Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Fourth Commandment

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8 (NKJV)

While in seminary, I lived on a communal floor where everyone shared the kitchen. We cook, ate, and dined together. On my floor, there were about 25 of us in total, however, there were two kitchens on each floor.

In each kitchen, there were cubbyholes for people to put their food. In each refrigerator, there were shelves and space for each person to put their food (labeled of course); however, there was a general area where everyone donated their pots and pans. One would think there would be enough space for us; unfortunately, our space was very limited because one of the students was an ultra-orthodox Jewish PhD student. Given his strict dietary requirements, his stuff couldn’t come near our stuff—his pots and pans couldn’t touch our pots and pans. Jonah, the PhD student, had strict laws about how his food was prepared and he often cooked meals for other Jewish students. Practically every time I was in the kitchen, so was Jonah.

I mention this because Jonah practiced and observed his religion faithfully even given the reality that his rules of religion were complicated and inconvenient. For instance, on Friday night before Sabbath, he would prepare all his food and turn on the lights (which couldn’t be turned off—because turning them back on once Sabbath began, would violate the religious rules he followed). When I think of the strict rules of Sabbath, I cannot help but admire Jonah’s tenacity and fortitude.

Christians, however, do not honor the Sabbath like Jonah does. We wail because the “activist judges” won’t allow the Ten Commandments on court house steps, but we do not intend to actually follow them and here is one such proof.

This commandment instructs us not to work, nor have our children work, or our servants, or even anyone who just happens to be over at our house. The justification is that if God can create the world in six days and rested on the seventh, then so should we. Rest being an important part of spirituality and an organized society, this rule takes its place as our fourth commandment above murder, lying, and coveting. If it is so important, then how come we allow our children to engage in sports activities on Sunday? How come we mow the lawn? How come we go out to dinner, after church no less, where we are waited on by others who are working to serve us, thereby causing them to work? Doesn’t it sound hypocritical for us to fight like mad to protect the Ten Commandments and yet we have no intention of following them?

A student of the New Testament might say that we’re no longer bound to obey the Law, as the Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 9:21. And Paul does indeed say this but he also doesn’t rule out the Law entirely—he only rules out the possibility that following the Law will merit salvation.

Another Bible student might also explain how Paul does seem to articulate a rather indifferent or reckless attitude about obeying the strict rules of the Law wherever they might be. This student would quote Colossians 2:16 and in so doing, s/he’d be absolutely right, at least according to the proof-texting Scripture being used.

So what is our responsibility to following the Ten Commandments? Didn’t Jesus even say that if you took all the Law and the Prophets and grouped them together that you’d come up with only two important ones: To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves? (Matthew 22:38-40) Yes, Jesus did say that.

So then—does this mean we’re off the hook in obeying this Commandment? Well, yes, I do believe we are. In my opinion, having to follow something is different than wanting to. But that’s for a different post.

Answering the above question isn’t the point of the post at all. What is important is asking ourselves why we deliberately choose not to follow this Commandment and yet demand that its presence be put in places of public gatherings. And when they’re removed, we act like we live in a godless nation. If we admit that we have no intention of following those very same Commandments, does that mean we are admitting that our laws and Scripture are more symbolic than an actual necessity to our faith? And if so, then why not just admit it? Or are we more comfortable being hypocrites for the world to see and judge?

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