Plautus in 200BC makes the following statement, “The gods confound the man who first found out how to distinguish hours! Confound him, too, who in this place first set up a sun dial, to cut and hack my days so wretchedly into small portions.”
Today we are in an era when we are in bondage to time. Our entire lives are controlled by the clock and we just do not have the freedom to do the things we know to be right because of the watch on our hands. The Kenyans have the following saying to express this western culture, “Westerners are people with gods on their wrists.”
We need to be delivered from this bondage if we are to be good stewards for God’s kingdom. If we have to apply the parable of the Good Samaritan in our lives today, we cannot be Good Samaritans because we have gods sitting on our wrists. For the Good Samaritan to do what he did, he needed to forget his appointments and recognize the opportunity that God had brought before him to serve the wounded man.
My purpose in understanding time is to see how we can free ourselves from this bondage to be available to seize the opportunities that God brings before us. Stewardship of our lives involves being a good steward of our time. Stewardship of our time has two aspects – using our time wisely and using our time effectively.
I have heard some preachers speak of us having to ‘tithe’ our time. This is unbiblical. The Bible does not ask for a tithe but for a seventh portion! The principle of the Sabbath is deeply ingrained in the Old Testament and Jesus’ re-interpretation of the Sabbath does not diminish its importance or right observance.
The term Sabbath was first used in the Bible by God in Exodus 16:23 even before the Law was given. This shows that the Sabbath came into existence before the time of Moses. Exodus 20:8-11 links the Sabbath with the divine rest in Genesis 2:1-3. That means the Sabbath rest has been built into the weft and warp of the universe and we need to make it a part of our rhythm of life.
Deuteronomy 10:12 says that the Law was given for our good. It is not something God requires for Himself but it is what enables us to live in harmony with each other and to survive in the fallen world. In Exodus 20:8ff, it says that we need to observe the Sabbath as God has set it apart. It is for our own good that we need to keep the Sabbath. Our bodies have been designed in such a way that if we do not keep the Sabbath, our body, and emotions begin to be destroyed.
In Exodus 31:13, it says that the observance of the Sabbath was a sign that Israel was God’s people. The same is repeated in Ezekiel 20:12. Because of this, the penalty for disobedience was death – or in other words, it was as if one had left the community of the saved. While in this era of grace, the significance of the Sabbath may not be that relevant, the observance of the Sabbath is a sign of our faith in God. The non-observance shows our lack of faith in God, as we are unwilling to commit our time and our pressing jobs into God’s hands.
In Deuteronomy 5:12ff, God brings out that it is not enough for us to observe the Sabbath, but we need to see that all under our control are also given the opportunity for the Sabbath rest irrespective of their faith or background. This is a point often missed in India where many believers who observe the Sabbath do not give their servants a Sabbath break but make them work seven days a week.
Jesus’ re-interpretation of the Sabbath had nothing to do with the validity of the Sabbath but with how it is to be observed. It was to be a blessing and not a curse. Therefore, we cannot say that Jesus has done away with the Sabbath and therefore we need not observe the same.
When we see the Sabbath as a rhythm, it is not necessarily tied to the Sabbath day of Saturday but means a weekly rhythm where we take a break every seven days. This break does not mean a day of idleness, but rest from the labor for survival. The labor of worship, the labor of service and being a blessing to others are continued.
This creates a problem for people in ministry, where their labor for an income cannot be easily separated from their life and ministry leading to non-observance of the Sabbath and resulting burnout and harm. They need to consciously take a day off from their routine ministry and do something which has nothing to do with their paid work.
The Bible not only speaks of the Sabbath but also emphasizes the observance of the festivals. These festivals were usually for a week or more spent before God. They are listed in Leviticus Chapter 23. Feast of Passover – 8 days (in verse 5ff) and Feast of Tabernacles – 8 days (verse 33ff). This means that apart from the weekly rest, we need to take breaks of several days to rest before the presence of God. I recommend at least a weekly break every year for every one. The longer the break the better it is. Our system is built to require this and we need to see that we create the time for this.
All Christians are therefore recommended to actively participate in spiritual camps and conferences organized by their churches and other groups. However, this should not be abused by attending every conference in town. We have other responsibilities too. On the other hand, one or two breaks for recuperation and listening to God’s counsel is a wise use of time.
We therefore need to deliver ourselves from the bondage of the clock so that we can observe the Sabbaths, the festivals and spend adequate time with God.