Why Keeping a Sabbath Should Be Your New Year's Resolution

The surprising benefits of the overlooked commandment.

Sabbath is like holding a newborn for the first time for many of us. We don’t really know what to do with it. It confuses us.

The ideas that we inherit associated with the Sabbath are those of a required gathering for worship, a day of pious practices or a strict mandate to stay indoors where we are relegated to watch TV or take a nap. Honestly, it all sounds rather boring. It’s time that could be spent on the thousand other important tasks we weren’t able to touch during the busy workweek. Sabbath, as we understand it, is another obligation tugging at our over-committed schedules. All we really know is that we’re supposed to not do anything and that doesn’t sit well with the prevailing cultural need to be productive. Not only do we not have the time, we’re not convinced it’s a priority.

I mean really, who are we hurting if we choose not to rest?

Which is a decent enough justification to placate our conscious until we hear how serious God is about Sabbath: “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people.” (Exodus 31:14) Or begin questioning what God was really up to on that seventh day: Why did God rest? Was He weary from His work? Was His rest a withdrawal from the world? What’s so holy about a nap? And then we read the Gospels and see a sea of instances where Jesus capitalized on the fact that it was the Sabbath, almost as if He wanted to reclaim the essence of its beauty, depth and sacredness.

Maybe we’re missing something here?

That something is the loaded Hebrew word menuha. It’s the word we translate as “rest” when we’re talking about God’s action on day seven of creation. In Hebrew, menuha carries with it ideas of harmony, peace and delight. Instead of separating Himself from the world, God reveled in it; He couldn’t take his eyes off it. He delighted. Celebrated. Enjoyed. Menuha is the crown of God’s creative act. Without menuha, creation is incomplete, lacking its raison d’être.

This means that one Sabbath will probably look different from another, but each will be intentional decisions to join God in looking around at life and proclaiming it very good.

What if that is what it means to observe Sabbath? Suppose we are to pursue delight in God’s goodness, in creation’s beauty, in the passions that well up in our souls? It would mean we’d have to rethink the common depictions of Sabbath as something strict and hyper-religious. We’d need a deeper understanding of this weekly rhythm, one where divine and human come together in intimacy to affirm the goodness of both.

This helps us make sense of the Sinai story. The picture painted in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 is one of a marriage ceremony, where God is the groom and Israel His bride. As the ten vows are shared, the first three speak of how the bride is to relate to God, her husband; the last six convey how the collective bride is to act toward one another. And the bridge, commandment number four, the one given most ink, sets aside a weekly date day between husband and wife. Is it any wonder God cherishes this get together? If God’s bride fails to observe the Sabbath, she breaks the covenant, devalues the relationship and dishonors her husband.

It would be saying “thanks, but no thanks” to the God whose love gives us life and meaning to life.

What the Sabbath actually means

For Israel, and as it now stands, the Church, Sabbath is a distinguishing mark of what it means to be a people blessed in order to bless others. It is and always will be a choice to stop in the midst of the chaos and pain and suffering and heartache of our lives and enter into God’s loving embrace, to revel in his beauty, to play in his goodness. But let’s be honest: We’re not practiced in receiving such utter, unabashed delight. It’s much easier to work than play; to go than stop; to do than be. We’re practiced at having control, at making ourselves indispensable, at being busy. Even if God still desires Sabbath intimacy with his creation, we don’t have the categories to understand what that means. What does one day a week characterized by delight actually look like?

Which is precisely why Sabbath is in desperate need of reclamation.

Sabbath is a day to celebrate the things that bring you joy.

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What then would you do if you had 24 hours to pursue the joy residing deep in your soul? Maybe your joy drives you out into nature where you can hike, fish, build a campfire and look at the stars. Maybe you devote that time to a hobby—painting, needlepoint, building a sailboat, scrapbooking. Maybe you curl up in a favorite nook with a neglected book and a decidedly English pot of tea. Maybe you learn magic. Can you remember the last time your energy was solely focused on what brings delight to your heart? Do that. Do that with eyes open to the God who desires it for you and with thanks dancing on your lips as you do.

Sabbath is a communal practice.

Sabbath justice in the biblical narrative includes everyone, the whole household. One shouldn’t be left to work while others revel in their joy. Sabbath is realized in community: spouses, children, employees, neighbors, friends, strangers. All are invited. Sabbath becomes a way to dream together about how to love one another better, how to enjoy one another’s company and how to bring joy to the lives of those around us. This means that one Sabbath will probably look different from another, but each will be intentional decisions to join God in looking around at life and proclaiming it very good.

So pick a day for delight. Take seriously God’s command to enter into his joy, his rest, his love. Covet the time and let it be something you anticipate, practice and remember in an endless cycle. The thing about newborns is if you hold them for long, confusion will submit to awe and your heart will be captivated in a way that will forever change how you see the world. Forget the prevailing notions that Sabbath is antiquated or legalistic and learn to see it with new eyes. See that we serve a God who desires unimaginable joy and delight for His creation on a weekly basis.

Top Comments

Filip Milosavljevic

4

Filip Milosavljevic replied to Corey Minyard's comment

The rest we have in Christ is 24/7, that's a solid point you bring out from Hebrews 4 Corey, I really appreciate that, but I totally agree with Joshua, there is beauty in setting aside an entire day.

With that being said, I think you should spend a bit more time analyzing why exactly God would waste His time etching a command in stone if he did not want this to be something that would be an everlasting covenant between Himself and His people (Ex. 31:16), i.e. be for us in the modern world as well, not just two or three millennia ago. Read Walter Bruggeman's "The Sabbath As Resistence," if you haven't already, to gain a fuller picture of how the Sabbath is essential for human existence and flourishing, not just you, but all of the world. Materialism, and a total disregard for God's provision in our lives drives us, and others who serve us on the Sabbath to continue to slave on and on, hoping to make ends meet and never find "rest" whether it be physical or truly in where it should be, Jesus.

"God blessed the Sabbath and made it Holy" that means there is something special about that specific day--original Greek means show that God "set the Sabbath apart" from other days--not just the Tuesday you go and read a good book and journal--as specific day, distinct from others. When you read Romans and Colossians don't miss out on the context and background, the new moons, festivals and sabbaths here were referring to things apart from the weekly Sabbath.

The blessing and rest enter your life when you align your will with God's, not the other way around, and further, when you Sabbath each week, not just when you want, or feel like it. Every day we should acknowledge God's sovereignty in our life and rest in Him, but there is a total acknowledgment when we really do cease working, worrying for our success, and find peace in church community, communion with God, and spending time with family. I've been doing this for years, its changed my life forever!

Corey Minyard

6

Corey Minyard commented…

You say a lot of nice things, but I've seen several articles like this and I don't think they exactly square with Scripture. The command is to set the Sabbath apart as holy. You do this by not working, which in that time, would have been a huge distinction that we probably can't fathom today. Would it have been ok for an Israelite to do the things you mention on the Sabbath? I think so, even if rabbinic rules might prohibit some. But I don't think it's the real reason for the Sabbath.

So what is the real meaning of the Sabbath? Col 2:16-17: "Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days - these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!"

The reality is Christ! Hebrews 4 makes this more clear, but it's too long to quote here. We actually do enter a Sabbath rest when we believe Jesus, but it is a permanent rest in the work that He has done. We rest from our striving to keep the law and instead rely on what He has done. The true meaning of the Sabbath is to rest in God and His work and to trust that He will take care of you, even if you don't work. It was (or should have been) a matter of faith for Israel, just like the Sabbath rest we have in Christ is a matter of faith for us. The Sabbath points forward to the work Christ would do and the rest we would have in it.

Is it ok to observe the Sabbath? Absolutely. Romans 14 makes this clear, even if it doesn't directly mention the Sabbath. Rom 14:5: "One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind." Read the whole passage for context, it's important.

Is it ok to not observe the Sabbath? Again, absolutely, also from Romans 14. It's crystal clear.

I've kind of done a long post, but my problem with this article is that I don't think it has a balanced view. I've tried to create that. This article seems to me to say the Sabbath as commanded in the law is a command that all followers of Jesus should keep. That's absolutely wrong. Paul spoke so strongly about law and grace that I think it's something we need to be extremely careful about. We are under grace, not law. And the article doesn't mention that the Sabbath is a shadow of the reality that is Christ, which I think is important.

Are there benefits to keeping a Sabbath day (or any other holiday)? Probably so. Are there benefits to regarding each day alike? Probably so. Each person must be convinced in their own mind, and we don't get to judge one another for it. But the reality is that we have rest right now, every day, 24 by 7, in the work of Jesus. Observe that Sabbath for sure, and feel free to spend a Sabbath day, or any other day, contemplating it :-).

4 Comments

Matthew Patterson

2

Matthew Patterson commented…

Josh - thank you for this clear reminder on the idea of Sabbath in this day and age. I wake up very early for work, and continue to wake up early now on the weekends. My Sabbath time is going to be spent at coffee shops every Saturday morning where I can journal about whats going on in my life and wait on the Lord.

Love the piece, keep up the great work.

Corey Minyard

6

Corey Minyard commented…

You say a lot of nice things, but I've seen several articles like this and I don't think they exactly square with Scripture. The command is to set the Sabbath apart as holy. You do this by not working, which in that time, would have been a huge distinction that we probably can't fathom today. Would it have been ok for an Israelite to do the things you mention on the Sabbath? I think so, even if rabbinic rules might prohibit some. But I don't think it's the real reason for the Sabbath.

So what is the real meaning of the Sabbath? Col 2:16-17: "Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days - these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!"

The reality is Christ! Hebrews 4 makes this more clear, but it's too long to quote here. We actually do enter a Sabbath rest when we believe Jesus, but it is a permanent rest in the work that He has done. We rest from our striving to keep the law and instead rely on what He has done. The true meaning of the Sabbath is to rest in God and His work and to trust that He will take care of you, even if you don't work. It was (or should have been) a matter of faith for Israel, just like the Sabbath rest we have in Christ is a matter of faith for us. The Sabbath points forward to the work Christ would do and the rest we would have in it.

Is it ok to observe the Sabbath? Absolutely. Romans 14 makes this clear, even if it doesn't directly mention the Sabbath. Rom 14:5: "One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind." Read the whole passage for context, it's important.

Is it ok to not observe the Sabbath? Again, absolutely, also from Romans 14. It's crystal clear.

I've kind of done a long post, but my problem with this article is that I don't think it has a balanced view. I've tried to create that. This article seems to me to say the Sabbath as commanded in the law is a command that all followers of Jesus should keep. That's absolutely wrong. Paul spoke so strongly about law and grace that I think it's something we need to be extremely careful about. We are under grace, not law. And the article doesn't mention that the Sabbath is a shadow of the reality that is Christ, which I think is important.

Are there benefits to keeping a Sabbath day (or any other holiday)? Probably so. Are there benefits to regarding each day alike? Probably so. Each person must be convinced in their own mind, and we don't get to judge one another for it. But the reality is that we have rest right now, every day, 24 by 7, in the work of Jesus. Observe that Sabbath for sure, and feel free to spend a Sabbath day, or any other day, contemplating it :-).

Filip Milosavljevic

4

Filip Milosavljevic replied to Corey Minyard's comment

The rest we have in Christ is 24/7, that's a solid point you bring out from Hebrews 4 Corey, I really appreciate that, but I totally agree with Joshua, there is beauty in setting aside an entire day.

With that being said, I think you should spend a bit more time analyzing why exactly God would waste His time etching a command in stone if he did not want this to be something that would be an everlasting covenant between Himself and His people (Ex. 31:16), i.e. be for us in the modern world as well, not just two or three millennia ago. Read Walter Bruggeman's "The Sabbath As Resistence," if you haven't already, to gain a fuller picture of how the Sabbath is essential for human existence and flourishing, not just you, but all of the world. Materialism, and a total disregard for God's provision in our lives drives us, and others who serve us on the Sabbath to continue to slave on and on, hoping to make ends meet and never find "rest" whether it be physical or truly in where it should be, Jesus.

"God blessed the Sabbath and made it Holy" that means there is something special about that specific day--original Greek means show that God "set the Sabbath apart" from other days--not just the Tuesday you go and read a good book and journal--as specific day, distinct from others. When you read Romans and Colossians don't miss out on the context and background, the new moons, festivals and sabbaths here were referring to things apart from the weekly Sabbath.

The blessing and rest enter your life when you align your will with God's, not the other way around, and further, when you Sabbath each week, not just when you want, or feel like it. Every day we should acknowledge God's sovereignty in our life and rest in Him, but there is a total acknowledgment when we really do cease working, worrying for our success, and find peace in church community, communion with God, and spending time with family. I've been doing this for years, its changed my life forever!

Corey Minyard

6

Corey Minyard replied to Filip Milosavljevic's comment

Filip, I wasn't clear enough in what I said. I have no problem with you or anyone else observing the Sabbath. If it helps you focus and worship, avoid materialism, it's a good thing.

My big problem was with the word "should" in the title. "Should" implies, or perhaps more than implies, that if you don't heed the advice you are doing something wrong. You should be faithful to your spouse. You shouldn't cheat on your taxes. The author may not have even chosen the title, I don't know, but I think "should" is too strong a word here. I think that the New Testament is pretty clear that we have freedom in this area, and we don't get to judge one another on it.

As far as the word "Sabbath" used in Colossians, Strong's definition is: "the Sabbath, i.e the seventh day (of the week)". The Greek word is basically a transliteration of Hebrew word. It's the same word used when the Pharisees complain that Jesus was healing on the Sabbath and the disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath. I think it's pretty clear that it means the seventh day of the week. Which, by the way, starts on Friday night and ends on Saturday night, sundown to sundown. If you really want to observe the day set aside by God as holy, then that's the time you should do it. There were Sabbath years, of course, but they seem to be for the land and for the poor. Talk about the faith required in an agrarian society, though there is no evidence that the Israelites ever observed a Sabbath year.

Why was the Sabbath so important that it was one of the Ten Commandments and the penalty for violating it was death? Because it was the sign of the covenant between God and His people Israel (Ex 31:12-18). We as followers of Jesus are not under that covenant, we are under the new covenant of grace that Christ accomplished for us on the cross. Paul goes berserk over having the Gentiles observe the Law of Moses. So we need to be careful.

Special days mean nothing to me personally, I'm a "one day is as another" type of person. Observing a Sabbath would not change my life. But I know that many (perhaps most) people benefit from special days, as you have. I'm totally ok with that, in fact I am for it. But I am not for judging where the New Testament gives us freedom, and the article came across that way to me. Probably not intentionally, but again, we need to be careful.

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