Friday, September 25, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions (The Third Commandment)

We continue our Friday series on the Ten Commandments today with the Third Commandment.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What is the Third Commandment?
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Luther begins by helping us understand what is mean by the Hebrew "Sabbath." He writes:
The word "holiday" is used for the Hebrew word, "sabbath," which properly means "to rest," that is, to cease from labor. Therefore, we usually say, "to stop working" (LC, I, 79).
A helpful translation of the Third Commandment makes Luther's understanding plain:
You shall sanctify the holy day (LC, I, 78).
In many circles, the Third Commandment is taught simply as a command from God to take one day off from work. The teaching goes something like this: "God needed to rest on the seventh day, you should too." And to be sure, Luther does point out the need for physical rest, which was especially important at his time when workers didn't have built in "time off."
Note that we don't keep holy days for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians. (They have no need of holy days.) We keep them first of all for bodily causes and necessities, which nature teaches and requires. We keep them for the common people, manservants and maidservants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week. In this way they may withdraw in order to rest for a day and be refreshed (LC, I, 83).
So, the Sabbath day is a weekly holiday, but what makes is a "holy" day? This is when we begin to understand the Third Commandment in its fuller sense.
Second, and most especially, on this day of rest (since we can get no other chance), we have the freedom and time to attend divine service. We come together to hear and use God's Word, and then to praise God, to sing and to pray [Colossians 3:16] (LC, I, 84).
The people worked hard, day and night. They weren't going to meetings in the evening, and reading daily devotions on blogs. On top of that, not every Christian home had a bookshelf of Bibles collecting dust, just waiting to be picked up when dad came in from the field. There was one day each week where they were freed of their work to rest, and so they should redeem that time by filling it with God's Word.
How often should this be done? Well, daily for those in high places who had time to read the word and attend the daily mass at the local church. But for most people, and for the sake of good order, Luther taught that there should be one time set aside, and rather than break what had worked for centuries, Sunday continued to be the day.
This keeping of the Sabbath, I point out, is not restricted to a certain time, as with the Jewish people. It does not have to be just on this or that day. For in itself no one day is better than another [Romans 14:5-6]. Instead, this should be done daily. However, since the masses of people cannot attend every day, there must be at least one day in the week set apart. From ancient times Sunday has been appointed form this purpose. So we also should continue to do the same, in order that everything may be done in an orderly way [1 Corinthians 14:40] and no one may create disorder by starting unnecessary practices (LC, I, 85).

Luther's understanding was simple:
People must have holidays. Therefore, such observances should be devoted to hearing God's Word so that the special function of this day of rest should be the ministry of the Word for the young and the mass of poor people [Nehemiah 8:2-3, 8] (LC, I, 86).
And what made the day holy? The one holy thing.
God's Word is the true "holy thing" above all holy things. Yes, it is the only one we Christians know and have...Whenever God's Word is taught, preached, herd, read, or meditated upon, then the person, day, and work are sanctified. This is not because of the outward work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all...Where this is done, this commandment is in force and being fulfilled (LC, I, 91-92).
So, stopping from work gives us time to rest. And while we have time to rest, we should fill that time with God's Word because that is what makes us, the day, and our work, holy.
How, then, do we break the Third Commandment?
It is not only the people who greatly misuse and desecrate the holy day who sin against this commandment (those who neglect to hear God's Word because of their greed or frivolity or lie in taverns and are dead drunk like swine). But even that other crowd sins. They listen to God's Word like it was any other trifle and only come to preaching because of custom. They go away again, and at the end of the year they know as little of God's Word as at the beginning. Up to this point the opinion prevailed that you had properly hallowed Sunday when you had heard a Mass or the Gospel read. But no one cared for God's Word, and no one taught it. Now that we have God's Word, we fail to correct the abuse. We allow ourselves to be preached to and admonished, but we do not listen seriously and carefully (LC, I, 96-97).
Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing, but also about learning and retaining God's Word in memory. Do not think that this is optional for you or of no great importance. Think that it is God's commandment, who will require an account from you [Romans 14:12] about how you have heard, learned, and honored His Word (LC, I, 98).
This is what Luther means when he says, "do not despise preaching and His Word."
Those fussy spirits are to be rebuked who, after they have heard a sermon or two, find hearing more sermons to be tedious and dull. They think that they know all that well enough and need no more instruction...This is a malignant, dangerous plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives the hearts of many so that he may surprise us and secretly take God's Word from us [Matthew 13:19] (LC, I, 99).
So, how do you know if you have sinned against the Third Commandment? Begin by asking yourself these questions:
  • Do I strive to make the day of rest holy? Do I care about holy living?
  • Do I use the Word of God and prayer to make my time, work, study, and life holy day by day? Am I lazy and bored with the Word of God? Have I any fear of God over this neglect?
  • Do I honor the Word of God highly be eagerly hearing it preached at times that are appointed? Do I gladly learn it by heart and live in it? Do I despise the Word of God by neglect, paying no attention to it when it is preached, taught, or read?
  • Do I love my fellow Christians by being present with them in the divine liturgy to sustain them? Am I quick to make excuses for neglecting the Divine Services because of what someone else has said or done, or to do other things I like more?
  • Do I complain about he worship, the pastor, or other people in the congregation?
  • Do I learn the Word of God gladly so that I may teach it to others?

Obviously, the Word of God shows us our sin, and the sting of the law is felt. But never fear, for Luther ends his teaching with a reminder of the other side of the coin, that God's Word not only shows us our sin, but is living, active, and creates faith in the heart:

On the other hand, the Word is so effective that whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, it is bound never to be without fruit [Isaiah 55:11; Mark 4:20]. For these words are not lazy or dead, but are creative, living words [Hebrews 4:12]. And even though no other interest or necessity moves us, this truth ought to urge everyone to the Word, because thereby the devil is put to flight and driven away [James 4:7] (LC, I, 101-102).

Let us all sanctify the holy day. Amen.

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