I’ve been an avid follower of this page. And it has helped me answer doctrinal questions I’ve had kept. As for my question, I would like to ask if it’s okay to do exercise on a Sunday. I mean it’s for one’s health. Thank you.
Thank you for your loyal readership. People like you are what make this site possible and rewarding. I’m very glad to have helped you answer doctrinal questions in the past, and hope I can do so this time.
I expect everyone who is concerned about keeping the sabbath holy has asked about one activity or another at some point in their lives. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Moses stepped out of his tent the morning after coming down off the mount to find someone asking for clarification! And yet, you won’t find the Church posting “do” and “do not” lists in regards to the sabbath. I hope you’re not disappointed, but I’m not going to either (though I’m going to quote one from Isaiah). Instead, I hope to give you some tools you can use to develop a deeper understanding of the sabbath and then decide for yourself whether any given activity is acceptable on Sunday. These tools are from my own learning, which is on-going, so I encourage you to pursue additional learning from those sources God has provided (see #3 here).
One day, I felt inspired that an upcoming lesson at Church should cover the sabbath day. Having been raised in the Church, I had heard “keep the sabbath day holy” for so long that it seemed this simple phrase was all there was to it. How could I fill an entire class period with something that simple? Having no idea what else to do, I turned to the Bible Dictionary and Topical Guide and studied the following entries:
As I read each entry and its linked scriptures, I noted not what was said, but what I learned, what it meant. When done, I reviewed and reorganized my notes, grouping them into categories. When that was done, I did it again. And then I copied them into a clean final format. For me, this has become a pattern for serious study. I still have the A3 (~11″x17″) page with these notes on it, and I refer to it often.
What I found surprised me. I had thought there really wasn’t much to say. Instead, I found a wealth of information, much of which I had never considered. For me, it fit neatly into eight categories:
- the meaning of “sabbath”
- how important sabbath observance is
- its blessings
- the severity of not keeping it holy (the punishments)
- proper attitude about it
- how to keep it
- that it is a covenant and sign
- lessons from the Sabbatical Year
And these are only the things I learned from my study; what you learn may be completely different. So in the end, this is the method I suggest to you and to everyone who wishes to improve their sabbath observance. It will allow you to learn what you are prepared to learn, and improve incrementally and as the Spirit directs over the course of your life.
That said, let’s explore a little further and identify just a few of the principles we can use to evaluate any given activity.
A logical place for us to start is with the actual text of the commandment:
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
In verse 11, we learn that the Lord made the sabbath day holy. In verse 8, we are commanded to keep it that way. When considering any activity for Sunday, we might ask ourselves, what does “holy” mean? Will this activity keep this day in its state of holiness?
In verses 9 and 10 we learn that one way to keep this day holy is by following God’s example as explained at the start of verse 11, and not working or causing anyone (or any thing) under our influence to work. We may think of this as the beginning and ending of this commandment – don’t work and don’t cause others to work for us on the sabbath. But such a brief summation would be avoiding the question of what it means to keep something holy. Fortunately, this is far from the only guidance we have.
Perhaps the most direct test for an activity’s sabbath appropriateness comes from Isaiah 58:13, which invites us to examine our motives against the Lord’s will.
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
Is the activity for your own pleasure, it is your own ways, or does it honor the Lord? Isaiah 56:1-8 expands this, alternating between what we are expected to do on the sabbath, and the blessings which come from so doing:
1 Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
2 Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.
3 Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
4 For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
8 The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
This is the best “do” and “do not” list for the sabbath I have seen. Summarized:
- keep the sabbath (holy)
- choose things that please the Lord
- take hold of covenants with the Lord (“take hold” seems worthy of some pondering on a Sunday afternoon)
- join yourself to the Lord
- serve the Lord
- love the name of the Lord
- pollute the sabbath
- do evil
In addition to all that, one might consider Exodus 31:12-17, which refers to keeping the sabbath as a sign and covenant, and ask what sign am I showing though this activity? Please note that none of the above asks whether an activity is good or good for you. That list is all about the Lord, our covenants with him, obedience to him, and the things which please him. There are six other days wherein to engage in things which are good and good for us (as well as things which please the Lord). But the criteria for the sabbath are more strict.
While it may not relate directly to your question, I would hate to write an article on the sabbath without mention of the amazing blessings associated with it. Again, I turn to Isaiah. First, from the verses quoted above, eternal blessings are promised to the obedient. Whether a stranger (v3) – we might say a convert in our day – or one who cannot have children in this life (v4, eunuch), both are promised a place in the Lord’s house (temple) and a name better than of sons and daughters, even “an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off” (I leave it to the reader to ponder this). Those who keep the sabbath are promised to be brought into the Lord’s “holy mountain” (temple), to be made joyful, and that their offerings and sacrifices will be accepted (none of us is perfect, but our efforts, our repentance, our broken hearts and contrite spirits are our offerings and sacrifices which the Lord promises to accept – if we keep his holy day). Finally, the Lord promises to gather all who will come.
And those are just the promises from these eight verses! There are even more to be found through studying the items linked above. Those links will also impress upon you the seriousness of the sabbath through mention of the punishment for violation. It boiled down to one thing: destruction.
A few years back I read a book review on The Interpreter Foundation website. The reviewer summarizes the author’s analogy of the meaning of the creation and sabbath day as follows:
Walton proposes that in spite of the obvious focus on creation, Genesis 1 is actually temple-centric and that the most important day to the Israelites was the seventh day, in which nothing is created. Deities rested in temples and only in temples; that God rested on the seventh day meant that he had entered the cosmic temple “constructed” in the previous six days, that God “is taking command, that he is mounting his throne to assume his rightful place and his proper role” (74). Stability, order, and life result. Walton here likens functional creation and the Sabbath to “getting a new computer and spending focused time setting it up (placing the equipment, connecting the wires, installing the software). After all of those tasks were done, you would disengage from the process, mostly so you could now engage in the new tasks of actually using the computer. That is what it had been set up for.” (75) He further offers a devotional aspect of this understanding of the Sabbath. God asks us on the Sabbath “to recognize that he is at the controls, not us. When we ‘rest’ on the Sabbath, we recognize him as the author of order and the one who brings rest (stability) to our lives and world. We take our hands off the control and acknowledge him as the one who is in control” (146).
In addition to other things, I began to ponder the idea that the other six days of the week are for us to prepare to use our mortality for its intended purpose – both to gain our own immortality and eternal life, and to help others do so. And of course we do this not by doing the work mortality requires for survival, but by doing the work God has decreed to bring about that end. We rest by giving up the control and decision making to God, by forgetting about the worries of mortality, and by following the Spirit’s guidance. We use the other six days to get everything set up so we can do just that on the sabbath.
To relate this to your question, is the activity in question one necessitated by mortality, or one that will bring about the immortality and eternal life of man? Is it one which the Spirit leads you to do? Is it addressing the worries of mortality, or the goals of eternity?
A Recent Experience
I recently had a discussion with my bishop about a fourth-Sunday lesson he would be teaching on this topic of sabbath observance, and about related habits of youth. Both he and I were raised in homes where one didn’t go outside the home on the sabbath. We didn’t go outside to play. We didn’t go over to friends’ homes. Except for Sunday meetings, we stayed in and spent time together as a family. He explained that it had been a challenge for him to learn to minister on the sabbath. And yet, as we study the Savior’s life and what he did on the sabbath, we find him out ministering to others. We both concluded that this was one habit of youth that needed to be broken, that the sabbath is a day to serve others.
If you will study the things I linked above, you will find far more than what I’ve covered here. The importance, seriousness, blessings, and punishment associated with sabbath observance cannot be emphasized too strongly. By study and application, our testimony and conversion to sabbath observance will change, and we will be blessed beyond measure, as promised in Isaiah 56.
Thank you, Charles, for giving me a chance to explore the process of evaluating whether an activity is appropriate for the sabbath day. That the First Presidency felt sabbath observance was important enough to dedicate the fourth Sunday lesson to this topic for the first four months of 2018 tells me it is critical to our lives as disciples of Christ. Writing this reply has reminded me to reevaluate my own choices frequently. It is my prayer that each of us will take this opportunity and find ways to improve.