How to Observe the Sabbath

By Raymond Cole

(Originally published in the Good News magazine of the old Radio Church of God, February 1957, comments added afterwards, plus a writing from Herbert W. Armstrong also follow.) There is also related sermon video The Christian Sabbath and How and Why to Keep It.

Here are the answers to those perplexing questions which many of our recent converts have asked us! Should we prepare meals on the Sabbath? Is it a violation of God’s law to travel, to care for livestock, or help others to harvest crops on the Sabbath? Does God require us to attend Church?

More THAN three years have elapsed since we had an article on this vital subject.

No other phase of Christian living presents more constant problems than Sabbath-keeping - since every WEEK presents us with new situations. Yet this constant round of new trials is a vital part of our Christian growth--a test to prove whether we are growing spiritually or shriveling up and drying away!

God instituted the Sabbath for a definite purpose. Christ declared that the Sabbath was made for MAN. It is intended for the good of all mankind. And rightly so, for the law explicitly tells us that it is a day of rest-a day on which we cease from all our labors, and worship God. It is a holy convocation, commanded to be observed throughout all generations, forever-for our own good!

Preparation of Meals

No other question confronts our women more than the problem of preparing meals. Unconverted mates are often involved.

God says in Leviticus 23:2-3, “Concerning the festivals of the ETERNAL, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my festivals. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of REST, an HOLY CONVOCATION; ye shall do NO WORK therein; it is the Sabbath of the ETERNAL in all your dwellings.” A festival is a time of great enjoyment-of wholesome fellowship and rejoicing--a time when we may have the finest food to eat.

No work-labor of earning a livelihood-is to be done on the Sabbath! Then, how and when are you allowed to prepare your Sabbath meals? Turn, now. to Exodus 16, beginning with the 22nd verse: “And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, ‘This is that which the Lord hath said, tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: BAKE that which ye will bake today (Friday), and seethe (to stew or boil) that ye will seethe: and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.’”

Friday is the day of preparation for the Sabbath. Baking, broiling, stewing and other methods of cooking, which require time and work, are to be done the day before. On the Sabbath--a day of REST, you may enjoy your meals, which can be warmed up without the usual time-consuming work required in preparation.

Again, Christ and His disciples were walking through corn fields on the Sabbath. The Disciples, being hungry, plucked ears of corn to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they were critical of Christ saying, “Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.” (Matt. 12 :1-3.)

Jesus’ answer found in Matt. 12:3-6 shows that it is permissible to obtain food to eat on the Sabbath. Christ knew how the Sabbath should be observed. He said nothing to the disciples but did rebuke strongly the Pharisees saying, “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, YE WOULD NOT HAVE CONDEMNED THE GUILTI.ESS.” (Matt. 12:7.) The disciples were not transgressing the law of God when eating on the Sabbath. They were merely violating the traditions of the elders. This in no way implies the abolition of GOD’S Sabbath.

Lighting a Fire

Many will ask, “May I kindle a fire on the Sabbath?” This question, of course, is quite natural. How could you warm your meals if you had no fire?

The law against kindling a fire in Exodus 35:3 is not to prohibit any fire whatever. Rather it is to prevent unnecessary work in preparing and cooking meals on the Sabbath. Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. I, page 479, states: “The Jews understand this precept as forbidding the kindling of fire only for the purpose of doing work or dressing victuals: but to give them light and heat, they judge it lawful to light a fire on the Sabbath day.”

The Critical and Experimental Commentary, Vol. 1, page 419, explains: “The Sabbath was not a fast day. The Israelites cooked their victuals on that day, for which, of course, a fire would be necessary; and this view of the institution is supported by the conduct of our Lord (Luke 14:1). But in early times the Israelites, while sojourning in the wilderness and subsisting on manna, received a double supply on the sixth day, which they cooked also on that day (Ex. 16:23), so that a fire for culinary purposes was entirely unnecessary on the Sabbath day. As the kindling of a fire, therefore, could only be for secular purposes, the insertion of the prohibition in connection with the work of the tabernacle makes it highly probable that it was intended chiefly for the mechanics who were to be employed in the erection; and . . . it was absolutely forbidden to kindle any fire for the sharpening of tools, for the melting of metals, or any other material purpose bearing on the sanctuary.”

Hence, according to the spirit of the law-which makes the Sabbath a delight-it is not wrong to heat previously prepared meals or to warm the home in wintry weather.

Care for Cattle

What about feeding livestock, milking cows, etc. Jesus taught: “Doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox...from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman . . . be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

Here Jesus was showing His critics that inasmuch as it did not break the Sabbath to water and care for livestock, people also ought to be healed on the Sabbath. Stock must be fed on the Sabbath. Cows must be milked. If you are not required to take care of these duties on too large a scale, it definitely is no transgression of God’s law.

However, when a man runs a dairy requiring the milking of so many cows as to fill the Sabbath day with labor the same as week-days, then perhaps he should change his line of business to one which permits him, and his hired help, to rest on the Sabbath.

Take the example of one brother who used to raise turkeys. He ground and mixed his own feed. In late summer and early fall this became a full day’s labor. He solved his problem by grinding and setting aside a one-sixth over-supply on each of the six week-days. When the Sabbath came he had the day’s feed already prepared.

Christ implied that if a sheep, ox, or a donkey falls into a pit on the Sabbath, it is right to lift it out. (Luke 14:5.) But Sabbath “emergency” is a genuine EMERGENCY’, not an excuse to break the Sabbath. If our material duties begin to replace our Sabbath observance, we must reduce them and put the kingdom of God first.

Should We Attend Church on the Sabbath?

Let us turn back to Leviticus 23:2 for just a moment. “Six days shall work be done but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation.” A convocation is an act of calling or assembling by summons, an assembly or meeting of persons convoked. Thus, the Sabbath is a time when God summons or commands His people to assemble together. A summons for convocation is not a call pleading you to come if you wish. It is a command from God for you to be assembled before Him on the Sabbath.

Many of you are alone in a community of unbelievers and cannot assemble with true brethren. God realizes the circumstance which prevents your meeting with the brethren. But God has not left you without fellowship in that He has the message come by The WORLD TOMORROW broadcast not only into your home every night, but also into the homes of thousands of others. Indirectly then, you are in the ... religious fellowship gathered to hear Gods word.

Doing Good on the Sabbath

Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?-healing and visiting the sick, helping the widows and fatherless, or visiting the oppressed? Christ was asked this question by the Pharisees. He answered them very curtly, saying, “It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath.” (Matt. 12-12.) Jesus did these things on the Sabbath. Again, Christ in Luke 6:9, accused the Pharisees of automatically destroying life or doing evil by not doing good on the Seventh Day. Thus, a Sabbath duty where possible is to entreat others kindly.

But we must not visit the unconverted on the Sabbath merely to have worldly fellowship. Useless gossip inevitably ensues. Many times the Pharisees and Sadducees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. He never broke it, but denounced the traditions of the elders. These traditions began after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The Jewish Rabbis had legislated many regulations for the observance of the Sabbath. They had been forced into captivity once because of profaning God’s annual festivals. As a result, they were determined not to let this happen again. Due to the conditions existing among the Jews in His time, Christ devoted a great part of His earthly ministry to showing the intended purpose of the Sabbath by liberating it from human restrictions.

Pleasures on the Sabbath

Is the Sabbath a day of darkness and gloom? Or, is it a day of delight, happiness, and godly pleasure? We are to honor God on that Day. Our own carnal ways are to be repressed on the Sabbath as one very day. Pleasures, such as going to a baseball game, football game...are not to be done on the Sabbath. It was created a day on which God is to be foremost in our minds-doing service which is an honor to Him. Our conversation is to be of a godly nature, not of the matters of livelihood or business. Read Isa. 58:13-14.

The Sabbath is, then, a day of utmost joy and happiness--enjoying already- prepared meals, reading and studying the Bible, the magazines and booklets, listening to The WORLD TOMORROW program, visiting the needy, if possible, and praying.

In conclusion, let us say as David did: “Oh how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day. . . . I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. . . . For thou hast taught me. . . . Therefore I hate every false way.”

In a coming issue will be answered such questions as duties of the Sabbath, instructing children and many other special problems.

The above was published by the old Radio Church of God.

How to Keep the Sabbath

Keeping the Sabbath shows and builds faith. In the 21st century, we would suggest that a suitable replacement for the old World Tomorrow program would be the Bible News Prophecy YouTube channel and for those unable to attend with a proper congregation, watch our sermons on the ContinuingCOG YouTube channel.. The normally weekly Letters to the Brethren of the Continuing Church of God contains a suggested Sabbath-service format each week, including links to The Bible Hymnal, choir accompaniment, announcements, a sermonette, and a sermon. For daily news and other information check out the Church of God Bible-News-Prophecy page (which is part of COGwriter.com).

As far as children go, my wife and I have raised three, one of whom still lives with us. The other two, who have moved out of the house, still keep the Sabbath. We would teach them, throughout the week, but more about the Bible on the Sabbath. We tried to instruct them as God commands (see also Five Rules for Effective Parenting).

We also tried to not make the Sabbath an unnecessarily difficult burden for them. But that also does not mean that we were particularly liberal with our rules either.

Unlike some parents, we did not take them to restaurants on the Sabbath (unless we were traveling), did not allow them (or ourselves) to watch television for entertainment, nor did we allow them to play secular video games. We did, however, allow them to play Bible-based video games, which tended to be more like quizzes. That is probably one of the reasons that our oldest son Michael ended up developing various games/quizzes that are linked to the cogwriter.com website (here is a link to Michael's Free Bible Quizzes, Games and Public Domain Animations).

We did sometimes have livestock and we would tend to share the tasks of feeding and/or milking on the Sabbath (we never had more than one or two goats to milk). we would also tend to share other tasks that might have been needful on the Sabbath, such as meal preparation. But not massively time-consuming/complicated meal preparation, but also not intentionally plain either.

Of course, as we did not shop on the Sabbath, go to school on the Sabbath, nor go to work on the Sabbath, neither did our children. I would also add that I have a significant amount of university education, attained that while working at a full-time job, and never did school-work or attend classes on the Sabbath. It is not that it was always easy, but my main point is to state that it can be done--although in cultures with required or nearly required attendance on the Sabbath, this can be a much more difficult challenge, but I am aware of others who report that they successfully were able to handle this.

We also did allow them to sometimes play outside with friends, would sometimes take them to a park, and sometimes take them to the beach. We tried to keep the Sabbath as a pleasant and holy day. Unlike some children brought up in various Church of God groups, our children did NOT dread the coming of the Sabbath, and I do not recall any ever complaining about keeping the Sabbath.

We are not to pursue carnal pursuits on the Sabbath (cf. Isaiah 58:13). Hence, we do not engage in sports, watch worldly entertainment, shopping, etc. on the Sabbath. However, that does not mean one cannot take a walk or appreciate aspects of God’s creation on the Sabbath.

Cooking can be done on the Sabbath. The commands against kindling a fire in the Old Testament (Exodus 35:3) had to do with industrial fires and not cooking:

Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day. The Sabbath was not a fast day. The Israelites cooked their victuals on that day, for which, of course, a fire would be necessary; and this view of the institution is supported by the conduct of our Lord (Luke 14:1) ... As the kindling of a fire, therefore, could only be for secular purposes (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary).

So, cooking and food preparation can be appropriate (cf. Exodus 12:6). But one should not work oneself hard to cook on the Sabbath. Keep the Sabbath day holy.

We are to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12).

While it is needful to take care of children and livestock (Luke 13:15) on the Sabbath, just because it may be the “busy season” at work does not mean that a Christian should violate the Sabbath to do carnal work (Exodus 34:21).

Jesus also said that traveling can affect food acquisition on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-26).

As far as adults go, since I have been asked this before, based upon various scriptures (e.g. 1 Corinthians 7:3-4), marital relations are not forbidden.

While one should not spend the entire Sabbath discussing carnal matters, and there are various matters that should not be discussed until after the Sabbath is over, one does not need to limit all conversions to only spiritual matters (yes, I have been asked that before).

Here is something written by Herbert W. Armstrong about keeping the Sabbath:

Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?...

The SABBATH command is a SPIRITUAL command. It has to do with our fellowship, assembly, and worship of God. It forbids our regular weekday work or labor by which we earn a living — our JOB, or BUSINESS.
   But the Sabbath was made FOR MAN — as a BLESSING to man! It was made to be ENJOYED — to spiritually REFRESH, in blessed fellowship and communion with CHRIST!
   Jesus Christ KEPT THE SABBATH while He lived as a human on earth. And whole CHAPTERS in the four Gospel books are devoted to recording HOW He taught us to keep the Sabbath.
   The Pharisees of Jesus' day observed some 65 stern regulations of "do's and don'ts" which the human rabbis had instituted to make Sabbath observance a "yoke of bondage." Jesus Christ swept those human regulations aside.
   On one Sabbath He and His disciples were going through a cornfield. The disciples plucked ears of corn to eat. The Pharisees complained. But Jesus rebuked them — showed it is RIGHT to do minor work to gather or prepare food to eat on the Sabbath. That was the very experience that caused Him to say, "The sabbath was made for MAN, and not man for the sabbath," and to proclaim that HE is LORD of the Sabbath — and therefore the Sabbath is the LORD'S DAY!
   Jesus HEALED the sick on the Sabbath. This was not doing business or labor by which He earned a living. It was an act of mercy — and of LOVE. Jesus said it is right to DO GOOD on the Sabbath day.
   He showed it is even right to pull an ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath — but too many today would throw the poor ox in the ditch on Friday, so they could have an excuse to pull it out on the Sabbath! Jesus expected us to use wisdom and judgment — and BE HONEST!
   Many, having read this far, will say — "But I can't keep the Sabbath. I'd lose my JOB."
   Let me tell you something! I have known of hundreds of such cases! It takes living FAITH to OBEY GOD! Can you TRUST HIM, even with your job? Unless you can, I wouldn't give you a counterfeit penny for your chances of escaping the Lake of FIRE!
   Never ask an employer if you can have Saturdays off. Use a little wisdom — and PRAY for God's help. Then tell your employer, in a quiet but earnest and positive manner, that you have learned that those hours from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset have been made HOLY by GOD, and that He commands you to keep them holy. You are very sorry if it inconveniences him in any way — but you will not be able to work any more during those hours. Say it in a friendly, but FIRM manner. Tell him you are willing to work Sundays, if that would help.
   Out of HUNDREDS of experiences, I have found that nine in ten DO NOT LOSE THEIR JOBS! If you first pray, and ask God sincerely to give you grace and favor in your employer's eyes, and then tell him firmly but politely and kindly, it makes it pretty hard for an employer to interfere with your religion!
   Nine in ten have NOT lost their jobs, as they probably expected they would. And the one in ten who did? Nearly always, the few who did lose their jobs SOON FOUND BETTER ONES.
   You CAN TRUST GOD!
   This is where you have to mix living FAITH with obedience!
   Finally, remember once again, GOD has decided what is sin — He compels YOU to decide WHETHER to sin, or to OBEY!

Now It's UP TO YOU!

It is now UP TO YOU!
   I have given you God's Word faithfully. It is not popular. It is not what the popular majority tell you.
   But NOW YOU KNOW! You will be JUDGED by what you do with this knowledge!
   You must make your own choice. Rebellion means eternal PUNISHMENT of everlasting DEATH. God will save no person He does not RULE.
   You must choose between GOD'S ways, and MAN'S ways he falsely calls "Christian."
   My responsibility ends with TELLING you. I have cried aloud. I have lifted my voice. I have TOLD YOU YOUR SIN in this regard. God calls you to repentance. But He will not force you. You must make your own decision, and what you sow you shall reap.
   You shall be saved by GRACE, but God does lay down conditions. You can comply, and receive glorious GRACE — or you can rebel, and pay the DEATH PENALTY — for eternity!

Where to Keep the Sabbath?

Often, when people learn about the Sabbath, they seek some religious group to assemble with. But it is not enough to meet with just any religious body because it may accept the "Sabbath argument." This does not necessarily mean it is the TRUE Church of God.
   God commands us to seek the body — the Work — which is empowered by God.
   There is only ONE such Church!
   It is doing THE WORK OF GOD. It is, as Jesus said it would be, a "little flock," persecuted, despised by the world.

Of course, the Continuing Church of God is a little flock, and we endorse and keep the seventh-day Sabbath. We are both doing and leading the final phase of the work.

There is also related sermon video The Christian Sabbath and How and Why to Keep It.

Several other items of possibly related interest may include:

Another Look at the Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath Did Ignatius write against the Sabbath and for Sunday? What about the Didache? What does the actual Greek reveal?
Is Revelation 1:10 talking about Sunday or the Day of the Lord? Most Protestant scholars say Sunday is the Lord's Day, but is that what the Bible teaches?
The Sabbath in the Early Church and Abroad Was the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath observed by the apostolic and post-apostolic Church?
SDA/CCOG Differences: Two Horned Beast of Revelation and 666 The genuine Church of God is NOT part of the Seventh-day Adventists. This article explains two prophetic differences, the trinity, differences in approaching doctrine, including Ellen White. Did Ellen White make prophetic errors? Did Ellen White make false prophecies? Here is a version in the Spanish language: SDA/COG Diferencias: La bestia de dos cuernos de Apocalipsis y 666.
The Dramatic Story of Chinese Sabbathkeepers This reformatted Good News article from 1955 discusses Sabbath-keeping in China in the 1800s.
Is God Unreasonable? Some have suggested that if God requires Sabbath-keeping He is unreasonable. Is that true? Here is a link to a related article in Mandarin Chinese 一个不合理的神?
Is There "An Annual Worship Calendar" In the Bible? This paper provides a biblical and historical critique of several articles, including one by the Tkach WCG which states that this should be a local decision. What do the Holy Days mean? Also you can click here for the calendar of Holy Days. (Here is a related link in Spanish/español: Calendario Anual de Adoración –Una crítica basada en la Biblia y en la Historia: ¿Hay un Calendario Anual de Adoración en la Biblia?

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