Some members in my church believe it is appropriate to eat at restaurants during the Sabbath. I’m not sure how to react. Is there any guidance from the Bible?
The recent emphasis on righteousness by faith has resulted in a de-emphasis on obedience to the law and a tendency to resist specific instruction concerning Sabbath observance. Consequently, many church members do not even consult the Bible on this subject.
The Bible gives us little specific information on the issue of Sabbath observance, making it necessary for us to make some personal decisions. However, the Bible does identify some principles that can be used to determine how to observe the Sabbath.
1. The Sabbath Is Holy: The Sabbath was sanctified by the Lord, and He expects us to keep it holy (Gen. 2:3; Ex. 20:8). The concept of holiness is almost unknown in Western societies. We do not have holy places, holy rivers, holy objects. We know that God is holy, but He is not a visible object localized at a particular holy place. Consequently, we do not seem to know how to relate to the holy. That lack of knowledge has resulted in a secularization or misappropriation of that which is holy.
The holy is by nature that which inundates our space and time from the outside, from the sphere of the divine. God selected particular things within creation and separated them from the rest of creation by making them holy, by appropriating them and placing them outside the realm of human manipulation and exploitation.
For instance, tithe and the Sabbath are holy; they belong exclusively to God. Both of them are located within our sphere of existence, but they are unique in that God claimed them as His particular possessions. We keep them holy by acknowledging that they belong to God and by treating them as holy.
2. Keeping the Sabbath Holy: Our awareness of the holiness of the Sabbath is not the result of scientific analysis, but of divine revelation. The Sabbath is a period of 24 hours, and our natural tendency is to treat it like a common day. To keep it holy means to use it in a way that is compatible with God’s holiness. Only a holy person can keep the Sabbath holy, and that holiness is mediated to us through God’s revealed will.
God has informed us that during the Sabbath we must rest. Rest means first that no work is to be done that will contribute to our self-preservation. This would include plowing and harvesting (Ex. 34:21) or engaging in commercial transactions that would enrich us or provide for our own needs (Neh. 13:15-21; Amos 8:5; Jer. 17:21, 22). Second, rest means that God is responsible for our food during the Sabbath (Ex. 16:23; 35:3; Num. 15:32-36). We prepare it before sunset, and we trust that He will preserve it for us to enjoy during the holy hours. We are relieved from the burden of self-preservation on the Sabbath. It is, therefore, necessary to plan during the week how we are going to keep the Sabbath holy.
3. Sabbath Holiness Is Dynamic: The Sabbath hours are emptied of human concern for self-preservation in order to fill them with the power of holiness. When the holy invades the Sabbath, it becomes a day of healing (Luke 14:1-6), a day for saving or preserving the lives of others (Mark 3:4; Matt. 12:12), a day of liberation for the family, the poor, the servants, even the animals (Ex. 20:10). Above all it is a day to come into deep contact with our Creator, to praise Him, and rejoice before Him (Isa. 58:13, 14). The Sabbath isn’t merely a “family day” (that would be a secular understanding of it), but a day when a family places itself in the hands of a loving God in worship and in service to Him and to others.
We witness with great concern an erosion of proper Sabbath observance in the church. It is time to call God’s people to revival and reformation on the observance of the fourth commandment.
Although there may be cases in which it may be necessary to go to a restaurant during the Sabbath, it is a violation of the holiness of the Sabbath to make that a regular practice.