Athlete, Jesus Teaches How to Sabbath


Athlete, Jesus Teaches How to Sabbath

Joel Pfahler

Matthew 12:11-12 (ESV)

He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

To understand the Sabbath, closely study what Jesus had to say about it.

Jewish people in the first century were expected to keep the Sabbath according to the law of Moses (Luke 23:56; John 19:31; Acts 1:12), but Jesus often corrected the religious leaders’ interpretation and additions to the law.

When the Pharisees considered that Jesus and His disciples were doing what was “unlawful on the Sabbath” by picking heads of grain and eating them, Jesus pointed out that Sabbath regulations should not keep people from attending to human needs.

Jesus often healed on the Sabbath. Though the Pharisees again accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, the Mosaic law did not forbid healing on the Sabbath. Jesus declared, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” and pointed out that people don’t take a day off from caring for their animals (Matthew 12:10-12; Mark 3:1-4; Luke 13:10-16; 14:1-6). 

He quoted the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” to teach that doing good and caring for other people are appropriate and even more important than keeping Sabbath rules.

Jesus also used healings on the Sabbath to teach that God is always at work (John 5:9-16) and to point out that the Pharisees were more concerned with obeying their own rules than understanding God’s heart (John 7:22-23; 9:14-16).

In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul encourages the Colossians to not let anyone judge their spirituality based on how Sabbath traditions are observed. 

Athlete, has your understanding of the Sabbath been motivated by rule-following, or by pursuing intimacy with God?

Sabbath Principles, Rather than Rules

Keeping the Sabbath has holistic benefits, but shouldn’t be weighed down by rules and regulations. After studying what Scripture says about the Sabbath, trusting the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and using discernment with your moral conscience, consider if these following principles will work for you:

  1. Follow Jesus first and foremost. Any activity, on any day of the week, should be motivated by worship. If competitions occur on a Sunday, that day in particular is an opportunity to worship our Creator for the world to see. 
  2. Reconsider if your Sabbath has to be a particular day of the week. Traditionally, orthodox Jews observe the Sabbath on Saturday. Most protestant Christians treat Sundays as Sabbath to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. If you play a team sport, you may not have control over your Sunday schedule. Take into consideration what your schedule allows and what time of the week is best for you to sabbath.
  3. Make your rhythm be that of grace, and not of superstition. I used to believe that if I was doing the right religious things (i.e. going to church, reading my Bible), God would bless my competition. God cannot be controlled or compelled based on your performance. He is more concerned with your love for Him than you doing everything “right.”
  4. Build your training schedule around your Sabbath. My weekly training rhythm includes days for high intensity and recovery. I prefer to use Sundays as off days or recovery days. When my schedule allows, I enjoy a long, casual bike ride or hike. These activities are restful for me because they give me a break from the feeling of intense training and they allow me to enjoy nature in the present moment. 
  5. What is restful or life-giving to me may not be restful to you. Decide (honestly) with yourself what Sabbath activities are healthy for you.
  6. Not everyone’s work and rest rhythm is the same. Determining one’s own work/rest rhythm depends on the person.
  7. Rather than viewing the Sabbath — and church attendance — as strict commands, view them as benefits of the Chrisitan life. We get to take time out of the week to just be –– enjoying God and enjoying life. We get to experience community and fellowship with fellow believers. Make an effort to be part of a local church, but don’t be motivated by perfection or superstition.
  8. I don’t prefer that competitions take place on Sunday, but I don’t deny myself the opportunity either. If my family is supportive of me competing on Sunday, I take that opportunity to worship God with it. I try to keep my focus on Him, and not on myself.
  9. When feeling the need to train instead of rest, consider your motivation. Are you finding it hard to rest? Are you trying to gain an edge? Are you finding it difficult to trust God while you rest? If so, consider doing an activity that is life-giving to you. 
  10. View the Sabbath as a time set apart to put personal work and worries away in order to praise God for His goodness and trust Him to provide for the things that humans can’t provide on their own. 
  11. The Sabbath is meant to be a celebration for what God has done and is doing. Treat it like a holiday.

Consider these principles, and ask God to lead you in how to best be a hard-working athlete and Sabbath-keeper.


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