The Spirit of the Sabbath #1
The following was written by Gregory Lincoln. At the time he was
Managing Editor of 'ACTS' magazine, which is a publication of the
General Council of the Churches of God (7th Day), 1827 W.3rd
Street, Meridian, Idaho 83642-1653. This editorial article
appeared in the November 1996 edition of ACTS. All emphasis is
" 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth...And on the seventh day God.... rested.... and God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work....' (Gen.1:1; 2:2,3).
For many who observe the Sabbath the above verses give the FOUNDATION for belief. They reveal the blessed gift that God gave to all humanity...I believe God, in His infinite wisdom, was accomplishing more than one thing when He ordained the seventh day Sabbath. There are at least THREE benefits the Sabbath would bring: ONE, REST; TWO, A MEMORIAL OF CREATION; and THREE, A SPECIAL DAY OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD. God knew that humanity would benefit from these three things. The Sabbath truly was a GIFT. However, we must remember that while the Scripture does reveal the Sabbath was made for man - for his benefit, never designed to be a burden but a blessing - the Scripture also reveals that the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord God Almighty (see Ex. 20:10a; and Mark 2:27-28). Because the seventh day is the Sabbath of God some ramifications come to mind. ONE, He sets the rules concerning its observance! (Consequently, one should be careful how that day is observed). And TWO, to tread on the Sabbath is to tread on Him to whom it belongs. In the light of these ramifications we would benefit from asking ourselves some questions. DOES GOD REALLY CARE HOW THE SEVENTH DAY IS OBSERVED? Is there such a thing as proper and improper observance? The answer lies in THOUGHTFUL REFLECTION upon the Sabbath's VERY ESSENCE - for once the purpose and true essence of the Sabbath is understood the answer to the above questions become clear.
AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY GOD.... RESTED
When God rested on the seventh day was it out of necessity?....Was He tired?.....God forbid! What a nonsensical thought (see Isa.40:28). The obvious answer is God did NOT NEED to rest. But WHY did He? The answer: To set an example for humanity! God rested because He wanted humanity to rest - pure and simple! Even before sin entered into the world, God in His infinite wisdom, knew that man would benefit from a day of rest, for God had told mankind to rule and reign upon the earth - to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth - to take the earth's resources and employ them. This would be no small job in which humanity would need a weekly rest.
When God established the Sabbath He EMPHASIZED rest. In fact, the very word 'Sabbath' can mean rest. Consequently, the principle of rest is vitally important if we are to understand HOW TO KEEP the Sabbath HOLY.
To properly observe the Sabbath humanity not only SHOULD but MUST rest. There are many practical ways this principle is lived out in our daily lives: for example, one's secular employment should be ceased on the seventh day, one's secular planning and worldly desires should take a 24 hour vacation, one's mind should be set upon the great truths of the Bible instead of the great turmoil of the world. REST, beautiful rest from the cares of this world is an important principle in receiving the blessing of the Sabbath.
As the people of God our desire should be for EVERYONE to receive the blessing of the Sabbath. This truth is REMARKABLY brought to LIGHT in the Fourth Commandment when it says, '...in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, not your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor the stranger that is within your gates' (Ex.20:10b). Remember, as a GIFT to humanity the Sabbath was and is meant for EVERYONE.
There are many practical ways we can live in harmony with this fact: for example, one should never ENCOURAGE and SUPPORT the secular work another person does on the Sabbath, one should never ASK SOMEONE ELSE TO DO WHAT THEY THEMSELVES WOULD NOT DO, one should make sure that EVERYONE IN THEIR CONTROL is resting on the Sabbath.
When Sabbath-keepers employ others to COOK and CLEAN for them by going OUT TO EAT AT A RESTAURANT on the Sabbath the above THREE principles are violated.
The first principle above is violated by such activity, for they are by their mere PRESENCE SUPPORTING and by TIPPING ENCOURAGING the worker. The second principle is violated also - for they would NEVER WORK IN THE RESTAURANT THEMSELVES but gladly accept the service of others. This is hypocrisy! Can you imagine the Sabbath-keeper telling the waitress that God's desire for her is not to work on this day? The waitress would go away completely confused, for the words send one message, but the ACTIONS send a completely different message. (This is similar to when a nurse at an abortion clinic witnesses to a mother that abortion is murder all the while assisting the doctor in the act). The third principle above is also violated for YOU CONTROL by your OWN WORDS the actions of the workers.
Of course, some will say that you are not in control of the workers at a restaurant, for you don't have complete control of them (i.e. they'll work whether you're there or not). This however is a LEGALISTIC approach and look at the fourth commandment. While it is true that the LETTER of the law speaks only to those who are within your gates, the SPIRIT of the law speaks to all those you have INFLUENCE over. And DO YOU NOT HAVE INFLUENCE OVER THE WAITRESS? If nobody came to the restaurant that day she would be influenced not to work! But you say I am only one person, not able to make a difference. But I say, just as one should vote in an election so one should vote by their actions whether or not the restaurant should be open for business as usual on the seventh day!
The principle of rest must be observed in order to receive the blessings God intended from the Sabbath. This is important because the Sabbath will lose significance as the people of God stray from the Biblical plan of observance.
Most of the time when discussing with others biblical and nonbiblical observance of the Sabbath those who hold liberal beliefs argue from the EXCEPTION rather than the RULE. Wanting to justify their behavior they look to the 'ox in the ditch,' rather than 'the herd in the field.'
I believe God has never condemned anyone for working in EMERGENCY situations on the Sabbath to pull their 'ox out of the ditch,' further, that there are many things that do require physical work on the Sabbath. There are, absolutely, exceptions. BUT exceptions will never justify treating the Sabbath as just another workday. The point is: let's not define the rule by the exceptions - let's not throw the baby out with the bath water!
The people of God must also be careful not to PUT their ox in the ditch. For example, some insist they must eat OUT on the Sabbath while on vacation, otherwise they and their family will go hungry (i.e. the ox in the ditch scenario). However, at the same time they IGNORE what God calls the Preparation Day - the sixth day of the week. How hard is it (especially in our society) to buy a Styrofoam cooler and stop at the grocery store on Friday for supplies? No way, they say, that a pain! Well, to those who say that, I say, it all boils down to HOW SERIOUS you are about the Sabbath and what God instituted it for.
OTHER ARGUMENTS EXAMINED
Sadly, from among those who claim to be proponents of the Sabbath come some of the most startling attacks against it. One such attack is the idea that the Sabbath command is for all intent and purposes IMPOSSIBLE TO KEEP.
The argument is based upon a hypothetical situation in which everybody is a Sabbath-keeper. Based on this hypothetical situation it is concluded, among other things, that Sabbath-keepers would be employed in a vast array of secular employment, for there are too many 'necessities' (i.e. absolute necessities) that can not be ceased: for example, public transportation, restaurants, electricians, utilities, etc. Basically, in reference to the principle of REST, the Sabbath would be treated like any other day - such as Sunday is treated by the majority of those who worship on Sunday.
Let's stop and examine the hypothesis upon which this argument is based. If we can assume that all are Sabbath-keepers would it be reasonable to assume that all are God's children? Why not? Let's do so for the sake of argument. So, if the United States is a nation of one hundred percent...redeemed by the Lamb, new creatures in Christ Jesus, then we can expect some mighty blessings from the Lord can we not? Of course we can!
We can assume there will be no crime, because all have Jesus as their Lord, which means no police officers are needed to protect the populace, in fact, all can be laid off permanently! Next, we could probably assume, based upon Old Testament promises, that sickness and disease would be non-existent in the United States. Obviously, all doctors and related fields would have to find employment elsewhere. Wait, wait, wait! This is absurd, is it not?! We could play hypothetical games all day long but what good will it do? We live in reality not a fantasyland. Likewise, our doctrine must be based on the Word of God - not the REASONING and HYPOTHESES of men!
Besides, even if the hypothesis were true, would not a nation of believers directed by God be able to FIND A WAY TO REST every seventh day? OF COURSE! They practically do it already! And remember, God never would have instituted the Sabbath rest if it was going to be IMPOSSIBLE to observe.
Does God really care HOW the seventh day is observed? Of course He does or He wouldn't have set it APART as SACRED! Is there such a thing as PROPER and IMPROPER observance? ABSOLUTELY! Remember, God has SET THE EXAMPLE for us and desires ALL PEOPLE to follow His example. We must live CONSISTENTLY with this truth.
My heart is saddened that so many in the church are losing sight of the biblical principles concerning and surrounding the Sabbath. It's an area of GREAT IMPORTANCE, because I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Sabbath will lose significance as the people of God stray from the biblical plan of observance. And when that happens, the people of God will miss the GREAT GIFT that God gave with a sovereign act that rang and will continue to ring throughout the ages.
I pray the church will take the necessary steps to ensure the truth of TRUE Sabbath observance. I believe a CALL TO CHANGE IN THOUGHT AND BEHAVIOR IS NEEDED IN THIS AREA.
Will you join with me in this effort to STAND FOR THE TRUTH?
I pray you will."
So ends the article by Gregory Lincoln.
I will add some personal comments from myself about Sabbath observance.
God does not lay out in His word dozens upon dozens of rules and regulation concerning Sabbath keeping. The Lord gives us LARGE BASIC teachings and principles, such as what the words of the fourth commandment state, and then such passages as Isaiah 55:6-9; 56:1-8; 58:13,14; Mark 2:27,28; and a few others. God gives us the teaching and example of Jesus Christ and HOW He observed the Sabbaths of God. We are then to take those basic fundamental and foundational instructions, and with the Spirit and mind of the Father and Christ IN us (Phil. 2:5; 2 Peter 1:3-11), we are to add to our faith, grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), understand what is the will of God (Rom.12:2; Eph.1:7-10; 5:17; 6:6; Phil.2:13; Heb.13:21; 1 Peter 4:1-2; 1 John 2:17) and DO it. This takes logic and "come let us reason together says the Lord." It takes meditation on the law of the Lord day and night as David often did throughout his life. It takes a willingness to be corrected and to be washed by the water of the Word.
We are to BECOME MATURE or PERFECT (Mat.5:48). This takes time and it takes effort, a working out of our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil.2:12,13) as God works within us to do His GOOD PLEASURE.
All this leads to correct Sabbath observance.
I, personally, even as a minister for ministerial work, will not travel more than a tank of car gas will take me on the Sabbath (unless I carry more in cans in my trunk). I do not travel by train or plane on any Sabbath, but make arrangements around the Sabbath for travelling, or I do not travel. Going to England with my father this summer (1997) and he paying for and booking my ticket, I told him the flights and travelling could not be on the Sabbath. All was arranged just fine around the Sabbath day.
My wife and I do not eat out in restaurants on the Sabbath. We make sure we have food for the Sabbath days, even if on the road, or at the festivals of the Lord somewhere. If we are so poorly organized that we have none, we either fast or wait on the Lord to have someone share their food with us. I cannot remember though this situation ever happening to us when I think about it.
We have made it a policy and principle to have no one within our control working for us on the Sabbath. If we are hiring a contractor to perform work on our house or property that will take many days to complete, they are hired only if they will not work for us during the Sabbath hours. If some refuse, we find someone who will abide by our wishes, after all we are paying them to work for us, and so we have the right to lay down conditions for being hired by us. We have never had a problem in this area.
There are certain THINGS that are continual on the Sabbath, even from God. The sun does not stop giving forth its light. The rain comes down, the air and wind is still there. The laws of nature still exist; the law of gravity does not take a rest. The Sabbath was made for MAN, not gravity, or electricity, or the phone wires, or the furnace or air conditioning.
I have no problem using electricity, the phone, air conditioning, the stove, microwave oven, or the computer on the Sabbath. Most of these are automatic at the source today. If everyone on the planet were keeping the Sabbath the world would make sure such things still operated. They would find a way you can be sure. If the electricity went out and it was not a matter of life and death, or painful hardship, then we could get by just fine without it until after the Sabbath. There are genuine "ox in the ditch" situations, they will come our way, cross our path at times, but we do not need to go out of our way looking for them, or putting the ox in the ditch ourselves.
My wife and I have for many years now made it a policy, when observing a Feast of God, and living in a Hotel, or Motel, to not have the maids working for us on any Sabbath. It is very simple, all you need to do is either hang the sign on the door handle that says "Don't Disturb" till the Sabbath is over, or tell the front desk that you do not require maid service that day. We have used both methods and never had a problem.
When going for a job interview, I have made it a policy to be up front and always tell those who are interested in hiring me, that I cannot work for them on the Sabbath hours. The Lord has always provided work for me in one way or another, our needs have always been met, and we have never had to miss a meal unless we had previously determined to fast. Sure have not had to experience what Paul went through many times in his life.
There are some who work in the MEDICAL field. The SDA church is famous for having workers in this area of life. I once attended a seminar (in a SDA church) by Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. In a question and answer session, someone asked him what he thought about Sabbath keepers working on the Sabbath in hospitals etc. His answer was very brave for a SDA setting. He said such people should not work on the Sabbath. If they were so skilled and nobody could replace them, they could be on emergency call, "ox in the ditch" call, yet they should not want to be paid for that emergency help.
I fully agree! I did not known until I worked with the Jamaican people in southern Florida (1993-95) who are Sabbath-keepers from the background of the CoG7D, that they also have large numbers of ladies (some men also) who work in the hospital, nurse, nursing home professions, and they make sure they have the Sabbath off. Of course they are available for the "ox in the ditch" situations, which really do not happen that often at all as I observed their Sabbath-keeping. I can tell you, those people LOVE the Sabbath day; it is the greatest blessing of the week to them. Their faith to observe the Sabbath and for God to provide is wonderful to behold.
There can be times when the ox is in the ditch for our neighbors and we do need to go and help them on the Sabbath. But "cutting the lawn" for them on the Sabbath, come on now, is that really an ox in the ditch, or life and death, or healing someone that Jesus only took minutes or seconds to do on the Sabbath? The problem with that idea of loving your neighbor on the Sabbath can lead them to believe that if you can cut their lawn for them, you can go grocery shopping, repair their car, fix their washing machine, shampoo their rug, do electrical work, carpentry work, and many other things for them on the Sabbath.
The child of God must use JUDGMENT and WISDOM in observing the Sabbath as it relates to unconverted friends, relatives, and neighbors. We are also to be a LIGHT to the world. We are to give and answer to every man who asks us, for the reason of the hope that lies within us. We are not to be ashamed of Jesus and what He stood for in obeying the Father's commandments. If we want to find a way out of obeying the fourth commandment, believe me, we can find it, and it will be easier than most have ever thought. And one of those ways that Satan uses is to say "well, am I not helping and serving my neighbor by doing this work on the Sabbath. Am I not showing love to them?"
Then before you know it small unimportant things (that could wait for any one of the other six days) blind the mind to the basic large commands of God in how to observe His Holy Days. Satan can even get us believing we must obtain that job, or keep this job (which would require us to work on the Sabbath) so we can provide for ourselves or our loved ones. Faith to serve and obey God is then not necessary, so the scripture that says, "We are saved by grace through faith" is not really true after all. For many, they act as though it should read: "We are saved by grace without any faith." But Paul was inspired to say it takes not only grace but also faith to be saved. And James said, "faith without works is dead, being alone." Paul also elsewhere told us that we do not make void the law through faith, but we ESTABLISH IT (Rom.3:31) and that we should not continue in sin (breaking the law - 1 John 3:4; Rom.7:7) because of grace (Rom.6:1,2).
I have known some Sunday observing people over the years, who believe Sunday is the Sabbath, and should be observed as outlined in the fourth commandment and other verses. They have been quite sincere in their belief and in their practice. They will not hesitate to tell their friends and neighbors they cannot do this or that activity or work on Sunday for them, because it is Sunday, the Lord's day, the Sabbath. I have had some say those words to me. I have seen and witnessed those people being able to judge correctly and draw the line without too much problem as to what they believe, based upon the word of God, is the way to observe the Sabbath, which yes, to them is Sunday.
Surely, we as the children of God, in the Church of God, who have been enlightened with so much truth of the Word of the Lord, should through the Holy Spirit, be able to observe the seventh day Sabbath and worship the Father "in spirit and in truth" on that day. Yes, we should be able, for "the Father seeks such to worship Him" (John 4:23).
Written May 1997
I do recommend to the reader the book by Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi called "Divine Rest for Human Restlessness" which outlines the blessings of observing the Sabbath. His address is: Biblical Perspectives, 4990 Appian Way, Berrien Springs, Michigan 49103, and USA.