The Fourth Commandment : Honour the Sabbath

Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Blog, God's will, God's word, The Ten Commandments | 7 comments

The Fourth Commandment : Honour the Sabbath

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)

Don’t go to work and do go to church!

I once heard this fourth commandment summed up as above. As much as this definition drew a rueful smile, it’s surely rather sad if that’s how we might view this special, God-appointed day.

There’s a school of thought that suggests the Sabbath was intended only for the Jews. While it’s true that it forms part of the Ten Commandments given to Moses for the Israelites, the Sabbath Day was actually instituted by God Himself at creation long before there were any tribes or nations.

And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

So it’s clear that the Sabbath was intended for all human beings and, indeed, even for animals (livestock).

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. (Exodus 20:8-10)

What is the ‘Sabbath Day ‘ ?
Sabbath: a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians on Sunday.
Origin : Old English, from Latin sabbatum, via Greek from Hebrew šabbāṯ, from šāḇaṯ ‘to rest’. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Note: Some scholars contend that we should actually observe the Sabbath on the 7th day and not the first. This subject is beyond the scope of this article but I am studying it and it may be the basis for a future post. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use the Sabbath as outlined in the 4th commandment to mean observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day as practised by most Christians today and I shall use the terms interchangeably.

The Sabbath is essentially a day of rest from our normal activities and a day dedicated to God. As a child, I remember wondering why God needed to rest. Of course, God didn’t need to rest; He chose to do so and to enjoy His splendid creation.

And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. (Genesis 1:31 – Genesis 2:1)

Scripture exhorts us to be imitators of God and remembering the Sabbath is surely an excellent example.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (Ephesians 5:1)

What does it mean to ‘remember‘ the Sabbath?
Remember: to have in mind or to bring to mind an awareness of someone or something.
To do something that one has undertaken to do or that is necessary or advisable.
Origin: Middle English: from Old French remembrer, from late Latin rememorari ‘call to mind’, from re- (expressing intensive force) + Latin memor ‘mindful’. (Oxford English Dictionary)

I love the idea of an intensive force in bringing to mind and undertaking a necessary and important thing – observing the Sabbath. It’s clear that this should be an act of obedience.

What does it mean to keep the Sabbath ‘holy ‘ ?
Holy: dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose; sacred.
Origin: Old English hālig, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch and German heilig, also to whole. (Oxford English Dictionary)

This commandment comes with a number of clear instructions.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. (Exodus 20:8-10)

For six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places. (Leviticus 23:3)

Well that seems clear enough. We’re to rest from all our normal jobs and tasks and we’re to dedicate the day to God and we’re to meet together to worship Him. And there you have it; Don’t go to work and do go to church! But is that really all there is to it?

Most of us don’t like to be subject to constraints or obligations so we may have the notion that observing the Lord’s Day is onerous in some way but, in reality, if we love God as we ought, the Lord’s Day should surely be the best day of the week.

Do we live our lives differently on the Lord’s Day? I’m not talking about being a ‘Sunday Christian’ where we live any way we choose throughout the week and only really pay attention to our faith on a Sunday but rather, do we remember the Sabbath to the point where it’s a demonstrably different day of the week for us?

The Sabbath belongs to God but it is for the benefit of mankind.
The seventh day is the Sabbath to the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:10)

Jesus observed the Sabbath and He also taught that, while it belongs to God, it’s for the benefit of mankind.

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27-28)

That seems contrary to how some Christians and non-Christians alike view this special day. The Sabbath should be a delight, not by indulging in our own hobbies, interests and pleasures, but first and foremost by honouring God and seeking to please Him and to do His will.

If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord. (Isaiah 58:13-14)

The Psalmist delighted in celebrating God’s holy day.

A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath. It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High. (Psalm 92:1)

I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord! (Psalm 122:1)

Is that how we feel? Do we delight in remembering the Lord’s Day and keeping it holy?

So how do we honour the Lord’s Day?
Well, it’s clear that it’s to be a day of rest from our normal tasks. There is, however, legitimate work that simply must be done every day of the week. This includes jobs in healthcare, emergency services, search and rescue, security services and no doubt, many more besides. Even at home there are some tasks that simply can’t be avoided such as caring for the sick or elderly. Clearly we must observe both the letter and the spirit of the law.

But the Sabbath is more than just a day for resting and doing nothing. We’re commanded to keep it holy so it should be dominated by our love for God and characterised by praise, worship, study and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Observing the Lord’s Day isn’t purely a function of going to church. After all, it’s not just the Lord’s morning or evening; it’s the Lord’s Day – all of it. Here in France, we only have one service on a Sunday. Church attendance accounts for approximately two hours of my time on a Sunday morning. Does that mean my duty is done?

How else, apart from going to church might I celebrate the Lord’s day? Well, just as God enjoyed His creation, we can enjoy His many blessings in our lives; bonding with family and friends, appreciating the beauty of nature around us. It’s also a day when we can honour God by serving others such reaching out in love to those who are sick or lonely.

The fourth commandment is one of those that relate to our relationship with God. Jesus makes it clear how we are to love God; You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

What does it mean to remember the Sabbath with all our heart?
If we really love God with all our heart, wouldn’t we be eager, excited and enthusiastic about putting aside all other activities to worship Him? Wouldn’t it be the most wonderful day of the week?

Is Sunday a chore for us? Do we sing and praise and worship with a full, loving and grateful heart?

What does it mean to remember the Sabbath with all our soul?
Our soul is who we are; it’s our unique and eternal identity. Church attendance is a public testimony to our family, friends and neighbours when we publicly and regularly associate ourselves with God and with His church.

Our public testimony in how we live our lives speaks volumes to those around us and that includes how we remember the Sabbath and how we live in such a way as to keep it holy.

What does it mean to remember the Sabbath with all our mind?
Loving God completely means that we’ll be hungry to learn about Him. Any church is blessed by having consistent Biblical truths preached week after week. While private worship, study and prayer should be an essential part of the life of each Christian, we also need to be educated and informed by Pastors and preachers whose ministry it is to teach us.

What does it mean to remember the Sabbath with all our strength?
This speaks to our will, enthusiasm and effort. Do we organise our activities throughout the week so that we can free up Sundays for worship? It may take a change in our weekly schedule to be able to observe and enjoy the Lord’s Day as we ought but the benefits are enormous. In all the commandments, blessing is on the other side of wholehearted and loving obedience.

The fourth commandment : Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

The Lord’s Day isn’t just a matter of “don’t go to work and do go to church”. Rather it’s an honour, a privilege and a blessing to celebrate God how and when He wants us to. Whenever we neglect to keep the Lord’s Day as holy and consecrated to Him, just one time, we break this commandment.

Guilty as charged.


  1. I so appreciate your writing, Wyn. I’ve been away from home this plast week and haven’t always had internet connection. Though teaching at my church in my childhood could be on the legalistic side, my parents were not. Although Dad always reminded us that if we sewed on Sunday, we’d rip it out on Monday. Mom and us girls kept on with it…it being a very enjoyable thing. I have always known that the 10 commandments were given by a loving Father for our own good. Thanks so much.

    • Thanks for your comments, Clara. I have to say I’m really enjoying studying the commandments. While they demonstrate, all too clearly, how far short I fall of God’s requirements, I do understand that they’re for His glory and my benefit. It also renders His unmerited pardon all the more amazing.

  2. Wyn, you always write such comprehensive and well researched pieces! I think Andrea touched on something very important, the Sabbath is a moment in the week when you don’t do chores or other non-essential tasks but take time to be with family and friends, to share a moment or take time to just be with God in the garden, on a walk or by reading. God knew that we needed to rest otherwise we become overburdened!

    • I completely agree with you, Sheila. The Lord’s Day is an extraordinary gift to us. God created us and He’s fully aware of our limitations and just how much we need a day of rest both physically and mentally. Turning our full attention on Him does exactly that.

      There’s a particular verse of scripture that always makes me smile; For He knows how we are formed; He remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:14)

      This observation may be wildly unflattering to my sense of self but God really does know best! 🙂

  3. As I’m sure you remember, Andrea, when we were young most of Sunday was taken up by church activities. I felt the restrictions a bit in my teens although I loved not having to do any study or homework!

    Sadly, I spent a number of years where I didn’t observe the Lord’s Day and it was surprisingly difficult to re-instate it. Now, it’s far and away the best day of week. Not just for church attendance but quite literally for praising God and counting my blessings.

    I loved doing the study on this commandment because it brought it home to me more than ever that the Sabbath belongs to God and it’s for our benefit. I echo your comment – Thank You Lord!

    • Yes, I found Sundays quite boring when I was young because I was selfish and wanted to do what everyone else was doing, thinking that they were having more fun than me. It wasn’t until I matured that I realised that I was the one who had the best upbringing since I had been taught what really mattered in life.

  4. I love Sundays more now than ever before. I love the freedom of not feeling under pressure to put a washing out, vacuum the floors, or do paperwork. I can relax both body and mind and just enjoy this day as it was intended. Sadly, many Christians do give the impression that it’s all about what you can’t do rather than what you can do.

    When our children were growing up, our days were extremely busy with farm work and we simply couldn’t spend much time with them. On a Sunday though, we could read with them, go to the shore and just be around.

    The reason why you won’t ever find clothes blowing on my washing-line on a Sunday isn’t because ‘I’m not allowed to’ but rather because I am allowed to be free from chores that day – and it’s a completely guilt-free freedom! Thank You Lord!

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