Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
One of the more surprising realities of my life as a Christian has been the amount of push-back I’ve received from fellow believers when discussing the 4th commandment. Of the 10 commandments, I believe the 4th commandment is the most neglected and most misunderstood amongst Christians today, and yet in my life it has been one of the most rewarding. I will be writing several blog posts to address the 4th commandment in its context within the decalogue, and also provide some application and answer a few common objections.
As with all Scripture, it’s helpful to understand the 4th commandment in its context, and particularly its context within the decalogue. The first table of the Law (commandments 1-4) provides us with God’s instruction regarding our relationship to Him. Jesus summarized this in saying we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength…” The second table of the law (commandments 5-10) deals with how we relate to others: “…Love your neighbor as yourself.” The 4th commandment should be understood in conjunction with the other commandments of the same table. Thus, the following summary should help us develop the context of the first table:
- The 1st Commandment teaches us whom we are to worship, namely God alone.
- The 2nd Commandment teaches us how we are to worship, namely the way God has prescribed and not our own.
- The 3rd Commandment teaches us with what attitude of the heart we are to worship God.
- Lastly, the 4th Commandment teaches us when we are to worship.
Obviously, much more could be said about all the commandments – there are entire books, and I’ve preached an entire series of sermons – however, these give us a good framework for looking at the 4th Word of God.
The famed software giant and billionaire Bill Gates was asked once about belief in God. He responded, “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.” To be fair to Mr. Gates, he has never claimed to be a Christian, but he very succinctly communicates what many professing Christians prove to be a similar mindset by their actions. This is certainly the opinion of sports programs/teams, most employers, and the to-do lists that sit undone in our homes. As Americans, we are in a constant battle with the powerful idols of time and productivity. There are always projects, forms of entertainment, and work clamoring for our attention. There’s always something to do, and to quote one of the most used phrases in modern America, “there’s not enough time to do it.” “If only…” we say, “There were a few more hours in the day.” Time is an elusive and precious commodity, and we all want more. So, it seems realistic to agree with Mr. Gates — who has the time to set aside an entire day of the week to commit to worship, rest, and deeds of mercy and necessity?
As the 4th commandment is concerned, the predominate position in the Western church is that if a Law from God is not explicitly restated in the New Testament as a command, it no longer applies to Christians today. Therefore, the argument goes, since Jesus (supposedly) never stated explicitly that it is a Christian’s duty to uphold the 4th commandment, it can effectively be removed from the Decalogue, or at least only referred to for a principle of application, but not hard and fast obedience. Some Christians suggest that the 4th commandment was ceremonial (just snuggled right there in between those other 9 moral laws!), while others reject the perpetuity of the law of God from the Old Testament all together. Yet, knowingly or unknowingly, it’s as if the common refrain is, “You mean, I have to spend an entire day with God?!” No, you don’t have to – you get to.
The Law of God was instituted by God at creation. It doesn’t just show up at Mt. Sinai with Moses, but was established with Adam in the garden. The moral Law is precisely what God commanded Adam to uphold, and Adam — in his state of innocence — had the full ability to do so. Likewise, as children of Adam created in the image of God, the law of God has been written on the hearts of every man, woman, and child (Romans 2:15). Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge that nowhere in the Scriptures do we read, “The Law of God minus the 4th commandment is written on the hearts of all men.” It has primarily been the work of New Covenant theology and dispensationalism to develop a system that discounts the 4th commandment. In fact, of all the commandments, it can be argued most clearly that the 4th commandment was instituted at creation. Gen. 2:1-3 says, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” God Himself observes the Sabbath, setting the example for man, and so the 4th commandment is, like the rest of God’s Law, nothing more than a restating of what was established in the garden.
In our next post, we will look at the specifics of the 4th commandment in Exodus 20:8-11.
(By: Nick Kennicott)