Christians who take God’s Sabbath command seriously often wonder how to keep the Sabbath as a Christian. What principles guide our Sabbath celebration?
One of the distinctive biblical beliefs of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, which sponsors this website, is that we follow the example of Jesus Christ and the early New Testament Church in celebrating the seventh-day Sabbath. The book of Genesis reveals that after the creation week, “God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 2:2). Verse 3 then records an important fact about the seventh day that has implications for all: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.” The Creator of all things actually blessed and sanctified—set apart for a special purpose—the seventh day of the week.
Because of this distinct blessing and sanctification, the seventh day of the week is very special to God. When God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses—His holy law that is permanently binding on His people (Matthew 5:18)—He specifically included the seventh-day Sabbath as the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). God did not create the Sabbath to be a burdensome law. Jesus said the Sabbath was created as a gift from God (Mark 2:27). He and the apostles and New Testament Church continued celebrating the seventh-day Sabbath.
Once a Christian accepts that the seventh-day Sabbath is holy and a law of God, the question arises—how does a person properly keep the Sabbath command? The Bible provides Christians many principles on how to keep the Sabbath.
Four principles about how to keep the Sabbath
1. We keep the Sabbath by abstaining from work. The seventh-day Sabbath was the day God rested from His labors. God is Spirit and cannot get tired or worn out. The reason He rested was to set an example for us. The Sabbath command in Exodus 20:10 specifically states: “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work.”
The Sabbath is a day when we pause from our normal labors and activities and rest for 24 hours on the seventh day of the week (from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday as the Bible counts time). Abstaining from work every Sabbath has tremendous physical and spiritual blessings for God’s people.
2. We keep the Sabbath by not employing others to work for us. The Fourth Commandment has specific implications for those who employ others to work for them (e.g. business owners). Not only are Sabbath-keepers to abstain from work, but also those who are employed by them and under their direct control.
The Sabbath command states that no work is to be done by “you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor the stranger who is within your gates” (Exodus 20:10). Though this was written to an agrarian society that practiced a certain form of indentured servitude, the principle that applies today is that employers should not have their employees work. Businesses owned by Sabbath-keepers should be closed on the Sabbath day.
3. We keep the Sabbath by attending Sabbath services. God did not just create the Sabbath so that His people could stay home and rest throughout the entire day. In order to bring His people together for fellowship and collective instruction and worship, God designed the seventh day as a day of convocation.
Throughout His life on earth, Jesus Christ assembled with others on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). God’s people are specifically warned to not neglect “the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25).In Leviticus 23, the Sabbath is referred to as one of God’s “holy convocations” (verse 2). A convocation is a public meeting where God’s people assemble together for the purpose of learning, worship and fellowship. Throughout His life on earth, Jesus Christ assembled with others on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). God’s people are specifically warned to not neglect “the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25).
Every Sabbath, the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, holds Sabbath services in cities around the world where members regularly assemble to hear biblically based sermon messages, sing hymns of worship to God and fellowship with brethren of like mind.
4. We keep the Sabbath by enjoying a spiritually fulfilling Sabbath. On the Sabbath, we are to pause from our normal routines—our work, shopping, errands, activities, sports, television—and spend the day doing things that are spiritually focused. God created the Sabbath to be a spiritually refreshing and enjoyable experience for His people. Jesus Christ proclaimed that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). Jesus, as “Lord of the Sabbath” (verse 28), reveals that the Sabbath was created for the benefit of human beings.
God wants us to take every seventh day and dedicate it to doing the things that strengthen our relationship with Him. God wants us to “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isaiah 58:13). Some things we can do on the Sabbath (in addition to attending Sabbath services) to make the Sabbath a delight and strengthen our relationship with God are: use the Sabbath for extra prayer and meditation, spend more time than usual studying the Bible, spend quality time with family, spend time fellowshipping with other Christians, visit the sick or elderly and even enjoy some relaxing time in God’s creation. These are just a few examples of appropriate things Christians can do to have a spiritually fulfilling Sabbath.
This brief answer covered four basic biblical principles of how to keep the Sabbath as a Christian. This subject may raise other questions about what is and isn’t appropriate to do on the Sabbath day. If you would like further guidance on how to properly observe the Sabbath, feel free to contact us.
For more on the Sabbath, read the articles in the section: “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day.”