Sabbath Morning

What is it and why do we do it?

Jim Allen

Brent Peterson, author of the Full Time Christianity blog, wrote, "I've spent my entire life going to church. Every Sunday morning was like clockwork. It is arguably the most stressful morning of the week. Get the kids showered, dressed, and fed at the same time, not to mention Mom and Dad. Then load them into the minivan with smiles on their faces knowing we were once again 10-minutes late to Sunday School... The problem wasn't simply religion, it was us. If anything goes wrong (and it always did), the stress level consumed everyone. We placed so much emphasis about going to church at a set day and time, we stopped being the church." [1]

Why all the stress about getting to the church on time? Why is a commandment written so long ago so burdensome to us today? Getting ready for a worship service should be a joyful event, but when it is looked upon as a duty or a chore, it could quickly devolve into a bad experience, forcing everyone to put on their happy faces before walking through the church doors.

The fourth commandment says, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). Exactly what is the Sabbath? What does it mean to keep it holy? When did it begin, and who is it for ? While some churches teach that to miss church removes God's favor, others teach it is not a sin to miss church but that we should attend for other reasons. Is the Sabbath all about going to church to keep a commandment or is there some deeper truth about setting aside one day of the week?

What the Sabbath is Not

Believe it or not, gathering for corporate worship on Sunday morning has nothing to do with keeping the Sabbath. What we do on Sundays is a time-honored tradition of fellowship and worship, established by the early church in the first century. Believers had been coming together every day but eventually settled into a routine of assembling once a week, often for the entire day.

The word Sabbath literally refers to the seventh day (Saturday), though Acts 20:7 also says "on the first day of the week [Sunday] we came together to break bread." Traditionally, Christians have met for worship on Sundays, marking the day in remembrance of when Jesus arose to reveal His victory over death—an event which occurred on a Sunday (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Search the Bible as you might, you will not find a command for believers to meet on either Saturdays or Sundays. In fact, the apostle Paul said, "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" (Romans 14:5-6).

Of course, this truth in Romans does not diminish the importance of fellowship (Acts 2:42). We benefit from Christian community by growing in faith (Ephesians 2:19-22). We learn to depend upon and grow from each other's spiritual gifting (1 Corinthians 12). We develop a balanced approach to the biblical model of worshiping God both privately (Matthew 6:6) and corporately (Hebrews 10:25).

What the Sabbath Is

In the Old Testament, the Sabbath served as a practical reminder to the Israelites of their Egyptian slavery and the Lord's deliverance (Deuteronomy 5:15). It served as a "covenant sign" pointing Israel to a future time when the Messiah—the bread of life—would sustain believers by faith (Exodus 20:8-11; 31:13; Mark 2:27).

The Sabbath was also tethered to a holy day set aside for physical rest and spiritual worship (Exodus 20:8-11). Today, our nourishment and rest comes from knowing and remembering our daily provision and righteousness is from faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8). God nourishes the believer by the word of truth, gives victory over sin, and comforts the soul by knowing we can rest from all attempts at righteousness (Romans 3:22).

The Sabbath is a day of joyful remembrance, rest, and worship. It can be done individually or corporately on Saturday or Sunday or any other day we choose. We keep the Sabbath by looking heavenward in full expectation of the Father's inexhaustible provisions available through faith in Christ. Jesus is the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8) giving a sense of peace and freedom in Christ as we experience a holy day, often in fellowship with other believers, empowering each to serve God and others in new and vital ways.

Is the Sabbath Required?

We should keep the Sabbath not because we must but because we should deeply desire to set aside a day to focus on God. The New Testament does not focus on any particular day or time to worship Christ or to rest. Live your life as worship of Christ every day, in every moment. Accept the rest He gives and live with an attitude of gratitude and trust in Him. Follow Jesus' example of the Sabbath: fellowship with the Father, fellowship with others, and rest. Though it may be helpful to choose a particular day each week to routinely focus primarily on worship or rest, Christians are not required to follow the Old Testament laws of the Sabbath.

1. "Why I Stopped Going to Church" by Brent Peterson

Image Credit: Andrea~s; "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Lake"; Creative Commons

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Published 2-13-13