Sabbath Rest: The Above All Commandment

March 30, 2012

Like many people, I get easily wearied by many of the Sabbath debates. What can you do? What can’t you do?  While not unimportant, these questions miss the point.

Jesus told us:

“Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2.27)

In other words, Sabbath is a gift made or established by God for us. True, it is for God’s glory, and is therefore to be kept holy. (Exodus 20.8) But we must remember that our greatest good is wrapped up in God’s glory.  And as John Piper reminds us: “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.”

God gave us the gift of the Sabbath as a means that we might be satisfied in him and thereby glorify him.

Sadly, the debate seems to revolve around polarized positions, with contemporary Pharisees on the one side and supposed free spirited antinomians on the other.  The Pharisee says: “Do”, or mostly “Don’t Do”.  The antinomian (which means “against Law”) holds to the notion that he can do as he pleases, and has no obligation.  The one squeezes the life out of the gift. The other, perhaps unwittingly, responds to God’s gift by saying: “No Thanks”.

In an article from Christianity Today magazine, Kevin Emmert winsomely makes a case for Sabbath observation.  Emmert rightly describes it as a spiritual discipline of resting.  And he acknowledges that this notion somehow seems antithetical to both our spiritual growth and God’s glory:

It is difficult, and ironic, to imagine rest as the most transformative element in the Christian life. For evangelicals especially, transformation and sanctification are closely linked to activity. We appropriately begin with the idea that our works do not merit justification (being declared righteous by God). We can do nothing to earn our salvation. But most of us imagine we must play an active role in our sanctification, the ongoing process of becoming more like Christ. Sanctification, we assume, involves work and effort on our part.

This is good news to evangelical ears. We like activities. We conduct Bible studies, participate in small groups, and attend prayer meetings. We engage in worship services and outreach. We like inspirational books that teach us how to become better Christians. We have a sense of duty that compels us to evangelize and demonstrate Christ’s love to those around us. Indeed, these activities are good and find their foundation in biblical teachings.

And this is precisely why we find it so difficult to imagine rest as the most transformative feature of the Christian life.

Yet Emmert convincingly contends that this discipline, perhaps more than any other, and certainly no less than any other, provides the greatest spiritual benefits:

Why is the Sabbath so important? After all, it’s a command to do nothing; it requires no activity or effort. And that may be precisely the point.

This “above all” command encourages us to trust in God in a way that no other activity can. So much more could be accomplished by adding another day of labor, but the Sabbath requires us to trust that God will provide for all our needs and that he will continue to manage the world without our help. The Sabbath is a practical reminder that we are completely dependent on God.

It is when we realize our complete dependence upon God that we experience how great a thing it is to have the right to call him “Father”.

Check out Emmert’s short article: The Above All Commandment

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