Dear Readers,
The church theme of 2016 is “Occupy till I Come”. The first to put this into action must be church leaders and those who are in the full-time ministry of the Word.

Today, we have a shortened version of an article written by Rev. (Dr) Quek Suan Yew. I am thankful that he has granted permission to publish it in the weekly. May the Lord grant all readers understanding and discernment.

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew

Pastors and the Sabbaths
(Shortened version of original article written by Rev. Quek Suan Yew)

INTRODUCTION – It is a common belief that pastors ought to be given a day off during the week in lieu of their labour on the Lord’s Day. This belief has spawned pastors who demand that they be given a day off from their churches and that no member is allowed to contact them. To contact them is to intrude into their rightful privacy. To compound the matter further, some pastors are granted, a sabbatical year after a certain period of tenure in their churches. With this sabbatical year of rest, these “pastors” are granted paid leave to travel anywhere in the world, supposedly to be “equipped” in a Bible College or seminary so that they can be “recharged” and return to their churches as better preachers or teachers of God’s Word.

The question we need to ask is whether this “Sabbath phenomenon” is a Biblical concept. If it is a Biblical concept, then pastors have the right to demand such a rest. However, if it is not Biblical, then pastors should stop such a practice, or be charged as hirelings who have reduced the highest and most noble office that God has given to His people to just another “job.”

I. What is the meaning of the Sabbath? – The word “Sabbath” means “rest.” It is a day to cease from their regular week day slavish work that brings in money. They should instead engage in all other “work” that did not make any money, like acts of mercy and spiritual work such as offerings or observing other holy activities. The Bible teaches the keeping of the Sabbath Day as well as a Sabbath Year.

II. To Whom were the Sabbaths given? – The text that sheds clear light on this is Leviticus 23:1-3. This command was for the “children of Israel”. They were the occupiers of the Land of Promise. They were to work the land for food. This was their employment (work). They were to do this for six days of the week. But the seventh day was a sabbath of rest (literally it means “sabbath of sabbaths”)and a day of holy convocation. The people of Israel were to assemble together for holy activities as a gathering of God’s people. Israel was not to do any work (employment). The strength of the prohibition is the same as for the Ten Commandments, implying not an option but a strict command! The seventh day was called the “sabbath of the LORD” for it was the LORD’s Day and not the people’s day. This means that the people of Israel had no power to decide whether to keep the Sabbath day holy or not. The LORD decided for them.

The reason is a spiritual one. It is one of faith. The LORD wanted Israel to know that without faith it is impossible to please Him. Israel could not afford to forget that she was a spiritual people who needed to trust the LORD to protect and provide for all her needs. Working the land without stopping would cause Israel to lose this spiritual focus. The LORD enforced the Sabbath Day for the spiritual benefit of both Israel and the world! Israel would then remember that her home is in heaven. If the LORD had given a choice to Israel, she would most probably keep on working and would not stop until she “dropped dead”! This truth has been evidenced by the fact Israel broke the Sabbath Day more often than she kept it after she entered the Land of Promise. For soon after Joshua died and after he brought the people of Israel into the Land of Promise and divided the Land for the twelve tribes, the people entered into a period of more than 350 years of doing what was right in their own eyes. Israel completely ignored the laws of God.

Then there is the Sabbath Year that the LORD commanded Israel to also observe (Leviticus 25:1-4). If Israel was able to keep the Sabbath Day holy, it would be possible for them to also keep the Sabbath Year holy. The Sabbath year was given by the LORD to rest the land. Israel had to trust the LORD to provide for all her needs annually as well as weekly and daily. It is a matter of faith in the LORD to provide not just for one day but also for an entire year and more.

From the above, we realize that the Sabbath Day and Year were given by the LORD for the people of Israel to rest from their employment. The recipients of the Land of Promise had to stop work (employment) to ensure that their spiritual duties and life of faith were not compromised! The ones chosen by the LORD to teach this truth to Israel were the priests and Levites.

III. Do Priests and Levites Keep the Sabbaths? – The priests and Levites did not own land. God did not give them any land for their inheritance because their inheritance was the LORD (Numbers 18:20). They lived in forty-eight Levitical cities assigned to them by the LORD to teach the Word of God to the people of Israel. They were the only God-appointed and, therefore, legitimate people on earth who could truly function as mediators between God and sinful man. They should not be encumbered by working the land or it would be disastrous for they were the only guardians of the perfect Word of God on earth and not just in Israel. They were to copy and preserve the Word of God. They were to study and teach the Word of God to the people of Israel that generations of Israelites would benefit from their teaching. This would lead Israel to have a close and godly relationship with the LORD. However, if the Levites and priests were sloppy or evil, they would lead the Israelites astray and betray their trust.

If the priests and Levites are fully engaged in the ministry of the Word, then how did they and their families have food to eat? They would eat and feed their families from the tithes and offerings brought by the people of Israel. These tithes and offerings were meant for the LORD but because the priests and Levites had the LORD as their inheritance, whatever was given to the LORD, the priests and Levites were the beneficiaries (Numbers 18:24; Deuteronomy 18:3-5). These would become the daily sustenance of the priests, Levites and their families.

The priests and Levites were busy during the Sabbath Day. They had to take out the week-old shewbread from inside the Holy Place and replace them with fresh loaves. They would also be busy serving the LORD every day of the week including the Sabbath Year. There was no rest for the priests and Levites! The people of Israel rested from the physical labours so that they could focus on spiritual matters full-time. This helped them to remember their spiritual responsibilities and to trust the LORD to provide all that they needed within the six days of the week. They were forbidden to work the land on the Sabbath Day and Sabbath Year. The priests and Levites were already doing spiritual work. For them to take a Sabbath would mean that they stop doing spiritual work. If that happens, then Israel would remain in sin because the priests were the only ones who could do the sin, burnt, peace and thank offerings for them. If the priests and Levites were to take a year off, Israel would be plunged into total spiritual darkness. No one was allowed to take such a rest from doing God’s spiritual work!

IV. Should Pastors be given “Sabbath Days and Years”? – Pastors and all full-time workers doing pastoral work are like the priests and Levites of old. They must not be involved in any secular work. They must not buy shares and involve themselves in making money or business ventures! Their wives ought to abide by the same principle and not involve themselves in secular work, but support their husbands in the service of the Lord, be it in counselling or visitation, etc. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time when the pastor’s credibility and focus in the ministry as a pastor would be jeopardised. Paul worked as a tent maker only once and for a very brief time to support himself and others in the ministry in an exigency. Trusting the LORD to provide is a matter of faith. The pastor cannot afford to be side-tracked by any form of materialistic endeavours! He should focus every moment of every day thinking and praying for the LORD’s flock. He studies the Word of God every day. He conducts Bible Studies and holds seminars on God’s Word. He conducts the church prayer meeting. He writes articles for the flock to read. He prepares sermons every LORD’s day so that God’s flock can be fed with fresh messages from the LORD every week when they come. The Word of God and prayer are his main spiritual diet every day, led by the Spirit of God.

Derelict pastors today preach once a month to their own flock. They invite outside speakers under the guise of “variety is the spice of life.” These pastors have the audacity to sit in the congregation like an ordinary member while the invited speaker takes the pulpit. This is a very shameful thing to do. To make matters worse, they bring shame to the ministry and the office of the pastor by demanding a Sabbatical year off “to study God’s Word!” Does the congregation think that the pastor will study God’s Word during the Sabbatical year when he has not been studying God’s Word throughout the weeks and years he has been with them? If the pastor has been studying the Word of God regularly during the years he has been with the congregation, why then does he need to take a sabbatical year to study God’s Word overseas? Such foolish notions spawn and breed lazy pastors. They take advantage of their members’ love for them and brought shame to the office of pastor which the LORD esteems very highly. This slothfulness contradicts the example of Christ who was diligent in fulfilling the work which the Father sent Him to do. John 5:17 – “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”

CONCLUSION – Rev Timothy Tow was absolutely correct to teach us by ex-ample that the pastor is to be on call for the LORD and to the congregation 24/7 any time and any day. There is no Sabbath Day and definitely no Sabbath Year for the pastor. The concept of giving pastors a Sabbath Day “rest” in lieu of the “work” they put in on Sunday is without Biblical warrant. Likewise, the Sabbath Year is a waste of the LORD’s money! Any church that gives her pastor a Sab-bath Year with full pay as well as expenses for his so-called theological education is practising an unbiblical concept which has created a generation of spoilt, self-centred and lazy pastors. If they want to take a short break and refresh them-selves with their families and friends, they should call it a leave like everyone else.

The Sabbath rests (day or year) are for the people of God who serve the LORD as employees or employers. They need to rest in order to maintain their spiritual well-being and to not lose sight of their eternal inheritance unlike the pastor who is already doing spiritual work every day as the LORD has called him to do. The pastor is like the priests and Levites of the Old Testament. He is not to have Sabbath Days and Years for he is to be engage in the ministry of the Word all the days of his life. He is to keep on serving as long as the LORD gives him strength.