[ HOME ][ TSS Magazine Index ]

If Your Job Requires Sabbath Work

by Richard Wiedenheft

Living by what we believe will carry consequences.

Throughout history, God's people have been caught in a conflict: They've had to choose between obedience to what they believed was their Sovereign's will on the one hand, and the demands of the physical culture in which they lived, on the other. Today, Christians who espouse the seventh-day Sabbath, face the same dilemma. Many jobs require work on Saturday. Many social, athletic, and academic events occur on Friday night or Saturday -- the day Sabbatarians believe God set aside at Creation for humanity, the day sanctified in the fourth commandment, the day upheld by the teaching and example of Jesus and the Apostles.

The root issues are these: Do we really believe our Father's will is for us to rest on the seventh day? And if we do, is our desire to please Him the guiding force in our lives?

Christians are called to take up the cross of Christ, to put His will ahead of everything, to love Him more than they love even their own lives (Luke 6:46, 14:26). But when it comes to financial loss, reduced lifestyle, or fewer social opportunities, we often bend the Sabbath to conform to our culture. Perhaps the truth is that we believe in the Sabbath merely as a nice theological concept, but not as something to suffer for. Perhaps what we really believe is that the Sabbath makes more Biblical sense than observing Sunday, but that it's not a big deal to God.

As for people who are not convicted that God wants them to observe the seventh-day Sabbath, while I think they are wrong, the following exhortations apply in a general way, not specifically to the Sabbath. A person can only be expected to live according to what he believes.

Bible Witnesses

From the time the serpent tempted Eve until now, individuals and groups have been severely tested on their beliefs. Would they put their faith in, and love for, God ahead of all else? Consider a few examples of people willing to make great sacrifices to obey God's will.

  • Joseph refused to commit adultery, though it meant displeasing his employer, losing his job, and ending up in jail. What if he had said, "I'd better go along with what my mistress wants, or I could lose my job"?
  • Moses chose to stand up for his people rather than live in the luxury of Egypt. He spent the rest of his life (80 years) in the wilderness herding sheep, and then "herding" people, who frequently did not appreciate him.
  • Daniel could have gone to a private room to pray where his enemies couldn't see him, but he was not about to let them think he was compromising his devotion to Yahweh.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have said, "Boy, we won't be any good to God if we're dead! Think of all the people we can influence for Him if we live. We can just pray to Him while we're bowing down before Nebuchad­nezzar's statue."
  • John the Baptist proclaimed the sins of the people - even of the king. He wasn't popular with the royal court, ended up in prison, and then lost his head. What if he had said "I'd better tone down a bit because I can't do any good for God in prison." Jesus said there was none greater than John.
  • Peter refused to stop preaching the name of Jesus, though he was jailed and eventually martyred. What if he had said, "I've got a family to support. Surely God wouldn't want them to suffer"?

Post-Bible Witnesses

In post-Biblical days, many groups of people and countless individuals have paid dearly to be true to their convictions. Consider:

  • In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella ordered all Jews out of Spain unless they converted to Catholicism. Many left, never to return to their homeland.
  • John Hus, a Bohemian priest, refused to retract his views against transubstantiation, papal primacy, and praying to saints. He taught that the Bible alone should be relied on in matters of religion. Brought before the Council of Constance, John was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in 1415.
  • Exactly 120 years later, death came to another Catholic for what he believed. Sir Thomas More - member of the English Parliament, lawyer, member of Henry VIII's Privy Council, knight, speaker of the House of Commons, and Lord High Chancellor - resigned from his positions rather than approve the divorce of Henry VIII from his first wife. He was ordered to sign an oath acknowledging the king as the head of the church in England. Though his family begged him to sign, he refused, and was beheaded.
  • Eleven years later, a young English woman, Anne Askew, was arrested for refusing to profess the Real Presence (of Jesus in the communion host) doctrine. She was mercilessly questioned for five hours, tortured till nearly dead for names of others who shared her belief, and was sent to the stake.
  • Four years after that, things took a more Protestant turn in England, and people who didn't conform (whether Catholics or Protestants) were persecuted. Joan Bocher of Kent went to the stake for refusing to retract her questions about the Incarnation. She pointed out that her persecutors had come to believe the very doctrine for which they had burned Anne Askew just a few years before.
  • About the same time, in the city of Geneva dominated by John Calvin, Michael Servetus was condemned for two heresies: Unitarianism, and rejection of infant baptism. Refusing to recant, he was chained to a stake and burned alive.
  • During the twentieth century, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and others who refused to go to war on behalf of Kaiser Wilhelm or Hitler were imprisoned, put in concentration camps, and/or executed. Lutherans and others who refused to accept the domination of the church by the Nazi party were stripped of their jobs, imprisoned, and persecuted; many died!
  • Under Communist rule in the Soviet Union, Romania, and elsewhere, Christians who tried to practice their faith had their children taken away. Many were sent to prison camps; many died!

We may not agree with all the beliefs for which these people were persecuted. The important fact is that they really lived what they professed and were willing to suffer, gladly or not, for their convictions.

What price?

We live in a nation where freedom of religion is a fundamental right. Consequently, most of us have suffered little for practicing what we believe. But then there's the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, which is so out-of-step with the mainstream of Christianity that dominates the Western world. Do we who espouse the seventh day really believe it is part of God's will for His people who have been saved by His grace? Do we really believe God wants us to rest on the seventh day? Do we really believe we deny our love for Jesus when we don't do what He says?

The people mentioned above were willing to pay an exorbitant price for being out of step with the mainstream of their day. But far be it from us to deprive our children of any opportunities because of our Sabbath conviction! Far be it from us to risk financial hardship due to the seventh day! Far be it from us to suffer economic or social loss to serve the Savior who gave His life for us! And if we aren't willing to suffer a small loss for Christ, how do we think we could ever suffer a great loss, as did those mentioned above?

I do not write this as one who has suffered great loss for his faith. I've never gone to bed hungry because of my faith - but I hope I'd be willing to. I've never seen my children in pain for lack of medicine because I wouldn't take a job that required me to work on the Sabbath - but I pray I'd be willing to. I've never gone through a winter without heat because I wouldn't work on Sabbath - but I hope I'd be willing to.

I realize that it's easy to pontificate about these things when we're not faced with suffering. But that doesn't change the truth that, if we really believe Jesus calls us to do something, we should be willing to suffer for it. Unfortunately, I fear that too many of us (including me) are more influenced by the values of this world - happiness, physical comfort, financial security, pleasure, acceptance - than we are by the values of the world to come.

Of course, Jesus said that acts of mercy and pulling oxen out of ditches were entirely permissible on the Sabbath. Each individual must decide for himself where working on the Sabbath leaves off, and taking care of an emergency begins. The same principle applies to deciding how to obey every other command of God: honoring parents, loving God above all, not coveting, being merciful, loving one another, etc. Would we take a job to feed our hungry children, if the job required us to lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, or sign a confession to things we didn't believe? Then why would we take a job requiring us to work on the day we say we believe is God's Sabbath?

Again, I address this only to those who believe God wants His people to keep the Sabbath. If you don't believe the fourth commandment is for Christians, be honest about it. If you believe it is optional, or if you worship on the seventh day for family or social reasons, then be honest about it. But if you believe that God created the Sabbath for humanity, that it was, and is, part of His will for His people, that He is pleased when His people observe His Holy day, then you must be willing to pay a price for that conviction.

Most of us will probably never appear before a religious or governmental body and be forced to choose between denying Christ, and death. But in a real sense, we all appear before the world every day. And by our actions we proclaim whether we love God more than anything else. We tell the world whether we really trust Him to take care of us according to His will, or whether we are willing to compromise what we believe, to avoid sacrifice and pain in this physical realm.

The martyrs mentioned above were willing to suffer for theological concepts, for prayer time, for bowing down in a certain time and place, for signing a piece of paper. Oh that we who say we believe Jesus wants us to observe the Sabbath, would count it joy to suffer some loss, some pain, some missed opportunities in this life, because we are wholly committed to serving the Savior who died that we might live for all eternity!

From The Bible Advocate, December 1999, © 1999. Used by permission.

Richard Wiedenheft lives in Barrington, IL, and is a frequent guest speaker in Church of God (Seventh Day) and other Sabbath-keeping groups. He is a past President of the Bible Sabbath Association. This article appeared in the December 1999 issue of The Bible Advocate.

Work and the Sabbath

Having worked in secular jobs the first 45 years of my life, this situation came up many times. My answer was always the same: "I will not work on the Sabbath. This includes from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday." I lost three jobs as a result, but our God rewarded me by providing better opportunities elsewhere. We must obey with faith, believing God does provide for His children. When people ask me what they should do, I discuss my history and encourage them to be the best employees on the job. That goes a long way when asking for concessions of your employer. - Pastor Don Rodgers