It’s in our nature is to look for the loophole—in everything and anything. If there is a way to infringe upon a rule without technically breaking it, we want to know all about it. How far can I go without absolutely, completely, and entirely crossing the line of the law?
The concept of a loophole came from the tiny windows we see in those ancient castle walls. The loopholes (like the one pictured above) allowed those behind its impenetrable wall to penetrate through it. They could then fire upon their opponents with little-to-no risk of being harmed in the process.
The fourth commandment of God’s Law is that wall. It is the longest of the ten; and arguably the oldest, as its roots go all the way back to Gen 2:2-3.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exod 20:8-11)
On Sunday night, I had taught on this commandment in our small group Bible study. The idea of keeping the Sabbath holy. This was done with assistance from chapter seven of Philip Graham Ryken’s Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis.1
In the book he shares three parts to the commandment: what the Israelites were to do, how they were to do it, and why they were to do it. He then concludes with how it applies to the Christian today.
WHAT THEY WERE TO DO
Ryken looks at verse 8, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” He identifies two important words in this statement.
The word “remember” has a double-meaning. For the Israelites, it was a reminder that they had heard about the Sabbath before. On their journey to Mount Sinai, God provided manna six days out of seven. The seventh day was meant to be “a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord” (Exod 16:23a). So when they reached Mount Sinai, God commanded them to “remember” the Sabbath.
This was something they needed to remember not just once, but every week… It is God’s memorandum to His people, reminding them to give Him glory for His grace… remembering to keep the Sabbath means using the day to show [their] love for God in a special way. It means “keep[ing] it holy.” Literally… to sanctify it, setting it apart for sacred use.
HOW THEY WERE TO DO IT
God begins in verse 9 with telling the Jews what they were supposed to do with the rest of their week, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” Ryken explains that they were being reminded of their duty to work.
People generally have a negative attitude about work. At best, work is treated as a necessary evil, and in fact sometimes it is thought that work is the result of sin… This is completely false. Work is a divine gift that goes back before the Fall, when “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15)… The trouble is our work has been cursed by our sin. It was only after Adam had sinned that God said, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Gen 3:17b). But it was not that way from the beginning. The fourth commandment remind[ed the Israelites] to honor God by doing an honest week’s work…
Six days are for work, but the seventh is for worship… worshiping the Lord on His day… [it is] also [for] a day of rest. It is a day for ceasing from work, and especially from common labor…
The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word “to cease or to rest.” It is not a day for “business as usual.” Rather, it is a day for relaxation and recuperation, a day to step back from life’s ordinary routines in order to rediscover God’s goodness and grace.
WHY THEY WERE TO DO IT
The author then gives us the main reason as to why the Israelites were given this command from God. It’s based on verse 11, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” He states that they were called to work and rest, for God is a working and resting God.
Keeping the Sabbath may be the oldest of the Ten Commandments, because it goes all the way back to the creation of the world. There are many additional reasons… It promotes the worship of God. It restores… both spiritually and physically… It is good for children and workers…
Once His creative work was done, God took His divine leisure. The Scripture says that “He rested on the seventh day from all His work” (Gen 2:2b). To mark the occasion, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation” (Gen 2:3). The first time that God blessed anything, He blessed a day for [them] to share in His rest.
FOR THE CHRISTIAN TODAY
Ryken rightfully concludes that we have much in common with the Israelites of the Old Testament. We are also made in the image of a working and resting God. We have the same need to work, as well as rest. We can even receive God’s blessing of His holy day.
The main thing that has changed is that we have received a new and greater deliverance. We no longer look back to the old exodus for our [rescue]; we look to Jesus Christ, who accomplished a greater exodus by dying for our sins and rising again… Christ’s saving work transformed the weekly Sabbath. It is no longer the seventh day of the week, but the first, and it is no longer called the Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day…
B.B. Warfield explained it like this: “Christ took the Sabbath into the grave with Him and brought the Lord’s Day out of the grave with Him on the resurrection morn.”
So how is the Christian to treat the Lord’s Day? Certainly, we are to have a love for the local church. This means attending corporate worship and fellowship with His people. But are there any regulations that we must follow? If so, what then are the loopholes?
God is honored when we celebrate the Lord’s Day. However, we need to be on our guard against legalism in all its forms. We do not base our standing before God on what we do on Sunday… The way to avoid all this legalism is to remember that the Lord’s Day is for celebrating the freedom that we have in Christ…
The Lord’s Day is for worship… Thomas Watson wrote, “When Saturday evening approaches, sound a retreat; call your minds off from the world and summon your thoughts together, to think of the great work of the approaching day”…
The Lord’s Day is for mercy… We follow His example whenever we use the Lord’s Day to welcome the stranger, feed the poor, or visit the sick.
Finally, the Lord’s Day is for rest, for ceasing from our labor. The fourth commandment teaches us to have a leisure ethic as well as a work ethic.
In the Lord’s Day there is room for Christian freedom. Much is permissible, but if we are looking for a loophole in God’s Law—permission to join a culture in treating our Sundays like any other day of the week—we’ll find there is none. While the civil and ceremonial implications of this commandment no longer exist (the civil has expired and the ceremonial has been fulfilled), there still is a moral aspect. A heart-issue before our Creator God remains: how are we treating the Lord’s Day?
The Lord’s Day is to be different for the believer. God is calling us away from the six days of work to glorify Him in the seventh one. It is to be a time filled primarily with worship, rest, and leisure.
And when we try to make as much room as we can for our own pleasures, then we miss the greatest pleasure of all, which is fellowship with the living God.
1 Ryken, Philip Graham. Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2003). 102-115