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Disciplines of Rest: Sabbath

Devotions

The church has never held a uniform view of the Sabbath. One scholar notes, “The early church had no single answer to the question of the relevance of the Sabbath commandment to Christians. The churches of the New Testament period included a variety of views.”

The apostle Paul warned the Colossians not to let anyone judge them when it came to religious festivals, new moon celebrations, or Sabbath days (Col. 2:16). These were all associated with the Mosaic Law. New Testament believers could still observe sacred days if they chose. Paul’s own practice after his conversion to Christ was to visit the synagogue on the Sabbath. This seems to have been driven more by evangelistic intent, however, than by any continued devotion to the day itself. On the first day of the week Paul gathered with other Christians for worship, the regular practice of the New Testament church.

Those today who practice Sabbath as a discipline do not observe it as a point of law. They may not even associate this practice with a particular day of the week. Instead they habitually set aside a day to learn how to rest. Regular practice of Sabbath can have many benefits, but it can also have pitfalls. Some of them are outlined in today’s reading, which was intended to correct Israel’s legalistic, stifling practice of the Sabbath.

Regular observance of a day of rest can become mechanical. We can become more devoted to the form rather than the function. The observance of a holy day can cause us to dichotomize our lives so that we elevate one day as holy but ignore God the rest of the week. On the other hand, a view which claims that all days are sacred may actually treat every day as common. The discipline of dedicating time to the Lord can be a part of giving our souls rest.

Apply the Word

In An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest, Alan Fadling writes that trust is at the heart of Sabbath discipline. “It takes trust in God’s faithfulness to choose to stop our work. When we choose soul rest, we are putting our trust in God’s work, not our own, and we then experience the gift of Sabbath.”

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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