Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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Grace in the Ten Commandments, pt 2

by Leroy Garrett

4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).

If I sought out a passage in the New Testament to go with this commandment it might be these words of Jesus to his apostles in Mark 6:31: “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” If we look at the busy lives of Jesus and his disciples, particularly in Mark, it appears that they were always in a hurry. Mark had a special word for it, immediately, which he uses 37 times — teaching, healings, miracles, crowds, all in fast forward motion.

When Jesus called for this “Sabbath rest” — Sabbath means rest — he had just heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded. It was his way of responding to tragic news, “Come aside” — not “Go aside” — “Come aside” means he will be with them in the Sabbath rest: “by yourselves” means they were to escape from crowds for a time, even though it was their mission, to be with people: “to a deserted place” means some isolated nook where they could be away from it all; “and rest” means a time for refreshment and invigoration.

It is an interesting four-fold commandment: Come aside — by yourselves — to a deserted place — and rest awhile. It captures the spirit of the Fourth Commandment. As busy as God has been he is not a workaholic, for he too rested on the Sabbath. Jesus was not a workaholic, as busy as he was. You will notice in the context of Mark 6 that he stole away to a mountain place to be alone and to pray. It is a touching scene, the Son of God, a sinless man among sinful men, alone on planet earth, praying for a lost world.

Even if our Lord violated a literal keeping of the Sabbath with abandon, it was a valid law for God’s covenant people up until the Christian era. For believers the seventh day gave way to the first day. The resurrection of our Lord was on the first day. Pentecost, with the coming of the Spirit, the first gospel preaching, and the birth of the church, was on the first day. Believers eventually assembled, not on the Sabbath, but on the first day. If there is a “Lord’s day” for Christians, as in Revelation 1:10, it is the first day of the week.

And yet I do not use the term “Christian Sabbath” for the first day. I do not keep Sunday the way the Jews kept Saturday. If I tried, I could not even drive to church for it would be more than “a Sabbath day’s journey,” and our rabbi preachers would be arguing over whether we could brush our teeth on Sunday. The ancients actually discussed whether a woman could thread a needle on the Sabbath, or whether a man could tie a knot. Maybe, if he or she could do it with one hand! One can see what Jesus was up against in challenging the Scribes and Pharisees.

The Fourth Commandment, as well as all the Ten, are not eternal principles because they are the Ten Commandments. They are the Ten Commandments because they were already eternal. Work is an eternal principle and it is essential to the good life. If one is able to work and doesn’t there is something wrong with him. But he is also to rest, and this is what the Fourth is telling us. God both worked and rested. That makes it an eternal principle. Our work is part of who we are and part of what defines us. That is the danger of the welfare state, creating a society of non-workers, and consequently denying them of the dignity of labor. Most of us would agree with the late William Barclay: “When I can no longer work I want to be taken.” He noted that his work was his life.

The principle of work and rest implies freedom on the part of the worker. He is free to choose to rest which means he is not a slave. Paul took work as such a serious issue of life that he insisted, “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

To “Come aside and rest” is not necessarily inactivity. Fishing or gardening may be “work,” but the pace is different and it is an “aside” from the usual hubbub of office or market. One may be just as busy in retirement — and many give their time to worthy projects — but it is different from the work of earlier years. The Fourth may imply that there should be a special day of rest for all of us, and not just for the Jews of the Old Testament. If so, for Christians that would be the “Lord’s day” which we set aside as special. I note with interest that in old Bethany, where the Campbells lived, Sunday was not for work or play, but for worship, music, reading, visitation, and things for “the improvement of the mind.” In my growing up years my mother never “put out a wash” on Sunday, and we “dressed up” for church.

But I think the Fourth and our Lord’s “Come aside and rest” means more than this. It may suggest that a man and his wife should find time — and a secluded place — to be together by themselves. Or to get away with the family to do something special. Or to sit in the back yard and watch the birds feed, and to ponder things of the kingdom of God.

God has ordained that we do as he has done, both work and rest, because he loves us, knowing that we will be better off when so disciplined. That is grace.

5. Honor thy father and thy mother.

Paul the apostle referenced this commandment noting that it is the first commandment that has a promise, quoting the longer form — “that it may be well with you and that your days may be long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2-3). It is not only the first commandment that has an attached promise but the only one of the Ten that has a promise. We are not told why this is. Perhaps it is because a functional, peaceful home is the foundation of an orderly society, and anyone who contributes to this will be rewarded with well-being and long life.

This is not to be made to mean that if one is rude and disrespectful to his parents — even neglectful of them in their old age — he will necessarily die young. But it does mean that he loses the promise of well-being and long life. It may strike us as odd that God would attach such an impressive promise to the Fifth Commandment, or even make parental respect one of the Ten Commandments. He may be saying that if we don’t get the home right, nothing else will be right, whether church or society.

This may be why there was such severe punishment for maltreatment of parents in the old Mosaic law: “Any one who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:9). While there is no such severity in the New Testament, Paul does name “disobedient to parents” when he lists “the things that are worthy of death” (Romans 1:30), along with being unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful.

But still there is grace in the Fifth Commandment, for God is securing the integrity of the home, which is the bedrock of a sane and decent society.

(To be continued)

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