Practical Application of the Word of God
“A man lives by believing something: not by debating and arguing about many things.”
One of the recurring debates among Sabbath keepers has been about what’s acceptable to do and not do on the Sabbath. One of the real sticking points has been about eating out in a restaurant and the die-hards on both ends of the spectrum self-righteously, like the Pharisees of Christ’s time, throw a ton of scriptures along with a boatload of judging condemnation at anyone who dares disagree with the conclusions they’ve come to on this matter. And most of us looking on just shake our heads and walk away from the discussion – and, yeah, it gets discussed ad nauseum quite frequently – in disgust.
I’ve always been surprised at how shallow the prevailing arguments for or against are and wonder how often we all miss the weightier matters we should be considering when looking align our conduct and behavior with God’s.
The real issue is one of mindset and habit with regard to the Sabbath. For me, Isaiah 58:13-14 encompasses the guiding principles for Sabbath observance. It’s God’s time, not mine, so I need to think about it from His perspective, not my own. It is holy time, which is different from all other time. It is a stop sign, as all the other times God has made holy are.
When the Israelites were rescued by God from Egypt, there were things God commanded them to do that they didn’t do all the time and He made them annual reminders and told the parents to explain to the kids when they asked “why do we do…?” the meaning behind them. Those were – and are – conscious markers of events in which the way things were done were different than at any other time during the year. They were – and are – God’s time and the normal routine of things abruptly came to a halt and things were consciously done differently.
Each year, we consciously rehearsed both the physical and spiritual changes of routines as we examine ourselves, deleaven (removing) and unleaven (bringing in) our physical spaces, then take the Passover, remembering that the symbols represent the atoning sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, our Older Brother, our Redeemer, our Defense Attorney, and the Repairer of our breaches in order to facilitate our reconciliation to God. We then very consciously think about everything we eat (take in) for the next seven days and spend a lot of time walking away from or turning down other things we would normally eat which provides us with a physical analogy of what we should be doing all the time spiritually, with that heightened alertness, awareness, and conscious rejection of anything contrary to God’s way. I have always suspected that Pentecost has nothing consciously for us to do because it represents a gift – the holy spirit – that we didn’t earn, aren’t entitled to, and don’t deserve – and actually that should make us stop and think. The Feast of Trumpets is similar in its current observance, although because it starts the fall holy season, there is a big-picture stop sign in it and the next three holy days. On the Day of Atonement, we consciously abstain from food and drink from sunset to sunset, which is definitely out of our normal routines. And we spend a good bit of the year preparing for the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day, which is a pilgrimage of sorts, reminding us that everything is temporary and transitory in the physical realm, but the time is coming when that will be phased out and a permanent and perfect replacement will be affected.
The weekly Sabbaths and annual Sabbaths are God’s time and they are His stop signs for us.
So the question I ask myself is “how do I handle stop signs?” We humans have a propensity for doing California stops, rolling through the stop signs barely or not even applying the brakes, instead of coming to a full and complete stop, looking around at everything, and then proceeding forward. And on the routes we drive daily or frequently, if we’re doing California stops, eventually we won’t even notice the stop signs are there, because we’ve developed a habit of approaching and dealing with them that has removed them from any conscious thought or attention. Until the day that the cop behind us pulls us over and gives us a ticket and points on our license or we get broadsided by a car coming through the intersection at the same time we were rolling through it.
The same is true with the weekly Sabbath and annual Sabbaths. If my habit is roll through them without stopping, eventually I will not even notice they are there because they will be just like any other day. So I consciously try to do things differently and in a state of total awareness with regard to them. I occasionally buy food and drink on the Sabbaths: when I’m traveling or circumstances are such that I don’t have any other option. But it’s not my habit to do that because if I’m home and don’t have any extenuating circumstances, then I’ve already taken care of making sure I’ve got what I need to eat and drink. I don’t believe eating out is a sin, but I do think we need to be mindful of how we’re handling the stop signs and approaching God’s time, which is not like other time. And God only designates less than 1/6 of a year as holy time (assuming 52 weekly Sabbaths and 7 annual Sabbaths), so when I think of it from that perspective, that time becomes more valuable and more important in my mindset as to how I approach it.
I often hear people say they eat out on the weekly Sabbaths for fellowship, and my personal experience in group settings – with close friends, there is indeed spiritual fellowship – says that the fellowship is the same kind of fellowship you could get any other day of the week. Most of the conversations I’ve heard in these settings are the same kind I would have with someone while I was waiting to use the U-Scan at the grocery story. So it’s, in general, a way of rationalizing and excusing general run-of-the-mill socializing. Does that trample, which is the word-picture in Isaiah 58 when God talks about turning one’s foot away from the Sabbath, on God’s time? Indeed it does.
So, just as with everything else we peeps say and do, we have to ask ourselves “why am I doing this?” We have to look at mindset, habit, intent and attitude. That is what Christ hammered home in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Paul talked about things being lawful – okay to do – but context-wise or situationally, the wrong choice to make.
God’s way and word is not a long list of do’s and don’ts that covers every conceivable action, word, situation we would find ourselves in. It is instead a set of principles that explains the mindset of God and Christ to us in broad and big-picture terms so that we can learn to apply them in consistent manner to every part of our lives. And that seems to be the thing we all struggle to hold onto and do. There’s the occasional flash where it’s clear and then almost as soon as the clarity is there, it’s gone and we go back to our “give me an exact list of what I can and can’t do” way of thinking.
Clearly God expects more out of us than we, most of the time, expect out of ourselves. And one of the things He expects is for us to think about application – David discussed this throughout Psalm 119 – from God’s perspective instead of our own. I suspect we all suffer from thinking laziness because it takes time to really think something through and get a good enough handle on it to actually use in a practical way. And yet that’s exactly what we’ve been given the opportunity to do by the most powerful mind in the universe.
And that is why He gives us stop signs at regular intervals so we can do just that. We need to make sure we’re not just rolling through them and missing out on His gift of time that has become so rare and precious in the world we live in now.