Q. What does God require in the fourth and fifth commandments?
A. Fourth, that on the Sabbath day we spend time in public and private worship of God, rest from routine employment, serve the Lord and others, and so anticipate the eternal Sabbath. Fifth, that we love and honor our father and our mother, submitting to their godly discipline and direction.
The Fourth Commandment is tricky. There is some disagreement on how, or even if, we are to uphold the Sabbath Command. Either it is neglected, treated like a Saturday interrupted by church, or practiced with a Sabbatarian perspective (where all activity outside of church and rest is discouraged).
So, how should Christians think through the issues raised by the Fourth Commandment?
Let us begin in Genesis (a good place to start). Here, God wove into the fabric of the seven-day process of creation, a Sabbath principle. “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” God set aside one day in seven for rest.
For Israel, the Sabbath day was to be a sin of the covenant that God had made with Israel (EX. 31:14). The Fourth Commandment was meant to reinforce to Israel the creation principle that we should rest from our labors and trust in God.
As you move into the New Testament, Jesus certainly kept the Sabbath commands, but he was more concerned to get to the heart of the Sabbath. For Jesus, the Sabbath was a day of freedom (Luke 13:10-17), a day for healing (Luke 14:1-6), and a day for doing good (Mark 3:1-6). In fact, Jesus refers to himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:7-8).
In Romans 14:5, the Apostle Paul says that each person should be fully convinced in his own mind whether one day is better than another (clearly having Sabbath issues in mind). Colossians 2:17 argues that the Sabbath, along with questions of food and drink and festivals, is “a shadow of the things to come,” whose substance is found in Christ. Finally, Hebrews 4:9-10 tells us that the Sabbath rest points to a deeper kind of rest – the rest we have in Christ, not having to labor to earn our salvation, because he accomplished all that was necessary for it on the cross.
Based on these latter texts of the New Testament, I don’t believe there are grounds for claiming that Christians are bound to observe the Jewish Sabbath. I do believe, however, that there are aspects of continuity between the principles of the Sabbath and the Christian recognition of the Lord’s Day (In the Book of Acts, we see the believers gathered on the first day of the week, the ‘Lord’s Day’, explicitly tying the first day of the week with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (Acts 20:7)).
So, for us, how are we to think of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day? As Tim Keller puts it “In our lives we’re commanded to have a rhythm of work and rest, and we are forbidden to overwork. We’re also commanded to nurture our bodies and our souls. We’re not supposed to nurture only our bodies. We’re to rejuvenate our souls through fellowship and through prayer and devotion and worship every week.”