WHAT was God’s will for the Sabbath (or “day of cessation,” as the term literally means)? The fourth commandment is straightforward: “keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). But what does it mean to keep the Sabbath “holy”?
The prologue to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2) provides a clue. All ten laws rest on the close relationship that God has to His people:
- He is their sovereign Lord.
- He is their Almighty God.
- He is their Deliverer.
- He is their Savior.
- They are His children.
If God’s people keep in mind their relationship to the Lord and value it in their hearts, they will exhibit the kind of behaviors outlined in the Ten Commandments. For example, they will set aside one day of the week, the “day of cessation,” in order to consciously emulate what their Lord did on the seventh day of creation.
God “rested” or ceased from His creative labors on that seventh day. He did not stop sustaining, maintaining, and redeeming the world, but He did cease from creating, shaping, and forming it. And that is what He asks His people to do, to set the day apart for Him, in order to do whatever He loves and desires, everything except the routine labors that are normally carried out on the other six days of the week.
Christians today have a degree of latitude in how they fulfill God’s intentions for the Sabbath (Romans 14:5–13). But the spirit of “keeping the Sabbath holy” still means to honor God, to focus on the needs of others rather than ourselves, and to pursue fellowship, unity, and concern for other believers.