How to Keep the Sabbath HOLY

Purpose of the Sabbath

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. We should keep the Sabbath holy unto the Creator who made it for us. How should we keep the Sabbath HOLY?

Only those who continue to obey God's command to keep the Sabbath will finally enter the glorious "rest" of God's Kingdom and receive the gift of eternal, spiritual life! Keeping, or not keeping, God's Sabbath reveals our attitude. Keeping the Sabbaths shows that we are willing to forsake our own thoughts for periods of time specified by God. It shows a willingness to learn, study, think and meditate on the really important things. Sabbath-keeping shows an attitude of simple obedience. It is a test of our attitude, revealing whether we really want to obey and depend upon God and receive His Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the Sabbath is to rest from physical labor and to worship God. On His Holy Day, we can forget our daily routine and draw closer to the Creator God in study, meditation, and prayer, and have a foretaste of our glorious future eternal rest. By thinking upon God, the purpose of human existence, God's revealed laws of life and God's plan for mankind, we add great strength and meaning to our life. The Sabbath is truly one of the greatest blessings God has bestowed upon mankind. When we keep the Sabbath day, we show faith and belief in God's promise of a future eternal rest with a glorified spiritual body in the Kingdom of God. By resting on the Sabbath, we are actually "acting out" the Kingdom of God and what it will be like to be Sons of God in His Kingdom.

God, from the very beginning, set one-seventh of man's time to the honoring of the great work of creation which God is bringing about within man. (See Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, Lessons 27 and 28.) "When you have properly worshipped God on the Sabbath and studied His word and its application, and then put it into daily use and on the Sabbath Day too, then you will have God's Sabbath sign in the true and saving sense. You will be prepared to enter God's Kingdom as a priest and ruler, and, of course, God will save you and give you an efficient restful body for service in His eternal Kingdom" (Lesson 28, page 11).

Sabbath-Keeping Confusion

The Jewish Pharisees in Jesus' day had added many do's and don'ts to the Sabbath law. Jesus did not agree with all their restrictions. His healing miracles on the Sabbath seem to show that the Messiah went out of His way to show the Jews how wrong they were in Sabbath observance.

In "breaking" the man-made Sabbath restrictions of the Pharisees, did Jesus thereby tell us that there are NO restrictions on the Sabbath? Did He tell us that man may do as he pleases on the Sabbath? By no means! Let us examine the Bible teachings of how to keep the Sabbath, and apply these principles to modern day circumstances.

Literature from Sabbath-keeping Messianic groups is mainly concerned with proving the Sabbath rather than showing how to keep the Sabbath. In an effort to avoid the Pharisaical approach of petty laws, modern day Sabbath-keepers give few positive statements of Sabbath-keeping. In fact, they often claim that there are no Biblical "do's and don'ts" about the Sabbath. This is not so, for there are many Bible guidelines. By learning the Bible principles of Sabbath-keeping, we answer most of the questions about the application of the Sabbath, thus eliminating confusion.

Principles of Sabbath-Keeping 101

Imagine you are taking a college course in Sabbath-keeping. You have before you the textbook, the Bible, and the appropriate sections marked that relate to the Sabbath (see "Why the Sabbath Is Important," earlier in this series on Biblical Holy Days).

These are the Bible principles of Sabbath-keeping:

(1) The Sabbath is a day to cease our creating, working with the creation, and appreciate what God has done in the world and is doing in us, Genesis 2.

(2) The Sabbath is a day to realize that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

(3) Heavy food preparation is to be done on the day before the Sabbath so that there is no baking or heavy cooking on the Sabbath, Exodus 16.

(4) We should not do any servile work on the Sabbath. This includes our entire family, even our servants and beasts of burden and strangers who live among us, Exodus 20and Deuteronomy 5.

(5) We are not to kindle fires for industrial purposes on the Sabbath, Exodus 35. The Eternal's intent is to allow us to be free to rejoice and rest on the Sabbath, unburdened by routine physical responsibilities.

(6) The Sabbath is an holy convocation. We should meet with others in worship if at all possible, Leviticus 23. We should read the Bible aloud, study God's laws and statutes, Nehemiah 8, Luke 4, Acts 13. Staying at home is not a Biblical Sabbath rule. In Exodus 16:29, God said, "abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." This refers to going outside the camp to gather manna, to do physical work of gathering food. It is not a general prohibition against leaving one's abode on the Sabbath.

(7) Gathering sticks on the Sabbath is breaking the Sabbath, Numbers 15.

(8) The Sabbath should be a day of delight and rejoicing, a day which we forsake our thoughts and think God's thoughts, Isaiah 56, 58.

(9) We are not to do unnecessary work on the Sabbath, such as carrying burdens, Jeremiah 17, so we can be free to rest and worship the Creator.

(10) We are not to buy or sell on the Sabbath, Nehemiah 13.

(11) In following the Savior's example, we should do good on the Sabbath, visit and comfort the sick, contact people and serve them, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. We should do spiritual work on the Sabbath, serving others, John 5.

(12) We can pluck a few ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath, but not harvest the whole crop, Matthew 12, Mark 2.

(13) The Sabbath is a time of prayer, Acts 16:13.

(14) The Sabbath is a time to reason with others about spiritual principles, and for ministers to teach the word of God, Acts 17:2, 18:4, 11.

(15) The Sabbath is a time of healing, Matthew 12, Mark 1, 3, Luke 13, 14, John 5.

(16) Singing is a part of Sabbath worship, Ephesians 5:19-20, Colossians 3:16, Psalms 33:1-3, 92:1-4, 95:1-7, 96:1-3, and 98:1-9. Psalms 92 is called the "Sabbath Psalm" and it speaks of singing on the Sabbath.

These basic Sabbath principles show that the Bible does specify many Sabbath "do's and don'ts."

Jewish Sabbath Rules

Looking to the history of Sabbath-keeping, we find that the Jewish Talmud specified 39 main categories of work prohibited on the Sabbath. Writing more than one letter of the alphabet was prohibited. Practicing medicine was not allowed, unless life was endangered. Hence, a man with a toothache could rinse his mouth with vinegar on the Sabbath, as long as he and swallowed it (that was eating); but he could not rinse his mouth then spit out the vinegar (that was practicing medicine). Precepts prohibiting Sabbath work are suspended in case of danger to life. "It is better to profane one Sabbath for the sake of making possible the observance of many Sabbaths" (Yoma, 85b).

There are also positive duties of Sabbath observance for the Jew: Wear one's best clothes. Rejoice. Eat at least three meals during the day. Read the Kiddush, a special blessing of sanctification before the evening meal. Read the Pentateuch in synagogue service (the Sidroth) and the prophets (Haftarah). Read a special blessing at the end of the Sabbath, the Havdalah, emphasizing the separation and distinction between the Sabbath and weekdays.

Josephus wrote, "And the seventh day we set apart from labour; it is dedicated to the learning of our customs and laws, we thinking it proper to reflect on them, as well as on any [good] thing else, in order to our avoiding of sin" (Antiquities of the Jews, 16:2:3.)

Down through the ages, "More than the Jew kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept the Jew" by making them a cohesive people who knew their God. Abraham ibn Ezra (12th Century) said, "I keep the Sabbath, God keeps me; it is a sign between Him and me."

Ultra Orthodox Jews still keep the strictly legalistic Jewish Sabbath regulations. In Jerusalem, Israel today, only about 30% of the Jewish population of 340,000 strictly observes the Sabbath.

According to a 1987 Associated Press story, here is how an ultra Orthodox Jew observes the Sabbath: Before the Jerusalem Sabbath siren wails at sundown Friday night, Orthodox Jews unscrew the light bulbs in their refrigerators so as not to inadvertently turn them on and violate the Sabbath. They turn off their water heaters. They hide money because it is a reminder of daily labor instead of divine rest. They cut their toilet paper in advance because ripping it would violate religious regulations. They light tall white candles moments before sundown because striking a match is banned during the Sabbath. These are some of the acts prohibited during the Sabbath: taking a bath, opening an umbrella, touching a pen (because they feel writing is work). Strict but complicated "carrying laws" govern what objects may be lifted and how far they may be moved.

Much of the Sabbath is spent in three long ritual meals, usually shared with friends who arrive on foot and interrupted frequently by blessings and ancient Hebrew songs. Each meal begins with bread seasoned heavily with salt, which all must eat to remind them of coming out of Egypt with Moses. Cooking is forbidden. Pre-cooked food is kept warm by turning a burner on low before the Sabbath and covering it with a copper plate that stays hot.

Games are permitted during the Sabbath but restricted. "Fish" a card game of making pairs, is preferable to "Monopoly" which requires use of play money. Even conversation is regulated. Topics of work, politics or commerce are banned. Yitzhak Wexler, a Orthodox Jew, says, "The Sabbath celebration following six days of work is an inalterable contract with God. Either we keep the contract as God commands, or we lose the Jerusalem He gave us."

Orthodox Jews strictly limit travel on the Sabbath. Unless one lives within the prescribed allowed walking distance, he cannot attend synagogue services.

Many of these regulations are well intentioned but carried to the extreme. The Savior condemned the Scribes and Pharisees for their picayunish view of the Sabbath, when they ignored the big picture, Mark 7:1-13.

A "Sabbath Day's Journey"

How much travel is allowed on the Sabbath? Jesus told us to pray that our fleeing would not be on the Sabbath, Matthew 24:20.

Jews defined a "Sabbath day's journey" as 2,000 cubits (about 1,000 yards) beyond the city walls. The Mount of Olives was about a Sabbath days journey from Jerusalem, Acts 1:12. In Exodus 16:29, God told the Israelites not to go out of their places on the seventh day. The 2,000 cubit limit was conjectured from the space to be kept between the ark and the people, Joshua 3:4, and the circumference outside the walls of the Levitical cities to be counted as their suburbs, Numbers 35:5.

The "Sabbath day's journey" being 2,000 cubits outside the city walls is not a law of God, but an interpretation or tradition of the Jews. Today some may have to travel long distances in order to fellowship with brethren on Sabbath worship services. Nevertheless, the principle is that unnecessary travel is not consistent with Sabbath rest.

Ox in the Ditch

In Luke 14:5, Jesus said, "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day?"

From this, many have argued that their job was an ox in the ditch because their employer required them to work on the Sabbath or they would lose their job and be unable to support their family. Or some less liberal would say that an occasional "emergency" on the job might require them to work on the Sabbath.

To avoid losing their jobs, some have gone ahead and worked on the Sabbath and given the whole day's pay as an offering. However, "Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams," I Samuel 15:22. God doesn't want sacrifice and offerings as much as sincere trusting obedience!

How often do "ox in the ditch" emergencies occur. The ox and the ass are surefooted creatures. Someday our family hopes to ride donkeys down to the bottom of Grand Canyon. We will be literally entrusting our lives to surefooted donkeys, that they will not fall off the edge. The odds against oxen and donkeys falling into the ditch on a regular basis are very high. A farmer could go through a whole lifetime and count on one hand the times he had to pull cattle or burros out of the ditch. Since the Sabbath is one day in seven, the odds are at least seven to one against these instances falling on the Sabbath. Use of the "ox in the ditch" principle should be rare indeed!

The principle of the ox in the ditch includes such genuine emergencies such as personal injuries, burning houses, power failures, accidents and other occurrences which would entail injury, loss of life or personal property. It does NOT include circumstances when a person pushes his ox into the ditch by not properly preparing for the Sabbath. Nor does it include harvesting or plowing on the Sabbath (see Exodus 34:21). A veterinarian once used the "ox in the ditch" principle to justify conducting his normal business on the Sabbath. This is NOT proper. The Savior did not look for people to heal on the Sabbath.

Of the last days, following the abomination of desolation, Jesus said in Matthew 24:20, "But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day." This is proof that the Sabbath would not be done away, even to the time of the end. An emergency flight, while not strictly prohibited, would not be in keeping with God's purpose for the Sabbath, as a day of rest, worship and rejuvenation.

Example of the Messiah

On the Sabbath, Jesus DID NOT:

-- sleep until 10:00 A.M.

-- stay by Himself and pray and study all day

-- prepare a large meal

-- buy or sell, or go on a long trip.

On the Sabbath, Jesus DID:

--attend worship services, where He read and expounded Scriptures

-- pray to His Heavenly Father and study the Bible

-- take a walk through corn fields and appreciated God's creation

-- heal people and tend to their physical and spiritual needs.

What Should We DO on the Sabbath?

People legitimately want to know which activities are appropriate or inappropriate on the Sabbath. Should the Sabbath be viewed and observed primarily as a time of inactivity?

The intent behind our action or inaction is the important thing with the Eternal. The Savior, as we have seen, spent the Sabbath not in restful relaxation but in active service to others. Thus we see that the Sabbath should be viewed as a day of special activities rather than of inactivity.

People are different and have different physical needs. "Resting" on the Sabbath could mean different things to a lumberjack and an office worker, or to an older person and a youth.

Sabbath-keepers sometimes neglect to recognize that their children have different needs than adults. Sitting long hours may be a burden to children. Yes, children should be taught to sit still and listen to the adults talk about the Bible and spiritual matters. However, parents should spend quality time with their children on the Sabbath, to ensure that it is a day of delight for them too.

Samuele Bacchiocchi in his book, The Sabbath of the New Testament, page 228-231, gives three guidelines for determining suitable Sabbath activities:

(1) Sabbath activities should be God-centered rather than self-centered. Any recreational activity should not be an end in itself, but as a means to express delight in the Lord. Playing a Bible game to see who can score the most points in a competitive spirit is selfish. The challenge is not only to choose the proper Sabbath activities, but also to engage in them in a way that will contribute to honoring the Eternal.

(2) Sabbath activities should ensure the freedom and joy of everybody. A good example is a Sabbath afternoon picnic. This activity can be a time of joy for everyone, if adequate preparations have been made before the beginning of the Sabbath. On the other hand, if some persons have to spend a long time during the Sabbath preparing the food, then it deprives them of the joy of the Sabbath and this is not right.

(3) A third guideline to selecting proper Sabbath activities is that they should contribute to our mental, emotional and physical renewal, not create exhaustion or dissipation. After the Sabbath is over, you should be mentally and physically recharged to face another work week.

Truly, everyone can experience the joys of the Sabbath by following these overall guidelines.

How People of All Ages

Can Keep the Sabbath

Children: Dress up, play games with the family, listen to Bible Stories, ask questions on Bible from their parents, not play with neighborhood friends, not engage in competitive sports.

Teenagers: Dress up, play family Bible games, read the Bible, listen to family Bible Studies, answer and ask Bible questions, put school work behind them, not work on homework, not engage in school sports nor activities with non-believing friends.

Adults: Put work behind them, no housework, cleaning, ironing, washing, heavy cooking. Dress up, take the family to Sabbath services if available, otherwise conduct a Family Bible Study and prayer time. Take a Sabbath drive and/or walk in a beautiful place. No buying or selling. Spend time with the family! Visit the elderly. Read.

Elderly: Invite young people over. Write letters, Go on a walk. Read. Do some physical activity in God's creation.

Examples of Sabbath-Breaking

"More people reject the Sabbath because of the unsatisfactory Sabbath observance of Sabbatarians than for any other reason . . . . A non-propagating faith in the Sabbath is a dying or dead faith." (Herbert Saunders in Sabbath Sentinel, June 1978, pp. 7,9.)

If we are to keep the Sabbath, we had better really keep it, and not pollute it. Also, we must spread the Sabbath truth to others or we will lose it.

The Bible gives several specific examples of Sabbath breaking. The man who defiantly gathered sticks on the Sabbath, Numbers 15:32-36. Buying or selling on the Sabbath, Nehemiah 10:29, 31 and 13:32-36.

In Amos 8:5, some carnal minded Israelites couldn't wait for the Sabbath to end, so they could get back to getting things done: "Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat . . . falsifying the balances by deceit?" Anyone who counts down the hours and minutes of the Sabbath, feeling that the Sabbath is a burden, has missed the whole purpose and intend of God's Holy Day. The Sabbath is not a day of can'ts and dont's, but a day of delight.

Jewish Maccabees such as Mattathias broke the Sabbath. They decided "Whosoever shall come against us to battle on the Sabbath day we shall fight against him and we shall in no wise all die." The Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 19a says that in war, Sabbath laws are suspended. Carnal warfare is condemned by God, but these Sabbath-breaking Jews had totally departed from Him.

The Worldwide Church of God, as Joseph Hopkins noted, has "a more relaxed approach to the Sabbath" than they used to (Christianity Today, April 1, 1977). The Worldwide Church has allowed contractors to work at Ambassador College, Big Sandy, Texas on the Sabbath, as I personally observed in 1972. The excuse given was that the church had no control over the contractors, and it was the contractor's responsibility when to complete the job. In reality, with a multitude of companies vying for a contract, it is easy for the manager to stipulate no Sabbath work in the contract. After all, he is paying the bill!

In early 1974, the Ambassador Auditorium was in its final stages of construction, and was behind schedule. The church's leader ordered the contractors to work on the Sabbath in order to complete the building by the desired time.

Money, a root of evil, has led some groups to break the Sabbath. Rather than just collect money on the Sabbath, they have spent a great deal of work processing tithes and offerings and depositing them in the bank! One year I was Assistant Treasurer for a Feast of Tabernacles site at Jekyll Island, Georgia. There were eight to ten thousand people present. On the Holy Day, as usual, a collection was taken up during the morning service. As part of my responsibilities, I had to immediately leave with garbage cans full of money to a large back room of a building in town. A team of many dozens of church members opened the envelopes, stamped the checks, counted the paper money and coins, and filled out bank deposit slips. This took several hours of hard work, so we missed the afternoon service. When the money was all counted and ready for deposit, myself and the chief treasurer took it to a local bank. The bank officials were amazed to see such a large deposit of about $100,000. All this work we did on the Sabbath. It could have been done the next day after the annual Sabbath. However, the church organization didn't want to lose a single day's worth of interest. So we, like dumb sheep, obeyed and broke God's Holy Sabbath! I later came to my senses and repented of this gross Sabbath breaking.

A personal friend, a church deacon, had a teenage son who wanted to play a little league baseball game on the Sabbath. He took the son to the game, and justified it by saying that God would use the situation to teach his son a lesson by causing him to lose the game! This deacon failed to realize that God doesn't work that way, and that parents are responsible for their children living at home to observe the Sabbath.

Ronald L. Dart, in the Spring 1987 Twentieth Century Watch, article, "Keeping the Sabbath Holy," p. 10, said, "There is nothing in the fourth commandment to prohibit money or goods changing hands on the Sabbath." He says that the example against this in Nehemiah is a narrow judgment for that day only. The truth is, money is the result of work. Money is wages, labor turned into currency. Nehemiah 13:15-22 is a living principle for all time. If we keep God's Sabbath holy, we will not pollute God's Holy Day in such manner. When you buy gasoline, food or other items, unless it is an "ox in the ditch," you force someone else to work, which is a direct violation of the Fourth Commandment.

To be fair, Mr. Dart's article does have some good points. He shows clearly how wrong the Pharisees were in that they could see no difference between plucking a couple heads of grain and harvesting acres, or between carrying one's bed roll and lugging a heavy burden of wares to sell. A simple human need like hunger CAN take precedence over the fourth commandment. The difference is intent. "One man might have gone out to collect sticks on the Sabbath to build fire to keep warm after a sudden [unexpected] cold snap -- this man might have gone unpunished while another man who performed exactly the same act might have been stoned. One was reluctantly working to meet a human need, and the other was arrogantly flouting God's law" (p. 11).

Sabbath Pollution Leads to Apostasy

During the mid-1970's, myself and many others were deeply troubled by doctrinal liberalization in Sabbath-keeping groups. Why have so many of God's people gone astray? Where did the apostasy begin? Why is there so little fear of God? Ezekiel 20 and Sabbath-keeping church history since the early 1800's teaches us a clear lesson that the path to apostasy began with the first step of Sabbath pollution.

In 1971, the President of the Seventh Day Baptist Milton College of Wisconsin admitted to me in a personal interview why the Seventh Day Baptist church had declined in numbers: Seventh Day Baptists have not promoted the Sabbath and are considerably more liberal as regards Sabbath observance and Biblical inerrancy than they used to be. Most SDB pastors today preach also on Sunday to others. Many Seventh Day Baptists go to church on Sabbath, then pursue their own interests the rest of the day. They are very ecumenical, stating that Sabbath-keeping is not a test commandment nor important in obeying God, nor is it a key factor in one having the Holy Spirit.

Here were some signs of Sabbath pollution observed at a Sabbath-keeping church college in the late 1960's: Young male students played basketball almost up to sundown Friday. Female students made purchases from a nearby grocery store on Sabbath afternoon. The church's leader watched professional basketball games on television on the Sabbath. Given enough time, such a tendency of watering down would lead to a total abandonment of the Sabbath, and the rest of God's Truth.

When you pollute the Sabbath, YOU are polluted, and you pollute the Creator's name, Ezekiel 20:24-26, 39. Just as Sabbath pollution led to Israel's captivity in the past, so Sabbath pollution leads to the end time apostasy. Sabbath pollution is a "leading spiritual indicator" of a falling away from God's Truth.

Conversely, restoring proper Sabbath observance is a first step in returning a people to their God. The Sabbath was the first thing the Eternal revealed to the children of Israel after He led them out of polluted Egypt, Exodus 16. Proper Sabbath observance was a major restoration initiated by Nehemiah with the Jews who returned from Babylonian Captivity (which resulted from Sabbath breaking in the first place), Nehemiah 13:15-22.

You haven't really proven the Sabbath until you keep it! Most of us have to LEARN how to keep the Sabbath a delight to the maker.

Should You Eat in a Restaurant on the Sabbath?

When I attended the Worldwide Church of God, it was common to go to restaurants on the Sabbath, and to buy food in the grocery store on the Sabbath. Indeed, going to a restaurant on the Sabbath, and especially the Holy Days, was a major custom in the church when I attended in the late 1960's.

Now, however, I have come to believe that restaurant going is improper Sabbath conduct, for three reasons: (1) Exodus 16:23 says that heavy baking and cooking is to be done on the day before the Sabbath. This means ourselves and anybody that fixes meals for us, our servants. (2) The fourth commandment says that we and our servants must rest on the Sabbath. By going to a restaurant on the Sabbath, one is actively hiring servants to work for him. They would not be employed if people were not in the restaurant. (3) Nehemiah shows that we must not buy food or produce on the Sabbath days.

Arguments have been raised against our position. One man said that Exodus 16:23 was only a requirement of Israel in the wilderness. When dining out, he says, he is doing no cooking at all, and the cooks and waiters are hired by the restaurant owner. Ronald Dart says Nehemiah's rules were only applicable to Nehemiah's day, not ours. He wrote, "it is not wrong for you to benefit directly or indirectly from the work of others" on the Sabbath, pointing to the example of electricity.

Use of electricity and restaurant going on the Sabbath are tied together by those who say it is not wrong to go to a restaurant on the Sabbath. Certainly the human need of food and warmth from the cold at times requires us to use electricity in this modern age, although our forefathers got along just fine without electrical power. Electric power companies could switch to a low maintenance power supply mode on the Sabbath, which would require few if any personnel. We as Sabbath-keepers should limit our usage of electric power on the Sabbath. In the millennium, there will not be huge, polluting power plants and miles of distribution lines. The energy system for the world tomorrow will be vastly different than what we have today.

Food service is one of the largest businesses in the western world. As people become more affluent, they cook less and less at home and eat out more often. The life of the true Bible believer is at variance with such worldly trends. We cook natural foods at home, and prepare Sabbath meals before the Sabbath begins. A Sabbath-keeper regularly going to a restaurant on the Sabbath or any other day is demonstrating his disregard for the Eternal's laws of health. As Mr. Dart correctly says, "The commandment forbids you to require work of anyone who is under your control." You cannot control the electric power company. You can control whether or not a restaurant cook who is a "stranger" to you, prepares YOUR food on the Sabbath day.

Samuele Bacchiocchi states: "The Fourth Commandment enjoins us to grant freedom to all on the Sabbath, including the stranger. Any attempt to enjoy the freedom and joy of the Sabbath at the expense of others represents a denial of the values of the Sabbath." He goes on to show that a Sabbath-keeper who buys goods and services on the Sabbath sanctions these business transactions, which the scriptures in Jeremiah 17:21-23 and Nehemiah 13:19-22 clearly condemn. "Purchasing goods or services on the Sabbath, such as eating out in restaurants, will turn the mind of the believer away from the sacredness of the Sabbath to the secularism and materialism of the world." Yes, there may be emergency situations where one must buy food on the Sabbath. With proper planning, this situation should rarely if ever occur. (See The Sabbath of the New Testament, pages 242-243.)

Three Important Facets of Sabbath-Keeping

How can we apply the principles of the Sabbath? God gave the Sabbath to man as a day of rest and recuperation from a vigorous, work-filled week. We need to take advantage of the liberty of the Sabbath. Enjoy it. Rest up and "recharge your batteries"! Plan to sleep in a little and not feel guilty about it. Don't be a sluggard, but get a little extra special rest. This will relieve you of the stress of daily life.

Isaiah 58:13-14 gives three important parts to keeping the Sabbath holy as you should. Let's look at these three facets.

(1) Don't do your own ways. This means your employment, enterprises, finances, the serious business of making a livelihood and caring for your physical responsibilities. Devote the Sabbath to God's business.

(2) Don't find your own pleasure. As Bill McDowell wrote, this means "Your desire, delight, that which you take extra pleasure in doing -- hunting, fishing, golfing, swimming, cards, movies, boating -- those things which take up the majority of your 'leisure' time. This would also include the many time-consuming hobbies such as the 'ham' radio operator, woodworking, shop, stamp collecting, etc . . . . Whatever your pleasure, or leisure-time activity is, you should not engage in it on the Sabbath" (The Good News, March 1968, article "Keep God's Sabbath Holy" p. 17). Instead, engage in God's pleasure on the Sabbath, His creation (Revelation 4:11).

(3) Don't speak your own words. Talk about God's way of life and His wonderful creation. Serve God with your mind. "Those who can't or don't control their minds call the Sabbath bondage, because they can't wait 'til sunset to be about their ways and pleasures which they have been thinking about all day anyway!" (Ibid.). Once you get your mind and thoughts on God's ways on the Sabbath, you will find out what a real delight and joy the Sabbath really is! "Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD," Isaiah 58:14. You do this by extra Bible study, prayer and meditation. The Sabbath is the one time of the week that nothing should hinder you from becoming completely absorbed in God and His word, the Bible.

Preparation For the Sabbath

The sixth day of the week, which we call Friday, is the preparation for the Sabbath, Exodus 16:23. It is the time to get everything ready for the Sabbath so you won't even be tempted to do it on the Sabbath.

As the saying goes, "the only man who ever had all his work done by Friday was Robinson Crusoe." In this rush, rush world you have to address priorities. There will be things undone. Part of keeping the Sabbath is to get the major things done before the Sabbath, and on the Sabbath to forget about the minor things. Everything which can be done before the Sabbath should be done, such as cooking a roast, baking a cake or pie, cleaning house, getting chores done, etc. Food which will keep ahead of time should be prepared on Friday.

A good idea for Sabbath-keepers is to keep a checklist, so you won't forget something major that has to be done. The sixth day of the week is not the only day to prepare for the Sabbath. It is not a day to catch up on what you should have been doing all week. Get the essentials done so that you can greet the Sabbath with delight, and completely put chores and work behind you.

Sabbath Legalism?

People naturally have many questions about Sabbath-keeping. Bill McDowell wrote, "The main reason God has never 'listed' in the Bible any 'do's and don'ts' for the Sabbath is that He wants us, as individuals, to learn to think, be personally responsible and use the PRINCIPLES He has given us. It is too easy to lose sight of the goal when you have a myriad of legalistic lines drawn up for you. But once you know and can apply the principles, you will be able to almost automatically answer your own questions." (Ibid., p. 18).

This article may expose us to charges of "legalism." We are not attempting to be modern Pharisees, spelling out detailed laws and ignoring the big spiritual principles. In Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, "legalism" is defined as: "strict conformity to a code of deeds and observances as a means of adherence to the letter as distinguished from the spirit of the law, an emphasis on the importance of formulated rules (as for governing conduct)."

Let us make it plain that law keeping, even Sabbath-keeping, does not "justify" you, or make your past evil actions right with the Almighty. We are freely justified by grace, unmerited pardon, for our past sins. Being justified, we are commanded by the Eternal to obey Him in Spirit and in Truth. You cannot "keep" the Sabbath spiritually without also keeping it physically. To fail to answer specific questions about the Sabbath places us on the other side, the liberal side which tells the lie that all you have to do is keep the Sabbath in a right attitude and forget about the details. Let us be balanced.

Additional Articles:

Why the Sabbath is Important, Part 1
When Does Your Sabbath Begin?
Keeping the Sabbath in a Non-Sabbath World
The Sabbath and Ecology
The Sabbath and Service
The Truth About Sabbath and Sunday
The Good News of the Sabbath
Sabbath Facts
Jubilee and the Sabbath Year
The Sabbath: A Divisive Issue?
A History of the Saturday Resurrection Doctrine Among Sabbath-Keepers
Chronology of the Crucifixion and Resurrection According to Ancient Texts
A Look at The Pope’s Pastoral Letter, "Dies Domini"
Review: The Sabbath Under Crossfire
Sabbath Quiz

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Written by: Richard C. Nickels
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