What’s the Point of Observing the Sabbath?

There has been a bit of debate recently amongst Christian bloggers recently about whether churches that decided not to open on Christmas Day (which falls on a Sunday) have made a correct decision or not. Ben Witherington says “shame on you”, while Scot McKnight says “chill out, its not a big deal”.

Of course it was not long before we had some more general debate on the Sabbath and Sunday, with Jollyblogger arguing for an ongoing requirement to observe a Sabbath, while Jeremy Pierce disagrees.

Although I appreciate the desire of “Sabbatarians” (if that is what they are supposed to be called) to underscore the ongoing validity of all the ten commandments, I fall on Jeremy’s side of the argument. However, I believe that (perhaps in a similar way to tithing), Sabbath observence has a divine wisdom to it, and brings tremendous blessing on those who are willing to live this way.

Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man, which suggests to me that God intended to bless us with it, so, in no particular order, here are some of the benefits I can think of that it brings:

Honours God as Creator
Many of the Biblical texts about the Sabbath, link its observance strongly to the story of creation. Why do we have one day of rest in seven? Why not one in six, or two in nine? Simply by observing a rhythm of six days of work and one of rest we symbolically declare our faith in the God of Creation.

Rejects Materialism
The Sabbath was not just a day that you didn’t earn money on, but you didn’t spend it either. The only thing you might do with your money on the Sabbath was to give it away. In other words, observing a Sabbath powerfully symbolises a rejection of a culture of materialism.

Makes Space for Community Worship
Having a shared day of rest with the rest of society opens the door for worshipping together, and spending time with family. This is a great blessing for churches, as it allows for the entire church family to meet together on a Sunday. (Of course, there will always be those whose jobs require them to work on a Sunday, and churches need to be creative in working out how to include this growing number within their membership)

Guards Against Exploitation of Workers
Everyone needs rest, but in ancient cultures, a slave owner could be tempted not to ever give a day off to his workers (or working animals). The Sabbath command was universal. No one, man or animal, should be required to work more than six days in a row. Quite apart from the obvious fact that having some rest once in a while is physically good for you, the Sabbath command still serves as a reminder to employers that it is immoral to coerce your employees to work unreasonably long hours and to deny them at least one day off in a week. We should also here remember wives who look after the children seven days a week – lets make sure they get some rest too.

Encourages Diligence
The command assigns six days for work, so it would be hypocritical to enjoy a lazy Sunday ignoring important jobs left unfinished if you had been lazy during the week before. If however you have shown appropriate diligence in fulfilling your work during the six days, then you need feel no guilt as you deliberately choose to enjoy a day of rest.

Makes Extra Time for Personal Devotion
Does your life seem too full to be able to spend an hour simply in private prayer and worship, or meditating on the Scriptures? Observing a Sabbath is one way of finding extra time for reflection in a fast-paced life with an overfilled schedule.

Its good for your body
It probably is. I’m not a doctor though, so don’t take my word for it!

2 thoughts on “What’s the Point of Observing the Sabbath?

  1. Nice post, but I wonder if any of the reasons you give are biblical reasons for the Sabbath. Isn’t the sabbath about “rest” (physical, total), about giving the fields a breather, and “social justice”? (Exodus and Deuteronomy)

    Sabbath is rest; Lord’s Day is worship and fellowship. It is we who have combined them, but not the Bible.

  2. Thanks for this distinction Scot, I think that’s a helpful way to think about it. Sunday can end up being the busiest day of the week for a lot of Christians.

    A lot of Sabbatarians I know will point to passages such as Isa 58:13,14 which speaks of the blessings for those who honour God by keeping the sabbath. It is used in a similar way to many who quote Mal 3:10-12 as a justification for continuing to tithe in the New Covenant.

    Is observing a sabbath (weekly rest) and a practise of tithing (proportional giving) still a blessed way to live, even though it may not be a commanded way to live? I guess I’m still on a journey of working out exactly what I think about how various Old Testament commands and promises relate to Christians today.

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