Elder John H. Groberg of the Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (incorrectly called the “Mormon Church” by the media) related an example of an entire country keeping the Sabbath day holy,

“The small island kingdom of Tonga lies immediately next to the international dateline, so it is the first country in the world to greet the Sabbath day. It is a small country and, in the counting of the world, a poor country. But years ago a wise Tongan king decreed that the Sabbath would be kept holy in Tonga forever. Modern civilization has come in many ways to Tonga. If one goes to the capital of Nuku’alofa on a weekday, he finds the usual heavy traffic of trucks and cars and the bustle of thousands of shoppers making their regular purchases from well-stocked stores and markets. One sees people line up to view the latest movies and to rent videos. One can watch modern buses whisk tourists off to catch their jet planes, or observe the speed and clarity of a satellite call to the United States. The streets are crowded and business is good. You might wonder, ‘What is so different about this town from hundreds of others like it throughout the world?’ But when Sunday dawns on the kingdom of Tonga, a transformation takes place. If one goes downtown, he sees deserted streets—no taxis or buses or crowds of people. All the stores, all the markets, all the movie theaters, all the offices are closed. No planes fly, no ships come in or out, no commerce takes place. No games are played. The people go to church. Tonga is remembering to keep the Sabbath day holy.

“It is significant that the first country in the world to greet the Sabbath keeps the Sabbath holy. Has the Lord blessed them? Maybe the world cannot see His blessings, but in the ways that really count, He has blessed them abundantly. He has blessed them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and a larger percentage of the population there belongs to the Church than in any other country. Simple, well-kept chapels dot the land. Clean, smiling local missionaries are found everywhere. A beautiful, exceptionally well-attended temple stands in Tonga in fulfillment of promises made years and ages ago. And, as would be expected, their attendance at meetings and faithfulness in tithing are very near the top…Does the Lord love and bless those who keep the Sabbath day holy? I testify that he does in eternally meaningful ways. I further testify that when we eventually see things through the proper perspective of eternal truth, we will be amazed at how much we were blessed in important—though often unperceived—ways through keeping the Sabbath holy; and to our sorrow we may sense how many blessings we kept from ourselves by not consistently keeping the Sabbath day holy. There is a direct correlation between the proper observance of the Sabbath and true reverence for God, which includes obedience to His other commandments. We can’t all live in Tonga, but we can all keep the Sabbath day holy and receive the blessings that come therefrom—and they come to us wherever we live, personally as well as collectively.” [1]

A portrait painting of Jesus Christ, by Del Parson.The principle of Sabbath Day is that it is the Lord’s day, set apart each week for rest, worship, and worthy activities. In Old Testament times, God’s covenant people observed the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, because God rested on the seventh day when He had created the earth. After the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which occurred on the first day of the week, the Lord’s disciples began observing the Sabbath on the first day of the week, which was Sunday (Acts 20:7).

The Lord emphasized the importance of Sabbath observance in the Ten Commandments:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 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: 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” (Exodus 20:8-11).

The Lord told Moses that Sabbath observance was a sign between Him and His people of the covenant. (Ex.31:13)

In modern times, the Lord commanded we, His people, to continue observing the Sabbath in D&C 59:9-10:

“That thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; for verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labours, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.”

So to keep the Sabbath holy, firstly, the Lord requires us to keep ourselves ‘unspotted from the world’ by expecting us to stay away from worldly places on the Sabbath and to dress appropriately in clothes that are neat, clean and conducive to the Spirit of the Sabbath, or what we call “Sunday best”. Late Mormon prophet Gordon B. Hinckley had said that,

“There isn’t anybody in this Church who has to buy furniture on Sunday. There really isn’t. There isn’t anybody in this Church who has to buy a new automobile on Sunday, is there? No. There isn’t anybody in this Church who, with a little care and planning, has to buy groceries on Sunday. No. … You don’t need ice cream to be bought on Sunday. … You don’t need to make Sunday a day of merchandising. … I don’t think we need to patronize the ordinary business merchants on the Sabbath day. Why do they stay open? To get customers. Who are those customers? Well, they are not all nonmembers of this Church. You know that and I know that.”( Regional Training Meeting for Priesthood Leaders ) So, brothers and sisters, we can avoid shopping on Sundays by planning ahead.

Secondly, the Lord instructed us to go to the house of prayer on His day. Attending church and partaking of the sacrament are basic to keeping the Sabbath holy. When we do that, we will experience a closeness to our Lord and Savior. Many active Mormons feel that if they did not go to Church for one Sunday, they would feel as if something was missing from their life — they would know they needed to recharge their spiritual batteries to help them face the challenges of the coming week. The Sabbath is for us to renew and strengthen our physical, mental and spiritual selves. This is also to protect us from the evil around us.

Thirdly, the Lord has also commanded us to rest from our labors on this day. In Hebrew, Sabbath means “rest” or “cessation of labor.” We need to keep the Lord and His work in our hearts and minds through prayer and scripture study, not only daily, but we also need one whole day out of seven to focus our attention and hearts on Him completely – to rest from worldly things that may become our priority. We do this by seeking to draw closer to God, by worshiping God, and by serving others. For the Lord continued in D&C 59:12,

“Remember that on this the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.”

Oblations are offerings, whether of time, talents, or means, that we give in the service of God and our fellowmen.

Late Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball gave the following suggestions for keeping the Sabbath properly:

“The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts, and if one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it. To observe it, one will be on his knees in prayer, preparing lessons, studying the gospel, meditating, visiting the ill and distressed, sleeping, reading wholesome material, and attending all the meetings of that day to which he is expected. To fail to do these proper things is a transgression on the omission side.”(The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969 ],96-67)

Furthermore, Jesus himself had shown by His example how we can make the Sabbath holy: we can help others on the Sabbath, as He did (Matt. 12:10-13), to take care of basic needs and relieve grief ( Luke 13:11-16); and even to rescue living things from danger (Luke 14:5). Jesus showed that the key to keeping the Sabbath properly, like the key to obeying all gospel principles, is found in our hearts. When we love the Lord, we would want to keep the Sabbath holy. Thus, obedience to the commandments is an expression of our love to God.

Keeping the Sabbath day holy is a commandment that comes with a promise, as stated in D&C 59:16,

“Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fullness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth.”

To have the benefit of all God’s creations is a very important promise. The Lord rewards those who obey His commandments, sometimes financially and sometimes in blessings He sees best to bestow on us, such as protection as individuals, as families, as communities and as nations. Elder H. Aldridge Gillespie of the Seventy emphasized that,

The promises of the Lord to those who keep the Sabbath day holy are so clear in the scriptures that they leave one asking, “Why would anyone throw away such blessings for the tawdry, temporary pleasures of the world? Hear again the words of Jehovah as they roll down Mt Sinai, ‘Ye shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. If ye walk in my statutes and keep my commandments and do them; Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase… And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.’” [2]

Active Mormons find that it helps when we decide to make our stand early in life rather than wait until we are faced with a choice at a crossroad. Our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, gave the example of Brother Clayton M. Christensen, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ who is a professor of business administration in the business school at Harvard University.

When he was 16 years old, Brother Christensen decided, among other things, that he would not play sports on Sunday. Years later, when he attended Oxford University in England, he played center on the basketball team. That year they had an undefeated season and they won their games fairly easily in the tournament, making it to the final four. It was then that Brother Christensen looked at the schedule and, to his absolute horror, saw that the final basketball game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. He and the team had worked so hard to get where they were, and he was the starting center. He went to his coach with his dilemma. His coach was unsympathetic and told Brother Christensen he expected him to play in the game. Prior to the final game, however, there was a semifinal game. Unfortunately, the backup center dislocated his shoulder, which increased the pressure on Brother Christensen to play in the final game. He went to his hotel room. He knelt down. He asked his Heavenly Father if it would be all right, just this once, if he played that game on Sunday. He said that before he had finished praying, he received the answer: “Clayton, what are you even asking me for? You know the answer.”

He went to his coach, telling him how sorry he was that he wouldn’t be playing in the final game. Then he went to the Sunday meetings in the local ward while his team played without him. He prayed mightily for their success. They did win. That fateful, difficult decision was made more than 30 years ago. Brother Christensen has said that as time has passed, he considers it one of the most important decisions he ever made. It would have been very easy to have said, “You know, in general, keeping the Sabbath day holy is the right commandment, but in my particular extenuating circumstance, it’s okay, just this once, if I don’t do it.” However, he says his entire life has turned out to be an unending stream of extenuating circumstances, and had he crossed the line just that once, then the next time something came up that was so demanding and critical, it would have been so much easier to cross the line again. The lesson he learned is that it is easier to keep the commandments 100 percent of the time than it is 98 percent of the time.”(Pres. Monson: ‘The 3Rs of Choice’)

One Mormon from Penang, Malaysia, remembers a story from her own working experience. She remembered a time when she was asked to work on a Sunday as an emcee for the school’s Sports Day. She informed the teacher-in-charge that had it been any other day, she would be more than happy to do it. But since it was on a Sunday, she would not be able to do it, because she would be in church attending her meetings and she didn’t work on Sundays if she could help it. Most of her colleagues were unhappy and called her uncooperative and unhelpful. Many of them were Christians too, and their churches allowed them to work on Sundays, so why wouldn’t hers? That was three years ago. However, recently just two weeks ago, this very same teacher who asked her to emcee the Sports Day had accepted the fact that she don’t work on Sundays and even explained to parents who wanted her to tutor their children on Sundays by telling them on her behalf that, “Any other day is okay for Teacher Caitlin. But she doesn’t work on a Sunday because that is a day that she spends in Church.” So sometimes, blessings may not be immediate and standing by our beliefs may even isolate and open us up to ridicule or require difficult sacrifices. But in time, some people may understand our position.

When we don’t keep this important commandment, we are like the foolish rich man in the scriptures who placed that which matters most at the mercy of that which matters least. This counsel was given to Mormons by the First Presidency of the LDS Church in 1993,

“We urge all Latter-day Saints to set this holy day apart from activities of the world and consecrate themselves by entering into a spirit of worship, thanksgiving, service, and family-centered activities appropriate to the Sabbath. As Church members endeavor to make their Sabbath activities compatible with the intent and Spirit of the Lord, their lives will be filled with joy and peace.” [3]

Article By  Caitlin Ong of Penang, Malaysia

About Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.

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