Sabbath, Trust and the Ten Commandments
We know that keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, the 4th one to be exact, but what we may not realize is the pivotal and telling role the 4th Commandment plays within the flow of the Ten Commandments, and therefore in our lives.
Even a cursory reading of the Ten Commandments reveals that there are two main sections to the Commandments. The first main section, Commandments 1-3, deal with one's relationship with God. These Commandments are designed to help an individual live a life faithfully following and honoring God. The second main section, Commandments 5-10, focus on communal interactions, providing guidelines to help people live together in harmony and peace.
This pattern of interrelationships with God and others, found in the Ten Commandments, recalls to mind the words of Jesus found in Matthew 26: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Here Jesus highlights the importance and connection of one’s relationship with God with one’s relationship with others, the same dual emphasis of loving God and loving our neighbor displayed in the structure of the Ten Commandments.
What may be surprising is that in the Ten Commandments, sandwiched between the main sections related to loving God and loving neighbor, is the 4th Commandment that admonishes us to keep the Sabbath. I believe this commandment, being placed in this pivotal position between one’s relationship with God and one’s relationship within the community, is informative and instructive.
What I have come to infer from the positioning of the Sabbath commandment is that adherence to the 4th Commandment is an outflow of a life given over to faithfully following the first 3 commandments which in turn fuels our ability to faithfully follow the last 6 commandments.
The willingness to Sabbath and cease from our labors, our producing, our striving, our controlling, our grasping, our proving our worth and significance, is only possible if we have come to know God, honor God and trust God. Our ability to rest, to Sabbath, is an affirmation and declaration of our trust of God. A wonderful example of the link between rest and trust in found in Psalm 3:4-6.
But You, O Lord, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the Lord with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about.
This Psalmist proclaims a deep trust in God and so is able to rest. This same notion is found in Psalms 23 where David states because God is his Shepherd he shall not want. David declares that God’s involvement in his life is enough for him. It is this enoughness of God that allows David to lie down in green pastures, and to linger next to quiet waters – to rest.
So when our relationship with God is characterized by a deep trust it frees us to rest, to Sabbath, and it is this rest that enables us to be with people in an agenda-free way. Because we trust that God is enough, we are now able to cease striving, earning, producing, and to love without needing something from the person we are loving. This helps keep our encounters from becoming manipulative transactions fed by our own neediness. Instead, because of our relationship with God, our interactions with others can be loving, life-giving encounters with no strings attached.
The Ten Commandments illustrate the important role of Sabbath for those who would love and serve others. It is important to remember that this ability to rest and serve others freely flows from a growing relationship with God characterized by a deep and abiding trust of God. Our practice of the Sabbath may be one indicator of the level of the trust we have in God as well as an indicator of our ability to love others from a place of spiritual health and not personal neediness.
Reflection (the following is about awareness and not condemnation)
1. If the ability to rest, to Sabbath, is an affirmation and declaration of one’s level of trusting God, based on your current practices of rest and Sabbath, what would you say is your level of trusting God?
2. What tends to keep you from rest and Sabbath as a regular practice? What is it about those things that make rest and Sabbath difficult to make a part of your life?
3. What would be difficult for you to cease doing in terms of striving, earning, producing, preparing…if you would take a Sabbath? Why?
4. Is God enough for you? Why, Why not?
5. When you love and serve others, are you seeking to meet the needs of the other and/or have your own needs met? What needs are you seeking to have met in loving and serving others? How might God meet those needs?
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