Living Well Weekly Part 1
LIVING WELL WEEKLY: PART 1
A Midweek Lesson
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: March 21, 2019
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
In the next two midweek lessons we are going to focus on our attention on the fourth commandment. I will say at the outset that this commandment may be the most difficult one to teach because of the theological complexity involved. Not that it was complex in its original setting, but it is difficult to know with certainty what it means for us to keep the fourth commandment in a properly Christ-centered, gospel-shaped, New-Testament-framed way.
The fourth commandment begins, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) As I attempted to show in the previous lesson about how to faithfully read the Old Testament, we should not be thinking in terms of whether we ought to keep this instruction, but rather we should be thinking in terms of how we ought to keep this instruction. This requires us to understand the fourth commandment in the light of Scripture’s central theme: the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In order to help us appreciate the complexity of knowing how the fourth commandment applies to us as Christians, let me read Paul’s words from Romans 14. Paul writes, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5) When you read Romans 14:5 in conjunction with Colossians 2:16, where Paul instructs us to “let no one pass judgment on us… with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16), it seems safe to say that genuine Christians may differ on matters related to the weekly Sabbath – and still be genuine Christians who are able to get along in joyful fellowship with one another. Some Christians might esteem “one day” (e.g., the Sabbath day, or the Lord’s Day) as standing higher than the rest, whereas other Christians might view every day of the week “alike.” While it is entirely possible that one viewpoint is truly better than the other one, nevertheless we are not to “pass judgment” (Romans 14:3) on those who observe one day as holy, nor are we to pass judgment on those who abstain from observing one day as holy – always keeping in mind that we are to live holy lives every day, regardless of whether we regard one day as set apart.
Now it is simply unthinkable that any other of the ten commandments could be placed into the Romans 14:5 framework. Can you imagine Paul saying “One person esteems the use of idols in worship, while another esteems the complete absence of idols. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind”? Or “One person esteems bearing false witness, while another esteems telling the truth. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind”? Not a chance, right?
On the other hand, if an Old Testament ordinance was completely out of bounds for New Testament Christians (as is the case with animal sacrifices), it is equally unthinkable that an absolutely obsolete ordinance could be placed into the Romans 14:5 framework. Can you imagine Paul saying “One person esteems bringing animal sacrifices to the apostles to make atonement for sin, while another esteems trusting Jesus as the final sacrifice. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” No way, right?
My point in approaching it this way is to say that Sabbath-keeping as it set forth in the Old Testament is apparently not entirely out of bounds for New Testament believers, but at the same time Sabbath-keeping as it is set forth in the Old Testament is apparently not binding on New Testament believers. Therefore it is not surprising that even in our 21st century world, some evangelical Protestants are Sabbatarians (= those who believe that Christians ought to keep the Sabbath instructions of the Old Testament in a straightforward way) and some are not – and the very best among them love each other as fellow believers!
Three Christian Views on the Sabbath
In his book on the ten commandments, Albert Mohler identifies three different but serious-minded positions that professing Christians might hold regarding Sabbath observance.
First, there is the "seventh-day Sabbatarianism" position. The seventh-day Sabbatarian view is that Christians should keep the Old Testament instructions about the Sabbath on the seventh day, that is, on Saturday. This view is common among Messianic Jews and is held by Seventh Day Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists.
Second, there is the first-day Sabbatarianism position. Mohler calls this view "Lord's Day Sabbatarianism." Some Christians regard the first day of the week as ‘the Christian Sabbath’. The first-day Sabbatarian view is that Christians should keep the Old Testament instructions about the Sabbath on the first day, that is, on Sunday. The theological basis of this shift from a seventh day Sabbath to a first day Sabbath is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ on the first day of the week – thus the first day of the week is now called ‘the Lord’s Day’. This foundational and pivotal event that inaugurated the new creation is so central to biblical faith, that Christians began to gather on the first day of the week for corporate worship. But the first day Sabbatarian view is not limited to the church’s gathering for corporate worship, but extends to the whole day – the whole day ought to be a day of rest, a day of spiritual devotion, a day free from secular employments and worldly entertainments.
Third, there is the faithful participation in the church’s worship on the Lord’s Day position. Mohler calls this view "Participate In Worship On "The Lord's Day"" or "Lord's Day observance." This is a non-Sabbatarian view. Like the first day Sabbatarian view, this non-Sabbatarian view holds that Christians ought to gather together in sacred assembly on the Lord’s Day – and that this ought to be a high level priority that Christians embrace with joy. But unlike the first day Sabbatarian view, this non-Sabbatarian view holds that Christians are not under obligation to keep the whole day as a special day of rest and spiritual devotion. Of course, any fair-minded Christian understands that every day is to be characterized by holy conduct, so the non-Sabbatarian view is not a justification for unholy conduct. But non-Sabbatarians believe that in the now Christian era, God’s people are not under obligation to keep one-day-in-seven as holy unto the Lord in a special way.
You may have differing views on this matter among yourselves. I will take time to explain my own view in next week’s lesson.
That said, if my purpose in this or next week’s midweek lesson was to present to you the unmistakably correct position on what it means for Christians to keep the fourth commandment, I’m not sure I would even attempt it – at least not yet. I grew up in a non-Sabbatarian Christian context, and yet I also have the sense that Sabbatarian or Sabbatarian-leaning brethren are onto something, and in the middle of all that I see Romans 14 and Colossians 2, and I wonder where to land. I know that I am not to pass judgment on those who have a different viewpoint, and I also know that it is good and right to “be fully convinced in [my] own mind.” The fact that genuine believers have different viewpoints on Sabbath-keeping, and that Paul instructs us not to pass judgment on one another, doesn’t mean that we can just pick whatever viewpoint is most agreeable to us. Instead, as those who trust Jesus and want to honor Him, we ought to embrace whatever view is most agreeable to Holy Scripture – and then, after we have done that, we ought to live accordingly, even while we are gracious to our fellow believers who draw the line in a different place.
Let us be clear: New Testament Christians should read the Old Testament for instruction in right living (see 2 Timothy 3:16). I want to live well in light of all that the Bible teaches. Too often we want the “just tell me what to do rules” when what we should be seeking are transformational principles that lead us to live wisely as followers of Jesus. On the other hand, sometimes people don’t want any rules or principles or authoritative instructions at all – but this is obviously not a biblical mindset. We ought to place high value on all the instruction that God gives us in His holy Word! When there are straightforward commands, we ought to render to God our straightforward obedience. When there are transformational principles, we ought to let those principles have their full transforming effect.
OLD TESTAMENT SABBATH INSTRUCTION
In this lesson we will do a survey of Old Testament Sabbath instruction. Lord-willing, next week we will consider the Sabbath in light of New Testament instruction, and then draw some key lessons about what it means for Christians to keep the fourth commandment.
1) Sabbath Foundation
We don’t have to go very far in our Bible in order to get our first Sabbath lesson. The seventh-day Sabbath goes back to the very beginning of creation:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3)
This first week, in which God created the universe in six days and then rested from His creational work on the seventh day, is to be understood as the pattern for ‘a week in the life of Israel’. This is the logic of the fourth commandment which God spoke to Israel, as we see in Exodus 20:8-11. God said,
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
God commanded that Israel’s seven-day week should be a clear and visible reflection of the Lord’s seven-day week when He made the world.
It should be noted that the fourth commandment is given to us in such a way that it dignifies work even as it commands rest. The Lord worked by creating the universe (Genesis 1:1–2:3) and the Lord created mankind to work (Genesis 2:15). Although our experience of work is made difficult because of humanity’s plunge into sin and the consequent curse that God imposed upon our world, nevertheless all honest work is fundamentally good. Of course, if we worship our work or make our work the measure of our worth, then we are idolaters. But on the other hand, if we refuse to be diligent workers, then Scripture calls us to repent of our idleness and laziness. The busybodies are as much idolaters as the workaholics, and both need to come to their senses. Let it be clearly understood that God calls His people to apply our wisdom and strength to a lifetime of good work.
2) The Day of Ceasing/Resting
That said, Israel was to do all its work (“all your work”!) in the first six days, and then it was to rest on the seventh day. Sabbath means “ceasing,” so the Sabbath day was an entire day characterized by ceasing or resting from the labor of the other six days. It is important to note that while human beings need to rest in order to regain strength after our labor has exhausted us, God does not get tired. So we should understand that the purpose of ceasing from labor is not mainly about regaining strength. The purpose of Sabbath rest is way bigger than rejuvenation. The Lord certainly did not need to be rejuvenated after He created the world: He was not worn out, because He does not grow weary! Scripture says:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” (Isaiah 40:28-29)
Therefore it is safe to say that the Lord did not rest on the seventh day because he was exhausted or because he was on the verge of a breakdown. He could have kept going, effortlessly and inexhaustibly, had He chosen to do so. Why then did the Lord rest on the seventh day? Here is one important answer: to enjoy His finished work! This seems like a reasonable inference from a consideration of what happened at the end of the sixth day: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Other passages, like Job 38:4-7 and Proverbs 8:22-31, communicate that the creation of the universe was a joyful thing. It stands to reason, then, that the God who found joy in the finished work of creation at the end of the sixth day would have continued to enjoy His finished masterpiece on the seventh day, when there was no more creating to do.
It is interesting to point out that a couple of commentators explain Exodus 31:17 in this way. Exodus 31:17 says, “… on the seventh day he [the LORD] rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:17) Commenting on the statement that the Lord “was refreshed,” Joseph Benson writes: “It seems to signify that delight and complacency with which God surveyed all his works, and pronounced them good.” And Matthew Poole says that “it notes the pleasure or delight God took in reflecting upon his works.”
For human beings, rest on the Sabbath day is also intended for our refreshment: “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12)
Sabbath rest involves ceasing from one’s work in order to celebrate and enjoy the work that has already been done. We are not merely doers who need to regain strength to do more doing. Deeper than this, we are called into the rest and refreshment of enjoying the fruit of our labors and, even more importantly, to enjoy the fruit of God’s labor.
Indeed, beyond the refreshment (and, for us weak human beings, the rejuvenation), Sabbath day rest was also intended to facilitate joyful attentiveness to God.
3) Spiritual Devotion
Spiritual devotion is built into the logic of the Sabbath day. Our entire life is to be characterized by wholehearted love for the Lord, as Deuteronomy 6:5 makes so clear. How foolish it would be to approach the Sabbath day forgetful and neglectful of God! If we were supposed to be loving God the other six days, even though those other six days required of us continual and tiring attention to all kinds of employment and manufacturing and household management, how much more ought we be attentive to God on our ‘day off’ from these other tasks! So consider the following indications that Sabbath-keeping was to be a God-centered affair.
First, the Lord “blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11), therefore we must “[remember] the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). How will we “keep it holy” if we forget or neglect the One who “made it holy”?
Second, “the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:10, italics added). The Sabbath is a Godward reality.
Third, God designed the Sabbath day to function as a “sign” between God and His people Israel:
“And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul should shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does ay work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”” (Exodus 31:12-17)
Sabbath rest was a twofold sign: first, it was a sign that pointed back to the original creation week; and second, it was a sign that pointed to God’s covenant-keeping and sanctifying presence among His people. Now think about it: Sabbath day rest wouldn’t function as a powerful sign of the Lord’s sanctifying presence among His people, if every Sabbath day the people forgot about their covenant with the Lord and forgot about the Lord’s sanctifying presence among them. Israel was duty-bound to remember the covenant and pursue holiness every day, but especially so on the Sabbath day!
For Israelites, a big part of remembering their covenant relationship with the Lord meant remembering that He had delivered them from their bondage in Egypt. The Deuteronomy 5 version of the Ten Commandments, which is very similar to the original Exodus 20 version, adds a statement about God’s gracious redemption in its instruction about Sabbath-keeping. Deuteronomy 5:15 says, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15) Before the Lord redeemed us, we were slaves under an oppressive regime; after the Lord redeemed us, He called us into the joy of His rest. Remember the day of rest; remember the redemption that makes this rest possible; remember the God who shares His rest with us.
Fifth, Leviticus 23 identifies the weekly Sabbath as one of the “appointed feasts” and “holy convocations” that Israel was called to observe. These “appointed feasts of the LORD” (Leviticus 23:44) were fundamentally festivals of worship unto the Lord. Leviticus 23:3 says, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places.” (Leviticus 23:3) How good it would have been for a family or an extended family or a local Israelite community to gather together in sacred assembly and offer worship to the Lord their God! Although I don’t know what Israel’s “holy convocation” looked like in weekly practice, by the time we turn to the New Testament it is evident that Jews gathered together in local synagogues every Sabbath day in order to devote themselves to the Scriptures.
Sixth, Isaiah 58:13-14 also exhorted Israel to experience joyful worship on the Sabbath day: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)
CONCLUSION OF PART 1
The Sabbath day was not to be an ordinary business day, not to be an ordinary day of plowing the fields or gathering the harvest, not to be an ordinary day of manufacturing goods or exchanging those goods in the marketplace, not to be an ordinary day of buying and selling (see Nehemiah 13:15-22). The proper Sabbath day orientation of “not going your own ways” was to set the thermostat for all of life: as God’s holy people, we are never to go our own ways, but always to go God’s ways. The Sabbath day was to be a day on which individuals and households were to be refreshed in their enjoyment of the good things that God had provided through His work and theirs; a day to be strengthened in their walk with the Lord their God; and a day to be deepened in their relationships with one another. I included this comment about the deepening of relationships, because I am assuming that households and communities would have had more opportunity to spend more substantive time with more people on the Sabbath day (since the people were not taken up with their ordinary labors), and if this assumption is correct, then surely the “love your neighbor” instructions could and should have experienced a full bloom on this weekly day of rest.
Brothers and sisters, Sabbath theology teaches us that God first calls us into His work, and afterward calls us into His rest. This wasn’t just a pattern for weekly life, but a pattern for time and eternity – for in the present time God calls us to be abundant in faithful labor in the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 15:58), and in eternity God promises to bring His faithful servants into His final and everlasting rest (see Hebrews 4:1-11).
Further, as we shall see, the fullness of Sabbath theology is fulfilled in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!
 R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the Ten Commandments. Chicago: Moody Publishes, 2009: p. 87-91. Mohler also mentions a fourth option – “The Practice of Nonobservance” – but dismisses it as “really no option at all” (p. 91).
 Ibid., p. 87.
 Ibid., p. 88.
 Ibid., p. 90.
 See “Benson Commentary” via online Bible Hub. Available online: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/exodus/31-17.htm.
 See “Matthew Poole’s Commentary” via online Bible Hub. Available online: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/exodus/31-17.htm.
 See various commentary on Leviticus 23:3 via online Bible Hub. Available online: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/leviticus/23-3.htm.