“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Exodus 20:8-10).
Many Christians, especially those outside of the Holiness movement, don’t really understand what it means to keep the Sabbath holy.
There are two guidelines that, together, cover probably 99% of all cases. I will deal with most of the exceptions in a bit.
#1—If money is involved in any way, the activity in question should not be done on Sunday. This involves working for money, or spending money. Commerce, of any type, is a desecration of the Lord’s day. We have six days of the week to work, to buy supplies, etc. The Sabbath is analogous to tithing. God gives us our very life—it is reasonable that we should dedicate one-seventh of our time to Him in return.
The biggest exception to this is giving tithe or offering to the church.
#2—If it can either be done on Saturday, or else wait until Monday, it should. This includes routine cleaning, laundry, running errands, work-related activities, etc. A lot of people think that “cleanliness is next to Godliness”—but that saying is nowhere found in the Bible.
People sometimes have trouble reconciling Sabbath-keeping with other duties, such as providing for their families. Some people feel that they have no choice but to work on Sunday. But we see from the Bible that such is not the case.
“Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily. And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the Lord: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:4, 5, 22-30).
Some of the Israelites had gone out on Sabbath morning to gather manna. After all, their families needed to eat. But God had foreseen the situation: He made an exception to the rule that manna was good for only one day. The manna that was gathered on Friday remained fit to eat for an extra 24 hours. We see here that Sabbath-keeping is a very important principle to God.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
If we honor God by obeying His commands, He will in turn make sure that we have everything that we actually need.
There are two classes of exceptions to these guidelines: acts of necessity; and acts of mercy.
“And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other” (Matt. 12:10-13).
Thus, it is not a violation of the Lord’s Day for police, firefighters, doctors, etc. to work on Sunday. Nor is it a violation to fix a broken furnace on a cold day. Likewise, it is permissible to go to the doctor or hospital on Sunday for a sudden, serious illness; or to buy medicine, if it is actually needed that day.
However, buying gas so that you can get to church is NOT permissible; you should have bought gas on Saturday. Going to church is a foreseeable act; you should have planned ahead. Buying gas in such a circumstance would be doing evil so that “good” might come. Nor is it permissible to buy medicine on Sunday if there is a sufficient supply on hand.
Some go to restaurants on Sunday. These people often try to excuse such an act on the grounds that the lady of the house needs a rest from cooking and dish-washing. That’s not how this works. I agree that a wife needs her rest; but there are many other ways to accomplish that. A crockpot could be used to cook the meal; or the family could eat simple sandwiches or cold cuts; or even somebody else in the family could make the meal. There is no reason to desecrate the Sabbath by going to a restaurant.
But there are other ways to desecrate the Sabbath—many other ways. Careless, foolish conversation is one. Listening to certain types of music is another.
Take note of what you do, and how it makes you feel. Can you do a certain thing and still retain at least some measure of the morning (or evening) sermon in your mind or heart? If something—no matter how harmless or innocent it seems—destroys all influence of the sermon that you heard that day, then that thing is a violation of the Sabbath.
“And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
In addition to spiritual rest and refreshment, the Sabbath was also intended to provide physical rest and relaxation. Many things that violate the Sabbath also violate this principle specifically. The atheists of the French Revolution wanted to do away with everything that was traditional, so they went to a 10-day cycle. It didn’t work; they had to change back to the traditional week. Many studies have shown that both people and work animals do much, much better physically by resting one day out of seven. If you have a job that legitimately requires Sunday work, then you should be careful to take some other day as your rest day. If you do not, you are violating the principle of the Sabbath.