls short of an authoritative apostolic declaration. We will begin reading however in chapter 3 just to be careful to establish a context for what chapter 4 says.
Hebrews 4:7-19, “(7) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Oh, that today you would listen as He speaks! (8) “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness. (9) “There your fathers tested Me and tried Me, and they saw My works for forty years. (10) “Therefore, I became provoked at that generation and said, ‘Their hearts are always wandering and they have not known My ways.’”
Just a quick side thought here before we continue. As always God’s desire has always been to be known. That we might know Him and emulate Him by adhering to His character and ways. So, I think even this is significant in these verses – not necessarily by intent, but by application. Just because salvation brings forgiveness of sin, does not release the obligation of the saint to seek to know and be like Him. In regard to the 7th day, that would mean that we cease from labor and rest on the Sabbath day.
“(11) “As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter My rest!’”
(12) See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God.”
So here we have both the audience and the focus of the verses. This provides our context!
“(13) But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception. (14) For we have become partners with Christ, IF in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end.
(15) As it says, “Oh, that today you would listen as He speaks! Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
(16) For which ones heard and rebelled? Was it not all who came out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership? (17) And against whom was God provoked for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose dead bodies fell in the wilderness? (18) And to whom did He swear they would never enter into His rest, except those who were disobedient? (19) So we see that they could not enter because of unbelief.”
Again belief is tethered inexorably with obedience! So that even though we believe that Jesus is our deliverance and freedom from sin, does not make us free TO sin, so it can be argued that even though Jesus is our rest, doesn’t exonerate us from honoring the God of Creation on the 7th day.
Hebrews 4:1-16, “(1) Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering His rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. (2) For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith.
(3) For we who have believed enter that rest, as He has said, “As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest!’” And yet God’s works were accomplished from the foundation of the world.
(4) For He has spoken somewhere about the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works,” (5) but to repeat the text cited earlier: “They will never enter My rest!”
(6) Therefore it remains for some to enter it, yet those to whom it was previously proclaimed did not enter because of disobedience.
(7) So God again ordains a certain day, “Today,” speaking through David after so long a time, as in the words quoted before, “Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts.”
(8) For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken afterward about another day. (9) Consequently a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God.
(10) For the one who enters God’s rest has also rested from his works, just as God did from his own works. (11) Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience.”
This is often used as proof positive that IF you are in Christ you can dispense with observance of the Sabbath day rest, because that was just a type and a shadow of entering into the real rest. However no such connection here is made. In fact the last verse we just read seems to establish our entering into the rest of Christ as a continual battle so long as we are in the flesh – and it is! Entering the rest is a matter of both faith and the obedience to God’s law which springs from that faith. No physically living person has been made 100% mature and perfect in Christ yet. It is an ongoing process of trust and obedience until we at last see Him face to face. So it is a poor argument indeed that Sabbath has been completely honored and fulfilled in us, just because we have trusting into Christ. If that is true, the so are all the commandments and I am free to not observe them as well. But if I fail to observe them, does that not speak against the honesty and genuineness of my faith, because faith produces obedience to the law!
Also of note is the deliberate use of a different word for Sabbath here. It would be more accurately translated into today’s vernacular as a “Sabbathism”. The word is Sabbatismos which is a rest of both body and soul rather than just one of the flesh alone. It is a figurative word repressing a figure of speech. In fact, there is strong evidence that it is in fact referring to our eternal and final rest in eternity with Him, making the idea of it being a fulfillment of the 7th day obligation even more impossible.
Nevertheless this is sometimes coupled with the passage in Deuteronomy 5:15 where Moses reminds the second generation of Israelites in the wilderness about one of God’s reasons for giving the Sabbath to them. He says,
“Recall that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there by strength and power. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
However, if you go back to Exodus no such words are recorded as being spoken by God to Israel. I have no doubt that they were, but there is no official record of it. God’s first and stated reason for giving them the Sabbath was directly tied to His work in Creation and His hallowing the 7th day as a day of ceasing from labor. He gave it to them FIRST not as the 4th commandment, but as a commandment regarding gathering Manna. The point being, that people try to tie together Israel’s departure from Egypt and the rest of the seventh day as mentioned here in Deuteronomy with our exodus from the world into our rest Who is Christ and that Christ is our Sabbath now so we have no need of obedience to the 4th commandment.
Well that is a fine argument and one I would immediately agree with wholeheartedly if regard to any other commandment this was also true. For example, because Jesus is my righteousness, I therefore have no need to not steal, or not lie, or not commit adultery since my righteousness is not in what I do, but in Jesus. Of course we see the hollowness of THAT argument. If one IS in Christ they cannot also be IN sin. 1 John talks almost exclusively of this truth. So why do we not see it in regard to the 4th commandment. What is SO special about this command that it gets treated SO RADICALLY different from the other 9?
Well, in doing further research and listening as I told you I would to other ministers I respect regarding this I have stumbled upon a very practical reason why observance of this command is under such an assault.
I grew up in a world which was coming out of a near universal observance of the Sabbath. Or rather of our recreation of the Sabbath on Sunday.
On Sundays my family would sometimes stop by a fast food place to grab a burger as a treat for my sister and I, but most other stores were closed. I remember even grocery stores like Publix on Manatee Ave. being closed on Sundays in my youth. I remember my mom being careful to get any of our prescriptions from the drugstore before the weekend because on Sunday they WOULD be closed.
In the generation before mine, it was even more pronounced.
Alistar Beg offered an example of a Scottish man who grew up on one of the islands of scotland in the early to mid 1900’s and the entire island was shut down on Sundays.
[For the whole message which I recommend see – Holy Day or Holiday – Part 1]
As I listened to stories about people’s experiences with the Sabbath back in those days I began to see why satan has always placed the Sabbath under specific and particular attack.
Observation of the Sabbath has a recentering effect on all who participate and back with that participation was nearly global, the world was a very, VERY different place. People, even irreligious people, were more mindful of morality and inward conflicts over right and wrong. There seemed to be almost a sense of holding back the complete takeover of sin in cultures which adhered to the Sabbath because every week, the world grew more silent for a day. Worldly pursuits were placed to one side for a day. One was hard pressed to run after pleasures of the flesh on that day since most places were closed. In many places even beaches were closed off.
I have often said that people like business and noise and music going on near to constantly because they do not like the noise of silence. Silence leaves one alone with their thoughts. The mind nearly immediately runs to places which make us uncomfortable when there is silence, at least until we deaden our conscience entirely. I think the inactivity, the lack of choice to pursue just any given pleasure and above all the quiet of that day helped to reorient the human heart with its native moorings which is God and morality.
So next week we should be able to wrap up with why the Sabbath, if observed at all, is usually observed on Sunday and is only as a day of partial rest.