Tag Archives: Romans 14:4-6

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: What the Sabbath Rest Is

16 Aug

Last week, in “What the Sabbath Rest Isn’t”, we discussed the pattern of rest God established for His followers as well as how that pattern became corrupted.  But recognizing what the Sabbath isn’t doesn’t always help us when it comes to recognizing what the Sabbath is… or even whether it’s something that (medical evidence aside) ought to be observed by believers today. Was the Sabbath merely meant to be the Jewish equivalent of a “day off”?  Or was it intended to be something more?  And if it was, are there consequences involved with ignoring it?

For the answer to these questions, we must turn first to the Ten Commandments.  (Exodus 20)  Delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai, these ten basic rules outlined the behavior which God expected from His people.  More than just a set of guidelines for righteous living (or, as Paul would later point out in Romans 3:20, a spotlight to help identify sinful behavior), these commands set the parameters for our relationship with God.  They helped the Israelites identify those behaviors which would either deepen or destroy the intimacy they enjoyed with their Creator.

If you’ve taken the time to thoroughly read the New Testament, you’ve probably noticed that each of these commandments is repeated… but with a single exception: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of Jehovah thy God.”  (Exodus 20:9-10a)  Why isn’t there a Sabbath command to be found in all of the teachings of Christ or His Apostles? 

While most of us are familiar with the initial giving of the commandments in Exodus, far fewer Christians are acquainted with the reiteration of these commands to be found in Deuteronomy.  It is here, in chapter 5, verses 12-15 that God explains to Israel that there is far more to this day of rest than simply relaxation.  Indeed, those who follow Him are commanded to, “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”  The reason for the Sabbath?  To remember Israel’s deliverance from slavery. 

Since not every member of the expanding Church was Jewish, it’s not surprising to find the Apostle Paul advocating the type of freedom which allowed believers the choice between observing the Sabbath or abstaining.  (Romans 14:4-6)  But even then, the issue wasn’t cut-and-dried.  Many believers both then and now continue to see a parallel between Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and our own deliverance from sin.  And if the Hebrew people were to celebrate the one on a weekly basis, how much more should we as Christians take time to celebrate the latter!

Next week, we’ll dig a bit deeper as we examine the relational nature of a Sabbath rest, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

 

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: What the Sabbath Rest Isn’t

9 Aug

Last week, in “Rest and the Biblical Case for Taking a Day Off”, we took a look at the practical value of rest and the ways in which a regular pattern of rest can influence us both physically and mentally.  We explored the pattern of rest which God established in Genesis and considered Jesus’ declaration that, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  (Mark 2:27)  So what exactly is the Sabbath?

According to Exodus 20:9-10, the Sabbath was to be a special day set apart from all others – a day in which those who followed the God of Israel were to do no work.  Starting with this understanding, we can begin to construct an idea of what it means to rest… or at least what it doesn’t mean.

So what qualifies as work?  According to rabbinic tradition, to work was to engage in creative action.  It was labor with the intention of bringing about something new, in similitude with God’s act in creating the heavens and the earth.  While it’s obvious that men can’t create something out of nothing as God did, we’ve certainly proven ourselves capable of transforming one thing into another – and it’s this type of labor which is forbidden on the Sabbath.  If the rabbis are correct (and many Christians argue that they are), those who wish to observe the Sabbath must cease from any task which results in the production of something else.

But even this definition leaves us with some gray areas.  For example, most of us would agree that building a house, baking bread, writing a poem, and painting a picture are creative (or at least transformative) activities.  But what about an activity like walking which results in the “creation” of muscle mass or eating which results in increased energy?  Are these creative acts and, if so, who is responsible for the creation?  Is it God who originated the process by which the thing is created or the men who provide the material with which to create?

In an attempt to answer this question, the rabbis established a number of rules concerning everything from how to prepare Sabbath meals (an activity performed a day in advance) to how many steps one could take between sunset and sunrise.  It wasn’t long before these rules dominated everyone seeking to observe the Sabbath, turning the day of rest into a burden rather than release.  The rules which had been created to aide in the enjoyment of the day had resulted in the same type of legalism which Jesus condemned in Matthew 23:1-4.

The Apostle Paul (unlike the rabbis) was quick to note that it wasn’t the actual activities which occurred on the Sabbath which made it a day of rest, but rather the attitude with which those activities were performed.  Addressing the Church in Rome (a congregation made up of both Jews and Gentiles), he asked, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord…”  (Romans 14:4-6)

So where does this leave us as we seek to observe a day of rest?  Quite honestly, with a great deal of freedom.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look of the practical issues surrounding the Sabbath as well as some ways in which regular observance of this day of rest can better prepare us to share the Gospel with others.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

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