Should We Buy Things on the Sabbath?

The Fourth Commandment's prohibition against work most assuredly includes commerce.

Selling goods and services for profit is an activity aimed at making money, and Nehemiah warned against this very thing:

I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. Nehemiah 13:15

In the book of Nehemiah, Israel began rededicating itself to God after exile, and Nehemiah knew the importance of keeping the Sabbath holy. Tempted as the people might have been to make some extra money, he told them to avoid selling food.

Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass (Creative Commons)

But selling is just one half of commerce. What about buying? I buy things on the Sabbath almost every week. Is that prohibited?

The simple answer is no.

Although there is biblical precedent against buying on the Sabbath, it is not explicitly prohibited in the commandment.

Yet there are definitely unacceptable ways to buy on the Sabbath.

Why Your Waiter Hates Churchgoers

Legend has it that wait staff dread the Sunday church crowd because they are horrible tippers.

These stories are usually based upon anecdotal information, but that is no excuse. As representatives of Christ we should be known for our generosity, as Christ gave His very life.

What’s worse? Working on the Sabbath or dragging the name of Jesus through the mud because of greed? The latter is actually a violation of the Third Commandment.

Of course this type of behavior is bad regardless of the day, but when you show up in your Sunday best and then offer your Sunday worst there is a problem.

So what if a Christian left a good tip? Then is it okay to buy things?

A few years ago on Christmas morning my family and I got up early to make the ninety minute drive to Granny’s house. The morning was bright as the sun came up, but the sky was colorless nonetheless. Even the excitement of Christmas could not erase my grogginess, and since I was driving I needed to replace it with alertness for the road. So on the way out of town I drove to a Starbucks for a dose of caffeine.

The shop was all but abandoned making me think we might have to settle for gas station coffee, a prospect I was not too excited about. But as we neared I realized that the place was indeed open with two workers in their green smocks inside.

I should have been happy, but instead my heart sank.

At that moment I realized that while we were about to enjoy the holiday with family these two baristas were stuck barista-ing on Christmas morning. After buying the coffees, I handed the drive-thru worker a $20 tip. It was small consolation; being with family on Christmas is worth more than $20, but obviously these two needed their jobs, and they had pulled the short straws.

You see, it is so easy to condemn those who work on the Sabbath as sinners, but maybe we need to step back and look at our own planks. For a seller to survive there has to be a buyer.

If you judge someone for working on Sundays then you better hold yourself to the same standard when buying things. What does buying on the Sabbath do? It subsidizes the work. And as the saying goes, “When you subsidize something, you get more of it.”

According to a recent Gallup poll 78% of Americans claim to be Christians—roughly 234 million people. If each one stopped buying on Sundays, what would happen? All the stores would close on that day, because it would not prove profitable to remain open.

I am not necessarily advocating for this (again, I buy things on Sundays all the time). My point is that ours is a consumer culture. It is second nature to us to buy things. So when it comes to buying on the Sabbath, we do not really think twice about it.

But maybe we should.

Nehemiah thought about it, and he addresses it in chapter 10:

When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. 10:31

Nehemiah knew that purchasing goods on the Sabbath would perpetuate a cycle of dishonoring God, something he was trying to root out as Israel reestablished itself after exile. If he could stop them from buying, there would be no one to sell to.

Remember, the essence of the Fourth Commandment is not what we cannot do, but what we should do.

Focus first on how you can honor God, and the rest will take care of itself.

And if you'd like to read more of my take on the Sabbath, you should check out my free guide, Beat Burnout God's Way. Just tell me where to send it, and it's yours:

Not only is the guide practical, but it's also an excerpt from my book, Do No Work. Enjoy!

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