MAKING TIME FOR GOD
Exodus 20:8-11 continues the train of thought of the previous three commandments. The first commandment -“You shall have no other gods before me” – instructs us to have the proper object of worship. The second commandment – “You shall not make for yourself a cared image” – instructs us to have the proper manner of worship. The third commandment – “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” – instructs us to have the proper attitude of worship. The fourth commandment – “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” – instructs us to have the proper time of worship. We must worship God exclusively, correctly, reverently, and – and this fourth commandment teaches – regularly. If you are not careful, life has a way of crowding God out. But redeemed people must never forget to make proper time for the God who created us, sustains us, and redeemed us. That is the message of this text. We must make time for God. Let’s talk about three aspects of this fourth command.
I. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE SABBATH
This fourth commandment charges us to be faithful stewards of the gift of time. It gives us three ways to sanctify our time to and for God.
A. IT IS A CALL TO WORSHIP.
Exodus 20:8 commands: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” This command to remember the Sabbath indicates that they already knew about it. After God delivered Israel from Egypt, he provided heavenly food called “Manna” for them to eat. Every day, when they woke up, it would be on the ground. And they would go out and collect enough for their households. On the sixth day they were to collect twice as much, because God did not provide the manna on the seventh day. Exodus 16:23 says, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.’” So Israel had already been introduced to the concept of the Sabbath. Now, in this Mosaic legislation of it, God tells them to remember the Sabbath. Verse 8b states the reason why it is to be remembered: “to keep it holy.”
The word “holy” means to be sanctified or set apart for the special purposes of God. In scripture, certain people, places, and things are called holy. But here we find that certain times are also holy. The Sabbath was to be remembered so that it would be kept holy. This emphasis on the holiness of the Sabbath is a call to worship. It is a call to deliberately set aside time for God. It is a call to regularly schedule time in your life where you and your family stop working to worship God. MATTHEW HENRY rightly said that the Sabbath was made a day of holy rest so that it might be a day of holy work. The Sabbath is a call to worship.
B. IT IS A CALL TO LABOR.
Verse 8 commands Israel to stop working one day a week to worship God. But verse 9 commands, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work.” This verse makes it clear that God expects his people to work daily and diligently. This call to labor reminds us that work is good. Many people view success as getting to the place where you do not have to work anymore. But that view of life reflects our sinful nature, not God’s holy wisdom. God has wired us to work. Work is not the curse. God created us to work. Genesis 2:18 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The dignity of work was established by God in creation. The fall of man into sin in Genesis 3 resulted in work being difficult, exhausting, and frustrating. But work itself is good. Work is a part of what it means for human beings to be made in the image of God. Our God works.
• God was at work in the creation of the world.
• God was at work through the history of Israel. God was at work in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
• God is at work in the church of Jesus Christ.
• God is at work in and through every one of you who has been born-again by faith in Jesus Christ.
• God is at work in this place right now.
GOD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS, HIS WONDERS TO PERFORM
HE PLANTS HIS FOOTSTEPS ON THE SEAS, AND RIDES ON EVERY STORM
God works. People often say that the devil is busy. But the devil cannot out-busy God. God never takes a break. God never calls in sick. God never takes a vacation. God is always at work. God works the night shift. And God always finishes the work that he begins. Our God works. And he commands us to work. ARTHUR W. PINK has written, “He who never works is unfit for worship. Work is to pave the way for worship, as worship is to fit us for work.”
C. IT IS A CALL TO REST.
In The Tender Commandments, Ron Mehl writes of waking up in the ICU to see the face of his friend Jack Hayford, who had flown from Los Angeles to Beaverton to check on him. “Good enough for you?” was Hayford’s strange greeting. “You’re a prideful man, Ron,” he went on to say. “You think people are really impressed that you work seven days a week.” Hayford had told him this many times before. But Mehl always found a way to escape the subject. But this time he was trapped in ICU, recovering from a heart attack. Hayford continued “This is an ego thing for you, isn’t it, Ron? You want affirmation. You want everybody to say, ’Isn’t he amazing? Look at that Ron Mehl. Always in the office. Never misses a service. Works seven days a week!’ Get serious, Mehl. Who are you trying to impress? God? Well, I can tell you something. He’s not impressed. God’s only impressed with one thing, and that’s His Son?”
After this stern confrontation, Hayford lovingly counseled his longtime friend to take the life principle of Sabbath-rest more seriously. And I want to challenge us to embrace the wisdom of God that calls us to rest. Exodus 20:9-10 says: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” This commandment should is not some restrictive rule. It is loving concern of a good God. Our heavenly Father, in his infinite wisdom, commands us to rest. It’s a personal call to rest. God knows that you cannot make it without rest, refreshment and rejuvenation. So he gave us this human maintenance schedule. God calls those who will not work lazy. But God calls those who will not rest disobedient. In Mark 6:31, Jesus told his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” VANCE HAVNER used to say of this verse that if we do not come away we will fall apart. You need rest.
It is also a communal call to rest. Verse 10 says: “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.” Every one was to rest – you, your children, servants, and animals, even strangers. This all inclusive call to rest was meant to affirm equality and justice for all, the precious nature of creation, and the human dignity of even the people from foreign lands. We need to remember that our family, coworkers, and possessions belong to God. Every person that you come across is a person of value who has been created in the image of God. The Lord affirmed this by calling the entire community – including the cattle – to rest on the Sabbath.
Lastly, it is a spiritual call to rest. Exodus 20:11 explains: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, an rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.” God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. God did not rest because he was tired. Omnipotence cannot become weary. He rested in order to set a pattern for us to follow. The Lord blessed and sanctified the seventh day in creation to get us to stop and remember that he is the Creator. God established the pattern of six days of work and one day of rest to remind us to that our lives do not depend on our work. It depends on God’s work. God is our creator, sustainer, and redeemer. Our lives depend on his work; not ours. RAY PRITCHARD said it well: We give 1 day in 7 to God because 7 out of 7 belong to him!!!
II. THE PRESCRIPTION OF THE SABBATH
This fourth commandment is the longest of the Ten Commandments. It is the only one that is not taught, repeated, or affirmed in the New Testament. And it is, without a doubt, the most controversial commandment. The principle of this commandment is clear. But the prescription of it is very controversial, because it does not just tell us to make time for God; it tells us when that time should be. The prescribed time is named in verse 8: the Sabbath day. It is specified in verse 10: the seventh day.
For the record, today is not the Sabbath day. It is not the seventh day. It is not Saturday. Today is what the people of the text would have called the first or eighth day. Today is what the early church called the Lord’s Day. It is what we call Sunday. This Saturday-Sabbath/Sunday-Lord’s Day distinction makes this commandment so complicated. The issue is this: Do Christians violate this commandment by worshiping on Sunday? Why do Christians worship on Sunday when this commandment sets apart Saturday as the day of worship? Sabbath keeping is the fourth commandment; therefore, if we believe that Christians are obligated to obey the Decalogue, aren’t we saying that they are to keep the Sabbath? My answer is no. As I mentioned, each of the Ten Commandments is emphasized in the New Testament, except this fourth commandment. There is no place in the New Testament where Christians are taught to keep the Sabbath. It is not even suggested.
Matthew 19:16-20; Mark 10:17-20, Luke 18:18-21; and Romans 13:8-10 record summaries of the law. But none of them mention the Sabbath-keeping. In Romans 13:9, Paul gives a summary of the commandments, without mentioning the Sabbath. But he says that any other commandment can be summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In the New Testament, love is the law. In John 13:34, Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you, that your love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” This verse affirms the fact that love supersedes the law. It also affirms the preeminence of the Lord Jesus Christ over everything. This is the key reason why the New Testament church is not commanded to observe the Saturday-Sabbath. The impeccable life, bloody cross, and empty tomb of Jesus has changed everything. This is why the early church intentionally, willingly, and naturally changed their day of worship to Sunday. It was to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. They did not just celebrate the resurrection in an annual Easter observance. They celebrated it in their Lord’s Day worship meetings every Sunday.
Colossians 2:16-17 says: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” This is God’s word to every person who defines his relationship to God in terms of strict diets or special days. Stop chasing shadows. Embrace the reality. Trust in Jesus. Christ is our Sabbath-rest. Hebrews 4:9-10 says: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” Did you get that? True rest comes through saving-faith in and personal devotion to Jesus Christ. In Mathew 11:28-30, Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus is our rest.
The Sabbath was one of the greatest points of tension between Jesus and the Jewish religious establishment. By the time of Jesus, Sabbath-keeping had been entangled with many restrictive rules that made the fulfillment of the fourth commandment hopeless for most Jews. It is said that there were some 1521 rabbinical rules that many religious leaders could not faithfully keep. In what I believe was a sincere attempt to keep this commandment, the religious establishment built “fence laws” around the Sabbath. And these applications were eventually given the same authority as the commandment itself, so if one broke the rules of the establishment he was viewed as a Sabbath breaker. That was one of the religious leaders’ charges against Jesus himself. The Gospels record six incidents in which Jesus’ actions resulted in controversy over the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 records how he responded on one of those occasions. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
III. THE PRACTICE OF THE SABBATH
The prescription of the Sabbath is controversial. However, the controversy must not as an excuse to neglect or reject the principle of the Sabbath. The confusion about the specific designation of this command does not free us from the reality that God commands that we make time for him. What is the practical application of this commandment for us today? Let me give you two ways we as Christians can honor the spirit of this fourth commandment.
A. PRIVATE DEVOTIONS
Psalm 118:24 says: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This verse affirms a fundamental fact you can count on every day: God is in charge. God is in control. God is sovereign over every moment, event, and situation you will face today, tomorrow, and everyday. The Lord makes every day. And he reigns over all that he creates. Because God is in charge, you ought to rejoice and be glad every day. If you really believe that God the Father is good, faithful, and sovereign, you ought not to be miserable, frustrated, and hard to get along with. You ought to be grateful, joyful, and content. I am not saying that you have to like everything that is going on in your life. But you ought live with the confidence of Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore.” It is one thing to know the truth of the Lord’s unchanging goodness. But it is another thing to live it out. The question is how do you practice the presence of God on a daily basis? Let me answer that by recommending to you that you make it a priority to spend quality time with God in private devotions every day.
• Make time to offer thanksgiving to God everyday.
• Make time to read a portion of his holy word every day.
• Make time to bring your personal needs to God in prayer every day.
• Make time to pray for the needs of others every day.
• Make time to bless God every day.
I was a teenager preaching out of town. I was bored, lonely, and homesick. It was miserable. And I didn’t know what to do about it. I ended up turning on the TV. A football game was on. After watching the game for a few minutes, I saw something that I have never paid attention to before. The quarterback threw an interception. And when they showed him on the sideline after the series, he had a phone to his ear. And the commentators began to talk about the instructions he might be getting from the press box. And God used that to turn my room into a sanctuary. You see, the head football coach is on the sidelines. But the other key coaches are often up in the press box, where they can have a better vantage point on the whole field. When the series is over; players call up to the press box to get instructions about what they are doing wrong and what they are doing right. And every day God blesses you to go out on the field of life; call up your press box through scripture and prayer.
B. CORPORATE WORSHIP
Hebrews 10:24-25 says: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This passage emphasizes the fact that we need one another. And the mutual care that builds one another up requires that we regularly meet together for worship, prayer, service, fellowship, and instruction. In fact, we should disregard the profession of faith of any person who habitually neglects the corporate meetings of their local church. Our failure to submit to the wisdom of this text dishonors the Lord, stunts our growth, and hinders our mission.
Don’t use your family as an excuse to neglect corporate worship. “God understands,” people say. “Sunday is the only time I have to spend quality with my family.” Let me respond to that two ways. First, if you really want to spend quality time with your family, the best thing for you to do is bring your husband, wife, and children to worship God together. Shame on you if you think that staying in or hanging out with your family on Sunday is of more quality then bringing them to praise the Lord for who is he and thank the Lord for what he has done. Likewise, if Sunday is really the only time you have to spend with your family, you need to check your priorities. Shame of you if the Lord gives you six other days every week, and you cannot find any time in them to spend with your family. This also applies to extended family and friends. “God understands,” people say. “But I couldn’t come to church because I had guests at my house.” Let me remind you of something: God gave you what you have. So use your family as an excuse to miss corporate worship.
Do not use your work as an excuse to miss corporate worship. I know you are busy. I know you have a lot to do. I know that you have bills to pay. I know that you have places to go, things to do, and people to meet. But if your are too busy to come to worship the God who has been so good to you, you may too busy. J.C. PENNY said: If a man’s business requires so much of his time that he cannot attend the Sunday morning and evening services, and Wednesday night prayer meeting, then that man has more business than God intended him to have. Don’t use your work as an excuse to miss corporate worship.
A certain man took over the presidency of a large corporation. An aide told him that there was a very important meeting called for the next day at ten o’clock. He said, “I’m sorry. I won’t be able to be there.” The aide said, “But, sir, this is regarding a very important matter. It’s a crisis that must be dealt with.” But he just shook his head and said, “I’m sorry, but I have a previous appointment. I can’t make it.” His aide said, “Sir, “I’d really like to know what appointment means so much to you that you can’t break it for something as important as this.” The president smiled and explained, “I have an appointment with the Lord God Almighty tomorrow at ten-thirty, in his house, at his table, and I will be there.” This man’s name was James Garfield. And he went on to become the president of the United States.
Lastly, don’t use church as an excuse to miss corporate worship. I have pastor friends who extended the invitation to church membership by saying, “If you aren’t growing; why are you going?” I struggle with this statement because I am convinced that church-hopping weakens Christians and sheep-stealing weakens churches. But, I admit, that statement does make a good point. You ought not force yourself to go to any church where you are not being taught, edified, and challenged. It grieves me to hear that some person or family has left our church. But I recognize that the best thing some people can do for the development of their faith is to find another church.
• If you cannot receive the clear and faithful teaching of the word of God, you may need to find you another church.
• If you live so far away that the distance easily becomes a regular reason why you can’t make it, you may need to find you another church.
• If you do not respect the leadership of your church, you may need to find another church.
• If your heart is hardening so that you cannot worship freely, serve willingly, and fellowship sincerely, you may need to find you another church.
Before you run out and find another church, let me challenge you to examine yourself. The problem may be your unwillingness to submit, reach out, forgive, get involved, or consider others. But there is a right time, a right reason, and a right way to leave your church. And you ought to find a new household of faith before you allow yourself to use the church as an excuse to miss corporate worship. God is too good, time is too short, and life is too hard for you to keep going to a place where you are not growing. So don’t let the church keep you from coming to corporate worship. And don’t let the church keep you from worshiping when you come.
There was an old lady who shouted in church every week, not matter what. If the preach died or hit it out of the park, she shouted. If the choir was on it or missed it, she shouted. If the atmosphere of the worship was warm or cold, she shouted. Some people around her could understand how she praised the Lord like that every Sunday. And they asked her how is that you praise God like that every Sunday, no matter how good or bad the service is. She answered, “Well, when the preacher is good; I look at him and see Jesus, and I shout. But if he’s bad, I look around him to see Jesus, and I shout. If the choir is good, I look at them and see Jesus, and I shout. And if they’re bad, I look around them and see Jesus, and I shout.
JESUS IS ALL THE WORLD TO ME, MY LIFE, MY JOY, MY ALL
HE IS MY STRENGTH FROM DAY TO DAY, WITHOUT HIM I WOULD FALL
WHEN I AM SAD, TO HIM I GO, NO OTHER NAME CAN CHEER ME SO
WHEN I AM SAD HE MAKES ME GLAD, HE’S MY FRIEND