The Fourth Commandment

In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (v. 11).

- Exodus 20:8–11

Traditionally, the Ten Commandments have been divided into those that address our duty to God and those that address our duty to other people. Commandments one through four look at how we are to behave toward God, focusing on worship, hallowing the Lord’s name, and more (Ex. 20:1–11). Proper action toward other people is defined in commandments five through ten — honor parents, refrain from murder, and so on (vv. 12–17). But it is impossible to separate these two groups of commandments absolutely. For example, even though the stipulation not to have any other gods but the triune God has love for Him as its chief concern (v. 3), to observe this commandment is also to love one’s neighbor. Refusing to serve false gods, we bear witness to our neighbors that they should worship the only true Lord and enjoy eternal life.

Sabbath observance is the concern of the fourth commandment (vv. 8–11), and this law also deals with love of neighbor even if its main focus is on love for God. No one within the boundaries of the ancient land of Israel was to work on the seventh and final day of the week, not even the servants and animals. Giving a day of rest to one’s servants and working beasts was a profound act of love that found its source in the Lord and its mediation through faithful, Sabbath-keeping Israelites.

Moreover, keeping the day of rest holy also showed one’s love for God. The rationale for Sabbath observance is the imitation of the Creator, who worked for six days and then rested on the seventh (Gen. 1:1–2:3). Fundamentally, we show our love for God in our desire and effort to be holy as He is holy; His holiness is a pattern for us to copy in our everyday lives (Eph. 5:1–2). The ancient Israelite was duty bound to structure his entire life as God structured His, with designated periods of work and rest.

The same principle of imitation applies to new covenant believers as well, although we no longer observe a seventh-day Sabbath. Instead, the first day of the week is set aside for Christian worship. There is no specific change in day mentioned in the New Testament, but the change was good and proper. Under the old covenant, the Sabbath celebrated God’s work of creation. We celebrate God’s creation under the new covenant as well, only now the focus is on the new creation in Christ (Gal. 6:15), which was established in His resurrection on the first day of the week.

Coram Deo

In the ongoing call to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1–2), one of the ways we can pattern our lives after His is to make sure we alternate periods of rest and work in our families. We should be setting aside time, especially on the Lord’s Day, to rest and spend time with our loved ones. We should also be diligently working during those times when we are not at rest. Would anyone be able justly to accuse you of working or resting too much?

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 5:12
Isaiah 56:1–8
Matthew 12:1–8
Hebrews 4:1–11

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343