Luther on the Christian Sabbath

“Now, therefore, the sum and substance of this is that he [Jesus] confronts them [the Pharisees in Luke 14.1-11] straight to their faces, showing them that they don’t know what it means to keep or sanctify the Sabbath.  Your thinking, he says, is that the Sabbath means to do no work whatever and to be idle.  No, you must not construe the Sabbath in this manner.  Sanctifying the Sabbath means to hear God’s Word and to assist your neighbor however you can.  For God does not want the Sabbath to be kept holy in such a way that you allow your neighbor to languish and be in need.”

“Therefore, if I serve and help my neighbor, even though it requires physical labor, I still have kept the Sabbath very properly, because in doing so I have done a God-pleasing work.  This doctrine of the Sabbath, therefore, shows us how to understand what the third commandment is all about and what it demands of us, namely, not that we observe it in idleness, but that we hearken to God’s word, and act and live in harmony with it.”

“So what is its lesson?  It teaches us that, in accord with the second table, we are to love one another and do all manner of good works.  On the Sabbath, if I listen to and obey God’s word, it surely follows that I also should act in accord with it, for by doing good I am not breaking or desecrating the Sabbath, but acting in accord with his word.”

I love how Martin Luther explains the Sabbath using Jesus’ teaching of helping our needy neighbor on the Sabbath.  It reminds me of the Heidelberg Catechism’s great explanation of the 4th commandment.  I always forget that we should think of and help others every day of the week; we don’t have Sunday “off” from serving and loving others.  Basically, this is the summary of the ten commandments applied to the Christian Sabbath: Love God first and your neighbor second.  If you sweat on the Lord’s Day to help and love your neighbor, you are not disobeying God, but pleasing him.  More bluntly, it is probably better to help someone in need Sunday after church than go nap for 2 hours because Saturday totally wore you out!

The above Luther quote is taken from volume 7 of the Baker sermon series of Martin Luther, page 37 (his first sermon on the 16th Sunday after Trinity Sunday, 1532).

shane lems

2 comments on “Luther on the Christian Sabbath

  1. Richard says:

    I agree with this post. I have been thinking about the Sabbath a great deal lately. What worries me is that there are some in the evangelical world who argue that the Sabbath is no longer binding on the Christian and therefore Sunday is just like Mon-Sat and we can do whatever we wish on it, e.g. watch TV, go to the pub etc.

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  2. Pat says:

    I really love reading the early Reformers like Luther and Calvin when it comes to the Sabbath. They definitely understood that you can’t just apply all of the ceremonial aspects of the Old Testament Saturday-rest to a Christian’s Sunday worship as if they were the exact same thing, just on different days. To me, the Old Testament Sabbath practice is very much ceremonial, pointing us to the eternal rest we have with Christ. In some sense every day now is a Sabbath. (Although we especially enjoy it as we gather together on Sunday for worship). And of course the practical aspects of a weekly sabbath rest are just as useful today as they’ve always been.

    At least that’s how it makes sense to me. I know my views aren’t necessarily the norm on this. :-)

    Pat

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