Sabbath: an OT law now past or a 21st C principle to embrace?

26 02 2010

The matter of ‘the Sabbath Day’ has been part of my general knowledge base since I was a child.  My parents made some endeavour to ensure that the Lord’s Day had some characteristic that set it apart from the rest of the week.  Key markers of course would be church attendance but even in the afternoon or evening, TV or playing football were frowned upon because they tended to make the day look and feel like any other day.  It was always a little beyond me as a child understanding where they were coming from…  In the years of youthful rebellion we tried to be smart by quoting Jesus’ words, The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, as a justification to do what we needed to do on the Sabbath and especially if we could get away with categorising it as ‘rest’!

The fallout from a lack of commitment to the distinctiveness of the Sabbath day was highlighted for me in Tanzania, where Christians were moving for an early morning service on a Sunday, around 8am so that they could get it over and get on with the rest of the day in dealing with their own business matters.  Britain has long since abandoned any restraint on ‘business as usual’, even on a Sunday – a matter that at the time I didn’t see as being such a big deal.  The resultant shift in the cultural perspective of our society today now makes it decidedly ‘old-fashioned’ and even ‘legalistic’ to mention the subject, I fear, but a recent house group event with some of the guys from Greenview brought home the reality that a Sabbath rest lost in the workaholic culture of today is taking its toll on individuals, families, churches and society at large.

God’s design for us has always been that we should rest.  Our house group were indebted to Tim Keller for his teaching on the matter from Luke 6:1-11.  This was an excellent message – an exemplary expositional sermon that taught Christ in all the Scriptures as well as making the main point of the passage abundantly clear.  Our need for rest, where we find rest, and how do we do it were Keller’s main headings.  Make time to listen to this sermon – it’s a message we need to re-learn in the 21st Century hubbub of activity.



4 responses

1 03 2010
John Taylor

Allan, so true. We all really need to do some serious resting, God did it….so should we….

I’m going to subscribe to your blog. 🙂

5 03 2010

Allan, didn’t know you were blogging! I agree that we need to take time out to worship God and that work or recreation should not get in the way of this.

I would hesitate to call this weekly worship a Sabbath though. The Sabbath, as I read it, was a sign of Israel’s covenantal relationship with God (Ex. 31:13). It’s interesting to note that the nations surrounding Israel were condemned for all kinds of sins, but never for Sabbath breaking. The OT Sabbath, IMO, was a typological foreshadowing of the rest we have, and will finally have, through Christ (Heb. 4:1-10). Since it has found fulfillment in Christ, the OT type shouldn’t be pressed upon NT believers (Col. 2:16) and insistence upon special days is a sign of weakness (Rom. 14:1-7).

7 03 2010

Hi Nick. Thanks for the comment. I’m not really blogging in the serious way that some of you guys are but just in an endeavour to share and stimulate others with some material, probably of a more devotional nature. I’m always concerned when theology is discussion for discussion’s sake and I like to keep things grounded in our lives as Christians as much as possible. I know you’ll agree with that…
On your remarks, without getting into to deep a debate, I am not sure you have got the drift of my post. I was not equating Sabbath with taking ‘time out to worship God’ although I think it may well include that. I agree with your comments on the NT fulfillment of the Sabbath as eternal rest in Christ, etc, but I think we may be in danger of throwing out a principle that God has established for good reason. I think the Colossian heresy – like most heresy – refers to an extreme of Sabbatarianism which clearly was built into their view of a Christ+ gospel. Jesus himself warned us of the value of all of God’s law for all of life (Matthew 5-7; Mark 7:1ff) and by the Holy Spirit in the terms of the New Covenant God writes his law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). It is noteworthy that Jesus regularly draws our attention to the OT law, and in particular the 10 commandments – I don’t think this is without good cause.
In regards to the Romans passage you mention it is probably good to highlight that Paul is not calling it – the Sabbath, or any other special day – a sign of weakness, but he is saying that some of our weaker brothers may feel that an adherence to the Sabbath principle is of more importance to them than it is to you. This does two things – it validates the keeping of a Sabbath rest if we feel it is good to do so in good consciecne and secondly, that we should not condemn others for that, for God has welcomed them (Rom 14:4). Blessings upon you, and welcome again. PS. Did you listen to the mp3 by Keller? I think you’ll enjoy it…

8 03 2010
John Thomson

Hi Alan

Didn’t know you were blogging either. Found out through Nicky’s blog. I am with Nicky on the theology. I agree though about our workaholic culture though. I understand the attractiveness of the sabbath as a Christian response to this and I do think rest needs built in – not merely one day a week (not necessarily excluding it) but in each day of our lives.

The issue of Jesus, the Law and the gospels is an interesting one, and to some extent complex. Jesus on earth was a Jew living under Law and at times discussing this law with his contemporaries. Yet this Jewish Law, the old covenant (including the decalogue) is not the rule of life for the church. We can learn from it but we must place it to my mind in its redemptive-historical context. In fact in the gospels the Sabbath is interesting for Jesus observed the Sabbath yet at the same time he undermined conventional understandings of the sabbath. Luke 6 is particularly interesting. It puts two sabbath controversies side by side and places them immediately after a comment about new wine and wineskins (at the end of Ch 5). The Sabbath was the sign of the OC. It seems as if Jesus (and Luke) is indicating that the dehumanizing abuse of the Sabbath by Israel was a sign of the bankrupcy of the OC and of judaism. If the sign of the covenant (the sabbath) is lifeless, how much more judaism itself. New wine requires new wineskins.

How Jesus understood the continuance of the Law or otherwise is a discussion for another time perhaps, but one worth having.

Anyway, glad to see you online.

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