The Third Commandment: From the Pastor’s Desk (April 2022)

This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:

The Third Commandment

Throughout the year, I will be reflecting upon the Ten Commandments in the newsletter.  This month we continue by examining the Third Commandment.  I plan to begin with Luther’s explanation and then move into what this might mean for us today.

The Third Commandment

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word,

but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.

This commandment has meant different things to different groups throughout the years. 

Historically, for the followers of Judaism it has focused upon the Sabbath day as a day of rest.  We see this within stories in the Bible where Jesus gets chided by others for healing (working) on the Sabbath.  This understanding is also reinforced as seen by the writings about what does and what does not constitute work within the Jewish faith.  This continue to the present time.  I grew up near a large Jewish community and I remember seeing people walking (for driving a car was deemed to be work) to synagogues on Saturday as well as particular stores/business not open on Saturday.  All of this is a way that people honor this commandment of remembering the Sabbath.

Christians have throughout the years have taken the idea of the Sabbath and changed it from Saturday to Sunday (since Sunday is the day of Jesus’ resurrection).  For many years, even with changing the understanding of the day of the Sabbath—part of the focus was still upon rest or not working.  At least within the USA, there existed many ‘Blue Laws’ that restricted when businesses could be open and what kinds of items could be sold.  This was a way that society attempted to keep this day holy. 

Luther takes a very different understanding about this commandment.  His focus is upon the hearing and preaching of God’s Word over against the focus upon rest.  He writes in his Large Catechism:

‘Remember, then, that you much be concerned not only about hearing the Word, but also about learning it and retaining it.  Do not think that it is up to your discretion or that it is an unimportant matter.  It is the commandment of God, who will require of you an accounting of how you have heard, learned, and honored his Word.’

The emphasis for Luther becomes how we keep the Sabbath holy.  And for him, it is by focusing upon God and God’s Word.  Notice how Luther goes beyond just hearing the Word.  After this short quote from Luther, he goes on for another half page in the Large Catechism, where he admonishes people to not just listen to the Word and sermons, but they are to learn from it and enable the Word to instruct, change, and transform them in many and various ways.  To just listen is not sufficient for Luther.

Luther also expands the notion of the Sabbath and having this as a time for focus upon God’s Word as something that should not happen just one day but every day.  Hear Luther’s words on this idea:

‘Truly, we Christians ought to make every day such a holy day and devote ourselves only to holy things, that is, to occupy ourselves daily with God’s Word and carry it in our hearts and on our lips.  However, as we have said, because we all do not have the time and leisure, we much set aside several hours a week for the young people, or at least a day for the whole community, when we can concentrate only on these matters and deal especially with the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, and thus regulate our entire life and being in accordance with God’s Word.  Whenever this practice is in force, a holy day is truly kept.’

Thus, the questions to reflect upon are: How do you keep this commandment?  What does it mean for you to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?  It can happen in all kinds of ways and even on days other than the literal Sabbath day, the key is that we make time and prioritize our relationship with God and allow God’s Word to speak to us regularly and often.