My grandparents on my dad’s side were/are Seventh Day Adventists. It’s funny the different reactions I come across when I tell people. Some people think they’re a cult, some think they focus too heavily on a healthy diet, some think their regular observance of the Sabbath is weird, some people have no clue what they’re all about.
Throughout my childhood years, I had regular contact with their church. When I spent the night at their house, we’d go to service on Saturdays and then spend the remainder of the day in rest. During the service I would go with a couple of other kids into the basement Sunday School classroom where an older lady would tell us a Bible story using a flannelgraph. I loved getting dressed up for church and learning about God. It was also special time with Grandpa and Grandma. From time to time they would give me devotional books as gifts, which I would read at home. One year I even got to go with them to Church Camp.
There are a few things that I learned from this interaction with my grandparents’ faith. I learned the importance of treating your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, what it looks like to practically serve others in Christian love, and the gift that God has given us in the Sabbath. That’s what I’ll be focusing on today.
It seems like this topic is neglected somewhat in the church today. We get caught up in our mission statements and organizational goals, and lose sight of the need for rest. God is more than capable of accomplishing the work that He has planned, but we think that everything will fall apart if we step away from the work for a day. The Sabbath is a great reminder of the nature of our place in God’s overall plans. We are certainly instrumental in helping to bring about His will, but we are not indispensable. In the end, it is He who is in charge and the Great Orchestrator, not us.
There are a couple of different views on whether or not we are required to follow the OT command to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Some will say that we must obey the Ten Commandments because they are part of God’s law and it’s our role to follow His rules because they are contained in the Bible. Others will say that they are part of the old covenant of the Law that God established with the Israelites, and that since we’re under a new covenant of Faith, we don’t need to follow those old commands. I would offer a different perspective, one that takes both views into account.
Jesus fulfilled the Law when He came to earth and lived a sinless life in perfect communion and obedience to God. When He was punished for humanity’s sin, the Law was fulfilled because Jesus had lived a life that completely followed its commands. The punishment for its having been broken by humans had been laid on One who was sinless, therefore the punishment and justification could be credited to those who were truly guilty (sinners). So, we are no longer under the rule and condemnation of the Law. But we are also told that Jesus fulfilled the Law, not that He did away with it. Speaking for Himself, Jesus says in Matt. 5:17-20 (NIV),
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Quite obviously, He is not advocating throwing out God’s law with the trash. But that leaves us in a quandary. If Jesus was the only one who was able to fulfill the Law, how can we possibly hope to do the same? The answer comes in a person dying to self and allowing Jesus to live in and through him, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us how we are to fulfill the Law, and it is so simple.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.‘ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mk. 12:30-31, NIV
The Christian’s way to obeying God and fulfilling His commands is through complete love for Him and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Complete love for God will lead you to love others because they are His beloved children. Complete love for God will cause you to seek His will more and more, because you are responding in love to your Savior. When you live in complete love toward God and in close communion with Him, He will reveal His will for you. A part of His will is that you rest and take time to enjoy Him, to enjoy others, to focus on the importance of relationship, and to trust that He will carry on His work and sustain it without your help. That is my rationale for why the Sabbath should still be observed.
When we first started observing it, it seemed like a burden. We didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves. What does a person do on the Sabbath? What is permitted? While some people try to put legalistic restrictions on the Sabbath, Jesus showed us that it is actually a more flexible observance than most believe it to be. In Mark 2:27 Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” He had much more to say about the Sabbath, so feel free to research it if you like. He did not let Himself be limited by what the religious leaders thought was proper behavior for the Sabbath. Your observance of the Sabbath may end up looking different from what others or even you expect. The key is to look at Jesus’ example, consult God, and depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit in your observance.
Some activities that typically happen when observing the Sabbath are:
- attending a church service
- Bible study or reading other appropriate materials
- eating together (this can include an invitation to others outside of your own family)
- enjoying nature
- family time (watching an appropriate movie, playing a game, going on a picnic, reading together, etc.)
- service to others (sometimes this involves what others would call ‘work’, and they may judge you on this)
- sitting quietly in communion with God
- spiritual reflection
- taking a nap
The item in that list that would probably meet with the most criticism is serving others. This is where you need to be careful. Any service you perform on the Sabbath needs to be presented to you by God as a way that you can share His love with others practically. It should not be a plan that you hatched in your own mind and with your own strength, or that masquerades as spiritual piety. Be very careful about examining your own motives for serving others on the Sabbath. With that being said, God will send opportunities your way that can serve as an expression of your love for Him.
You might go visit a friend who leads a fairly shut-in existence, or somebody may need help getting their house ready for a move, or you might volunteer at a worthy charity, or you might call someone up and give them a bit of encouragement. Really, the possibilities are endless, but whatever we do, it should stem from pure motives and serve as a tangible expression of our worship of God.
Probably the biggest thing that keeps people from observing the Sabbath is the belief that they just can’t sacrifice the time. They have too much to do and too little time to do it. When you start observing the Sabbath, in faith, God will reorder your priorities and you will start to get a glimpse of those areas in your life that you have given an undue cut of your time. You will, no doubt, have to cut things out and prioritize differently. That’s not a bad thing, and it will serve to draw you closer to God’s leading and will for your life.
I’d just like to encourage you to try observing the Sabbath and see what it’s like. To give it a fair shot, commit to it for a month or longer. At the end of that time, see if God has taught you anything through the experience.
For those of you who do/have observed the Sabbath, how do you do it? What has your experience been? Has your understanding of it changed over time? I’d love to hear your thoughts!