February 12, 2022 - 4th Commandment

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Today we’re going to talk about the 4th Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.” Nowadays, in most places, there’s only about 2 days per year where almost everything shuts down: Thanksgiving and Christmas. The malls shut down, the fast food restaurants shut down, and even most gas stations shut down. Business screeches to a halt. Almost everyone goes home, to rest and reconnect with loved ones. In most places, Thanksgiving and Christmas are about as close as we ever come to a Sabbath in our modern society, except for an occasional act of God we call a “snowstorm.”


Years ago, I was pastor of a church in NW Iowa in a 4-county area where business took a drastic drop on Sundays. Grain elevators closed. Factories shut down for 24 hours. Farmers quit their field work. A major grocery store chain was open 24/6. The Wal-Mart next door stayed open, but they were losing money. A large city drug store chain bought our local drug store – to maximize the store’s profits, they started closing it down on Sunday.


Why are scenes like this so rare, outside of this area? Why is it so hard for us to obey a command from God to take a day off, to take a complete day of rest? If ever there was a law designed to set us free from slavery, it’s this one! People are fried today. People are stressed out. People are in desperate need of rest. Lots of people are so busy that even their play time leaves them exhausted. Some people have to be tied to a hospital bed to get them to take a day of total rest.


God knows that in order for us humans to keep operating at our peak performance level, we need to set aside 1 day per week to recharge physically, emotionally, and spiritually. God’s got an owner’s manual on us. That manual says that failure to recharge regularly may cause permanent damage to our body and/or soul.


God considers the principle of regular, weekly rest and renewal to be so important that God has set us a personal example for us to follow. After God gets through creating all that exists, God declares a day of rest. Why? Because God was exhausted? Because God had run out of work to do? Nope! God is practicing leadership by example. God says to each of us: “If I (as great as I am) can choose to take a day off, you have no excuse not to do the same.”


God eliminates all possible loopholes in this command. God makes it crystal clear: “I don’t want anyone working on my day off – male OR female, parents or children, slave OR free, humans or even animals. I want all work to come to a standstill!” The OT word for Sabbath means to cease, to stop, to quit doing what you’re doing. We find that word in Psalm 46: “BE STILL, and know that I am God.”


It took God approximately 1000 years to train Israel how to do this. But by the time of Jesus, the teachers of the Law had over 30 pages of rules on what a Jew could or could not do on the Sabbath. According to the rabbis, you couldn’t pick up a rock big enough to throw at a bird. You couldn’t tie a knot that could not be untied with one hand. You couldn’t sew 2 stitches or write 2 letters of a word. You couldn’t pick up any tool used for work, not even a sewing needle. You couldn’t make your bed. You couldn’t light a fire or a lamp. All cooking was forbidden after sundown Friday – you had to eat leftovers. (Even today in Israel, on the Sabbath the hotels will serve you food that has been cooked the day before and left in the oven.) No dishwashing on the Sabbath! One could assist a woman giving birth on the Sabbath only if her life was in danger. Life in jeopardy was the only excuse for breaking the Sabbath.


Jesus takes a very different approach to the Sabbath. Jesus wants to set his people free from slavery to human-made rules that had been added to God’s law to keep this day holy. Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind; humankind was not made for the Sabbath!” Jesus asks, How many of you will not untie their donkey and lead it out to water on the Sabbath?” When Jesus is criticized for healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath, Jesus asks: How many of you will not break the Sabbath to rescue one of your sheep out of a pit? Of how much more value is a human than a sheep!


But notice that even Jesus faithfully takes a day to rest and reconnect with his Heavenly Father. Jesus knew his time on earth was short and irreplaceable. Jesus knew he didn’t have time to waste. Yet we find Jesus constantly taking time off. Jesus is always getting away from the demands of the crowds for retreats with his followers. (And we can bet that Jesus wouldn’t have taken his cell phone with him.) If Jesus could take a day off from his vitally important work, we can do the same.


Jesus’ followers echo his attitude of freedom toward the Sabbath. So does Martin Luther. Luther believed that attention to the word of God was what makes the Sabbath holy. Luther taught that believers were free to do their work if they had worshipped God and studied God’s word. In the Reformed tradition, the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes that “hearing the word of God” and “Christian service to those in need” are what the 4th Commandment requires rather than avoiding labor on the Lord’s Day.


Jesus wanted to set people free from rules that did more harm than good. Today we have the opposite problem. Today, I believe Jesus would be trying to set us free from slavery to our work. Some people aren’t happy unless they can give you a long list of complaints about how busy they are (the old “Bellyache and Brag” syndrome). Some of us are afraid we’ll lose our sense of worth if we’re not busy making ourselves useful. Some of us are afraid that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. Some would say, “I can’t afford to take a day off!” They are afraid to trust in God’s power to provide.


Colin Powell insisted that his staff at the State Department get a life outside the office. He insisted that his workers take time off to “come up for air.” Powell told his staff, “I don’t have to prove to anyone that I can work 16 hours a day, if I can get it done in 8. If I’m looking for you at 7:30 at night and you’re not in your office, I’ll consider you a wise person. Anybody who is logging hours to impress me, you are wasting your time.”


Why does God say we need a day off? The answer is because: 1. We need to rest, and 2. We need to reconnect with God. If you are not regularly experiencing a hunger for worship, chances are that you are like the starving person who’s been without food so long that you no longer feel any hunger pains. You worship God while golfing? What did you hear from God?


How shall we observe God’s day of rest? 1. Worship God. 2. Lay aside any labor that keeps the Lord’s Day from being a day of physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal. The Lord’s Day is a day for us to worship God. It is a day to study God’s word, a day to cease from our labors and gather together for some encouragement in our faith, a day for each of us to seek God in prayer. (Work, busyness, and noise can keep us from hearing the voice of God.) Hebrews 10:25 urges us, “Do not neglect to meet together” (tested to the max over the last 2 years!).


God’s holy day should be a day of relaxation, a day of fun, a day to rejuvenate our spirits. Try to keep your Sabbath from becoming a day when you do all the chores you didn’t have time for on Saturday. If it’s not relaxing, don’t do it! That’s why I refuse to mow the lawn or do house or car maintenance on Sunday. Those are NOT relaxing for me!


Also, keep in mind that whatever business we do on Sunday (such as shopping or buying gas or eating out) keeps others from enjoying God’s day of rest by requiring them to stay on the job to serve us. Like the folks back where I served in NW Iowa, I try to make it unprofitable for businesses to stay open on Sunday, by drastically limiting the amount of business I do on that day. I applaud the courage of companies like Hobby Lobby, Chick-Fil-A, and Costa Vida who close on Sundays for the benefit of their employees. They’ve got an edge in the labor market. Wouldn’t you rather work for someone who isn’t going to make you give up God’s day of rest?


Some folks have jobs where the need for their labor doesn’t stop on Sunday, such as police, nurses, and utility workers. We need to help them find time for their worship and rest whenever and however much they can get. We also need to figure out how to give busy church volunteers a break, and how to give mothers with small children the Sabbath rest they deserve.


Each of us needs time to reconnect with God, not only in weekly worship, but also in our own personal quiet time. Pastor Eugene Peterson talks about how he used to take Mondays to take a long, quiet, restful walk in the woods with just his wife and a sack lunch, a time to stop talking and listen to the voice of God all around him.


Making time for our Sabbath is a major challenge. The world’s demands will swallow up our time, unless we give God the priority share of our time. The boss will offer to pay you double time. We will always find more chores to do. We will always find it more convenient to go to the store on Sunday rather than to wait for Monday. We will always have endless appeals for our volunteer help. I don’t want to see even the church become a demand on people’s time that deprives them of a day of rest. People say No to the church because they’re already worn out and maxed out in their schedules. But I have a hunch that if people say No to other time demands during the week, they may have more time to give to God when they are needed.


God knows that for us to function at our best over the long haul, we need to get off the endless treadmill of labor. Research shows that after about 40 hours of work, mistakes increase, and morale and concentration begin to fall. Even health begins to suffer. People who don’t know when to stop are major candidates for heart attack and stroke.


Pastor Bill Hybels points out that it’s more than just our bodies that need a break. Our emotions also need a change of pace. Workers get tired of too many phone calls and too many demands. They get weary of meetings, memos, chores, repairs, reports, and deadlines. After too long on the job, they start making bad decisions (which can hurt your bottom line), they get short tempered (which can hurt relationships), and everyone else can tell they need precisely what God says they need: a break.


Hybels says, “God knows that if we work 7 days a week, week after week, we’ll begin to lose perspective on the true meaning of life. We’ll get to the point where all we care about are bigger barns, more deals, and higher yields. We’ll be worn out physically, burned out emotionally, and out of touch with spiritual realities. We’ll be caught in a downward spiral that weakens our marriages, our families, our friendships, our health, and even our moral convictions.”


“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” God wants to give us a break. Does that sound like a burdensome command? It doesn’t have to be. Yes, it’s a virtue to work hard. It’s also a virtue to knock off work when God commands us to. God knows that we have to recharge regularly. God wants this day to be a day of physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal. We owe it to God and to ourselves to accept this gift from God.


What about the question of which day of the week we keep holy to God? Does God make that issue an issue of salvation or obedience? Some believe passionately that we must observe Saturday, the seventh day, the one Israel observed, which is the day God commanded in the Law of Moses. They would ask, “On what grounds do we trade away the day God originally commanded in order to worship on Sunday?” Are we not flouting God’s word by doing so?


Early followers of Jesus worshipped on both Saturday and Sunday, which they referred to as “the Lord’s Day,” the day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead. What better day to worship? When the apostle Paul writes his letter to the church at Rome, the issue had already become a matter for debate. In Romans 14:5, Paul writes, “One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully convinced in his own mind.” That does not sound like an issue of life or death according to Paul. Romans 14:5 does not sound like God treats which day we honor as our Sabbath as a question of flagrant disobedience.


Believers in the city of Colossae had people who demanded them to observe kosher food laws and Jewish holy days, including the seventh-day Sabbath. Paul urges them in Colossians 2:16-17, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come.” Paul tells the Colossians “Don’t let them condemn you about whether you worship on the Sabbath or not.”


In Revelation 1:10, John says he sees his opening vision of Jesus on “the Lord’s Day.” The Greek word John uses, kyriakÄ“, is also used to mean Sunday in Didache 14:1 and Ignatius, in Magnesians 9:1. Here at the beginning of the second century AD, Ignatius contrasts those who worship on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) with sabbatizontes (literally “Sabbath-izers” or those who worship on the Jewish Sabbath). Those who insist on a seventh-day Sabbath usually also insist on kosher food laws and other Jewish practices that the NT clearly teaches to be optional.


Paul’s bottom line on what day to honor as the Sabbath by keeping it holy is: “Let every man be fully convinced in his own mind.” That’s pretty unusual language, if worshipping on the wrong day is a major sin against God.


Next time, we’ll be taking a look at God’s command to honor our father and mother. What all is required by that commandment? Must we do everything that our parents tell us to do, even if they order us to do evil? What if our parents are downright dishonorable? How old must we be before we are exempted from strict obedience to our parents’ wishes? How do we honor our parents when we become the caregivers? And what happens to a child who grows up never learning how to obey their parents or any kind of authority? We’ll talk about these questions next time on Biblical Words and World!


This weekend marks one full year since we began broadcasting Biblical Words and World. It all began 44 years ago, when I first felt God calling me to serve as a pastor in Utah. I began to eagerly prepare for that calling. I was like a missionary preparing to serve in the Muslim world, studying the theology and culture of the area. But for 43 years, God never opened the door for me to pastor a Protestant church in your area. Instead, I pastored for over 30 years in Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois, plus I earned a Ph.D. in Biblical studies and served as a professor of Biblical languages and literature at a classical Christian college in southern IL.


Then just over a year ago, Russ East, the station manager here in Utah, asked me if I would consider doing a weekly radio program. At first I said no; I had no idea how I could make that work. But then a few weeks later, Russ asked me again. All of a sudden, it came to me: Is this the ministry that God has been calling me to and preparing me to do for the past 43 years? If it is, I said, then God’s going to have to provide the programming plan, the funding, the tax deductible ministry partner, and the studio. Amazingly, God quickly provided every one of those needs. So here we are! What I always thought that God was calling me to do from a Western pulpit, God now has me doing on the airwaves of KUTR. I am amazed at how God has called me to do this program and what God is doing. And who knows? God may still call me to pastor a church in your area. Maybe you know a church that would be interested.


I would love to find out more about you, the folks who listen to this broadcast. Please, send me an email at g.thomas.hobson@gmail.com. Just tell me what town you’re listening from. I promise you I won’t put you on a mailing list. I’d especially like to hear from you if you are in Nephi, Moroni, Snowville, Morgan, Idaho, or western Wyoming.