The Fourth Commandment says to keep the Sabbath holy. How can a Sabbath-keeping Christian do this? Here are some principles for keeping the Sabbath holy.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
Those words begin the fourth of God’s 10 Commandments. But what does it mean to keep the Sabbath day holy? What exactly is God telling us to do (and not do) on the Sabbath day?
Before we answer these questions, we must go back to the origin of the Sabbath day in Genesis 2. We read 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” (verse 2). We next read: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (verse 3).
The seventh day was blessed and sanctified. That means that God set it apart from the other six days of the week for a special purpose.
Because of this unique blessing and sanctification, the seventh day of the week is very special to God. But He didn’t just rest and bless it for His own use. He did this as an example and a gift for people. When God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses, He included the seventh-day Sabbath as the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11).
God did not create the Sabbath to be a temporary or burdensome law. Jesus said the Sabbath was “made for man” (Mark 2:27). It was a gift God made for us. That’s why Jesus, the apostles and the New Testament Church continued observing the Sabbath.
Once a Christian accepts that the seventh-day Sabbath is holy and a law of God, the question arises—how does a person keep the Sabbath holy?
The Bible doesn’t give a long list of dos and don’ts for how to keep the Sabbath, but it does provide us many solid principles to help us understand how to keep the Sabbath day holy.
Five principles about how to keep the Sabbath holy
1. Keep the Sabbath holy by not working.
The Fourth Commandment specifically states: “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work” (Exodus 20:10). In the next verse, the command connects this with God resting on the seventh day (verse 11).
The Sabbath is a day when we pause from our normal work 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).
Those who are new to Sabbath-keeping can find it challenging to change their work schedule to accommodate the Sabbath. And, unfortunately, sometimes employers can resist giving an employee every Saturday off.
Here are some tips for approaching your employer about this:
- Pray for God’s help and blessing in making your request.
- Develop a good work ethic on the other days of the week to become a more valuable employee. The more valuable you are to your employer, the more likely he or she is to accommodate your convictions about not working on the Sabbath.
- Express a willingness to take on extra hours to make up for that time (or be willing to work at less desirable times).
- Approach your employer with a spirit of humility and respect when explaining your convictions about the Sabbath.
- Appeal to laws and legal protections for religious faith when necessary.
Abstaining from work every Sabbath has tremendous physical and spiritual blessings for God’s people. To learn more about why you need a weekly rest, read “Do You Need a Rest?”
2. Keep the Sabbath holy by not employing others to work on the Sabbath.
The Fourth Commandment has specific implications for those who employ others to work for them (e.g. business owners). It reads: “In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates” (verse 10).
The Fourth Commandment is presented in an agricultural context (since ancient Israel was a farming society). A farmer’s whole household would labor on the family land. In that context, God said the entire operation was to rest on the Sabbath—children, servants and livestock. The point was that the head of the family wasn’t to force those under him or her to work.
Most people don’t work on farms today, but the principle still applies. The core principle is that Sabbath-keepers are not only to abstain from work themselves, but also to refrain from having their employees work on the Sabbath.
There are many Sabbath-keeping business owners around the world who practice this every week. Before sunset comes on Friday evening, they close their business, and they don’t reopen it until after the Sabbath ends.
3. Keep the Sabbath holy by attending Sabbath services.
Resting on the Sabbath doesn’t mean we stay home in bed all day.
In Leviticus 23 the Sabbath is referred to as one of God’s “holy convocations” (verses 2-3). In order to bring His people together for fellowship and collective instruction and worship, God designed the seventh day as a day of assembly.
Throughout His life on earth, Jesus Christ assembled with others on the Sabbath. God’s people are specifically warned to not neglect “the assembling of ourselves together”.A convocation is a public meeting, or gathering, for the purpose of learning, worship and fellowship. Throughout His life on earth, Jesus Christ assembled with others on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). It was His custom—His weekly practice. God’s people are specifically warned not to 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 sermons, sing hymns of worship to God, and fellowship with brethren of like mind. If you are interested in visiting one of our services, reach out to us in the “Ask a Question” link below.
For insight into why you should look for a Church that keeps the Sabbath, read “Why Look for a Sabbath-Keeping Church?”
4. Keep the Sabbath holy with spiritually enriching activities.
On the Sabbath, we are to pause from our normal routines—our work, shopping, errands, chores, activities, sports, television, etc.—and spend the day doing things that are spiritually enriching. God created the Sabbath to be a 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 our benefit.
Most Sabbath-keepers eagerly anticipate the Sabbath every week. They view it as a gift, not a burden. God wants us to dedicate the Sabbath to doing the things that strengthen our relationship with Him. God wants us to “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isaiah 58:13).
Here are some things we can do on the Sabbath to make it “a delight”:
- Attend Sabbath services.
- Spend extra time in prayer and meditation.
- Spend more time than usual reading the Bible.
- Spend quality time with family.
- Spend time fellowshipping with other Christians.
- Visit the sick or elderly.
- Enjoy some relaxing time in God’s creation.
- Listen to music that is peaceful, relaxing and uplifting.
- Enjoy special meals.
These are just a few examples of appropriate things Christians can do to have a spiritually fulfilling Sabbath.
To learn more about the benefits the Sabbath can bring your family, read “The Sabbath: A Blessing for Families.”
5. Keep the Sabbath holy by preparing for it.
Many Sabbath-keepers use Friday, the sixth day of the week, to prepare for the Sabbath. It’s often called the preparation day. This is based on a principle found in Exodus 16 when God gave the wandering Israelites manna from heaven.
On Friday God gave double the manna that He gave on the other days. The reason is explained later in the chapter:
“And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. Then he said to them, ‘This is what the LORD has said: “Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.”’
“So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. Then Moses said, ‘Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none’” (verses 22-26).
Through this example, God taught them the importance of preparing to keep the Sabbath. They did extra work on Friday so they could rest and not have to gather food on the Sabbath.
God doesn’t give us physical manna today, but we can still apply the principle of preparing in advance. Here are some ways Sabbath-keepers can prepare for the Sabbath day before it comes:
- Clean the house so it’s tidy for the Sabbath.
- Do normal chores and errands on another day so they’re done before the Sabbath.
- Plan and prepare a special meal.
- Gas up the car so you don’t have to worry about fuel on the Sabbath.
- Have your clothes for Sabbath services washed and ready to be worn on the Sabbath.
The Gospels show that the day before a Sabbath was called “the Preparation Day” (Mark 15:42, in reference to an annual Sabbath).
The best way to learn how to keep the Sabbath
We hope you found these five principles helpful. Ultimately, the best way to learn how to keep the Sabbath holy is to start observing it. As you begin to experience the joys of keeping God’s Sabbath, you will discover unique ways you can make it more special, enjoyable and rejuvenating.
For more on the Sabbath, read the articles in the section: “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day.”