Keith Hunt - Sabbath and Service - Page Seventeen   Restitution of All Things

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Sabbath as Service

To You and to Others


                    THE SABBATH - GOOD NEWS OF SERVICE

                          Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD

     What an exciting and yet paradoxical age in which to live!
We can tune our radio and TV receivers to sound and pictures
coming from outer space or across the ocean, and yet we often
neglect to tune our souls to God and fail to hear His voice.
Scientists can explore the complexities of our solar system with
sophisticated instruments mounted on rockets, and yet many are
skeptical about the existence of the Designer of such a complex
and magnificent system. We live and move among large crowds and
yet many human beings are afflicted by a deep sense of loneliness
and anonymity. Some fly to distant exotic lands to seek for
excitement or rest and tranquillity, and yet boredom,
restlessness and anxiety remain in their inner souls. We can feed
enormous quantities of information into computers and solve most
complex problems and yet most people seem unable to find answers
to the fundamental question concerning the meaning and destiny of
their life. We can race the sun across the sky with supersonic
jets and yet we often fail to reach the needy who may live across
the street. We can dial a few numbers and talk instantly with
someone living in the farthest continent, and yet we often fail
to communicate with our closest kin: our husband, wife, parents
and children. We have learned to harness many types of natural
resources in order to ensure the comforts of modern living, and
yet our very existence is being threatened by resource depletion
and biosphere pollution. To sum it all up, one may say that
though our society has become increasingly rich in goods, it has
remained poor in the good. Wealth in knowledge, possessions and
creature comforts, has been matched by spiritual emptiness,
economic poverty, physical exhaustion, emotional frustration and
social neglect.

     What contribution can a recovery of the Biblical Sabbath
values make toward a solution to these pressing human problems?
Can the proper observance of the Sabbath help a person overcome
the sense of God's absence and experience His presence instead?
Can Sabbath worship and fellowship help those afflicted by a
sense of loneliness and anonymity to regain a sense of worth and
belonging? Does the celebration on the Sabbath of God's creative
and redemptive acts offer adequate motivation to be compassionate
toward the needy? Can the admiration of nature and the limitation
on its use contemplated by the Fourth Commandment contribute to
solving the ecological crisis? These are some of the basic
questions dealt with in this chapter. For the sake of clarity,
the study will be divided into four parts, each examining one
aspect of the service the Sabbath is designed to provide: (1)
Service to God; (2) Service to Self; (3) Service to Others; (4)
Service to Our Habitat.



     The Christian serves God every day of his life. Yet the
service he renders God during the weekdays differs from that
which he offers on the Sabbath. Why? Because during the week he
serves God while serving an employer and meeting the many demands
of life.
     The everyday service may be called the Martha type, in which
the Savior is given implicit acknowledgment while pursuing one's
obligations. The Sabbath service, on the other hand, is of the
Mary type, in which explicit and undivided attention is offered
to Christ. All secular pursuits are interrupted in order to
acknowledge the Savior as the special guest of honor. Desisting
from gainful employment in order to be available for Christ
represents in itself a meaningful act of worship. It is this act
of resting that makes all other Sabbath activities a worship
offering to God, because they spring from a soul who has
deliberately decided to honor God on His Holy Day. This means
that our study of the service offered to God on the Sabbath must
begin with a proper understanding of the act of resting itself
and then proceed to examine the manifold activities made possible
by the Sabbath rest.

1. Rest as Divine Service

A total response. 

     There is a marked tendency today to divorce the
"worship" from the "rest" content of the Sabbath day. It is
argued that since the shorter working week provides not one but
two or more days of rest, the commandment to rest on the seventh
day is no longer applicable to the needs of contemporary
Christians. Such a view fails to recognize that the Scripture
defines the Sabbath rest, as it was pointed out in chapter 3,
not merely as an anthropocentric relaxation but primarily as a
Theocentric rest. It is given to mankind (Mark 2:27) but it
belongs to Yahweh (Ex.20:10; Mark 2:28). If it were given to
mankind only to meet physical, social and economic needs, then it
would truly be a human holiday of dubious value today, since two
or more weekly days of leisure are presently available to large
segments of society. However, the focus of the Sabbath rest is
not man but God: "the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest,
holy to the Lord" (Ex.31:15; 16:23,25; 35:2; Lev.23:3). In other
words, the Sabbath rest is not merely a temporary recovery from
simply mental or physical fatigue, but a reflection of the "rest"
of God Himself (Ex.20:11), appointed to aid human beings in
regaining the Divine Image.
     God does not need the "rest" of human beings. What He
desires is that human beings recognize and accept His dominion
over their lives and time. "In keeping with this dominion," aptly
writes Franz X. Pettirsch, "the first duty of creatures endowed
with reason is to acknowledge God by sacrificing possessions and
property, time and space, work and business. Thus the day of
worship becomes more than a socio-economic regulation; it assumes
the character of a divinely inspired, profoundly religious
veneration of God." The deliberate consecration of the Sabbath
time to God is symbolic of a total response to God. It is an act
of worship which is not exhausted in an one-hour church service,
but lasts twenty-four hours. Such a totally conscious response
is not possible during the week when the mind is occupied with
pressing demands. On the Sabbath, however, by resting
specifically for God, the Christian shows his commitment of the
week days as well, when it is not possible in practice to offer
to God the same undivided and conscious acknowledgment.

A remedy for work-worship. 

     There is a constant risk that work may become an object of
veneration. The concern for production and profit on the one
hand, and the conviction that all have the right to a job, no
matter of what kind, on the other hand, can easily elevate work
to a high virtue, the very object of living.
     The merits of a deceased person are often extolled by such
comments, "He was such a hard-working man. His life has been only
work!" Such a view leads to the fatal error of deifying work,
making it the chief value for which to live. The "workoholic"
lives only for his work and comes to believe that his work
substitutes for God's care. Mistrusting God's providence, he
constantly worries concerning the security and success of his
work (Matt.6:25-33). The Sabbath rest, by placing a limit on
work, is designed to counteract this temptation to deify work. It
teaches that God is the Lord of all the work that occupies human
existence. It tells a person to do all his work in the best
possible way (Ex.20:10), but without puttin his trust in it. Why?
Because the ultimate reality is not work in itself but rest in
     Human beings were not created to produce goods for God or
for themselves or for others, but rather to rejoice in the
presence and service of God. The Sabbath rest stands as the
symbol of this noble human destiny. "Last in creation, first in
intention," the Sabbath is "the end of the creation of heaven and
earth." It teaches that the work of the six days finds its goal
and meaning in the rest of the seventh day.  This temporal rest
experience is also a prefiguration and foretaste of the eternal
rest awaiting God's people. Resting on the Sabbath then means to
recognize the meaning of work and of life itself. It means to
reject a lifestyle in which, to achieve comforts and status, one
has to submit himself to the idol called work. It means to
recognize that work is not a supreme value. It means to
acknowledge that God has a claim on all our doing. To accept His
claim, we take time out on the Sabbath to praise not the work of
our hands but God's working in, for and through our lives. It
means to take time to present to God as a worship offering the
little or great accomplishments of our weekly work.

A remedy for leisure-worship. 

     If some are tempted to deify work, perhaps even more are
inclined to make leisure a chief aspiration. The growing
availability of free time, the increased personal income coupled
with the dehumanizing effects of mechanical, boring jobs, are
some of the factors that have changed the attitude of many toward
work. For these persons work is not an end in itself but a means
to an end, a means necessary to pay for week-end leisure. They
quit the hellish work on Friday, eager to take off to some near
or distant place, there to fill their empty time with a new round
of activities. The sad reality is that usually they return to
work on Monday not fresh and blooming but faded and drooping.
Why is it that many fail to achieve the hoped-for relaxation and
regeneration of their being during their free time? An important
factor is the neglect of their inner spiritual needs and
resources. Believing that leisure, entertainment or even physical
rest per se are adequate to restore weary bodies, many seek and
pay only for the rest provided by the sanctuaries of our
materialistic society: the football field, the amusement park,
the beach, the dance-hall, the restaurant, the ski-resort, the
national park, et cetera. Such leisure or entertainment places
and activities by themselves, however, provide at best a form of
evasion, a temporary oblivion of oneself, but leave an internal
spiritual emptiness which is at the root of much exhaustion and
     True regeneration occurs when the mental, physical and
spiritual components of our being are brought into harmonious
unity. The Sabbath is a vehicle through which Christ restores
harmony to our mind, body and soul. As incisively stated by A.
Martin, "The spirituality of the Sabbath restores to man the
unity of his being, unity that constantly risks being shattered
either by the fragmented nature of work or by the fragmented
nature of leisure." Such a unity is achieved on the Sabbath
through the spiritual resources and opportunities the day
provides to understand the meaning of our work, leisure and life
itself. For the Sabbathkeeper the leisure of the seventh day is
not the supreme good (summum bonum) to be sought after at any
cost, but rather a welcome opportunity to experience a greater
good, namely, the goodness of God's creation and redemption in
wholesome activities. Some of the basic criteria to determine
suitable Sabbath activities will be considered below.

An experience of divine rest.     

     The profound religious nature of the Sabbath rest is
indicated also by its symbolic function. Human beings need
symbols which are both familiar and frequent, in order to
preserve and enrich their faith. We have just seen that resting
on the Sabbath symbolizes a total response to God, an acceptance
of His claim over our work and leisure and an offering to Him of
our total being and doing. But there is more to the symbolic
meaning of the Sabbath rest that makes it truly an act of
worship. There is also the opportunity the Sabbath rest
provides to experience by faith God's creation, redemption and
final restoration-rest. A symbol is a means of experiencing the
reality for which it stands. Our earlier study has shown that the
reality for which the Sabbath rest stands is the creation,
redemption and final restoration-rest which God offers to His
people through Christ who came to make such "rest" possible
(Matt.11:28; Luke 4:18-21). This means that the Sabbath rest is
not merely a means to recover lost energies, but primarily a
means to experience in this restless age the divine rest and
peace of salvation already available as well as a foretaste of
the greater rest and joy awaiting God's people in the kingdom of
glory. "True rest," writes Alfred Barry, "is rest in the Lord,
and such rest is unspoken worship."  Resting on the Sabbath is an
unspoken but yet a most meaningful act of worship, since it
enables the Christian to accept Christ's rest of salvation and to
anticipate the future eternal rest of worship and of communion
with God and His saints.
     Many Sunday-keeping Christians find it difficult to
appreciate the Sabbath rest as an act of worship. Why? Primarily
because from a Biblical and historical perspective they see
nothing especially sacred about their resting on Sunday. It is
generally recognized, as stated by Christopher Kiesling, a
leading Catholic liturgist, that "Sunday rest for Christians
began only in the fourth century." Since only centuries later
"was the rest of Sunday invested with religious significance,"
producing what Kiesling describes as "a somber, severe and
excessively otherworldly interpretation of Christianity," the
same author proposes "the abandonment of rest on Sunday as a
Christian practice." Kiesling's plan calls for the development of
"new styles of Christian life which would express the joy,
optimism and acceptance of creation which are characteristic of
the Christian faith, hope and love." 
     One must appreciate the problem of trying to develop a
theology and practice of Sunday rest, when the rest experience is
foreign to the original meaning of Sunday. Yet, if the need is
felt "to develop new styles of Christian life which would express
the joy, optimism and acceptance of creation," why not develop
such new life styles upon the institution of the seventh day
Sabbath, the day specifically established by God to express and
experience the joy and optimism of creation and redemption? This
proposal may sound unrealistic to many persons, especially since,
to use Kiesling's words, "Sunday rest as a Christian reality is
nearly dead, and Sunday worship is rapidly losing its grip on
     In other words, to propose a return to the observance of the
Biblical Sabbath, when many do not care about the already
existing Sunday, seems absurd. But, why are Sunday rest and
worship dying? Could a significant factor be the absence of a
Biblical and apostolic mandate for its observance? One can hardly
expect a Christian to take Sundaykeeping seriously when he is
told that the day is merely a convenient time for worship chosen
by the church and that in principle he is free from the
observance of any special day. Would not a rediscovery and
acceptance of the rich meaning and experience of the Biblical
seventh-day Sabbath provide a compelling theological conviction
to motivate genuine Christians to consecrate their Sabbath rest,
worship and recreation to God?
     Obviously not many will respond to a call to return to the
observance of God's holy Sabbath day, especially since most
people today want not a holy day to experience God's presence but
holidays to seek personal pleasures. On the other hand, one must
not overlook the fact that well over 12 million Seventh-day
Adventists, besides hundreds of thousands of Christians of other
denominations, have already responded to this call and do
joyfully celebrate the seventh day Sabbath. 

     But more important than numbers is the question, should the
Church abdicate her responsibility to proclaim a God-given
precept, because it cuts across the prevailing materialistic
concerns of our society? The mission of the Church is not to
articulate the aspirations of the majority, but to interpret and
proclaim God's revelation given through the Scriptures. Her
function is to call people to repentance, to turn from the world
back to God. This demands a change in behavior, a new
understanding of one's destiny, a restored relationship with God,
a new experience of worship. To achieve these objectives the
Church must work through institutions of which one of the most
important is the Sabbath.
     On this day the Christian is taught how to live and how to
love God, himself and others by actually practicing this life and
love for a day. He is motivated to rest, that is, to take time
out to present to God as a worship offering ("living sacrifice" -
Rom.12:1), his work, his leisure, his total being - and thus find
peace and rest in God. Is not this experience a learning tool
that is more effective than abstract sermons? And does not this
experience provide a model and a challenge for the weekdays as

2. Worship as Divine Service

     Worship has been aptly defined by Walter J. Harrelson as "an
ordered response to the appearance of the Holy in the life of
individuals and groups." Order and holiness are not only two
essential ingredients of genuine worship but constitute also the
very basic essence of the Sabbath. The holiness of the Sabbath,
as noted in chapter 3, consists in the special occasion the day
affords for the manifestation and experience of God's presence.
The order of the Sabbath can be seen in the way the day brings
order to one's life. Human beings find little satisfaction in
experiencing a confused or monotonous rhythm of time. A full and
enjoyable life requires intelligent division of time: for work,
for leisure, for learning, for worshop, for oneself and for
others. The Sabbath teaches us to properly divide between the
common and the holy in the string of days that make up our weeks,
months and years. The purpose of this division is not to enhance
the Sabbath day at the expense of the week days, but rather to
enrich them with the spiritual values and experience of the
     In a special sense the Sabbath teaches us to respond in an
orderly manner to God on His Holy Day. Such a regular response
requires a deliberate interruption of all secular activities. We
have just seen that this act of resting to honor God represents
in itself a most meaningful worship response. But how is this
Sabbath time to be ordered so that the total worship experience
of the whole day will prove to be acceptable to God and enriching
to the believer? Any attempt to formulate specific programs could
readily lead into a legalistic observance of the Sabbath which
would destroy its very spirit of freedom and joy.

     It is noteworthy that the Scriptures offer goals and
principles rather than programs or regulations. It is wisest,
therefore, to identify some of the Biblical principles relevant
to our present situation rather than arbitrarily to list specific

Divine service. 

     The Sabbath commandment offers no explicit injunction to
observe the seventh day of the week by attending a regular
religious assembly, that is, "divine service." This speaks well
for divine wisdom, since it shows awareness of the plight of
those believers who throughout the centuries would be called to
sanctify the Sabbath in isolation or to engage in works of mercy.
Moreover, one must not forget that the synagogue, which became
the public place of Sabbath worship for most Jews, developed
rather late in the history of Judaism (exilic or postexilic
time). It is presumed that synagogue services originated as an
outgrowth of Sabbath gatherings conducted in private homes (Ex.
16:29). Considering that the nucleus of the ancient Israelite
home was much larger than ours, including in most cases the
"in-laws" and servants (note the number of persons listed in the
Fourth Commandment - Deut.5:14), such home Sabbath gatherings
could well have constituted a respectable small congregation.
     Whatever may have been the origin of the Sabbath religious
assembly, there is no doubt that the "holy convocation" (Lev.
23:2), became a distinctive feature of the day. This develop ment
was presumably favored, if not encouraged, both by the
theological direction of the Sabbath, "to the Lord your God" (Ex.
20:10; Deut.5:14), and by the release from work granted on the
Sabbath to all persons. In other words, the fact that all were to
be free to honor the Lord would readily encourage a gathering
together to achieve this objective. Where these convocations
were initially held in OT times is not very clear. Probably, as
in NT times, the services were conducted in private homes at
first. 2 Kings 4:23 suggests that it was customary for some
Israelites in the 9th century B.C. to visit a prophet on the
Sabbath. Apparently a religious service was held at the prophet's
residence. We noted in the previous chapter that religious
services in the Temple were intensified on the Sabbath.
Isaiah describes worshipers assembling on the Sabbath at the
temple, though unfortunately with an unrepenting attitude (Is.
     In postexilic times, as attested by the NT and Jewish
sources, great importance was attached to the Sabbath services
conducted in the synagogue. The Christian worship service was
patterned to a large extent after that of the synagogue. The
customary attendance at the Sabbath services by Christ and the
Apostles only served to endorse the validity and value of this
corporate worship experience. The value of Sabbath worship,
however, is dependent upon the understanding the participants
have of what they are doing. Without such an understanding, the
weekly church attendance becomes empty formality. It is
imperative, therefore, to consider the function of the formal
Sabbath worship service.
     We call this worship service "formal," to distinguish it
from the "informal" worship activities that characterize the
remainder of the day.


     The primary function of the Sabbath, as already pointed out
in chapter 2, is to celebrate God's marvelous accomplishments.
This celebration acquires a heightened and formal aspect during
the Sabbath worship service, when God's people gather together to
offer God their united praise. What is it that makes communal
worship on the Sabbath such a special occasion? The answer is to
be found in the magnitude of God's achievements which are
celebrated. To celebrate means to share the joy resulting from
unusual accomplishments. Students celebrate their graduation;
players and fans celebrate the winning of a game. A father
celebrates the birth of his newborn child. A country torn by war
joyfully celebrates the signing of a peace treaty. When a great
feat is successfully achieved, it is a human desire to wish to
share the joy of the occasion with others. The Sabbath worship
service is the occasion when Christians assemble to celebrate and
rejoice over God's memorabilia: His wonderful creation, His
successful redemption of His people; and His manifold
manifestations of constant love and care.
     Some of these themes appear in Psalm 92, which is "A Song
for the Sabbath." Here the believers are invited to celebrate the
Sabbath by giving thanks, singing praises and playing the lute,
the harp and the lyre (v.3). The purpose of this joyful
celebration is to declare the Good News of God's steadfast love
and faithfulness (v.2); to praise the great works of His hands
(v.45); to acknowledge God's care and power (v.12-15)." The
celebration of God's goodness and mercy constitute the basis of
all true worship offered to God on any day of the week.

     On the Sabbath, however, such worship reaches its fullest
expression and experience. First because the day provides free
time to celebrate with heart and mind. Second, because the day
stands as the symbol of the past, present and future divine
interventions in human history: creation, redemption,
preservation and ultimate restoration. Thus, the Sabbath, by
proclaiming the glad tidings that the Lord has created us
perfectly, redeemed us completely, cares for us constantly and
will restore us ultimately, provides not only the time but also
the reasons for worshiping God. The Sabbath provides both the
time and the reasons to celebrate joyfully and gratefully the
goodness of life that God has given us.

Antidote to false worship. 

     In one sense the Bible is the story of the struggle between
true and false worship. God's summons to "put away the foreign
gods" (Gen.35:2), which occurs in the first book of the Bible, is
reiterated in different forms in all subsequent books. In
Revelation, the last book of the Bible, the summons is renewed
through the imagery of three flying angels.
     These call upon "every nation and tribe and tongue and
people" (14:6), on the one hand to renounce the perverted system
of worship promoted by "Babylon," and "the beast and its image"
(14:8-11) and on the other hand to "fear God and give him glory,
for the hour of his judgment has come," and to "worship him who
made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water"
(14:7). This solemn call to abandon false worship and to restore
true worship is presented in Revelation 14 as part of the
preparation for "the harvest of the earth" (14:15). Christ
Himself alluded to the end-time crisis concerning true worship in
His rhetorical question: "When the Son of man comes, will he find
faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8).
     Though the problem of worshiping man-made realities such as
money (Matt.6:24), power (Rev.13:8; Col.3:5), pleasure (Rom.
6:19; Titus 3:3) or even human systems of salvation (Gal.4:9),
has been present in every age, it is particularly acute in our
time. The triumph of modern science, technology and rationalistic
thinking has led many to worship human figments rather than the
Creator Himself. The mission of the Church at this time, as
portrayed effectively by the three apocalytic angels, is to
promote the true worship of "him who made heaven and earth, the
sea and the fountains of water" (Rev.14:6). The Sabbath is a
most effective vehicle through which the Church can promote the
restoration of true worship. By focusing on God's creative and
redemptive accomplishments, the Sabbath functions as an antidote
against false worship. It challenges men and women to worship not
their human achievements and ambitions, but their Creator and
Redeemer. The Church, by inviting individuals on the Sabbath to
take time out to celebrate God's past, present and future
accomplishments, challenges them to renounce their autonomy and
egocentricity and accept instead God's lordship over their life
and time.


     The Sabbath worship service is a time not only of
celebration but also of divine revelation. The two are mutually
dependent. The celebration through music, prayer and pro
clamation of God's goodness accomplished during the worship
service contributes in varying degrees to the unfolding of the
revelation of God's plan and will for human life. Such a
revelation can only be experienced when all other preoccupations
are set aside. The Sabbath worship service is in a special sense
the time when we silence the multitude of voices that entice us
to adopt new moral values (which too often are old immoral
values) in order to hear the revelation and proclamation of the
values presented in God's Word. The revelation of God which
occurs during the worship service is in a sense, as eloquently
expressed by George Elliott, "a Sinai where still the Eternal
speaks his awful but needed lessons of human duty; a Hermon where
again Jesus in transfigured glory stands before us; an Olivet
where our straining eyes catch not indistinct glimpses of the
ascended Lord." Elliott continues, noting that "on this mount of
blessing we tabernacle not now for ever, but ever leave its
radiant heights to carry something of its glory through the
work-days of the week." 
     All worship offered to God on any day has a revelatory
quality, inasmuch as it lifts the soul closer to God, awakening
the sense of His presence. However, the Sabbath worship provides
a heightened revelation of God. Why? First, because, as noted in
chapter 3, on and through this day God has promised to manifest
in a special sense His sanctifying presence. Second, because the
Sabbath rest provides the special occasion to experience God's
revelation both individually and collectively. The latter occurs
when Christians move away from familiar surroundings to join in
the communal worship experience of a church. In different places
a person interacts and responds differently. In the communal
church service, the individual is caught up in what William
Hodgkins calls a "circulatory" influence, "moving from the
congregation toward God, and through the Holy Spirit from God to
the congregation." The minister plays a vital role in this
"circulatory" and revelatory experience, since it is especially
through his preaching that God communicates to the waiting
congregation a knowledge of His saving plan and will for their
     The value of the teaching and learning function of the
communal worship service can hardly be overemphasized. The
shocking disregard for divine and human codes of conduct,
evidenced by the increasing rate of criminal and immoral acts,
demands that the Church assume its responsibility in acting as a
moral conscience for the nation. The Sabbath worship provides an
unparalleled opportunity for the Church to reveal through its
various ministries how the acceptance of the Gospel affects all
levels of human behavior. The conscience that is sensitized at
the moment of the worship service - the moment when a person is
often most responsive to God's revelation will be strengthened to
live out God's revealed principles during the pressures and
temptations of every day. Thus, the revelation received during
the worship service becomes the guidinglight and inspiration of
the working week.

     The conclusion that emerges from the first part of this
study is that both rest and worship are integral parts of the
service rendered to God on the Sabbath. We have found that the
act of resting on the Sabbath for God represents in itself an
informal but meaningful act of worship, through which the
believer expresses his commitment to God while experiencing
divine rest in his life. This rest experience makes possible the
formal celebration of God's goodness in the corporate worship
service. Such a celebration offers in turn a fresh revelation of
God's will and grace for the Christian.



     The worship that a Christian offers to God on the Sabbath
ultimately results in service to himself and to others. Why?
Basically because through the Sabbath service, the believer
instead of adding strength or power to God, enables God to
strengthen and empower his own personal life. This is made
possible especially through the time and opportunities the
Sabbath provides for personal reflection and renewal.

1. The Sabbath: A Time for Reflection

Need for reflection. 

     The lack of reflection is viewed by some analysts of our
society as a fundamental cause of our superficial and restless
culture. Human beings are born, live and die, lost in the crowd,
without understanding their true selves.


To be continued

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