The Sabbath Day and the Law of Love
How the Lord's Setting Aside of One Day in Seven Shows Grace to Others
I’m known for being a little bit of a one-trick pony when it comes to the 2nd and 4th commandment. Partly it comes from the fact that within our confessionally Reformed camps it is where the main points of contention lie. In this post I want to come at the 4th Command from a little bit different angle than is usually taken when discussing this part of God’s Law. In his defense of the abiding validity of the Sabbath Jesus in the second chapter of Mark He says that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Part of the point our Lord is making there is that the Lord’s Day is a gift from God not just for His covenant people, but for all of mankind. It was intended from the beginning before Adam’s fall and remains to this day to be a part of the LORD’s good pleasure for His creation. Quite often when discussing the Law of God in general we can forget that the mercy of the law applies not just for the ethic of the Christian believer, but for all of humanity as well, regardless of whether in their depraved minds they may realize that this is the case or not. Their denial does not change God’s purpose, nor the reflection of His character in the word.
In Reformed confessional theology we reckon the 4th Commandment as part of the “First Table” of the Law. While this most certainly is the case it could be said to act almost as a keystone between the two tables. After calling on the people of God to remember the Sabbath Day and to keep it Holy (i.e.- set apart from the other days of the week) you see a listing of people and animals who also should be observing the Lord’s Day. From Ex. 20:10:
In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
When considering their personal following of the command the Israelite (and later the Christian) were to reflect on its application to those around them. The cattle were to rest. The strangers were to rest. The servants were to rest. This is where you see the law of love come into play. Christ in His summary of the law testifies from Leviticus 19:18 that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. The question to be asked then is can it be remarked to be loving to make your servant (no longer the slave of the old testament day, but those working at your request at the restaurant or shopping center, etc…) miss out on their God-given time of rest? I would posit that it is not an act of love to expect those outside the camp of Christ to service your pleasure on the Lord’s Day. In causing your own foot to turn (Isaiah 58:13-14) you are in reality forcing your waitress, ticket-taker, concession worker, etc…, to turn their foot on the Sabbath Day of the LORD. So it is not just you who have violated the 4th Commandment, but the stranger within your gates has as well, and at your personal request. This also gets you into some of the applications of the 5th commandment as well, especially as it is laid out in the explanatory questions in the Shorter and Larger Catechism. What is your responsibility to your neighbor when it comes to this?
In his general epistle the apostle James talks about the law of love in a way that perfectly fits with what we are talking about, especially in regards to what Jesus is teaching the disciples about their concern for others. He says:
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
It is important for this discussion to bring into account what James says here about partiality. There is an inescapable relation to the part of the section of the 4th Commandment quoted above about the servants, strangers, and cattle. The question needs to be asked concerning how we take partiality to ourselves against the common liberty of our servants, strangers, and cattle that exists in the giving of the Sabbath Day as a creation ordinance?
Let us look at an example. When I worked at Hardee’s back in high school there were a couple nice ladies who came in every morning to make the biscuits for the day. That included Sundays. They often would not finish their work until 10:00am. Let us assume for a second that these ladies were Christians. For argument’s sake their church services began at 10:00am. How would they be able to worship the Lord their God with the other members of the flock? Well obviously they cannot. Are we not showing partiality in a negative way by using their labor to serve our bellies on our way to worship God? Our inability and/or unwillingness to prepare for the Lord’s Day (in the case of breakfast) has kept these ladies from the means of grace. Is that an example of loving your neighbor as yourself? I think the answer is pretty clear. To back up a second would you say that there would be a change if the ladies were not Christians? One of the ironies is if while waiting for your food to be served at 9:30am on the Lord’s Day morning you asked the young man at the cash register to come to worship with you to hear the words of salvation he could not because he was busy getting your coffee and breakfast sandwich ready for you. Is that a good testimony to the Second Greatest Commandment? Again, the answer is clear in regards to this.
In closing, I want to diffuse some push back. All confessional Presbyterians understand that the Sabbath command speaks of the allowance of works of necessity and mercy on the Lord’s Day. It is part of God’s good gift that first responders (Police, Fire, Ambulance), who work for our benefit, will labor on that day. It is a red herring to bring them into the discussion. What I want you to ask of yourself is if it is an act of love, in fulfillment of the First or Second Table of the Law to do things on the Holy Day set aside by God Himself from the creation of the World that neither are necessary (shopping, professional sports, going to the movies, etc…) nor merciful to your neighbor who needs that Sabbath rest and more importantly does not need any more barriers to the hearing of the Word of Life, provided by the Lord our God.
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church
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