Keith Hunt - Divine Rest - Page Nineteen   Restitution of All Things

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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness #19

Sabbath as Service to Others


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     After helping a believer to find God and himself, the
Sabbath helps him to find others. After aiding a person to gain a
fresh understanding and assurance of God's will and grace, the
Sabbath sends him forth to reach out to others. The Christian
faith is not an egocentric solace but rather a heterocentric
service, that is to say, it is not centered on self but on
others. The Founder of Christianity came into this world not to
enrich His personal life through an exotic vacation on Planet
Earth, but to bring "life" to needy human beings and to bring it
"abundantly" (John 10:10). Our previous study has shown that this
divine spirit of love and concern is manifested especially
through the institution of the Sabbath. God "rested" not to
strengthen Himself, but to share Himself with His creatures. By
entering on the seventh day of creation into the limitations of
human time to bless His creatures with abundant life, God
manifested His willingness to enter into human flesh to restore
the abundant life to His creatures. The incarnation of Christ
provides both a fulfillment and a fresh revelation of divine
love. By ministering, especially on the Sabbath, to physical and
spiritual human needs, the Savior revealed divine love in action.

1. Time to Share

     The celebration on the Sabbath of the blessings of God's
creative and redemptive love provides both the time and the
theological motivation to share with others the blessings
     The believer who on the Sabbath celebrates God's gracious
deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and of sin (Deut.5:15;
Luke 4:18; 13:16) is motivated and challenged to exemplify divine
love by responding to human needs. To help in remembering others,
the Sabbath commandment gives quite a lengthy list of persons
toward whom concern is to be shown on the Sabbath. These include
son, daughter, manservant, maidservant, ox, ass, cattle,
sojourner (Deut.5:14. cf. Ex.20:10; 23:12). This humanitarian
function of the Sabbath was eventually largely forgotten. For
many the observance of the day became an exercise in
self-righteousness rather than an exercise in loving service for
others. Throughout His Sabbath ministry, Christ took pains to
clarify the true intention of the commandment. To counteract
prevailing legal interpretations which restricted humanitarian
service on the Sabbath to emergency situations only, Jesus
intentionally ministered on this day to persons who
were not critically but chronically ill.
     A fitting illustration is the healing of the crippled woman
which we examined in chapter 5. The ruler of the synagogue
objected to Christ's healing because in his view such a "work
ought to be done" during the "six days ... and not on the sabbath
day" (Luke 13:14). Christ challenged such a misconception by
reminding His audience of the accepted custom of watering animals
on the Sabbath. If the daily needs of animals could be met on the
Sabbath, how much more the needs of "a daughter of Abraham whom
Satan bound for eighteen years"! Shouldn't she "be loosed from
this bond on the sabbath day?" (Luke 13:16). One can hardly fail
to note Christ's determined effort to press the Sabbath into the
service of the Gospel, making it a day to share the blessings of
salvation with others (John 9:4).

2. Time to Do Good

     The episode of the healing of the man with the withered
hand, reported by all the three Synoptics (Mark 3:1-6; Matt.
12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11), further illustrates the social function of
the Sabbath. A deputation of Scribes and Pharisees, who had
brought an invalid before Jesus, posed the testing question "Is
it lawful to heal on the sabbath?" (Matt.12:10). According to
both Mark and Luke, Christ replied first by asking a question of
principle: "Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm,
to save life or to kill?" (Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9). Note that Christ
substitutes for the verb "to heal" (therapeuein) the verb "to do
good" (agathopoiein). What is the reason for such a change?
Obviously because Christ wanted to include not one type but all
kinds of benevolent activities within the intention of the
Sabbath law. So broad an interpretation of the function of the
Sabbath finds no parallel in rabbinic concessions. In fact, some
scholars, misunderstanding the intended function of the Sabbath
which Christ endeavored to clarify, go as far as viewing such a
broad interpretation as an outright abrogation of the Fourth
Commandment. Such a conclusion fails to recognize that Christ
enunciates rhetorically the humanitarian function of the Sabbath
in reply to a specific test question concerning its proper
observance. How could Christ negate the Sabbath commandment while
trying to clarify it? 

To save or to kill? 

     According to Matthew Christ illustrated the principle of
Sabbath keeping as a time of benevolent service, by adding a
second question containing a concrete example "What man of you,
if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will
not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a
man than a sheep!" (Matt.12:11-12). Both by the question of
principle and by its illustration, Christ reveals the original
value of the Sabbath, to be a day to honor God by showing concern
and compassion for others. Unfortunately, with the accumulation
of restrictions (Mark 7:9) the observance of the day had been
reduced to a legalistic religiosity rather than an opportunity to
offer loving service to the Creator-Redeemer by serving needy
fellow beings. The believer who on the Sabbath experiences the
blessing of salvation will automatically be moved "to save" and
not "to kill" others. Christ's accusers, by failing to show
concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of others on
the Sabbath, revealed their defective understanding and
experience of God's Holy Day. Rather than celebrating God's
goodness on the Sabbath, involved in a saving ministry, they
engaged in destructive efforts, looking for faults and thinking
out methods to kill Christ (Mark 3:2-6). Ellen White perceptively
asks, "Was it better to slay upon the Sabbath, as they were
planning to do, than to heal the afflicted, as He had done? Was
it more righteous to have murder in the heart upon God's holy day
than love to all men, which finds expression in deeds of mercy?"

Understanding or misunderstanding? 

     The fundamental humanitarian value which Christ places upon
the Sabbath is expressed in Matthew with uncompromising
positiveness: "So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matt.
12:12). W. Manson aptly remarks that Christ "invalidates at one
stroke the do nothing attitude, which, under cover of the
principle of not working on the Sabbath, his contemporaries
mistook for obedience to the will of God."  Willy Rordorf, unable
to accept such a positive interpretation of the Sabbath, accuses
Matthew of "beginning the moralistic misunderstanding of Jesus'
attitude toward the Sabbath." Is it fair for a modern scholar to
charge a Gospel Writer with misunderstanding Christ's teaching
regarding the Sabbath? Even if the trustworthiness of Matthew's
report could be discredited, does not his interpretation still
represent the view of an Apostle and of his community?
Furthermore, is not Matthew's understanding of the Sabbath as a
day "to do good" (Matt.12:12) and to show "mercy" rather than
religiosity (Matt.12:7) fully shared by the other three Gospels?
In both Mark and Luke, Christ is cited as saying the same thing
by means of a rhetorical question, precisely that on the Sabbath
it is lawful "to do good" and "to save" (Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9). In
Luke, Christ is reported as saying that the Sabbath is the day to
loose human beings from physical and spiritual bonds (Luke
13:16,12). In John, Christ invites His followers to share on the
Sabbath in the divine redemptive activity (John 9:4; 5:17;
7:22-23). Therefore, the unanimous view of the Gospels is that
Christ presented the Sabbath as a time to serve God especially by
rendering loving service to human needs.
     To sanction this human value of the Sabbath, Christ
affirmed, in a memorable pronouncement, His Lordship over the
Sabbath (Mark 2:28; Matt.12:8; Luke 6:5). Having established the
Sabbath for the welfare of human beings (Mark 2:27), Christ
claimed also "the authority to determine in what manner the
Sabbath is to be kept so that God is honored and man is
benefited. Note that Christ's claim to be "Lord of the Sabbath"
is followed in all three Synoptic Gospels by the healing of the
man with the withered hand. In this healing Jesus proclaims by
words and action with unquestionable positiveness the
humanitarian function of the Sabbath. The collocation of this
story by all the three Gospels immediately after Christ's
memorable claim (Mark 2:28 and par.) provides a climactic
demonstration of how Jesus exerted His Lordship over the Sabbath,
not by annulling the Fourth Commandment but by revealing its true
intended function - a time to celebrate God's goodness and
salvation, by taking time "to do good" and "to save" others
(Matt.12:12, Mark 3:4, Luke 6:9).
     Who are the "others" that require our loving care and
concern on the Sabbath? The answer is simple. They include the
members of our immediate family as well as the needy members of
the larger human family. Let us briefly consider how the
celebration of the Sabbath can be shared with others.

3. Time for the Family

     Daily work scatters the family members in different
directions - husband and wife to their respective work and
children to school. The pressure of work will often cause us to
rob our children of our parental care, and to neglect even our
relationship with our spouse. The rest of the Sabbath day brings
us together by giving us time for God, for ourselves, for our
families and for others. To meet the demands of his work or
business, a man may have to leave home early and return late
every day, thus becoming in essence a stranger to his family
members. It is not uncommon to hear children say, "We hardly see
daddy. He is always away." But when he rests on the Sabbath, free
from the concerns of his business, then he has the opportunity to
become more fully acquainted with and attuned to his children. A
most welcome moment in our home is Friday evening, when after the
hustling and bustling of the week, our family of five gathers to
welcome the Lord of the Sabbath by singing, reading, praying and
leisurely listening to one another's concerns and experiences
that have been stored up during the week. The arrival of the
Sabbath serves to reknit the family bonds of sympathy and
     It is noteworthy that the Scriptures link together the
Sabbath and the family in several ways. Both are presented as
Edenic institutions which received a twin divine blessing (Gen.
1:28; 2:3). Both remained after the Fall as a constant reminder
of the fellowship, joy and rest of a future Paradise restored.
Both the commandment of the Sabbath and that of filial
obligations to parents are placed in sequence in the Decalogue
(Ex.20:8-12). Both commandments are presented as being related
to God's call to a life of holiness: "You shall be holy, for I
the Lord your God am holy. Every one of you shall revere his
mother and his father, and you shall keep my sabbaths" (Lev.
19:2-3). Why is the ideal of a life of holiness interrelated with
respect for parents and with Sabbath observance? Obviously,
because both of these precepts foster the spiritual quality of
life. Parents who use the Sabbath to promote the religious
education of their children will strengthen their moral
consciousness and deepen their children's commitment both to them
as parents and to God.
     To achieve this objective parents should make the Sabbath
for their children, not an alienating imposition but a delightful
celebration. A day characterized not by frustration because of
the things that cannot be done on the Sabbath but by exultation
over the blessings that can be enjoyed on this day. Ellen White
writes in this regard, "parents can make the Sabbath, as it
should be, the most joyful day of the week. They can lead their
children to regard it as a delight, the day of days, the holy of
the Lord, honorable."  The difference between gloom and gladness
on the Sabbath depends primarily on the motives for observing the
day. Parents who teach their children to observe the Sabbath as a
law that must be kept in order to go to heaven, will lead the
children to view the day like a bitter medicine that must be
swallowed in order to become well. The children will count the
hours of the Sabbath as the astronauts count the seconds
preceding the firing of their spacecraft: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4,
3, 2, l, 0, SUNSET! And they take off to some exciting activity
to burn up the energy repressed during the Sabbath. On the
contrary, parents who teach their children to observe the Sabbath
as a day to joyfully celebrate God's marvelous creation,
redemption and care over their lives, will lead them to view the
day not as a dreadful medicine but as a delicious cake. The hours
of the Sabbath will seem too short to delight in the special
food, the pleasant fellowship and the enjoyable activities.
Later, we shall consider some of the criteria for Sabbath

3. Time for One's Partner

     The Sabbath provides time and opportunities to come close to
one special person, namely, one's marital partner. We are
helplessly witnessing an ever-increasing rate of broken
marriages. The rapid pace of modern life, punctuated by differing
professional and social interests, contributes to the
estrangement between many husbands and wives. Can the Sabbath
function as a catalyst to solidify and strengthen marital
relationships? It surely can, for at least two reasons: one is
theological and the other is practical. Theologically, the
sanctity of the Sabbath serves to safeguard the sacredness of
marriage. Both institutions are ordained to express and
experience a mutual belonging relationship: the Sabbath to God
(see chapter 4) and marriage to a human partner (Gen.2:24; Matt.
19:5-6). A Christian couple who take time on the Sabbath to renew
their commitment to God will inevitably renew also their
commitment to each other.
     The Sabbath teaches that relationships, whether at a human
or divine-human level, are sacred. The Christian commitment to
God expressed especially through the consecration of the Sabbath
time to the Lord stands as the basis of all other commitments. It
is not difficult to see how a person who wilfully chooses to
disregard God on His Holy Day will also, if the occasion arises,
violate his or her marital commitment. In other words, if the
symbol of one's covenant with God is intentionally ignored, there
is little to stop a person from ignoring also the vows of
faithfulness to the marriage partner or to anyone else. The
relationship between the two is suggested in the Scripture by the
connection between apostasy and adultery. As the profanation of
the Sabbath is equated with apostasy (Ezek.20:13,21), so
unfaithfulness to the marriage vow is condemned as adultery (Ex.
20:14). That the two are interrelated is indicated by the
prophets' interchangeable use of them to describe Israel's
unfaithfulness (Jer.3:8, Ezek.23-37). Therefore, theologically,
the Sabbath can strengthen marital relationships by reminding
both husbands and wives of the sacred nature of their commitment
to God and to each other.

     Practically, the Sabbath contributes to solidify marital
relationships by providing a relaxed atmosphere in which to
experience a more intimate fellowship and interaction. The
quality of a marriage relationship depends to a large extent on
the degree of communication and understanding that exists between
the two partners. Marriage manuals generally regard the lack of
adequate communication as a major cause for the breaking down of
marriages. The Sabbath provides husbands and wives with the time
and the inspiration to come closer and listen to each other. The
spirit of the celebration of God's goodness motivates them to
give themselves unselfishly to each other. This is expressed in a
variety of ways. By sharing thoughts, concerns, joys and
necessary duties together. By walking, visiting, playing,
laughing and relaxing together. The togetherness and closeness of
body and soul that husbands and wives experience on the Sabbath
enable them to overcome any estrangement caused by the tension of
the week passed and thus to experience a renewed sense of unity
and commitment to God and to each other.

4. Time for the Needy

     The Sabbath is the day to serve God not only by taking time
to show concern for our immediate family members but also for
needy "strangers." In the various versions of the Sabbath
commandment "the stranger" (ger), sometimes called "alien" or
"sojourner," is specifically mentioned (Ex.20:10; 23:12; Deut.
5:14) as a beneficiary of the blessings of the Sabbath. The
"stranger" initially was a foreigner who lived in the land of
Israel, but in the course of time the term was used to describe a
worker or laborer or a servant. When we think of the contempt the
ancient world had toward work and workers, it is not surprising
to note the concern of the Sabbath for the outcast of the
society. Isaiah 58 provides a dramatic illustration of how true
Sabbathkeeping finds expression in social concern. The prophet
interrelates true fasting, interpreted as letting the oppressed
go free and sharing bread with the hungry (vv.6-7), with true
Sabbathkeeping, which consists in finding "delight" not in one's
own pleasures but in the Lord (vv.13-14). In the Gospels this
humanitarian function of the Sabbath is clarified and emphasized
by Christ's own words and actions.
     To celebrate the Sabbath means to reach out and share the
blessings of the day with others. In the Jewish home, an
important aspect of the preparation of the Sabbath meal was the
planning for possible visitors. Similarly in the Christian
home, the Sabbath provides the opportunity to share food and
friendship with the visitor, the orphan, the lonely, the elderly,
the estranged, and the discouraged who are present in our church
or community. During the week we often learn that a relative, a
colleague or a neighbor is physically ill or emotionally
distressed. The pressures of the working week may cause us to
neglect such needy persons. On the Sabbath, as we experience the
presence and the love of God, we are motivated to take time to
cheer the sick, to comfort the afflicted, to counsel the
distressed, to share our friendship and concern with the needy.
The service we render on the Sabbath to needy persons honors God
and enriches our lives with a sense of satisfaction and restful

5. Time for Recreation

     The Sabbath provides time for physical and spiritual
recreation. The term recreation suggests activities designed to
re-create, to restore energies. Earlier in this chapter we con-
sidered several significant opportunities offered by the Sabbath
to experience spiritual renewal. Attention must also be given to
the physical recreation of the Sabbath. Obviously, no standard
formula can be offered to ensure physical renewal to each person
on the Sabbath, since physical needs vary according to age and
profession. The physical wants of a teen-ager overflowing with
energy are likely to be quite different from those of a
middleaged bricklayer. Similarly, a farmer who works outdoors may
not seek outdoor physical recreation like an office worker who
spends the week shut in by four walls. Moreover, any attempt to
classify or specify "legitimate" Sabbath recreational activities
tends to engender legalistic attitudes and stifle the spirit of
freedom and creativity of the Sabbath. We suggest, therefore,
only three general criteria that may provide a handy norm for
determining suitable Sabbath recreational activities.

     God-centered, Sabbath recreational activities should be
first of all God-centered and not self-centered. They should
represent a celebration and rejoicing over the goodness of God's
creation and redemption. Sabbath activities should be a means of
expressing the words of Maltbie D. Babcock:

     This is my Father's world, 
     And to my listening ears, 
     All nature sings, and round me rings 
     The music of the spheres.
     This is my Father's world; 
     I rest me in the thought
     Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; 
     His hand the wonders wrought.

     Isaiah explains that Sabbath activities should not be a
means of "doing your pleasure" but rather of taking "delight in
the Lord" (58:13-14). The challenge that religious leaders and
parents face today is to educate both young and old to regard
their Sabbath recreational activities not as an end in themselves
but as a means to express delight in the Lord. We have seen that
the Sabbath is the day of the special manifestation and
experience of God's presence. This means that all the activities
of this day should contribute to cultivating an awareness of His
presence rather than detracting from it.

Freedom and Joy. 

     A second criterion for Sabbath recreational activities is
the freedom and joy they should provide. The Sabbath is a day to
celebrate the redemptive freedom offered by the Savior. Such a
spirit of freedom and joy, delighting in God's goodness, is to
permeate all Sabbath activities. The task of a religious educator
is not to name which activities are appropriate but to describe
the experience of freedom a Christian should seek in his Sabbath
activities. Sometimes the same activity can be either an
experience of freedom or of restraint.
     A Sabbath picnic, for example, can be a joyful and free
celebration of the goodness of God's creation and recreation in
Christ, if adequate preparations for it have been made before the
Sabbath and consequently everyone can freely participate in it.
On the contrary, if the food has to be obtained, or if some
persons have to spend hours preparing it, then the picnic can
become an expression of selfishness, since it inhibits the
opportunity to celebrate the Sabbath free from the pressure of
work. On the basis of this principle any form of recreation which
restricts the freedom to celebrate the Sabbath militates against
the intended function of the commandment.


     A third criterion for Sabbath activities is their recreative
nature. They should contribute not to the dissipation but to the
restoration of mental, emotional and physical energies. The
spiritual, mental and bodily renewal experienced on the Sabbath
foreshadows in a sense the fuller restoration to be experienced
at Christ's Second Coming. The Sabbath and the Second Coming
share in common not only the restoration the Savior offers to His
people but also the preparation for such an event. In other
words, the weekly preparation to meet the Savior in time on
His Holy Day is a preparation also to meet Him in space at His
Coming. It is important, therefore, to remember that Sabbath
recreation has a spiritual quality not present to the same degree
in the daily recreation. It represents the restoration that God
has accomplished and will yet realize in a greater degree in the
lives of His people. Thus any type of recreational activity that
generates an excited restlessness, or causes a "hangover" that
incapacitates a person on the following day, fails to conform to
God's intended use of the Sabbath. In determining which activity
best recreates one's total being, each person must consider his
or her personal needs. A salesman who spends his whole week
talking to people may sense the need to spend some of the free
Sabbath time alone reading, meditating, listening to music,
putting his life together again.
     On the other hand, a laboratory technician who spends the
week pretty much alone examining specimens and recording data may
sense a special need to fellowship with people, participating
perhaps in outdoor activities. 
     A single criterion per se is inadequate for determining
suitable Sabbath recreational activities. The combination of the
triple criteria of God-centered activities, freedom and joy, and
recreative nature, offers a safer guidance.

     The Sabbath as service to others shows that a fundamental
function of its celebration is to provide time, motivation and
opportunities to come close to loved ones, friends, and needy
persons. The ties of fellowship strengthened by the Sabbath often
encourage free and joyful recreation especially amid the beauties
of nature. This leads us to consider the relationship between the
celebration of the Sabbath and the Christian responsibility
toward the natural world.



1. The Ecological Crisis

Compulsion or conviction? 

     The prostitution and unbridled exploitation of the natural
resources are regarded by analysts of our time as a major threat
to the survival of life on Planet Earth. Ecological prophets are
predicting that at the very time humanity is discovering the
secrets of nature, it is also risking extinction as a result of
an environmental disaster. Educational programs, policies and
legislation are presently being promoted by those who are
concerned over the precarious ecological balance of our
environment. The committed Christian shares this concern
because he believes in the goodness of God's creation and
cooperates with Him to restore ecological harmony in the whole
created order. Such a theological conviction is indispensable for
a meaningful solution to the environmental crisis.


To be continued

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