The Sabbath commandment, the 4th, is most certainly different from all the other commandments. A great divergence of opinion exists regarding the relevance of the fourth commandment, even those who would agree that the Sabbath commandment need not be observed by Christians today, disagree on why.
However, being different, does not make it any less a commandment. Let me explain. In any society, whether they have had contact with missionaries or the western world or perhaps no contact with anyone in the outside world, would over a period of time develop a code of ethics by which to live under. These will eventually develop into laws, and may very well get to a stage where they actually resemble the ten commandments. Except for the Sabbath of the 4th.
There is simply no way any society anywhere could come up with such an idea. For one, it marks the week. The week is a time period which is a unique witness to creation. Every other time period known to man is based on natural cycles of either the moon or the sun or the stars. That is in fact why they were created: that they may be for signs and seasons etc. But the weekly cycle is based on nothing other than the word of God. And yet it has endured. There have been attempts over the centuries to change it; someone one time tried to implement a 10 day week, but failed.
The Sabbath is the same. It is not based upon any moral principle as such, but purely and simply on the word of God. Period. It is a commandment that comes by no other authority except by revelation. Therefore, our acceptance or rejection of it ultimately comes down to our attitude to God’s authority.
Another reason why it would not be a part of any such community’s law is the fact that it is a memorial. A memorial of a specific event. Again, only revealtion would induce anyone to include such a commandment in any law.
But does that make the commandment any less important? Any less ‘moral’ to obey? As the scriptures tell us, to him who knows to do good but does it not, to him it is sin. Clearly, many do not yet recognise the Sabbath, so for them it is not sin when you so disregard it. But maybe ones sin in such a case lies not in the fact that one may not be observing the Sabbath, but perhaps, and please I do stress perhaps, it lies in an unwillingness to accept something that may prove awkward or inconvenient or disturbing? Therefore one may not so diligently search for that truth or consider it so seriously? Therefore the sin lies more in the refusal to accept God’s authority over man’s?
Check out your concordance and count the number of times the word Sabbath appears in scripture. In both old and new testaments it echoes across the pages of the Bible from one end to the other. It is a day that is clearly very very important to God. It was a day that was instituted at creation, was intended to be continued throughout history (as the episode with the gathering of manna before Sinai shows) and was reinforced with much grandeur and fanfare from Mt Sinai. What a awesome display of God’s glory and power that must have been. Lightning, thunder, earthquakes,fire and smoke, black clouds, trumpets and booming voice, no wonder Israel feared and ran away.
Yet we are led to believe that one of those commandments, the very one that God placed deliberately in the heart of the ten, one that comes by no other source but from His own lips, has been done away without as much as a whimper? If the early church suddenly began ignoring the Sabbath as is supposed, where was the debate? Where was the controversy with the Jewish legalists who were all looking for the slightest excuse to malign the new movement? Why was it not an issue like circumcision? I would strongly suggest to you that the reason it never came up for any debate was that the early church kept the Sabbath faithfully , both Jew and gentile, and it was not an issue.
It is a fact that Christians did keep the Sabbath but stopped. Over a period of time and for several reasons, Sunday became more popular and through church councils and enforcement, ‘Judaising’ or Sabbath keeping was forbidden by the ruling church /state power.
When Rome began to persecute and wage relentless war against Jews in the 2nd century as a result of several Jewish uprisings, Jews and Christians alike were rounded up and carted off to imprisonment or worse. Many Christians felt they needed to be seen to be a separate group and people from Jews and began disregarding the Sabbath. For the Roman, this was a very significant thing. A Jew who didn’t keep Sabbath was unheard of . So Christians who began observing Sunday in honor of the resurrection were left alone. Eventually, when Constantine claimed to be a Christian, half the empire was Christian; it became politically expedient for Constantine to recognise Christianity as an officially recognised religion.
To make Christianity more acceptable to pagans, Constantine made Sunday the official day of rest. Sunday at that time was the official day for sun worship, and ‘baptising’ it brought acceptability and unity to the empire.
The church in Rome which took over the Roman civil authority when Constantine left for Constantinople, at the council of Laodicea made Sunday the official church day of worship in line with Constantine’s civil edict.
Not all Christianity accepted this however. Elsewhere where Roman influence was less significant eg in Ethiopia, Britain, and Asia, the Sabbath was kept by the Christian church for centuries. By some even right up to the 17th and 18 th centuries.
I am bemused by a common argument used against the observance of Sabbath; that is that ” Jesus is now my Sabbath rest” because this or that one has ceased from his own works. The insinuation is that those who do observe the Sabbath as a day of rest according to the commandment, have not ceased from their own works.
My question is this, though it seems obvious to me: how can anyone observe the day as a Sabbath, without ceasing from his/her own works?
As a corollary to this, can we observe any commandment without ceasing from our own works? Does not death to self and the infilling of the Holy Spirit create in us the image of Christ? Is this not called sanctification? And because we are transformed into the image of Christ, would it also not be in conformity to the law that Christ wrote on the tables of stone, and which He now writes on the tables of our hearts? We can’t accomplish this without surrender ; without ceasing from our own works. Sanctification is simply that. The changing of the life to make it conformable to God’s standards of righteousness. And Ezekiel tells us that by observing the Sabbath, the day, we are acknowledging that it is God Who is doing the sanctifying, and not we ourselves. So by keeping the Sabbath, it is actually a sign we have indeed ceased from our own works, and trusting in Christ’s working in us His righteousness.
2Co 3:3 For as much as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
Heb 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
Further to this, no Christian I know of whatever denomination, would suggest that because Jesus fulfilled the law, it is now legitimate for Christians to commit murder, because they are no longer under the law. That would surely be quite preposterous. Yet we constantly witness claims by many that because we are not under the law, we are no longer obliged to honor it. This is so incredibly inconsistent. The reason I am not under the law is not because the law has been done away with, but because the blood of Jesus has released me from it’s condemnation. That however does not release me from it’s power to convict me again of sin should I choose to disobey it.
This also applies to the 4th commandment. Just because Jesus fulfilled the law by keeping the Sabbath, , (that is He kept the law, obeyed it and thus magnified the law making it honorable) that does not release me from my obligation to keep the Sabbath, magnifying it and making it honorable. If obligation makes anyone feel uncomfortable, sorry, but I would use that same word for every one of the ten commandments. We are obliged to love our neighbor and thus not commit adultery, not covet, not steal, not get angry and kill, and respect and honor our parents. We are also obliged to love God by confessing Him as the One and Only true God, Maker of heaven and earth, and all things therein. Because He is our Creator, He has sole rights to our worship, our fidelity and service. That is why we shun idols. It is also why we would not dare to use His name disrespectfully. It is also why we choose to honor that day which recognises Him as our Creator, and brings to our remembrance why He deserves our worship, and why the whole law and our keeping it is a recognition of His authority in our lives.
I would strongly suggest that the only arguments against the observance of Sabbath are ones of subjective interpretation, an example of which is the aforementioned “Jesus is my Sabbath rest” argument. By so doing we are placing our own authority above God’s.