Thoughts on keeping the Sabbath

The initial Old Testament commands about the Sabbath revolve around the idea of rest. In the gospels, Jesus gets into numerous Sabbath controversies for his activities. In his day, the Rabbinic teachings on how to keep the Sabbath had gotten very restrictive as to what could and could not be done on the day of rest. 

How strictly should Christians adhere to the rules when on Sundays? Should we go out to a restaurant? Or watch sports? Or play sports? Or watch TV? Or should it be a day entirely revolving around religious observance? 

It’s interesting that the initial Sabbath commands in the Old Testament don’t actually mention worship. They revolve around rest. 

With that in mind, I am of the opinion that what’s restful varies from one person to another. In Jesus’ day, people had gone too far in treating a myriad of basic activities as “work.” This could come to absurd results. For instance, in John 5, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and is questioned for violating the command! The letter of the law had overlooked the spirit of the law. 

In another Sabbath controversy, Jesus would say in Mark 2:27-28, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” 

I think getting too restrictive on Sabbath practices and what people can or can’t do on that day overlooks the heart of Sabbath. 

I think what “counts” as rest depends on the person. 

What’s recharging to you (so long as it’s not sinful)? 

For some people, spending the afternoon tending to the garden might be really enjoyable, relaxing, and refreshing. For me, that would be torture. But for the person who enjoys it, I think that’s a worthwhile way to rest. 

Someone might stay away fro TV on that day. That’s fine. But I enjoy TV. I like to watch a game or a movie to relax. 

When I was single and had first moved to Minnesota, I used to take a lot of my off days and take a day trip to a different part of the state and take nature photographs. They were long days. I’d be gone for hours. But I enjoy photography, I love driving, I love nature, I loved seeing new places, and I got to enjoy listening to podcasts, or audiobooks, or talking on the phone with friends and family. To me, that was a great way to recharge. But it wouldn’t be for everyone. 

The Sabbath is ultimately a gift from God to his people. It’s meant to be enjoyed. It’s unfortunate that it’s become twisted and is treated almost like a punishment. It’s a time to rest, to worship, and to unwind. It’s a day that’s meant to be different from the rest of the week. 

This is a paraphrase, but I’ve appreciated comments that I’ve heard Jefferson Bethke make on Sabbath. He compares it to Christmas. No one forces you to celebrate Christmas! No one complains, “Ugh, Christmas again.” It’s a special day. It’s a day unlike every other day of the year. A Sabbath should be like a min-Christmas every week. 

One principle I would recommend. Don’t use the Sabbath as chore day. That’s such an easy thing to fall into in our busy society. Many people work so hard and get so busy that days off become days to get caught up. I’m not militant about it. But I think that when we do that, we’re missing out on the opportunity to enjoy rest. 

And I say this as someone who works hard. Someone who likes to work. I’m someone who struggles to rest! But I know it’s also important to do. 

Jefferson Behtke:

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