James Meehan - What Should Christians Do About the Sabbath?
James Meehan: Well, welcome to this week's episode of Switch Uncut. We are so excited that we get to spend time with you every week, wrestling with the big questions about faith, following Jesus, and the Bible. And I am honored to be joined by my cohost, Ms. Katelyn Caffrey.
Katelyn Caffrey: Hello everyone, good to see you today. I'm excited to be here and excited because this conversation's going to be like a follow-up from our last conversation. And just kind of go deeper into some of the specifics, because we've got this great question. And that question is, what should Christians do about the Sabbath? So, start us off. Help me understand, if I don't know, what actually is the Sabbath?
James Meehan: Yeah, this is such a good question because the Sabbath is a really big deal all throughout the Old Testament. And it's still a big deal in the New Testament, but it just doesn't play as prominent of a role. And this is one of those things where, as followers of Jesus, we want to be able to think as wisely as we can about every aspect of the scriptures, whether it's the Jewish Bible in the Old Testament or the Christian Bible that includes the Old Testament and the New Testament, because that is sort of our reference point to best understand who God is and how we can relate to Him well, in this journey of following Jesus. And so the Sabbath is this practice of setting aside one day a week, and making it holy to God. And this originates in the Genesis account of the creation story, where God creates the heavens and the earth. He fills it, He forms it over the course of six days, but then on the seventh day, God rests. And He invites us to also take that final day, the seventh day, to rest with Him. This is something that is first introduced in Genesis, and then it is put into a, the law of Moses in the book of Exodus, in the 10 Commandments. It's one of the 10 Commandments, where God commands His people to take one day a week, to make it holy, set apart, where they do no work. And that day is the Sabbath.
Katelyn Caffrey: That's awesome. So, last week we kind of talked about differentiating old covenant versus the new covenant. Is the Sabbath part of the new covenant, or how should we think about that as it relates to us now today? Followers of Jesus.
James Meehan: Yes. Such a good question. And I would say yes, Sabbath is absolutely a part of the new covenant, but there's some really important distinctions and clarifications that Jesus offers to how we relate to Sabbath. Now, what I do want to take a moment to pause here and talk about is the fact that, you know, in our last week's video, we talked about how we as Christians relate to the Old Testament, and the Mosaic Law, and the old covenant. And I think one of the things that's really interesting about this whole idea is, this is one of those big questions that Christians have wrestled with throughout history, right? Like, from the beginning of Christianity, one of the biggest questions that the early followers of Jesus had to wrestle with was, how do formerly Gentile believers reconcile the Old Testament to their newfound faith in Jesus. And this is part of what we discussed last week, but it's a big discussion. I know that there are some of you who maybe don't necessarily agree, you have questions, different thoughts and perspectives. And we welcome all of those thoughts, because the beauty of Christianity is that even as we disagree, we can still be family. Even if we don't always see eye to eye on every issue, it is through that disagreement that we can clarify our thinking, we can encourage and challenge one another so that we can all together, more faithfully, follow Jesus. And so with that understanding, and kind of that clarification there, let's talk about the role of Sabbath in the New Testament. Now this is, once again, this practice that began in Genesis, was put into law in Exodus, but then it was picked back up and reemphasized by Jesus. Specifically, the way that the Sabbath often comes up throughout the New Testament and the gospels specifically, are Jesus doing things on the Sabbath that the Pharisees and the religious leaders thought He should not be doing. And oftentimes he would be accused of not keeping the Sabbath holy, because He would do things that were considered by some of the religious leaders of that day that were considered work. And the Sabbath is a day where we are meant to do no work, but to rest and enjoy the presence of God, and enjoy the presence of other people. But what's interesting here is that what Jesus was doing wasn't throwing out the concept of the Sabbath, but He was just reminding us what the Sabbath was really all about. The Sabbath was not this requirement placed on us that if we don't do these things, then God will not approve of us or love us. As a matter of fact, the Sabbath was a gift given from God to us, His people, to help us actually rest. It's in Mark's gospel, and also in all of the synoptic gospels where Jesus clarifies by telling us that the Sabbath was made for man, and man was not made for the Sabbath. What He's doing here is helping us see that God didn't create human beings just so that they could fit into this project called Sabbath. Actually, what He did was He created the Sabbath and created it as a gift for human beings to invite us into His rest. And I think one of most important things to remember about this idea of Sabbath is that it was first introduced to the Jewish people, who had just been liberated from slavery in Egypt. Who, for literally hundreds of years, their value was based on the amount of bricks they could make. Their value was based off of what they could do. But the power of the Sabbath is that this invitation to rest is meant to be a weekly reminder to us that our value doesn't come from what we do, but our value comes from the God who made you.
Katelyn Caffrey: Yeah, that's so good. I think one of the temptations that I might fall into would be to really, really want scripture to be a rule book that tells me what to do in every situation. But what it actually is, is a story that I'm invited to play a part in.
James Meehan: Absolutely.
Katelyn Caffrey: And like, I think the beautiful thing about Sabbath is that it is a through line through the entire story. And that tells me that it's super important.
James Meehan: Yes.
Katelyn Caffrey: I think the next question that follows is why do you think that there's so much confusion around the concept of Sabbath, and what we do with it? A thing that I hear a lot is, "But it's just so legalistic".
James Meehan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think the reason there's so much confusion around the concept of Sabbath is because there's so much confusion around how we're supposed to relate to the old covenant commands and laws that are found throughout. And I think also the temptation that we've got to resist is the temptation to throw out the old covenant and assume that the new covenant has nothing to do with what came before. One of the ways that I've heard people describe the relationship between the new covenant and the old covenant was that the new covenant wasn't a revolution, it was an evolution. So it wasn't this brand new thing where Jesus threw out the old to bring in the new, but it was actually Jesus taking the old covenant a step further, by introducing a way for all of humanity to be adopted into the family of God. And while yes, there were ways for non-Jewish people to become a part of Israel in the old covenant, those ways required them to become Jewish before they were actually a part of the, the family of Israel. But underneath the new covenant, non-Jewish people don't have to become Jewish before becoming Christians. They can just become Christians by placing their faith in Jesus. Now, the thing that's important to recognize is that the old covenant put a really high emphasis on the importance of Sabbath. And then Jesus showed up. And if we're not really understanding what He's doing, it can seem like Jesus is downplaying the Sabbath, and that's not what He's doing. what Jesus is doing is simply clarifying for us the purpose of it. And so when we think about the Sabbath, what we want to think about is not this expectation placed on us, that if we don't fulfill it, then God won't love us. But an invitation offered to us because God already loves us. Remember as followers of Jesus, God loves us. We put our faith in Him and that faith leads us to obey the things He asks us to do. The commands of God. The teachings found throughout the Bible, whether the Old Testament or the New Testament, are always meant to be a set of instructions intended to help us know how to live as people who love God with every part of who we are, and love others the same way that God through Christ has loved us. And so, yes, it can be really easy to fall into the trap of legalism because honestly, that's what Jesus was calling out the Pharisees for, where they had placed all of these standards on people, that if you don't live up to these things, then you are not right in the eyes of God. And Jesus wanted to help them understand that yes, obedience matters. But if we elevate following some of the rules above caring for people, which is an integral part of the law of God in the Old Testament and the New, then we're missing it. What Jesus wanting to do is help people see the heart of what the law, what the Old Testament, what the New Testament, what the commands of God were always meant to be about. Helping us become the kind of people who can love others the same way that God has loved us. Now, the temptation, again, can become to fall into legalism because it's a lot easier to just follow the rules and turn our faith into a series of steps that we have to follow. And if we follow all the right steps, then we're doing it right, rather than a loving relationship, because a list of things to check off is much cleaner than a relationship.
Katelyn Caffrey: Right.
James Meehan: Relationships can be complicated. They can be messy, they can be difficult, they can be confusing, but they are so much more beautiful and meaningful. And so in our attempt to avoid legalism, we just want to be really careful that we don't choose disobedience over discipline. And I think that's a really helpful way to think about the Sabbath. This is a spiritual discipline. It is a practice that we engage in so that we can be reminded that our value doesn't come from what we do, but from the God who made us.
Katelyn Caffrey: Yeah. That brings two things to my mind. Thing number one, you know, if the law was meant to be this thing that forms us into the kind of people who can, who can love God with everything we are, and love other people the same way Jesus has loved us. Then it makes so much sense to me that, that the things that Jesus was constantly doing on the Sabbath, that bugged people, that bugged the Pharisees so much was he was healing people. He was showing mercy to people. He was loving people in the way that He does so well. And He was stepping into their story, showing compassion, showing mercy, and something else that, you mentioned Mark, and something that Jesus does in Mark is, at the end of this teaching about what loving people, loving enemies, He says, so be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful. And what he was doing, was grabbing this, this quote from the Old Testament that they would have been super familiar with, that says, be holy as your, because I'm holy, because God is holy. And He was exchanging the word holy for the word mercy. And I think that what He was doing with that is showing us that one of the most holy things that we can do is show mercy to other people.
James Meehan: Right, because with that specific instance, the audience that Jesus was speaking to were the Pharisees, who had elevated following the rules over loving people. They had paid a lot of attention to certain laws, but neglected other laws. And so what Jesus was challenging in them was this idea that, hey, yes, those things that you do to strengthen your relationship with God matter. But if you are not paying as much attention to how you relate to God's people, then you're missing the mark. That's, that's literally, to sin. To forget, to neglect. One of the most important things that we can do is love our neighbor as ourself. This is why Jesus said in the different synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that the most important command is this, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. And in Matthew, where Jesus says in chapter 22, verse 40, that on these two commands depend all the laws and the prophets. On these two commands depend the entire teaching found in the Old Testament. All of it is pointing to those two big ideas, love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The rest of it is commentary, application, and instruction to help us do exactly that.
— Yeah, which must mean that practicing Sabbath actually helps me love God and love people more.
— Come on. Absolutely. Well, and this is the thing that I think is so important to think about, is the way that we practice Sabbath by taking a day where we stop working. And we allow God to remind us of who we really are and where our value comes from. What it does is, it's about us creating space to enjoy the presence of God. And it's about us creating space to enjoy the presence of other people. It's clearing out the clutter, so that we can make time for what matters most. Not our jobs, not social media, not that new show that just dropped on Netflix, but the people that God's placed in our lives, and the Heavenly Father, who's invited us to know Him and to love Him.
— Mm, that's so good. You mentioned that Sabbath is a, a spiritual discipline. Can you say a little bit more about what other spiritual disciplines are and how we think about the idea of discipline well and wisely?
— Yeah, absolutely. I think this is one of the things too, where we can kind of get hung up on some things where, if you misunderstand what faith really is. Faith is trust, based on evidence, that produces obedience. It's trust, based on evidence, that produces obedience. And this is important for us to remember because there have been times where, as followers of Jesus, we have kind of reduced the meaning of faith to be less like trust, based on evidence, that proves obedience. And to be more like believing that something is true, rather than trusting in the person of Jesus. Now, if we actually trust that Jesus is Lord, then that's going to lead to us doing the things that He asks us to do. That's going to lead us to obey His commands. Now, some people will get a little bit nervous here because it might feel like works-based salvation, but that's not at all what we're talking about. It always starts with God's love for us. Then faith is our response to God's love. And through that response, it leads us to do what He says. It leads us to accept His invitation, to not just believe in Him, but to actually follow Him. And the way that we engage in that relationship with Jesus is through these spiritual disciplines and practices. So an analogy that's been helpful for me is when I think about loving my wife, I don't just tell people that I love her. I do the best I can to show her I love her by the way that I serve. And so one of the best ways that I can do that is simply doing the dishes when they're stacked up in the kitchen sink, right? Because like, I can tell my wife I love her all day long, but if every day when I get home from work, she asks me to do the dishes and I never do them, then what does that tell you about how I really feel about my wife? Well, it would tell you that, yeah, maybe I say the right words, but if I'm not actually doing the work of answering her requests or responding to it, then is that really love? And if we say that we love God. If we say that we're followers of Jesus and He asks us to do something, but we never actually do it, then do we really trust Him?
— Are we really following Him? And I think those are the questions that we've got to ask. And so, the Bible, and Jesus, and the different disciples, they give us these different examples of things that we can do to practice our love for God. And some of those things are Sabbath. Some of those things are fasting, where we give up food or drink, or something that we enjoy to create space for God. Some of those things are prayer, where we talk to God, not just with a list of things that we want from Him, but simply getting into His presence. It's things like serving, where we actually go out of our way to meet the needs of other people. It's things like giving and practicing generosity, where we take the extra that we have and share it with those who don't. It's things like being in community with other believers, because none of us were meant to do life alone. And when we engage in community, that's actually a spiritual discipline, it's a practice that helps us become more like Jesus. And it helps us grow closer to God. It's things like reading the Bible. Where, we read these words, not so that God will love us, but because we love Him and we want to know Him more, in the same way that me loving my wife, leads me to want to know her more. Me loving God leads me to want to know Him more. And the more that I know Him, guess what?
— Come on.
— The more that I love Him. And it's this beautiful process of us engaging in these spiritual disciplines that helps build our faith and make us more like Jesus. Faith is sort of like a muscle, where the more that we practice it, the more discipline we develop, the stronger our faith becomes. I think that's what's so beautiful about something like Sabbath. It's this gift given to us by God to help us enjoy His presence and enjoy the presence of other people. And through us, inviting, through us, enjoying that gift, through us receiving that gift, we actually have our faith strengthened.
— That's so good. I think about that kind of loop that you're talking about. Like the more that I know Him, the more that I love Him, and that builds my trust. And I, like, I can think about that in context of like, my best friends. The more that I spend time with them and talk with them, the more I'm like, dang, y'all are so freaking awesome. And I just love them more and it makes me want to be with them more, which leads me to like, do some of the things that we're talking about. And so if we put that in the context of our relationship with God, the more I engage in these things, the more I like get to meet with Him and be in His presence, the more I love Him. And then that leads me to just want to pray more. That leads me to just want to set aside some of these other things to be with Him more. There's so much joy in that.
— Yes, and it's this idea that, the truth is that because of God's grace, there is nothing that we can do to make Him love us more. And there's nothing that we can do to make Him love us less. Us engaging in these disciplines is not about getting God to love us, right? It's about helping us to better love Him. That's what this is. And so, it is not us trying to earn God's favor or approval. That's not what this is about. It's our response to it. And the thing that's interesting and unique about our relationship to God is the fact that, unlike my wife, I don't just get to sit down and have a conversation with God face to face, right? I can't just hold my, I can't hold God's hand while I'm watching Netflix, okay? And so the way that I show my love for God looks a little bit different. And this is why the commands given throughout scripture are so beautiful, because this is God giving us a tangible way to show our love for Him, an invisible God. And so I think that's the way that I like to think about the law, the commands, these instructions that are given to us throughout the Old Testament and the New, is that they are instructions meant to help us live into our relationship with God. They're instructions meant to give us a tangible way to relate to an invisible God.
— That's so good. The idea of attention is coming to my mind. One of the ways to define discipline is like an area or branch of knowledge. And I think that that's so freaking cool, because it's these spiritual practices that we do are a way of studying God. They're a way...
— Oh, dang, okay.
— They're a way of directing our attention to Him. And that's what you do when you love someone, you study them. You start to like, pick up on the little things that they, their like, quirks, and like, the little things that they do that make them uniquely them. And so, what if these spiritual practices are like, and disciplines are our way of studying God, and getting to know Him better, and directing our attention to Him. Like we would do in any relationship where we really, really love somebody.
— Dude I love that. That's such a great way to think about that. I'm a hundred percent going to steal that. I'll give you credit the first few times, but eventually I'll just stop giving you credit and pretend like I came up with it myself.
— Perfect. Glad we talked about this live. So anyways, as we wrap up this conversation, I think it would be cool to talk about what practicing Sabbath has looked like in each of our lives and how we've kind of related to it in some practical ways. When you Sabbath, what do you do?
— Yeah, great question. So this is one of those spiritual disciplines that took me a long time to actually figure out. And so, like, I remember when I was a youth pastor on a campus at Life Church, the way that my schedule worked was I would work Monday through Friday and I worked Saturday, Sunday, so I'd have one day off a week, and that was Friday. And so Friday was my Sabbath. And I really felt that the best way to spend my Sabbath was to do literally nothing except sit on my couch, eat trash, and play video games. And that was my Sabbath for a couple of years. And what I realized, a couple years into it, is this isn't actually working. Now, don't get me wrong. I still wake up in the morning, I would read the Bible, I would pray, I'd spend intentional time in God's Word in the morning, but then kind of the rest of my day was do nothing because it's Sabbath, I'm supposed to rest. But it didn't actually help me find rest. And so I've had to make some adjustments over the course of time, and I'm still in a place where I feel like my Sabbath is more meaningful and intentional than it's ever been, but there are still some days where it's just kind of, it's just kind of meh. So here's what I try to do with my Sabbath. I try to take intentional time to simply be present with my wife and my son. I try to take intentional time to do things that I want to do, and not things that I feel like I need to do. And that distinction is really helpful for me, because there are times where I'll be at home and there are things that I just have this feeling that, you know what, I really need to do that. Maybe I need to go mow the yard, or I need to do the laundry, or whatever, but I don't really want to. And so, you know what, I'm gonna push pause on that. I'm gonna wait until the next day to do it. So my Sabbath starts on Friday night and ends on Saturday night. So that's kind of the way that I do it. And during that time, I don't work. Like, I don't bring my computer home on the weekends. So that way I'm not tempted to check email or anything like that. And I just try to be really intentional about spending time with my wife and my son. I really appreciate the way that Marty Solomon, who is a, I'm a huge fan of, he's got some really, really great content out there, but he kind of came up with this list of principles for him and his family, where on Sabbath they rest, they don't work, they play. And they remember that God loves you. They rest, they play, they don't work, and they remember that God loves you. And I just really, really like that idea of, if I'm doing those four things, if I'm resting, I'm playing, I'm not working, and I remember that God loves me, then I'm Sabbathing well. And for somebody who's married and has an eight month old son, that honestly it looks like just playing with my son most of the time. And then finding time to do the things that my wife wants to do. And I still play a little bit of video games. I just don't play them all day. I find little pockets so that the majority of my time is spent investing in my family.
— That's so good. I think I went on a similar journey, 'cause I used to think that Sabbath meant that I literally had to sit around and do nothing. And that sounds horrifically awful to me. I don't sit still very well. And so for me, it started off with, you know, similarly just like, okay, this is the time to watch all the TV shows and movies that I didn't watch during the week because I was working, or doing schoolwork, or whatever it was at the time. And now it has morphed into me intentionally answering the question, what did God make me to love?
— Mm. Dang.
— And that's the question that I answer every week when I'm about to Sabbath. What did God make me to love that I can do today? And for me that usually is some form of activity. Like I, I love being outside, going hiking, riding my bike, like, whatever that is. And I just decide to enjoy that thing without time constraints. So I take off my watch on my Sabbath, because that's just something that helps me feel more free to enjoy something for however long that I'm enjoying it and not feel that pressure to like stop, or start at a specific time. So yeah, that's usually what it looks like for me. It's just doing something that God made me to love.
— That's so good. I love that. I'm also gonna steal that. I'll give you credit for a few times, but eventually, no more. It's mine. I came up with it.
— Okay, great. Once again, glad we're live. No, this has been a really good conversation. And if you guys have any other questions, please, please ask. We'd love to continue to do these kind of follow-up conversations, and just keep going with this organic, wrestling with Jesus and what it looks like to follow Him faithfully, and put our attention on Him.
— Yeah, and when you put those comments, like we will read them. We will either respond to them in the comment section, or we'll address that subject in a later video, because we want to be in dialogue with you. We want to be talking about the things that matter to you. And when you do have disagreements, or questions, it is so valuable to share those, because your questions actually help us get better. And it helps us provide content that is more helpful for other people. And so, thank you for being willing to be a part of the show, be a part of our Switch community, continuing to like the videos, subscribe, share them and comment your thoughts, suggestions, and questions, because it really is a gift to us. And we just love getting to be part of this community with you.
— Yeah, so good. Well, we'll see you guys here next week.
— See y'all.
— Have a good one.