Category Archives: Church/Ecclesiology

Sabbath Rest – Part 2

In our study of the Sabbath Rest, we must allow it to unfold progressively as God reveals it piece by piece, detail by detail.  In this way, we assure ourselves of a more rounded, Scriptural approach to understanding what the Sabbath means, and then eventually how it effects us today.  In our overview, we have seen various aspects of the theology of rest, which have brought us now to the topic of the Sabbath as given to Israel.  Introducing this for us in a recent post was Exodus 16, the familiar passage concerning God’s supply of manna (and quail), with the instruction for Israel to gather their bread each day, gathering extra on the 6th day and resting from labor on the 7th day.

In this post, we turn now to the giving of the law and the inauguration of the covenant with Israel, first in Exodus 20 where we find the codification of the Sabbath into law, given to Israel at Mt. Sinai and then the renewal of the covenant in Deuteronomy 5.  Our first passage is below

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and 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.

Here we have the Fourth Commandment and interestingly it provides a transition from the commandments focused Godward (#1-4, vertical) and the commandments focused manward (#5-10, horizontal).  Again, we see the concept for six days of work, which is just as commanded as the one day of rest, followed by the Sabbath observance  on the seventh day.  The widespread, nondiscriminatory nature of the observance, which simply includes “no work”, extends from the individual, to family, to servants, to livestock, to even the foreigner among you.

In verse 11, we arrive at the purpose for this observance, For in six days the Lord made heaven and 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.”  Clearly, the first stated purpose (though remember the implied purposes from Exodus 16) for the Sabbath observance is it’s relationship to the Sabbath instituted by God at the conclusion of creation.  As a summary, we again find no mention of individual or corporate worship.  We see no command requiring any sort of religious duty or exercise.  It is by all accounts a call to remember the sabbath through resting from labor on the seventh day, the day which God had sanctified and set apart at Creation.  

In our second passage, from Deuteronomy 5, the context for this passage finds the people of God, still led by Moses, on the plains of Moab, near Jericho, just outside of the Promised Land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 34:1-8; Numbers 36:13).  The time period represented in this 5th book of the Torah, occurs roughly forty years after the Exodus from Egypt, i.e. about forty years after the first giving of the law cited above.  To this point, the rebellious generation has died out, except for Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, leaving behind the children of the Exodus generation to inherit the promised land (Deuteronomy 1:34-40).

In the fifth chapter of the book, Moses recounts the law, given at Sinai, for this new generation of Israelites.  The Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath, is recited as follows:

12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5:12-15

In this more recent statement of the commandment, we notice similar language with some nuances and then some definite additions.  First, we see the call to observe the Sabbath, whereas before the command was to remember.  The point is the same, it is a day to call the mind to a particular duty, namely to keep it holy.  Then we see the command, six days of labor, but the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord.  Additionally, we see that this directive applies to the individual, children, servants, animals, and the sojourners among the community.  It is a comprehensive command for the entire community, man, woman child, beast, and even the outsider dwelling among the community.

However, after stating the prohibition against work for all members of the community, remember that the original commandment was founded on the creation Sabbath established by God in Genesis 2.  Here we would expect an identical statement, but that is not the case.  Instead, we see a foundation upon the Israelite exodus from Egypt.  Observe the Sabbath because on it you shall remember you were a slave in Egypt and God redeemed you with an outstretched hand.

These two passages form the basis for the law and commandment given to Israel to observe the Sabbath Day.  In them we find their foundation upon the creation Sabbath and upon the Israelite redemption from Egypt.  These reflections do not stop merely upon the acts of God, but are reflections upon God Himself.  The Sabbath draws attention to God as Creator, Sanctifier, and Redeemer, in addition to Sustainer and Provider that we saw in our previous passage from Exodus 16.  The Sabbath, as God has thus far revealed, is concerned with both His person and His work.  Yet in neither passage do we find any command for individual or corporate worship.  Nor do we find any command for any religious duty on this day.  It is simply a command to rest from labor, recalling God the Creator, God the Sanctifier, and God the Redeemer.  Further, it builds upon the passage from Exodus 16, where the people were taught to rely upon God as Provider and Sustainer.

 

In this series:

Sabbath Rest – Part 1

 

The concept of rest is woven throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.  As we have seen, rest punctuated God’s creation, it was created for Adam and should have been his final resting place, it was subsequently broken by the sin of this first man and his wife, and then with the arrival of Noah, we find an expectation for a return to this original rest.

It’s noteworthy that the significance of God’s creation ordinance of rest on the seventh day seems peculiarly absent from Genesis 2 throughout the remainder of the book, except for the aforementioned narrative on Noah.  We find no commands to observe a Sabbath day, no commands for corporate or even individual worship, and apart from Adam and Noah, no explicit revelation on the concept of rest, with perhaps the exception of implied rest in the covenant promises made with Abraham, see Genesis 12-24.  We might say the remainder of Genesis develops the prototypical people of rest and the typological place of rest.  However, with the Mosaic/Sinaitic/Old Covenant, there is renewed emphasis on the Sabbath Principle.  That said, the most detailed revelation on the concept of rest begins after Israel’s Exodus from Egypt and then through the giving of the law by God to Israel through Moses.  From here, rest becomes intertwined with a people, a promise, and a land.

Our first encounter with this fresh revelation of rest occurs in Exodus 16 within the context of God providing manna from heaven in order to supply food and sustenance for the Wilderness Generation of Israel.  Manna was God’s response to the grumbling of the people and the means to further reveal His glory to them, but it came with restrictions.

In the Wilderness of Sin, just prior to their arrival at Sinai, God instructed Moses that the people should go out each day and collect a day’s worth of manna, as God’s way of “testing” their obedience.  On the 6th day they were told to gather twice as much (Ex. 16:1-6).  Following this, we find an interesting note, At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord.”  There is intertwined with the upcoming miracle of the manna provision a recognition and remembrance of the Israelite redemption from Egypt.  This should not be ignored, particularly as we consider the relationship between the manna and Sabbath below and then additional passages on the Sabbath in subsequent posts.

After the appearance of God’s glory, perhaps a preview of the upcoming revelation at Sinai, the grumbling people were informed that they would be provided quail in the evenings and manna in the mornings so that they would know that, “I am the Lord your God,” a common recognition formula that God often employs to instruct His people on who He is.  

When morning came, Moses relayed the command of the Lord to the people to take as much as they could eat, an omer, according to the number of people in each tent.  Those who gathered a lot, had nothing left over, while those who gathered little had no want.  Furthermore, Moses instructed them in the prohibitions that the Lord had commanded, i.e. not to gather more than a day’s worth, but the people did not listen and the manna grew worms and rotted (vs. 16-21).  Day after day they gathered, but on the 6th day they gathered twice as much as per God’s command

“This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” 24 So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it.25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”

27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

This passage is a fascinating application, perhaps introduction, and even more a test of obedience (Ex. 16:4), to the Sabbath command that would follow and as was typical with Israel, they disobeyed and failed their test.  In a very real sense, this was a display of the purpose behind the Sabbath principle, namely, total reliance and trust in the promises of God and a recognition of Who He is.  By going out on the 7th day, it was actually displaying a lack of faith in God.  Yes, it was rest from personal labors, i.e. gathering manna, but more than that it was rest from gathering daily provisions because of trusting in God to provide.  Additionally, we should not lose sight of the mention of the exodus from Egypt in this passage, as it’s relationship with the Sabbath will become more prominent in another passage later on.  This event was so significant to the history of Israel that God commanded Moses to collect a jar of manna for a continual reminder of God’s provision and faithfulness.  Finally, as it relates to our concept of Sabbath rest, we may note that there is no command to worship or perform a specific religious duty, whether corporately or individually.  Simply to rest from collecting food and rely on who God is and what He has promised.

 

In this series:

Glorifying God through the Exercise of Gifts

 

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11

In the passage cited above, the Apostle Peter, writing to the elect exiles of the Diaspora, encourages them in the midst of suffering and persecution by making reference to the imminency of the end of all things.  Because of this,  he writes that they should be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of their prayers.   The concepts of sobriety and self-control are central in the writings of Peter.  Here their apparent application relates to the troubling circumstances swirling around these believers, with regard to their suffering, and the arrival of the last days.  In a sense, he’s saying keep your wits about you and be diligent, though he adds an interesting reason, “for the sake of your prayers.”  The opposite approach, i.e. that of panic and anxiety would therefore be a hindrance to prayer, likely in knowing for what and how to pray.

Moving along, next there is a shift to the supremacy of love, a defining characteristic of believer’s relationships, specifically as it is evidence in how they react to one another when sinned against.  Because of their love towards one another, it cover’s a number of offenses within the relationship, wherefore believers should be willing – more so than others – to overlook these for the sake of reconciliation or avoiding fractures in the relationship.  To support this point, Peter cites Proverbs 10:12, adding weight to the idea that because of love, the focus shifts from the sin to the person.  Granted, this is not an instruction to ignore sin.

In the contextual flow of the passage, it seems that the remainder of the section is supportive of this concept of love.  In other words, the upcoming discussion on the exercise of spiritual gifts is seen as an expression of love.  First, we have the exhortation to show hospitality, with a noted exhortation against grumbling.  Simply stated, this is making guests feel welcome, perhaps most evidenced in inviting others into the home.  Interestingly, this word for hospitality, philoxenos, is only used two other times in the New Testament, both in passages that have traditionally been used to uphold the characteristics of those who hold the “church office” of overseer/bishop/elder/shepherd (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8)).  However, here in 1 Peter it has all believers in view.  Perhaps this deserves more of our attention.

From hospitality, indeed flowing out of it, the passage moves towards an emphasis on the exercise of gifts, which we find specifically falling into two categories: speaking gifts and deaconing (service) gifts.  For all of the wrestling and wrangling over spiritual gifts that has taken place throughout Christian history, our passage offers some much needed simplicity, those who have been gifted to speak or teach and those who have been gifted to serve.  Largely, the New Testament list of gifts, found in Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12 and Ephesians 4 can fall into one or both of these categories, with some distinction and some overlap.

The subject of gifts is introduced by noting that they are given [by God] to believers.  These gifts, which again generally fall into two categories, are to be used, not neglected, not shelved, not wasted, but used.  If you have been given a gift, use it.  If there is nowhere to use your gift, find a place, create a place, and use it.  As in the parable of the talents, we will be held accountable for the gifts we have been given.  Similarly, to those who have been given much, much will be required (Luke 12:48).  The first purpose for these gifts, we are told, is to serve one another.  All gifts are for serving one another, regardless of the category or type.

The literal word used here for serving is the same word translated elsewhere as deacon, diakoneo, most notably Acts 6:22, 1 Timothy 3:10, and 1 Timothy 3:13.  Again we are confronted with the reality that those functions so traditionally assigned to church officers are in this passage expanded to all believers.  A gathering of believers was never meant to be dominated by a few “officers” who did all the work and exercised their individual gifts.  Rather, it was always the expectation that everyone had been gifted in some capacity and should have both the initiative and the opportunity to exercise those gifts.

Further, we see that we are to exercise these gifts as, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.   Two points worth noting here, first, that we are to use our gifts as good stewards, or literally good house managers.  Regarding this, Vine’s dictionary describes this as a, “superior servant responsible for the family house keeping, the direction of other servants, and the care of the children under age.”  If in a house there are servants and superior servants, separated by the exercise of the gifts they have been given, which should we aspire to be?

The next point is that this stewardship is of, “God’s varied grace,” which seems in part to be referencing the various ways God’s grace has been manifested through the giving of gifts to believers.  As we read elsewhere, there is diversity in the body of believers, and as such each should operate according to the gifts they have been given, which are a reflection of the variety in God’s grace.  There, of course, is a general measure in which we have all been given the gifts of speaking and service, yet here in view are those especial manifestations of gifting.  Therefore, it would be inappropriate for anyone to refuse the opportunity for one to exercise their gift, or for anyone to force the exercise of a gift which someone has not been given.  Perhaps a practical example of this, from the early ekklesia and our churches today, would be that if there’s no elder/overseer, then there’s no elder/overseer.  Filling that with a warm body is harmful to the individual and the fellowship of believers.

Turning now to the two categories of gifts, first in view are those gifted to speak, laleo.  A general word for speaking, it is held in combination with the oracles of God, literally the Word of God.  In Peter’s day, this was a clear reference to the Scriptures which we now call the Old Testament.  In our day, not only would it include the Old Testament, but the whole corpus of God’s written revelation.  This provides the guardrails for our speaking, much like the “Great Commission” given in Matthew 28:18-20.  We are limited, by Scripture, in what we are to speak.

Next are our second category, the gifts of service.  These we read are to be exercised not through self-effort or self-strength, but through the strength that God supplies.  In Western Society where “church” is a near equivalent with Christendom and where the institutional nature of the church, i.e., business, budgets, and buildings reign supreme, burnout is a very real possibility in ministry.  This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the pursuit of enlarged influence, even when properly motivated, through self-strength.  Contrary to this is the exercise of gifts of service in the context of one-anothering through the endless supply of strength that the Lord supplies allowing us to operate under the banner of love for the glorification of His name.

Which brings us to the final point.  All of these things, writes Peter, are so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  The gifts that God supplies through the variations of His grace are meant to be exercised for serving one another such that God is glorified, bringing it full circle back to the Originator.  Surely then we may sing with the Apostle who writes, it is from Whom, through Whom, and to Whom are all things (Rom. 11:36)!  Consider the gifts that God has given you and exercise them for the service of your brothers and sisters in Christ for the glorification of God.

Soli Deo Gloria!