The Ten Commandments – Commandment 4

Title: The Ten Commandments - Commandment 4

Bible Book: Exodus 20 : 8-11

Author: Paul E. Brown

Subject: The Ten Commandments; Sunday; Church Attendance; Sabbath



The fourth commandment begins with the word, “Remember.” God knows us well, doesn’t he? We human beings are so prone to forget. Thomas Hood wrote, “But evil is wrought for want of thought, As well as want of heart.” One of the saddest statements in the Bible is found in Judges 8:34: “And the children of Israel remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side.”

Thus, God continually reminded the Israelites, and he continually reminds us all, of his blessings and his expectations. Rudyard Kipling wrote:

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget--lest we forget!

Let’s look at this fourth commandment, which our God is so intent on our remembering. First, let’s consider...

I. The Exhortation

A. The Meaning of Holy

In Exodus 20:8 God said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The Hebrew word for “holy” means “set apart.”

Certainly every day is a gift from God, but the Lord tells us that the Sabbath is special and is to be so regarded.

B. The Transition To The First Day Of The Week

Sometimes the question is raised, “Why do Christians, at least most of them, observe Sunday, the first day of the week, instead of Saturday, the seventh day? Are Christians thereby disobeying the fourth commandment? If not, what is their justification for observing Sunday instead of Saturday?

First, let me say that I appreciate the sincerity of those folks who advocate the observance of Saturday, the seventh day. There was at one time - and I suppose, still is - a small group of Baptists called “Seventh Day Baptists.” Probably the best-known group insisting on observing Saturday as their day of worship is the “Seventh Day Adventists.” I respect the earnestness of those two groups and others who continue to observe the seventh day, but I believe that the transition from the seventh day to the first day was ordained of God.

Although there is no specific command to that effect, there is I believe, clear Biblical evidence that the change was wrought by God. Let’s look at some of those evidences.

C. The Rationale For The Transition

Apparently the chief motivation for the change was the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. Mark 16:9 says, “Now when Jesus was raised early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.”

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the greatest event in all of history and, apparently because it occurred on the first day of the week, Christians began observing the first day of the week to celebrate that great event. H.E. Dana wrote, “To the end of time the Christian Lord’s Day shall stand as a mute but profoundly eloquent testimony to the empty tomb and the vanquished power of death.”

In Luke 24, and elsewhere, we learn that it was on that very resurrection day, the first day of the week, that not only Mary Magdalene but also several others made the exciting discovery that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive. Jesus appeared to a number of people on that day and he continued to make various appearances for forty days, right up to the time of his ascension.

It was on the first day of the week that Jesus appeared to the disciples in a group, and gave them the great commission. We read in John 20:19-21:

“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace unto you. And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

By rising from the dead on the first day of the week, and by making several appearances on that first day, Jesus apparently was placing his stamp of approval on Christians setting aside the first day of the week as their special day of celebration and praise.

As we just read in John 20:19-21, Jesus appeared to his disciples on the evening of his resurrection day. The record goes on, then, to say in verses 26-29:

“And after eight days [the NIV says, “A week later”--in other words, on the first day of the next week] again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them [Thomas, not having been present when Jesus appeared the previous week, had expressed doubt that Jesus had really risen from the dead]: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Following the resurrection, it appears that assembling for worship on the first day of the week was the norm for believers. The Jewish Christians still went into the synagogues on the Sabbath, but that was in order to proclaim the gospel and win a hearing from their fellow Jews. We are to go where the people are to preach the Word of God, and apparently that was what the early believers did. So far as their special day of worship was concerned, that was the first day of the week.

In the first century an offering was being taken for the relief of the suffering saints in Jerusalem. In exhorting a group of believers about helping in that regard, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:2: “Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” The logical interpretation of that verse is that Paul meant for the Corinthian believers to bring their offerings when they met for worship on the first day of the week--the day that we call Sunday.

Later we find Paul visiting with the church at Troas, and Acts 20:7 says: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them....” Apparently that particular church observed the Lord’s Supper and/or had a fellowship meal each time they met for worship. The Apostle John’s reference to “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10 is generally understood as a reference to the first day of the week.

Prior to the end of the first century, meeting for worship on the first day of the week was apparently the accepted practice among Christians. Does that violate the fourth commandment? No. Just as Jesus gave a fresh, new interpretation to other commandments, apparently he placed his stamp of approval on God’s special, holy day being observed on the first day of the week rather than the seventh. Thus I believe, although some would disagree with this statement, that it is legitimate to speak of Sunday as “the Christian Sabbath.” On the seventh day God rested from his creative work; on the first day of the week he rested from his redemptive work.

The issue here, however, is not primarily one of terminology--the issue is: how does God intend for Christians to obey the fourth commandment?--and, make no mistake about it, Christians are to obey all ten of the commandments, including the fourth one. The spirit, the intent, and the essential content of that commandment have not changed - only the chronological particulars have changed - and, as already emphasized, those changes are, I believe, clearly ordained of God. So, whether you choose to call it “the Christian Sabbath,” or “Sunday” or ”the Lord’s Day,” keeping the first day of the week as God’s special holy day is the way Christians are to obey the fourth commandment.

Now, having looked at the admonition regarding the Sabbath, let’s consider

II. An Explanation

How are we to observe the Lord’s Day? In other words, how can we obey this fourth commandment to keep that special day “holy”--which, as already indicated, literally means “set apart?” Part of the answer comes from these verses comprising the fourth commandment, and part of it comes from elsewhere in the Scriptures. God says, in Exodus 20:9-11:

“Six days shalt thou labor, 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: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

A. Sunday - A Day of Rest

For one thing, the Lord’s Day is to be A DAY OF REST.

1. God rested on the Sabbath day

God rested on the Sabbath day, and he intends that we rest on our Christian Sabbath. When the Bible says that “God rested,” it doesn’t mean that he was tired and needed physical renewal. [Isaiah 40:28 says, “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?....”] It means that he ceased his work of creation. Although his rest was unique and different, nevertheless he did rest on the Sabbath and sanctified it, and thereby he set the example for us. We, too, are to rest on our Christian Sabbath--that is, on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week.

2. Rest is essential for mankind

Man is so made, physically, mentally, and emotionally, that one day’s rest out of seven is essential to good overall health. I have read that tests have proven that a man can accomplish more by working six days a week and resting one, than by working seven days a week without any rest. It is worth noting that the Hebrew word for “Sabbath” means, literally, “cessation” or “rest.” J. A. Holmes said, “A man submerged in business all week had better come up for air on Sunday.”

3. Necessary work is permissible

However, God was not ruling out necessary work. In Luke 13 we read of Jesus performing a mighty miracle of healing on the Sabbath. [That was prior to his resurrection, and so the Sabbath in that passage refers to the seventh day--but the principle also logically applies to Sunday, the Christian Sabbath.] He healed a woman who had been infirm for eighteen years. The ruler of the synagogue was indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day, and confronted Jesus about it. In Luke 13:15-16 we read:

“The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

Jesus was not criticizing their doing the necessary work of tending to their livestock on the Sabbath, he was simply making the point that what he was doing was far more important. So, our Lord allowed for necessary work on the day of rest. Sick people still need medical care on Sunday. Prisoners still have to be guarded on Sunday. Society still needs police and fire protection on Sunday--and other such occupations could be named. Some folks have jobs that require that they work on Sunday.

So, Sunday is to be a day of rest unless we are providentially hindered. or unless we‘re in a type of work which logically requires that we work on Sunday.

B. Sunday - A Day of Worship

Sunday - the Lord’s Day - is also to be A DAY OF WORSHIP.

Passages already cited make that clear--and Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

Luke 4:16 says this about Jesus: “ his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day....” Each Jewish community had a synagogue, a building in which the Jews regularly worshipped on the Sabbath. It was not until after Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection that the first day of the week became the Christian day of worship, so during his ministry Jesus regularly worshipped in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Once we are converted, Jesus is to be our example. Thus, just as he worshipped in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, we who are Christians are to attend our place of worship on the first day of the week, our Christian Sabbath.

Dr. Herschel Ford told the story of a man in England who, years ago, was inspecting a house, thinking of buying it. After having shown him through it, the owner took him to an upper window and said, “You can see Durham Cathedral from this window on Sundays.” The prospective buyer asked how it was that you could see it on Sundays and not on other days. The owner said, “Because on Sundays there is no smoke from the factory chimneys.” Every man needs one day in each week when the “chimney smoke” of the world doesn’t get in his eyes--a day when he comes into God’s house, with God’s people, and worships God in the beauty of holiness.

C. Sunday – A Day for Doing Good

There is a third legitimate use of the Lord’s day, the first day of the week, and that is we are to use it as A DAY FOR DOING GOOD.

That doesn’t mean that we should “run ourselves ragged” on Sunday because, as already emphasized, we are to rest. But we’re also to do good, as Jesus did. He is not only our Savior, he is also our example. Jesus healed people. He helped people on the Sabbath. We read in Mark 3:1-6:

“And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the Sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.”

The Pharisees had made up a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts” - mostly “don’ts” - as to how people should observe the Sabbath and they were constantly upset at Jesus, because he didn’t follow their picky little rules. He always followed God’s rules, of course, for he was and is God, and lived the one perfect life that has ever graced this globe but he refused to conform himself to man-made rules that were contrary to the will of God. When the Pharisees criticized him and his disciples for plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath in order to have something to eat that day, Jesus responded by saying, in Mark 2:27-28: “...The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”

When it comes to what is right and what is wrong on the Lord’s day, the bottom line is to remember 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” So, ask the question, “Will doing this on the Lord’s Day glorify God? Will it help or hinder my testimony?” If a person will honestly ask that question and act accordingly, he is not likely to get too far off track.


So God has commanded that we set aside that one special day in the week to rest, to worship him, and to do good,-and those who treat Sunday just like any other day are the losers.

Dr. John Bisagno related a story that the great Methodist preacher, Gerald Kennedy, told about two wagon trains that started west many years ago across the Great Plains, headed for California, during the gold rush days. They started from the same place, at the same time. One wagon train was led by a Christian man, and his group stopped every Lord’s Day for worship and rest. However, the other party was led by a non-Christian. He and the people of his wagon train were so obsessed by gold fever that they refused to stop even one day a week. They knew that the claims were given out on a first come, first served basis, so they pushed on seven days a week. The amazing thing is that the wagon train that worshiped and rested every Lord’s Day arrived in California first. When you neglect God’s day, you lose in the long run--not necessarily materially, but in ways far more significant.

A Sabbath well spent, brings a week of content

And strength for the toils of the morrow;

But a Sabbath profaned, whate’er may be gained

Is a certain forerunner of sorrow.

But the people who lose most terribly in life are those who fail to align themselves trustfully and obediently with Jesus Christ. If you’ve never been saved, then not only are you bound for eternal hell, but even in this life you are inwardly defeated. But Jesus says, in Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We all need physical rest on the Sabbath--but even more, we need the inward, spiritual rest and peace that only Christ can give. By repenting of your sins and by faith receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior, you can receive forgiveness of your sins, newness of life, and the assurance of a home in heaven when you die. I challenge you to come to Jesus, if you’ve not done so. Revelation 22:17 says, “...whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

If you’re a Christian already, I challenge you, and I challenge myself: Ask the Lord to convict you of sin that ought to be confessed, and of new beginnings that ought to be made and then respond accordingly.


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