Practice Unproductivity (part 3)

Commanded to Rest

The concept of Sabbath is almost entirely gone.[1] It is one thing to enforce sabbatarian “blue laws” on a whole country,[2] it is another thing to think we are self-sufficient and have no need for any type of Sabbath.

This is not the place to have a big argument on the Sabbath so I don’t intend to do that here. But, I think it should be clear that we must honor the Sabbath in some way. We must at least set aside time to intentionally rest and reflect…

The Bible says we are commanded to rest.[3] It says, “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.” The Sabbath was primarily a day of rest. So, we could paraphrase, “Honor the day of rest, set it apart, keep it.” So, “We do not rest because our work is done; we rest because God commanded it and created us to have a need for it.”[4]

The Old Testament repeatedly communicates that we are to honor the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Lev. 19:3, 30; 26:2; Deut. 5:12-15).[5] John Frames says, there is no suggesting in the Gospels that Jesus intended to abrogate the Sabbath.[6] Jesus “affirmed the Sabbath as a blessing to man, a time of resting, worshiping, eating, drinking, and healing.”[7] The Westminster Confession of Faith says the Sabbath command is “a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages” (21.7).

So we would do well to at least consider the relevance that the concept of Sabbath has or should have in our lives.

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[1] John Frame says, “Of all the Ten Commandments, the fourth is the most visibly rejected in modern society” (Doctrine of the Christian Life, 514).

[2] “Christian sabbatarianism, or enforced Sabbath-rest, was initiated by Constantine’s regulations against Sunday labor, A.D. 321; and with Charlemagne’s, 789, sabbatarianism officially prevailed” (J. Barton Payne, “Sabbatarianism,” 464).

[3] “Associated with the Sabbath laws were ‘gleaning laws,’ such as Leviticus 19:9, in which field owners were not allowed to “reap to the very edges” of their fields. They had to leave a percentage of grain in the field for the poor to come and harvest. Sabbath, then, is the deliberate limitation of productivity, as a way to trust God, be a good steward of your self, and declare freedom from slavery to our work” (Timothy Keller, “Wisdom and Sabbath Rest”).

[4]  Dennis and Barbara Rainey quote Gordon MacDonald saying this in “Bringing back the Sabbath.”

[5] I am not going into detail here about the Sabbath and arguing for any certain view. I have found John Frame helpful. See The Doctrine of the Christian Life chapters 28-30.

[6] Frame, DCL, 557.

[7] Frame, DCL, 558.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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