The first half of the Ten Words are all about priorities and loyalties: No other gods, honoring God’s true images, honoring and bearing God’s name/word, and the fourth commandment requires God’s people to prioritize God’s mission of building His holy house in this world.
Sabbath is For Building God’s House
In Exodus 35, God reiterates the Sabbath command a couple of times (cf. Ex. 34:21-26), all on the heels of the golden calf episode and running right into the command to begin building the tabernacle (Ex. 32). Notice that the Sabbath command is not only repeated with severe sanctions (Ex. 35:2), but there is also a curious prohibition against having a fire in your own house on the Sabbath (Ex.35:3). The key to understanding the prohibition is with what follows. As we noted previously, the Sabbath is to be a day that is outward focused, looking to give rest to others (Ex. 20:10). Here Moses reiterates the Sabbath command and then immediately relates the Lord’s command that an offering be taken up for the construction of the tabernacle (Ex. 35:5-10). The Sabbath is for building the house of God, and therefore in the Old Covenant giving priority to your own house was considered treacherous.
The Building Materials
With Exodus 35 in mind, the beginning of Acts shows us what the new tabernacle looks like. The “house” of God was always aiming to be people, but in the New Covenant, the Spirit comes upon people making this explicitly and completely true (compare Ex. 40:34-38, 1 Kgs. 8:10-11 with Acts 2:1-4). This also explains the instinctive offerings of the first Christians (Acts 2:40-47, 4:32-37). If the Church is the new tabernacle made of people, then the community of the Church becomes the house. All that we are becomes the “materials” for building. This also adds significance to the New Testament language of being a body (Rom. 12:5, Rom. 12:12, Eph. 4:11-13).
Keeping the Tradition
Frequently, when we think of the traditions of the church, we think of ancient hymns, vestments, liturgy. In the gospels, we should note that Jesus is very severe with the Pharisees for their traditions which set aside the clear commandments of God. The positive use of the word shows up with Paul in the context of worship (1 Cor. 11:2, cf. 11:23), but he particularly emphasizes it in his second letter to the Thessalonian church (2 Thess. 2:15, 3:6, cf. 3:14). But Paul isn’t talking about worship so much as he is talking about community life. He’s addressing the problem of some people walking “disorderly,” which means that they were free loading (2 Thess. 3:7-8). In a community where people give of their resources freely, two problems are likely to arise: the Ananias and Sapphira problem (Acts 5:1-11) and the free loader problem (2 Thess. 3:10, cf. 1 Thess. 4:9-12). And this brings us back to the Sabbath commandment: central to the command to rest and give rest is the command to work hard (Ex. 20:9). The “tradition” of the apostles is a way of life centered on the Lord’s Supper which is a picture of the city of God which includes hard work, rest, and sharing.
Conclusions & Applications
The Sabbath command requires that God’s people be a holy community, a holy place, a household that cares for each other. This “remembering” and care takes place as the people of God take seriously the call to be the “building materials” of this house, to be the members of the body for the world.