Keep the Sabbath Holy

by Carl Demadema - January 4, 2024

Every week, we are blessed to rest on God’s Sabbath. But how should we keep God’s Sabbath holy? How can we properly observe God’s Sabbath? 

What do you do to begin the Sabbath on Friday night? 

Do you watch YouTube videos or scroll through your favorite social media app?  

Or, instead, do you enjoy a family meal, listen to a sermon, watch an FI Online class or a Friday Night Live Bible study or read a couple of articles on LHT or in Discern? 

Do we truly understand what the Sabbath is all about, or are we missing the point entirely?

The origin of the Sabbath

Let’s review the origin of this day. 

In Genesis, we find the creation account. God spent six days fashioning the earth—bringing light into a dark void and creating life itself. 

One may liken this to a project or an art piece. If you are an artist—whether you paint, sketch, create music or even design graphics—you can identify with putting your all into something for days or months. 

Hopefully, when it’s complete, you take time to sit back and look at your artwork with satisfaction. 

You rest. 

Rest in this context is not a lack of ambition or slothfulness. 

After creating the earth, God rested. In Genesis 2:2-3, we read, “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

After His accomplishments, God rested on the seventh day and made the Sabbath holy. Understanding the word holy can help us better grasp the Sabbath and how to treat it. 

When a day is holy, it has meaning and significance—and to observe it in a shallow or superficial way would dishonor it.

Keep it holy

Many passages provide guidance on keeping the Sabbath holy. 

One is Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

If something is holy, that means it is sacred. Something sacred should be treated carefully and thoughtfully. That tells us how to approach the Sabbath and all of God’s holy days. 

God wants us to stop, understand and think about the profound significance of these days. All of God’s holy times—whether the Sabbath or the annual festivals—have deep meaning, and we keep each of those times holy by meditating on its particular meaning.  

The nitty-gritty of keeping the Sabbath holy

The Bible gives limited details about what we can and can’t do on the Sabbath. This is by design. Instead of just following a list of rules, God wants us to internalize and apply principles. 

Here are some principles that will help us keep the Sabbath holy:

  • Our focus should be on God.

    We should think about God, His Word, His promises and His marvelous works—we should focus on what matters. Our thoughts shouldn’t be consumed with the mundane things we think about on other days of the week.

    In Isaiah 58:13-14, we are told not to be self-centered in our works on the Sabbath: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (English Standard Version).

    How would we feel if we invited others to look at an ornate art piece and found them staring at their phones the whole time? 

  • Don’t overthink or underthink.

    When it comes to keeping the Sabbath, many questions come up: Can we clean? Can we make purchases? Can we hang up clothing?

    When we obsess over a specific action, it can prevent us from focusing on the day’s meaning. Jesus once had to call out this extremism in the Pharisees, as they had lost sight of the point of the day in their selfish pursuit to be viewed as righteous.

    In Matthew 12:10-13, we read: “And a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’

“He said to them, ‘If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other” (New International Version).

On the other hand, we don’t want to underthink when it comes to keeping the Sabbath. We should be concerned about it and focus on properly keeping it.

The Sabbath should be a positive experience between you and God, not a competition with your Church family over who can be more righteous. 

Remember the Sabbath’s original purpose

The Sabbath is a holy and sanctified observance commanded by God. It is a reminder of God’s vast power and might. 

It is a time to meditate on God’s purpose for His creation, His masterful artwork. Our attention should squarely be on the significance of this day; we should not become distracted by other matters. It is a time to rest and marvel at God’s wondrous works. 

It will rejuvenate us and renew our understanding of why we are on this earth and the promises we can look forward to. 

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

To learn more about proper Sabbath observance, read “How to Keep the Sabbath Holy.” 

Carl Demadema attends the Johannesburg, South Africa, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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