The “Sabbath” is the day the Lord rested following creation, and the Ten Commandments in the Bible instruct us to keep “remembering the Sabbath by keeping it holy” and says to do no work. Is working on the Sabbath a sin?
In Jewish tradition, Sunday is considered the first day of the week, and Saturday is regarded as the seventh day and the Sabbath. Some Christian traditions still follow this observance. However, most Christian traditions view Sunday as the Sabbath.
This is due primarily to the Roman Emperor Constantine, who, on March 7, 321 A.D., issued a civil decree establishing Sunday as the Sabbath and a day of rest.
However, some Christians take issue with the Roman Emperor making this change. They point to the fact that Jesus, himself a Jew, observed the traditional Saturday Sabbath.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.”
– Luke 4:16
“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 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. 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.”
– Exodus 20:8-11
The above is the third of the Ten Commandments.
Are laws about the Sabbath different for Christians than Jews? Some point to Paul’s teaching based on Jesus’ words about the Sabbath. Paul was a Jew and originally a Pharisee. But becoming a follower of Christ, he points to Jesus’ instructions to the Gentiles that made Jewish civil and ceremonial laws non-applicable to Christians.
“Then Jesus declared, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
– Mark 2:27
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”
– Colossians 2:16
This is similar to Jesus’ teaching that Gentiles did not have to follow Jewish ceremonial laws about eating only kosher food.
“And he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.'”
– Matthew 15:16-18
However, some will argue that the Ten Commandments are moral laws, not Jewish civil or ceremonial laws, and, therefore, also apply to the Gentiles. But Jesus has a response to that.
Luke 6 tells us that Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, and he called a man with a withered right hand to come to him. The scribes and the Pharisees were waiting to see if Jesus would heal the man so that they could accuse him of doing work on the Sabbath.
“And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’ And after looking around at them all he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”
– Luke 6:9-11
In the descriptions of this same event in Matthew 12, we get insight into the dialogue Jesus had with the Pharisees.
“And they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.'”
The rescuing of a sheep is a good example. There are certain things we must do. Working at your job is providing income for food and shelter and providing something that is beneficial for others – it is doing good.
If we are to follow Jesus’ example and words, we see, that it is not sinful to do work on the Sabbath. However, that doesn’t remove our obligation to the first part of this commandment.
We are still under the obligation to remember the Sabbath by focusing our thoughts and appreciation toward God and keeping the Sabbath holy, and not offending God by committing other sins.