As followers of Christ, we seek guidance from the Scriptures to navigate our day-to-day existence and align our lives with God’s will. The tradition of resting on Sunday holds a special place in Christian practice.
But what does the Bible say about work on Sunday?
The Bible doesn’t explicitly mention work on Sunday. Our modern concept of a seven-day week with Sunday as the first day, didn’t come into being until 321 A.D. The Old Testament ascribes a Sabbath day of rest, originally Saturday, but the day of rest shifted to Sunday to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It’s also worth mentioning that while there are six days of Creation with the seventh day as when God rested, “Sunday” wasn’t a named day until much later in history.
So, the idea of resting from your work on one day of the week has been a part of our understanding since the earliest Biblical account. But, does that mean you shouldn’t work on Sundays? Is Sunday the Sabbath? What is the true purpose of the command to “honor the Sabbath?”
How do you abide by what God wants for you yet not fall into dogmatic legalism?
I encourage you to read on and discover some things about work and rest, and the Sabbath, that you might not have ever considered. If you have more questions then make sure to share your requests in the comment section at the end of this article. We’d love to hear from you!
Is Sunday The Sabbath?
If you want to understand the Sabbath as a day to rest from work, then you may want to consider what Sabbath day you are talking about. Historically, those of the Jewish religion honor the Sabbath day from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, while Seventh-Day Adventists celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday.
It is important to note that the way a Jewish believer celebrates the Sabbath is different than how a Christian does. For most Protestant denominations, the Sabbath has been typically thought of as falling on Sunday.
“Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy” ( Exodus 20.8, NIV).
Also, you need to know that Sunday wasn’t always thought of as the day to rest from your work. That didn’t happen until the early 300s A.D., 314 according to early writings, or 321 according to a government decree.
With the resurrection of Jesus happening on the “first day of the week,” over time Christ-followers began to worship and pray and gather together. This naturally led to Christians thinking of Sunday as the Sabbath day mentioned in scripture.
In colonial America, there were even blue laws enacted to try and protect the Sabbath day of rest. While not really practiced today, there was a time in America when businesses shut down on Sundays so as to enforce resting from work for one day a week. Whether you agree with that concept or not, it created a legalism for people.
I can remember when I was much younger that people would get upset if you mowed your lawn on Sunday afternoon, or would gossip about the gas station down the street that was open on Sundays. “You must rest and not work on Sundays!” was proclaimed in churches and towns all over.
“There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the LORD” ( Leviticus 23.3, NIV).
But those same folks were okay with their spouses having to work to cook and clean up Sunday dinner, or medical professionals being on long shifts at the hospital, and on and on with examples of people working on Sundays.
Which leads us to seek to understand the spirit of the Sabbath or the law of the Sabbath–which is more helpful and gracious?
Should You Keep The Sabbath?
Work is good and the Bible is replete with encouragement to work, even asking God to establish our work:
“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!” ( Psalm 90.17, ESV).
So as we are to work, we are also to rest. Jesus even declared that resting from work, that the Sabbath is for us. Jesus went even further and told people who were being legalistic about resting from work that they were hypocrites!
So, while Jesus clearly thought a Sabbath was a valid and worthy day to honor and celebrate as part of following God, He didn’t seem to think that common sense and compassion should be ignored just to keep to the letter of the Law.
“For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus” ( Matthew 12.8-14, NIV).
The spirit of the command to honor the Sabbath is that a day of rest from work, to pause from our labor, is a gift from the very God who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. It was never intended to be something to beat people up with theologically or spiritually. The Sabbath is not a gong of guilt to ring every week, but a gift of grace from a loving God.
Let a day each week be a day of rest and renewal. Acknowledge God and be refreshed in the true purpose of the Sabbath day, whatever day that can be for you. Grace through Jesus Christ has set us free from the Law, so pausing from your work for a day is a life of freedom in that grace.
Is Working On Sunday Wrong?
Our modern world operates 24/7 so it takes diligence to have a day of rest, of not working or laboring. But there are third-shift workers, workers on call, and people who do not have control over their schedules or when they are required to work.
It’s not an act of grace to demand that people only rest, and do no work on one day of the week that is arbitrarily set. The purpose of what the Bible says about work is to rest from it for one day each week. The Sabbath is more of a realized concept than it is to be a narrow, specific day.
If Sunday works for you (see what I did there?), then rest from work on Sunday. If not Sunday, then find another day that will better suit your circumstances–and don’t feel guilty about it. So, working on Sunday is not wrong or a sin.
Find a (hopefully) 24-hour period of time each week to rest, renew, and appreciate the grace of God in your life. And yes, a half-day is better than no day. You should feel energized and refreshed after this 24-hour period, not worn out from errands and whatever it is you were doing.
What is restful or renewing will be different for each person, so allow Sabbath what it is intended to be for you. What someone else does or does not do for their day of rest shouldn’t affect your choices.
For instance, a single person would rest from work differently than a married couple with no kids, which would be quite different from how a family with small children would rest from work one day a week. Retired people would Sabbath in ways that wouldn’t fit a widower or a couple with teenagers.
Since the Sabbath is intended for our benefit, you might want to pray to God for guidance on how to care for yourself as you rest from your work each week.
If you’ve never really taken a true Sabbath, then I urge you to take it slowly as you interweave this into your life. Take some easy steps at first and rest from your work for a few hours on your chosen day. Here are some suggestions (not rules!) for you to consider as you enjoy a Sabbath rest:
- Choose a day that will consistently allow you to rest from work. You aren’t trying for perfection here, but a consistent day each week that you can rest and renew and focus on God in a new way.
- Say no to Sabbath obstacles in small ways. Block out Sabbath time in the same way you block out appointments for work, or schedule gym time, etc. You are literally making an appointment to rest from work!
- Let go of technology and rest from screens. Yep, this might be a biggie! Are you truly rested and renewed after staring and scrolling for an hour or more? If that’s what you’re doing every other day, don’t you think a rest, a Sabbath, would mean taking a break from technology as well?
- Grow into this new habit. If you’re like most people, resting from work is almost a laughable concept. “Ha, ha, like I can really rest from work–I have too much to do!” Whether it’s your paid job or the work you do taking care of a family or other relationships, rest can be a hard target to identify and grab hold of. That’s okay. Just keep moving toward rest and renewal.
- Note how you feel as you enjoy a Sabbath, no matter the length. As you notice yourself resting, you are making a tangible brain-body-spirit connection, which should encourage you to keep doing it.
This is not an exhaustive list, because, after all, we are talking about taking a rest from work!
I hope you have been encouraged to pursue the Sabbath rest that God has for you. The Bible speaks to us working and it speaks to us resting. It also guides us to live in the grace of Jesus Christ, on the Sabbath, and in all areas of our life. Keep following after God as you pray and learn and love. . .and rest!