Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”
For centuries, Christians have debated the question of Sabbath-keeping, proposing a wide range of answers, often with more heat than light. Thus, it seems almost foolish for me to think that I can responsibly address the question “Should I keep the Sabbath?” in one short devotional. Nevertheless, I want to offer some basic parameters that might help guide our thinking and practice.
First, Genesis 2:1-3 encourages all of us to consider patterning our lives after God’s example. If God rested one day after working six, wouldn’t this be a good model for us to follow?
Second, the importance of Sabbath-keeping for God’s people is reiterated in the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20:8-11, the rationale for a day of rest is the fact that “the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” The passage specifically mentions God’s resting on the seventh day after making heaven and earth as undergirding the command to keep the Sabbath.
Third, Jesus opposed a legalistic approach to Sabbath-keeping (Mark 2:23-28). Yet, he taught that, “The Sabbath was made for humankind” (Mark 2:27). It is not a rule to be followed so much as a gift to be received. As Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus affirms its value even as he points us away from neglecting its core purpose or turning it into a set of regulations.
Fourth, as Christians, we have freedom with respect to exactly how we live out the edifying rituals and traditions of our faith. In this freedom, we must seek biblical guidance as we follow our consciences and the wisdom of our Christian community. Moreover, we must not stand in judgment on those who disagree with us about matters that are not essential to Christian faith and practice. In the discussion of the Sabbath, we must extend grace and forbearance to our sisters and brothers. (See Romans 14:1-23.)
Fifth, we would be wise to learn from those who have discovered the joys of Sabbath-keeping. Moreover, we ought to pay attention to studies that commend rest for health or even as a way to increase productivity at work. However, we must not reduce the Sabbath to a mechanism for getting more done. God’s example in Genesis 2:1-3 suggests that rest means more than this. It shows that God has made us, not only for work, but also for rest.
Sixth, in the matter of Sabbath-keeping, as in other areas of discernment, we need the wisdom, counsel, teaching, and accountability of the body of Christ. This is the sort of question that is best considered in small groups, churches, mission teams, families, and other contexts of shared spiritual discernment.
So much more could be said about the Sabbath as a Christian discipline. What I have proposed here is not the last word, but, I hope, the first word in an ongoing conversation. (You can find some helpful online considerations of the Sabbath at the Theology of Work website. I have posted several helpful links here.)
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What is your experience of Sabbath observance?
What are the patterns and practices of your Christian community?
Does the idea of observing the Sabbath intrigue you? Why or why not?
What might you do this week to rest?
Gracious God, for many of us, the notion of Sabbath-keeping is foreign. It suggests old-fashioned traditionalism or constrictive legalism. Yet, your example in Genesis 2, not to mention other portions of Scripture, challenges us to consider our own patterns of work and rest. Help us, Lord, to understand more deeply what it means for us to live as your people when it comes to the matter of regular rest. May we learn from your Word, from each other, from those with traditioned wisdom, and from your indwelling Spirit. Amen.
P.S. While Mark is on vacation for two weeks in August, we are running “greatest hits” devotions from the past year. New devotions will return on August 26. This devotional was originally published on May 22, 2015.