Modern Christian’s Guide to Keeping the Sabbath

Seems like a lot of people today believe the 10 commandments are actually 9 commandments and 1 guideline.

“The 10 Commandments are great! You should obviously never kill or lie or steal or covet. And you should definitely love God and honor your parents. Oh, but keeping the Sabbath? That’s not as important anymore. I mean, you should try to go to church (unless there is an opportunity to go to the lake) and maybe take a break from work (unless it’s going to make you fall behind).

The sad irony of this is that we’ve chosen to neglect one of the commandments that was given for our benefit. As Jesus says in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

If you are a leader, then rest is really important. As you will see throughout this post, it glorifies God and enables you to lead more effectively. Not only that, but as a leader, you set the tone and example for others.

In this article, we’ll hit on four important things:

Let’s do this!

What is the Sabbath?

Exodus 20:8-10 offers a great explanation of the Sabbath and what is expected of us.

“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.”

In this passage, we learn a few things. First, the Sabbath was instituted at Creation. God is all powerful and does not need rest, but He still chose to rest. In doing so, he gave us a pattern for living our own life.

Quite simply, the Sabbath is meant to be a day of rest. It takes place every 7 days. We are called to work, sometimes extra hard on the first 6 days, so that we can take a full and complete rest on the Sabbath.

Not only is it a day of rest, but it is meant to be holy. A day for honoring and remembering the Lord.

Keeping the sabbath - creation

Does the Sabbath still apply after Jesus?

Short answer? Yes.

Genesis 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.”

Even though the Sabbath is formalized as a commandment in Exodus, we know that it was blessed and made holy by God in the very beginning. Keeping the Sabbath is a life principle that predates the law, and even sin itself.

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus explains his position on the law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” He then proceeds to demonstrate that we shouldn’t be relaxing the law, but rather, he makes the law cut deeper.

It’s no longer enough to simply not murder, but rather “whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

It’s no longer enough to simply not commit adultery, but rather “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

He doesn’t mention the Sabbath specifically in Matthew 5, but one would argue that, like other commandments, keeping the Sabbath becomes even more important, not less so.

Ultimately, the message of Jesus when it comes to the commandments is not, “follow these rules and you will have eternal life.” Instead, the message is, “these rules are too difficult – you can’t follow them. But if you repent and follow me, then you will have eternal life.”

I’ve already mentioned the story in Mark 2:23-28 where Jesus proclaims that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man made for the Sabbath. The context of this story makes it interesting – the Pharisees caught the disciples picking and eating grain. They deemed this work and so accused the disciples of breaking the Sabbath.

picking grain - keeping the sabbath

Jesus disagrees with the Pharisees, and so some have read this story and interpreted it to mean that we don’t have to follow the Sabbath anymore.

But that’s not really the point of the story. The Pharisees, you see, had twisted the Sabbath. They had turned a day of rest and worship into a day of strict, back breaking and nonsensical rules that they could enforce on everyone. They believed that by following hundreds of Sabbath day rules they could prove their righteousness.

In verse 28, Jesus makes the claim that he is the Lord of the Sabbath. This means he is the one who provides true rest, peace, and restoration. We can only gain these things, and the righteousness the pharisees desperately tried to earn themselves, by following him.

By proclaiming himself Lord of the Sabbath, then, Jesus doesn’t state the Sabbath no longer matters. Instead, he makes it better. Following him enables us to honor the Sabbath in a richer way than was possible before Christ.

What are the Benefits of Resting on the Sabbath?

American culture does not celebrate rest. If anything, we often shun it. If you ask someone, “how are you?” then the most common response is the generic, “good.”

But I’d wager the second most response is, “busy.”

Despite our busy lives, God still commands us to rest. One could argue we need it now more than ever. I said earlier that this command was largely for our benefit, so let’s talk about some of those benefits.

keeping the sabbath

*Some of the content below comes from a Tim Keller sermon on work and rest. It’s worth a listen if you’ve got the time!

1) Rest revives us and enables better work

If the Bible doesn’t convince you of the importance of rest, how about some modern research?

More and more studies are demonstrating that humans without rest are actually less productive than those who rest well. A 2015 study from Stanford states, “employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.”

Joel Gascoigne did an experiment where he worked 7 days per week, with specific periods of rest scattered through each day. The experiment failed, and his reasoning is important: “I feel like the 7-day work week failed because of lack of an extended period of renewal.”

The truth is, we need rest. It recharges our brains and our bodies so that we can focus and achieve more. We should find a little time to rest everyday, but our body and soul actually need an extended period of rest where it can truly recharge. One hour at the end of the day isn’t enough – we need the slow charge of a full day.

2) Rest allows us to enjoy the work we’ve done

Have you ever wondered why God decided to rest on the 7th day after He created everything?

After all, God does not grow tired. He did not need a break. He is all powerful and has infinite energy.

One of the reasons he rested, I believe, was his desire to take the time to enjoy the work he had done. After all, He just created a very complex and beautiful world! And in the text we see that He observed his creation and appreciated that it was “very good.”

keeping the sabbath

We often move so fast in life that we never stop and reflect on what we’ve done. This can make our work feel meaningless and drain our lives of purpose. Instead, we should follow God’s example and actually rest, once per week, to think about and appreciate the things we’ve accomplished and learned.

3) Rest reminds us of the work Jesus did

The most difficult thing about rest is the voice in our heads that says, “you still have so much to do. If you don’t get it done, you could lose your job or appear like a failure or disappoint someone.”

Effective rest ignores this nagging voice, and replaces it with the truth of the Gospel. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Sabbath rest is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the work Jesus did on our behalf. We don’t have to earn our righteousness or worry about what others think. The Son of God gave his life for you and called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

As we take the time to rest in his work and spend time with him, He speaks to our hearts and reminds us that we belong to Him. We are loved, we are valued, and nothing we can do will make Him love us more or less.

When we rest in that, we are able to return to work and focus on glorifying Him, instead of glorifying ourselves. We don’t have to worry about becoming a failure or disappointment, because we know our value comes from Christ.

4) Rest helps us to look forward

When I was engaged to my (now) wife, I worked a part-time job that involved 10-12 hours in the car per day. It was a good job, but those days got to be pretty long. I knew, however, that the money I would earn from the job would pay for our honeymoon. So on the hard days, I’d look forward to the “glory” of the honeymoon and find new energy to carry on.

Life can be tough at times too. Bad things happen, our sin nature never seems to get fully under control, and people can be jerks.

Because of this, it’s important to take time to look forward to the true glory that is to be revealed in God’s eternal Kingdom. Jesus will return again – he will wipe every tear from our eyes. Looking forward gives us hope, and hope allows us to persevere.

Nine Ideas for Resting on the Sabbath

If you’re still reading, hopefully you’re convinced that the Sabbath is worth honoring and keeping holy.

But how, exactly, do we do that? Here are 9 practical tips for you to enjoy and benefit fully from the Sabbath.

1) Work enough on the first 6 days so you can actually rest

Exodus 20:8 reminds us to do all our work in 6 days so that we can rest on the 7th. If you know something needs to be done by Monday morning, for instance, you should work to ensure it is done by Saturday so that you can properly rest on Sunday.

This can be challenging for students or adults with jobs that include “homework.” The temptation is to skip the homework until Sunday night, and then declare, “my ox is in a ditch and I need to work on the Sabbath!”

The problem here, however, is that you never fully rest. You get a bit of rest on Saturday, but it is also filled with worry and concern about the homework you’ll have to do the next day. Sunday comes around and you go to church, get a short Sabbath experience, and then have to do lots of work. You probably get to bed late because you underestimated how much time it would take, and then you’re tired on Monday to start the week!

Personal experience, however, has proven to me that if I get my work done Saturday, then Sunday becomes a much better experience. I don’t have to dread the work that would come with Sunday night, and I would feel properly charged on Monday morning.

2) Get off the treadmill

Randy Pope offers a helpful two part metaphor. Imagine God places you in a room with a bunch of other people. You each have your own treadmill and are supposed to move on it for 6 days, but on the 7th day you are supposed to get off the treadmill. In other words, you stop working.

keeping the sabbath - get off the treadmill

On the 7th day, you notice that not everyone has gotten off the treadmill. Some are still walking, trying to catch up with those who are running. Some are trying to get ahead. You’ve done decent distance yourself, but you’re worried that if you step off you’ll fall behind too!

And yet, God calls us to step off that treadmill completely. He doesn’t call us to slow down. He doesn’t call us to take a half-day. He calls us to step off the treadmill for the day.

So whatever your work is, if you want to honor the sabbath, the first step is to step off that treadmill.

3) Look out the window

The second part of Randy Pope’s metaphor is a window in the treadmill room. You’re not simply called to get off the treadmill, God calls us to go and look out the window. When you look out that window, you get a chance to see God’s Kingdom and be reminded of his truth. This encourages you to keep going and keeps you focussed on His glory.

For many of us, including myself, it’s easy to get off the treadmill. But far too often, we stop and never go look out the window.

keeping the sabbath - look outside window photo

Rest is great, but part of that rest should be time at the feet of Jesus. We need to hear from him, sing his praises, pray, listen, and remember the truth of the Gospel.

4) Go to Church and Worship with the Family of God

This is probably the most obvious way people think of honoring the Sabbath. Go to church!

And yet, our society is becoming increasingly disconnected. Why go to church when we can watch the sermon online from our couch? Why go to church when we can listen to worship music on Spotify?

But God doesn’t just call us to spend the day with just Him. God calls us to spend it with Him and His family. The church can be full of broken people, and you may think you’re better off on your own. You’re not, and neither are the people in the church who would benefit from your presence.

The Bible repeatedly calls people to corporate worship. Jesus himself went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

My parents will tell you, it’s nice having one of their kids around. But there is something special when all their children gather in one place. The same is true with God – he loves it when the family gets together.

5) Keep your activity non-vocational

Sabbath rest doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. This was one of the mistakes the pharisees made. They decided what qualified as rest and what didn’t (they even had a limit to the number of steps you could take!)

Some activities are quite restful and good for the soul. However, if you want to keep your Sabbath holy, then keep your activities non-vocational. In other words, avoid doing the things you do for a living.

keeping the sabbath

For instance, I love to go fly-fishing. Some would call it work, and others might even think it’s torture. For me, however, I find fishing on Sunday afternoon remarkably restful. I enjoy the quiet time with God, the chance to enjoy His Creation, and time to reflect on my week. If my job was to be a professional fisherman, however, I probably shouldn’t fish on Sundays.

6) Avoid Work Email

Our generation is more connected than ever before. While most people don’t go into work on their Sabbath, technology makes it very tempting to check work emails. I regularly fight this urge on Sabbath days because I want to get ahead or make sure nothing is wrong. I also know that a simple “quick check” could turn into 30 or 60 minutes of work.

But ultimately, the purpose of Sabbath is to remember that my life is in God’s hands. By choosing to not check work email, my actions are demonstrating that I actually believe God is in control.

Not only that, but a day of rest means I can show up on Monday, be fully charged, and more productive throughout the week. This isn’t just Michael Scott logic – the studies listed earlier in this post have demonstrated that employees who take one day off work each week consistently achieve more.

7) Take a nap

Sabbath day naps are my favorite. They should be yours as well.

keeping the sabbath

8) Do Good

In Mark 3:4, Jesus asks a question that should have a rather obvious answer: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?

Clearly, the correct answer is that we should do good and save lives. Granted, you should probably be doing good and saving lives every day of the week, but the Sabbath is a great time to pause, observe what is happening in your life, and ensure you are taking opportunities to love your neighbor as yourself.

9) Have a Family Devotion

Remember, it’s not just the Lord’s morning – it’s the Lord’s day. One great way to spend time with God is to have a family devotional in the afternoon. You can discuss what everyone learned at church, go through a family devotional, or read a passage of the Bible and explore God’s truth together.

It’s important for you and your family that you discuss spiritual things together. If you have kids, you are the primary discipler of your children. If you’ve got a spouse, praying together and growing spiritually is a great way to build a stronger marriage. If you’re single and living with roommates, encourage each other by starting a family devotion for your apartment.

Family devotions are also a great chance to listen to how everyone is doing, pray for each other, and discuss any important business.

Conclusion

Hopefully this guide has answered your questions about keeping the Sabbath and given you some great ideas to benefit from this commandment that was made for us. If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, let me know in the comments below!

Your turn: Do you find it easy to rest on the Sabbath? Why or Why not? What is your favorite way to rest?

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