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How Are We to Keep the Sabbath? (Part 1)

True Christians know and have proven for themselves from the pages of the Bible THAT they are still duty-bound today to keep the weekly Sabbath–the time from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset–as it is holy time.  But often questions may arise as to HOW to keep the Sabbath. Are there any principles or passages in the Bible which tell us what kind of activities are permitted, and which are prohibited? Are we told how to apply those passages and concepts practically, in an individual situation?

In this new series, we will address many of those questions which have puzzled and perplexed Christians for decades. We will begin with quoting statements which we have made through the years in our literature regarding proper Sabbath observance. In this installment and the next one, we will concentrate primarily on God’s command not to do “work” on the Sabbath; not to pursue our own “pleasure”; not to engage in “business”; and we will discuss whether or not we should eat out in a restaurant on the Sabbath. We will address and answer specific questions which we may not have addressed before in writing.

We stated the following in our Q&A on Mark 2:27-28:

“The Fourth Commandment says very clearly that we are not to do servile or customary work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15). As God rested on the seventh day from His ordinary work of creating plants, animals and men, so we are to rest from our ordinary labor and to be spiritually refreshed on the Sabbath.

“Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man. It was God’s gift to man. It was not supposed to be a burden, but a blessing. As God blessed and sanctified for holy use the seventh day (Genesis 2:3), He did so for man, so man will be blessed when he properly keeps and enjoys the seventh day.

“However, the Pharisees at the time of Jesus Christ had made a burden out of the Sabbath… they criticized the disciples of Christ for plucking the heads of grain on the Sabbath, to satisfy their hunger (Mark 2:23-24; Matthew 12:1-2). It was their position that they should rather go hungry than to pluck a few heads of grain, falsely interpreting such conduct as prohibited ‘harvesting.’ …

“Christ placed mercy over strict pharisaical restrictions, pointing out that David ate from the showbread of the [tabernacle], when he was hungry, although it was not ‘lawful’ for him to eat it (Matthew 12:3-4). But Christ did not condemn David for this. He also taught that the priests in the temple had to fulfill their responsibilities on the Sabbath, which—according to pharisaical consequential reasoning–would have been tantamount to ‘breaking’ or ‘profaning’ the Sabbath, but Christ said they were ‘blameless’ in doing so (Matthew 12:5). When today God’s ministers ‘work’ on the Sabbath in preparing and delivering sermons, they are equally blameless and guiltless.

“On the other hand, Christ did not teach that we can violate God’s Sabbath by just trampling it under foot—by working in our jobs to earn a living and by pursuing our own pleasures and hobbies. Isaiah 58:13 states to you (according to the New International Version) that you are to ‘keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day’ and to ‘call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable’ and to ‘honor it by not doing as you please or speaking idle words.’ The Living Bible clarifies that ‘doing as you please’ refers to ‘your own fun and business.’”

We also stated the following in our free booklet, God’s Commanded Holy Days:

“When we keep the Sabbath, it will be noticeable to those with whom we have close relationships—our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Our lack of participation in sports, school or college events that are scheduled on the Sabbath, as well as not going to theaters or working on the Sabbath, will become very obvious, and so these people will come to realize our commitment to God…”

To elaborate at this point, it is obvious that we must not work on the Sabbath to earn money, and if we operate our own business, we need to close it during the Sabbath. This would mean that we could not keep it open for our employees to run the business and keep the money for themselves. The same principle would apply for a business “partnership.” First of all, we would strongly recommend against a business partnership between a Church member and an “unbeliever” who does not believe in the Sabbath. In any event, a Church member could not agree that his partner operates the business on the Sabbath, even if he was to forgo any share of proceeds received on the Sabbath. As a partner, he would still be responsible for the operation of his business on the Sabbath. The situation would be different, if a Church member was an employee and would not work on the Sabbath for the business, even if the business was to stay open on that day.

A related question may arise when Christians rent out their houses or apartments. It is obvious that they cannot demand from their renters to leave the house on Fridays and return on Sundays. Once houses or apartments are rented out, the owners are no longer responsible for the conduct of their renters (as long as it is not illegal). It would be advisable, however, to carefully scrutinize prospective renters to guarantee that they are not engaging in conduct which would have to be rejected by a Church member. One might say that since no profit may be earned on the Sabbath, a landlord could not rent out a house or apartment since the rent would always include the time for the weekly and annual Sabbaths. Therefore, some have suggested that a Church member could or should never rent out a house or apartment, or should never begin to run a motel or a hotel, or if he had done so, to sell such an establishment.

This seems to be too restrictive. We read in the parable about the merciful Samaritan that he took care of the man fallen under the robbers; that he brought him to an inn; and that he paid the innkeeper for weeks (including the Sabbaths), until he returned. We also read that during the time of taxation (which fell apparently during the fall festivals), no room was found in the inn for Mary and Joseph, showing that inns were rented out in Judea, and they would have been rented out for profit. It is up to the individual Church member to determine how to calculate the rent, keeping the Sabbath question in mind, but it would be too restrictive to demand that he could not rent out his house or apartment.

Addressing activities of “pleasure” and “sports,” it would generally be ill advised to attend a birthday party or parties in general on the Sabbath; especially, if the parties involve unconverted family members or unbelieving friends. Even driving to such parties on the Sabbath (although one may attend after the Sabbath) might create a problem, depending on how long one may be on the road. It would always be better to ask for accommodation, explaining to the relatives and friends that the Sabbath was not really the day when one would want to attend, and whether the event could not be held on another day, such as Sunday. But as in so many cases, this would have to be a personal decision, based on the circumstances, the persons involved, and one’s own conscience. We must not neglect the fact, however, that the Sabbath is holy time to be dedicated to God.

This means that we may even have to look much more carefully at weddings and wedding receptions on the Sabbath, for both Church members and non-members (given the enormous work involved for Church members if they need to prepare for those occasions). The same general considerations would apply as discussed above regarding birthday parties and other parties. One would need to ask why one would want to conduct a wedding on the Sabbath in the first place, and if arrangements couldn’t be made to conduct it on a different day. Again, whether one would want to conduct or attend a wedding on the Sabbath would have to be a personal decision, based on the circumstances, the persons involved, and one’s own conscience.

To be clear, we do not say that it would be prohibited spending time together with unconverted parents or family members on the Sabbath, including for coffee or a meal.

Regarding sporting events, it should be obvious that we would not watch a football game, a basketball game or a soccer game on the Sabbath. Neither would we participate in such games; which is not to say that we could not “kick the ball around” for a short while with our children or grandchildren. We would also not go to an amusement park or a sporting event or a theater on the Sabbath, but how would we feel if a Church member would drop off or pick up their unbelieving relatives at an amusement park, a sporting event or a theater on his or her way to or from Church services? First of all, it is not our task to condemn anyone, but in case of a request for counseling, we would need to carefully evaluate the individual circumstances, taking into consideration the family situation and other aspects.

The same is true when a Church member is asked by his parents who are returning from vacation to pick them up at the airport on the Sabbath. Again, it would be advisable to explain to the parents ahead of time that the scheduling of the trip should be made in such a way that the flight does not fall on the Sabbath, but circumstances might have existed when such scheduling was not possible.

It would also be advisable for a Church member not to fly at all on the Sabbath, for any reason, if it can be avoided. Experience has shown that flights on the Sabbath are simply not the best way of keeping the Sabbath (especially considering the time at the airport, including security procedures, before entering or after leaving the plane).

It would not be wrong to view certain TV programs or Internet postings on the Sabbath, which would inform us about world news or which would show us God’s beauty of creation; nor would it be wrong to go to a park for a picnic after Church services, or drive to a beautiful scenery (watching the ocean, a waterfall, a forest etc.).

In the next installment, we will answer the question as to whether it is permissible to eat out in a restaurant on the Sabbath.

(To be Continued)

Lead Writer: Norbert Link