Why is the Sabbath a Part of God's Law?
The 4th Commandment's Place in the Christian Life
This week we only have one question to look at and with good reason, because it is long. I know I said about a dozen times in the past several weeks that the Third Commandment is the most misunderstood of the Ten. If that is the case, and it is, then the Fourth is probably the most (to be charitable) explained away of all the statutes of God which summarize the moral law. It’s not so much that folks just ignore it whole hog. All Bible-believing Christians worship the Lord on the first day of the week. However, the reasons behind why the 4th Commandment is a forgotten treasure in the kingdom, and why, on a positive note, we set the Sabbath apart from the other days of the week are less well-understood for myriads of reasons, some we will get into this morning. The next four weeks will be taken up with explaining in more detail what practically all of Christendom until about sixty years ago agreed upon when it comes to how the Lord’s Day (not the Lord’s hour) should be sanctified.
This morning I want to take some time and give some background and surface-level reasoning on what Jehovah intends with this commandment. Another thing I hope to help us to see, not just today, but through the next several weeks, is why the sacrifices (which aren’t really a sacrifice once you think about it) those who claim Jesus as their Savior and Lord make to keep this law are worth it in the short run and the long term.
But before that let’s look at the next question of the catechism:
Q. 57. Which is the Fourth Commandment?
A. The fourth commandment is, Remember the sabbath-day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath-day and hallowed it.
All the first table commandments of the Law have in one way or another to do with worship, and this statute is no different. In fact, the second and the fourth are usually ground zero for all the wars that take place around what we are allowed to do and not allowed to do in our gatherings on Sunday morning and evening. To be sure that is what the 4th Commandment is about, however, when we restrict it to just that we miss the holistic nature of what God intends with it. First of all remember (no pun intended) that this command appears in the very beginning of the Bible. In some ways it is the second of the ten to appear in the Scriptures. Genesis 2:1-3 says:
Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Sanctified is a way of saying that the LORD has set apart the seventh day as a holy day. It is different from the other six days of the week. If it is unique than it is going to have some elements and requirements that help to mark it apart from the other days. God’s also going to have a reason for it, and we know that if it comes from our Heavenly Father, then it is a blessing not to be shunned.
It needs to be said here that the 4th Commandment is not just for Christians. It is what we call a Creation Ordinance, just like the positive call to marriage between one man and one woman. That means that the Sabbath was a part of God’s good work before the entrance of sin into the world. Honoring the day of rest was always central to helping those made in the image of God give thanks for the LORD’s act in making us. If we argue for (as we should) traditional marriage based on God’s establishing it in Creation, the Sabbath Day should go along with it. The 4th Command applies to every culture, and in every situation regardless of circumstance or place. Go back to the catechism question and look at who is covered here. Not only are you not to labor, neither is your son or daughter, or servant, or animals, or the stranger within your gates. Everyone is to be benefit from the Sabbath rest.
There is a another aspect here to the 4th commandment that flows out of our individual obedience to the law that is intended to help everyone around you. This is true of all of God’s commandments, but especially the Sabbath. It’s not just the persons themselves who gain from the day of rest, but anyone else that we might come in contact with also are blessed by the keeping of it. In other words asking someone else to do things for us, that are neither necessary nor an act of mercy, on God’s Sabbath is to violate the command. It’s the golden rule applied. How can you invite a waitress at a restaurant to church if she has to be at work in order to feed you at lunchtime while you are at worship? When Christ calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, keeping the commandment is part of fulfilling that royal law of love.
If you want to rest, why should others not be allowed to rest as well?
As we get into the other catechism questions which look over the 4th Commandment we’ll get into some more do’s and don’ts to help us think through how to honor this part of the law of God correctly, just like we do the 7th Commandment or any other.
To close out our first look at the 4th we are going to briefly touch on the change of the specific day when the law is observed. We know in the Old Testament that the Jews observed the Sabbath on Saturday. So why do Christians worship on Sunday? In the article I usually attach to the catechism lesson I’ll put one below that talks more about this at length. That being said we confess that God alone has the right to change the requirements of His law, and in the case of the Sabbath He has not “changed” any part of it, only shifting the day of observance from the day of expectation, Saturday, to the day of fulfilment, Sunday, for it was on that day that Christ was raised from the dead.
We begin our week on the Lord’s Day because He is the founder and king over all.
Here is the link:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church