You Might Be Asking the Wrong Question When it Comes to the Sabbath

We know that the Fourth Commandment prohibits working on the Sabbath:

On it you shall not do any work . . . Exodus 20:10b

But what exactly is work?

If I work in my yard or clean house or cook a meal, is that work? What if I go hiking or jogging?

I have news for you.

We might be asking the wrong questions. Rather than asking, “What is work?” maybe we should ask, “Why am I working?”

Every Sunday for six months my brother, Dad, and I played basketball after church; we used to walk to the park down the street for a friendly game of twenty-one.

But thanks to our competitiveness, that friendliness quickly dissolved into a serious game such that I would exhaust every morsel of strength to get the ball in the hoop. (I rarely won.) By the time we finished, my clothes were wet with sweat, and I could barely make the walk home out of sheer fatigue.

The fact that I had a job that did not require my services on Sundays afforded me the opportunity to play basketball.

So since I did not go to a job on Sundays, therefore I did not work on the Sabbath, right?

Not so fast.

One definition of work is, “something on which exertion or labor is expended” ( I think it is safe to say I exerted myself on the court. But by that definition everyone works on the Sabbath. How could you not?

“You shall not do any work” seems simple on the surface, but this question is one of the reasons I have wrestled with this commandment.

Yet I find it interesting how much the Pharisees and I focus on this issue when it is by far not the most important question.

Where is this statement located in the commandment?

The way I was focusing on it, one would think it was the first and only phrase in the whole thing. But it is actually buried in the third sentence.

That is not to say that it is unimportant, but if it is your sole focus, then you do not understand the commandment.

So if all but the comatose “work” on the Sabbath, where do we draw the line?

This is where the importance of asking why comes into play. It is not just a matter of if I work on the Sabbath, but why I am working.

The most obvious distinction is money.

Though I exerted myself playing basketball, I did not get paid. I was not compelled to labor as I would be at a traditional job in order to earn a wage.

Remember when Jesus says, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24)? Maybe He was referencing the Fourth Commandment.

Yet simply not working does not necessarily mean that you are honoring God. And earning money on the Sabbath does not necessarily equal sin.

Remember that God knows the motivations of your heart. If you do not take the time to ask yourself why you are working, rest assured that He will.


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