Thursday, July 28, 2011

Resting from Work

IMPORTANT PREFACE:  Since writing this, I have since had my understanding clarified about keeping Sundays holy, as I have read Baptized by Blazing Fire, by brother Yong-Doo Kim. Please be sure to read my blog about that, called Keeping Sundays Holy!

If you're tired of working and need a rest, this is for you. If you feel like you're on the treadmill of life, running at a breakneck pace, and your about to get pulled under the spinning machine, you need to read this. You deserve a break today!

Many years ago, I was taught that the only one of the Ten Commandments that was not reinstated in the New Testament was the fourth commandment, which required us to honor the Sabbath. But is that true?

I believe that we are no longer under the Law. We are saved by grace alone, and we are free in Christ. But how do we apply that, especially as it relates to the Sabbath?

Due to the length of this post, I realize you may not have time to read it all in one sitting. So let me encourage you to plan reading it over the course of two or three weeks on your days off or whenever you can find the spare time. This is a key message for your life, it's not a minor side-point. So meditate on it and pray about it until the Lord reveals it to you, so that you can get it down into your spirit.

Now grab something to drink, and find a comfortable spot to relax while you read. Let's begin now and see what the Scripture teaches.

Jesus fulfills the Law and Prophets
Jesus did not abolish the Law, in other words, the Ten Commandments. "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Mat 5:17)

He fulfilled the many types and shadows of Him found in the Law. This included the temple and its furnishings, as well as the temple sacrifices. He fulfills what the prophets said, including every Messianic prophecy.

On the other hand, did the apostle Paul contradict Jesus in His teaching, by saying that Christ abolished the Law? No, he didn’t. Paul wrote, “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” (Eph 2:14-16)

The two groups he referred to were the Jews and the Gentiles. In Himself through the cross, Jesus established peace for us with God, as well as between the Jews and Gentiles who are in Christ. He broke down the wall that divided the two groups and acted as a barrier between them. He made all who believe in Him from both groups into one new man or single group, which is His Body. And He did this by “abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances.” The enmity is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances. That is what He abolished. He abolished the ordinances and regulations that stood against us, which were opposed to us. These were the hundreds of ceremonial laws, including animal sacrifices that God required under the Law. But Paul never said that Jesus abolished the Ten Commandments.

Jesus upheld the Law and Prophets
Jesus upheld the Ten Commandments, whenever anyone spoke about them. He said to keep the commandments and teach them. "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:19)

“And He said to him, ‘Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’” (Mat 19:17)

Here is yet another example, “As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'" (Mar 10:17-19). He always upheld the Law and never cast it aside.

But as He did with the religious leaders, He also taught this man that there was an even higher standard. The man had kept the Ten Commandments, and thought that by doing so he would inherit eternal life. And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up. Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mar 10:20-22). You see, while the Law is good, and we must obey it, no one can be justified before God by keeping the letter of the commandments. That’s why Jesus said this man needed to follow Him. He is our standard.

When you truly understand that God’s standard goes much higher than the letter of the law, you come to realize that every single one of us has failed to meet the standard. We can only be justified by faith in Christ.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” (Rom 3:19-24)

First we must be forgiven for our sin and justified or made righteous by faith in Christ. Then we need to continue to follow Him, doing what He commanded and living as He lived. Everything Jesus commanded is in perfect harmony with the Ten Commandments.

The Letter of the Law vs. the Spirit
Paul said, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Co 3:6). So we always need to keep that in mind when we talk about keeping the commandments. So what is the difference between the spirit of the law and the letter?

When the religious leaders evaluated themselves, it was based upon the letter of the law. For example, they would know whether or not they had actually ever committed murder. If they had not, they would assume they had never broken the sixth commandment. However, Jesus taught them that the spirit of the law is a much higher standard. He said, "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Mat 5:21-22)

The religious leaders may have also considered upon self-evaluation that they had actually never committed adultery. In doing so, they would assume they had never broken the seventh commandment. However, once again Jesus taught them that the spirit of the law is a much higher standard. He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mat 5:27-28)

Whenever we consider the intent or spirit of God behind any of the commandments, we will see that He’s looking inside of us at our hearts. The Lord expects us to live according to the spirit of the law, which is a much higher standard than merely the letter.

And once we have a personal relationship with Jesus, His law will actually be written upon our hearts. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Heb 8:10). When the Law is written upon your heart, the Holy Spirit shows you what is pleasing to the Lord. And He will never lead you to violate the Ten Commandments.

Summing up the Law and the Prophets
Jesus summed up the entire Law and the Prophets in two commandments. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Mat 22:36-40)

It is interesting that He summed it up this way, since neither of these is explicitly stated in the Ten Commandments. Of course, the Hebrew Schema, taken from Deut. 6:4-9 and 11:13-22, and Num. 15:37-41, contained the part about loving God. "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deu 6:4-5). Yet on the surface, these summary statements from Jesus about love do not seem to be part of the Decalogue. So let me show you that, in fact, they are. The first four commandments relate to loving God, and the last six relate to loving your neighbor. So if you want an easy way to remember the commandments, just remember the way Jesus summarized them with regard to the Royal Law of Love (James 2:8; Mat 22:36-40). He also fulfilled this, as well.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy

In the natural, the Sabbath day begins at sunset on Friday evening and ends at sunset on Saturday. It's an actual twenty-four hour period of rest. The Lord commanded that we "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.” (Exo 20:8-11). So it's basically giving God one-seventh of your time, because you are giving Him one entire day out of every seven. On that day, you should not be doing your own work, but keeping it holy and set apart for the Lord. That's what Jesus did.

As with the rest of the commandments, He also upheld the fourth commandment regarding the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. But His teaching went beyond mere words. He used many demonstrations, and these made the religious leaders angry. He often healed people on the Sabbath, which the religious leaders considered work, something forbidden by God on the day of rest. In doing so, He demonstrated that there is no law against any act of love, such as healing someone (Gal 5:23). God’s Law never forbids you from committing acts of love, even on the Sabbath. While the religious leaders focused on the merits of making a sacrifice not to work on the Sabbath, Jesus taught that God desires compassion, not sacrifice (Mt 12:7).

When Jesus taught about the beginning of the great tribulation that would come upon us in these last days, He spoke of our need to immediately flee to a place of refuge provided by the Lord.  And even though He spoke of the end times, He still expected us to keep the Sabbath holy.  He said, "But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath." (Mat 24:20).  Why else would he instruct us to pray beforehand that our flight would not occur on a Sabbath, unless He expected is to keep the Sabbath holy to the very end? 

Like Jesus, the apostle Paul remembered the Sabbath. He prayed and taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Ac 13:14-15; 17:17; 18:4, 19, 26; 19:18). So did the early Christians. In fact, before Paul came to know Christ, he used to pursue them in the synagogue, in order to imprison and beat anyone who followed Jesus (Ac 22:19).

So we must also remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Those of us who know and follow Jesus must obey the fourth commandment, just as we do the rest of the commandments. But what does that exactly mean? How do we do so?

First, we must do so out of our love for God, in obedience to His command, not as a means to earn God's love. We must realize that it's God's way for us to live, and is primarily for our own good.  We must never do it to try and be justified.  No one can obtain righteousness by observing the Law.

Some people today teach that we must observe the Sabbath on the correct day of the week, which is known on our Roman calendars as Saturday. They point out that this is how Jesus, Paul, and the early disciples did so. After all, this is what the Law of Moses commanded. So let’s consider this in light of my previous points about the spirit of the law.

If someone wants to observe the Sabbath between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday, they are free to do so, but will be accountable to God for that decision.  The same goes for those who celebrate the Lord's Day on Sunday, which begins at sundown on Saturday and ends at sundown on Sunday.  But they should not judge others with regard to the Sabbath day. As Paul wrote, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col 2:16-17). According to him, the Sabbath day is a mere shadow of Christ, but the reality itself is found in Christ.

This is also what Jesus taught. He said, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mat 12:8). My friend, I don’t serve the Sabbath. I serve the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ. I don’t worship the Sabbath, but the Lord of the Sabbath. There’s a big difference. “Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.’” (Mar 2:27). You see, God made the Sabbath for me. It was to give me a break from my work, so that I could focus on Him. It’s meant to be a chance for me to worship, pray, fellowship, rest, and be restored. How kind of Him to create the Sabbath for me like that!

On the other hand, when people stress the importance of the day on which I observe the Sabbath, I think the focus is in the wrong place. Then their focus is on serving the Sabbath. But don’t forget that man was not made for the Sabbath.

If you belong to a loving church that worships Jesus in Spirit and in Truth, and the Lord has provided loving relationships there, as well as solid preaching of the full gospel and accurate teaching of the Word, then this is the most important thing.  It would be foolish to disconnect you from all your relationships with brethren in that church, who love the Lord, simply because they meet on Sunday, rather than Saturday, or vice versa.

When the Body of Christ is in unity, assembled together in one place in a given location, that is much more powerful than when individuals meet separately.  The assembling together gives it more power, so that's why the enemy works hard to keep us divided.  This is also why we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves. 

I think the Lord is more concerned that we be in unity and fellowship with the Body of Christ, taking communion with them, praying and worshiping together. This is more important to Him than whether we meet on Saturday rather than Sunday.  But if we cannot agree on which day Jesus considers the Lord's Day, or the Christian Sabbath, then we will remain divided and meet separately from one another.

Jesus had a similar discussion with the woman at the well. She was focused on the geographical location of our worship, which is the same type of pettiness. It was a focus on the outward ceremonial aspects of worship. Jesus didn’t care about that. He showed that the important thing the Father desires is that we worship Him in Spirit and Truth.

Jesus identified Himself as the Truth (Jn 14:6). So the Father is looking to see if we worship Him in a personal relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s central! And when we do, we must worship in the Spirit, not just according to some man-made agenda. We must be led by the Spirit of God in our worship, not by man. Paul taught us a lot about worshiping in Spirit (1 Corinthians 12). Those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God (Rom 8:14).

It doesn’t matter what geographical location your worship meetings are located in. It doesn’t matter if it is a historical landmark of some significant biblical event. If you are not worshiping in Spirit and Truth, then your worship does not touch the heart of our Heavenly Father. The same goes for the day of the week on which you worship. What matters most is that you worship in Spirit and Truth, not whether you worship on Saturday or Sunday. In a separate post, I explain why I believe Sunday is the Christian Sabbath (see here), and in yet another post I explain when that day begins and ends (see here).

Entering His rest
Man is naturally a doer. It's normal to want to strive to get things done. Martha was like that when Jesus came to her home. She was all stressed out making preparations for Him and His disciples to eat there. She was distracted by that. In fact, she was upset that her sister Mary was not doing the same thing. Mary was not helping her sister. But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luk 10:41-42). You see, Mary did well to sit and relax at His feet. As far as Jesus was concerned, that was the one thing that was necessary.

Religion is a lot like that. It's hard work! The religious leaders of Jesus day were always stressing out about some thing that people should be doing. They were always putting more burdens on the backs of the people, making life more difficult. They got angry with Jesus, because on the Sabbath He healed people, and because His disciples picked heads of grain from the fields to satisfy their hunger (Mt 12:1, 10). What a heavy load it was for the people to carry all that these men put on them. And religious leaders are a lot like that today. They often use manipulation and psychological pressure to get people to do things. They make emotional pleas that can leave you feeling guilty if you are not part of their program or agenda. It's not just the leaders, but the whole religious system that does this. It drives people to do things supposedly for God, which the Lord has not required. It encourages you to strive in the flesh. It's really unfortunate and does a lot of damage!

But relationship with Jesus is not like that at all. Knowing Jesus is restful. Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Mat 11:28-30) Yokes are used for doing work. They are those wooden things that animals put their necks into when they labor in the fields. This is also how the animals pull burdens behind them, such as large stones or wagons loaded with cargo. Jesus wants us to labor with Him. But His yoke is light and his burden is easy. When you work with Him, it doesn't weigh you down like religion does. You find rest for your soul.

The writer of Hebrews explained that there is a Sabbath rest that we need to enter. We can only enter it by faith. “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.” (Heb 4:9-11). In short, the Hebrews in the wilderness who failed to enter God’s rest did so because they did not combine the message of God’s Word that they heard with faith.

Faith is all about trust. Trust is all about relationship. In our relationship with Jesus, we demonstrate our trust in God. If you want to enter God’s rest, then stop trying to earn God’s love and acceptance by your performance and good works. Instead receive His love for you, His forgiveness, and His grace. Receive His gift of righteousness. You need to believe that Jesus died on the cross for you and rose from the dead, and confess with your mouth that He is Lord. Then you will be saved (Rom 10:9-13).

Anyone who knows the Lord this way will do the works of God. But the way to do the works of God is the same way to rest. It’s by faith. “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’” (Joh 6:28-29). To do the works of God, believe on Jesus Christ. Everyone who ever did the works of God did so by faith, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David (Heb 11).

So whether we work or rest, we trust the Lord. We rest by faith and we work by faith. And we work from a place of rest. When you get to the place where you do that, then you are enjoying a continual Sabbath rest. It’s wonderful when you can trust the Lord while you are working, thanking and praising Him as you go about your business, singing in the Spirit with joy and making melody in your heart to Him. This is what pleases the Lord.

If you’re focus is on simply obeying the letter of the fourth commandment, then here’s how it plays out. You think to yourself, “All I have to do is give God one day each week. Once per week I need to pray, worship, visit God and hope He touches me.” Then the rest of the week is yours and you forget about the Lord, neglecting worship, prayer, fellowship, and communion. That’s human nature and it’s what happens when you live by the letter of the law.

But if you understand the heart of God and His intent in creating the Sabbath, you will not only honor Him once per week. Of course, you will take a day of rest and worship each week. But you will go beyond the letter of simply giving Him one day per week. You will live for Him every day. You will rest from your own work by ceasing from striving to make things happen. You will be led by the Spirit in everything. You will understand that He desires a habitation, not a visitation. He doesn’t just want a weekly visit. He wants to be God with us, Immanuel. That’s a twenty-four seven, non-stop, loving relationship.

Putting it all together
Jesus did not abolish the Law. He fulfilled it. And he upheld the Ten Commandments, teaching us to keep them and teach them.

But He taught us to live according to the spirit of the law, a much higher standard than the mere letter. The entire Law and Prophets are summed up in two commandments about loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. James called it the Royal Law of love. Jesus lived that way. He is love, and He is our standard. We must follow Him.

But our works cannot justify us. No matter how we try to follow the Ten Commandments and live as Jesus did, we can never be good enough. We're not under Law, but under grace. It’s only through faith in Him that we are made righteous.

And once you have a personal relationship with Jesus, the law will be written upon your heart. The person who has such a relationship with Jesus will want to obey His commandments from the heart. Certainly we should do what He said, building our house on the rock. But our desire to obey Him comes from within, not from the outside, such as the tablets of stone.  Devoting a day each week to worship the Lord and rest is all about our relationship with Him, not a rule to keep. If you know that this pleases the Lord, you will gladly do it with joy.

The fourth commandment, which concerns the Sabbath, is no different than the other commandments. We need to obey it, honoring the Sabbath, keeping in mind that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, and that it was made for man. We are not created for the Sabbath. It's the Lord's day, so we must not do as we please on that day.  

The focus should always be on Trinity God. The main reason why it is so important for us to assemble ourselves together for worship on the same day -- the Lord's day -- is for the sake of unity.  When we assemble together in the Lord's name, there is greater power in the spirit than when we pray separately, and the enemy fears this.

I acknowledge that there are different opinions in the Body of Christ about which day is the Lord's Day or Christian Sabbath according to the Bible.  I have my opinion that Sunday is the Lord's Day, and you can read my explanation in the article called "the Christian Sabbath is Sunday, not Saturday" (see here).

As a believer in Christ, you have a great deal of freedom in this matter, but with that freedom comes a great responsibility.  You will be accountable to God for your decision, and subsequent actions, so make your decision wisely.  I recommend you diligently search the Scriptures, pray and ask the Lord for guidance, and then be led by the Spirit.

When we come to Him, we find rest for our souls. We trust the Lord and enter into His rest. We not only rest from work, but we even work from a place of rest. His yoke is light and His burden is easy. When you get to the place where you do that, then you are enjoying a continual Sabbath rest, thanking and praising Him as you go about your business. You enjoy making Him the center of all you do.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB

Author's note: As I mentioned at the top of this post, I strongly urge you to read my follow up post about Keeping Sundays Holy, in order to more accurately understand what God expects of us.  I also recommend reading David Wilkerson's message, Honoring the Sabbath, which I discovered after writing this article. If you enjoyed this post, you may also consider Keeping Sundays Holy - Part II, Famous Christian Sabbath Observers, and Led by the Spirit. You may visit the Home page for this blog, as well as my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."  "Resting in His Arms" painting © 2012 Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist. You may visit the Danny Hahlbohm Gallery.  Now I'd like to ask a very important question.

Do you want to know Him?
If you want to know Jesus, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Him.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?" 

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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