Question: I have heard the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8–11) described as the "test" commandment. What does this mean for Christians?
Answer: To succeed in school, students learn to follow their teachers’ instructions, and learn their lessons carefully. But few realize that God is testing us in a special way every week. Are we following our Teacher’s instructions (Matthew 19:17) and absorbing His lessons for us?
God’s Word tells us that He rested on the seventh day of creation week (Genesis 2:1–3; Exodus 20:11). He created or "made" (Mark 2:27) the first day of rest by resting, while He made all else by working. He did not need to rest because He was tired (Isaiah 40:28); He is Spirit, and never tires. By resting on the seventh day of the creation week (from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), God set the example for Adam and his descendants to follow.
The One who became Jesus Christ (John 1:1-5, 10–14) is the One who ceased from His labor of creation (Colossians 1:13–16; Mark 2:28). Jesus made it clear that the seventh day was made for mankind (Mark 2:27; Exodus 20:8–10). God intended the weekly "Sabbath" (this word means rest in Hebrew) to be a refreshing blessing for mankind (Deuteronomy 5:14; Exodus 23:12). God knew that human beings would need periodic rest and change from work.
But the purpose for keeping God’s Sabbath goes far beyond simply resting on that day. We need that time each week to have close spiritual contact with God through prayer, Bible study and fellowship with other believers.
God’s Sabbath is not to be treated lightly or forgotten. We are commanded: "Remember the Sabbath day" (Exodus 20:8). It is a memorial of God’s restoration of the earth and the creation of man, reminding us who the Creator is.
How is keeping the weekly Sabbath a "test"? It is a test of our obedience to God! Real belief in God means active obedience (Acts 5:29, 32; Romans 16:25–26). Those who really believe God will keep His Sabbath! Sabbath-keeping was a "test" to see if the ancient Israelites would obey God (Exodus 16:4–5, 22–23), even before He revealed all Ten Commandments to them in codified form (Exodus 20:1–17).
Observing the Sabbath day was also to be a special sign of identification between God and His people (31:13, 16–17). God wanted ancient Israel to remember that He is Creator, Sustainer and Supreme Ruler over all His creation, so He singled out Sabbath observance as the one great sign by which they would always be reminded of who He is and who they were—His chosen people.
Many professing Christians are willing to acknowledge that the other nine commandments should be kept in some way today, but reject and refuse to literally obey just one commandment: the fourth! So we see that the Sabbath command is a crucial test of obedience, for it identifies those who have surrendered to God and are striving to obey all of His commandments.
Jesus regularly attended religious services on the Sabbath day "as His custom was" (Luke 4:16, 31). He obeyed His own command to meet every Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3). This is the day He would naturally have observed, because He originally made the Sabbath by resting and ordained that it be kept holy from that time forward. It was also the Apostle Paul’s custom to keep the Sabbath (Acts 17:1–2). Other evidence shows the early Church of God observed the Sabbath (13:13–15, 42, 44; 18:1, 4, 11).
Those who are striving to obey God today, and do what He says (Luke 6:46), are also keeping the same day that Jesus, Paul and the entire true Church always kept. They are passing God’s "test" every seventh day of the week!