THE CHURCHMEN vs THE SABBATH and FUTILE AND USEFUL FASTS
Many churchmen use Romans 14:5-6 as proof that New Testament believers no longer have an obligation to keep the Sabbath day holy. So let us examine those two verses,
just as a Judge would consider evidence in his courtroom, and then decide whether or not they testify against Sabbath keeping. Paul wrote:
"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let very man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
He that regardeth [observeth] the day regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks." Romans 14:5-6
The Judge would ask: "Where is the Sabbath mentioned in those verses?". The Sabbath is not mentioned there, nor in the entire book of Romans! No court in the land would allow verses that do not mention the Sabbath to be used as evidence in an argument against the Sabbath - so why should we?
You see, Paul could not have been talking about keeping the Sabbath day holy because obedience to God's law is not optional. It is ludicrous to suggest that any of the Ten Commandments can be disobeyed "unto the Lord". Think of the absurdity of saying "He that stealeth, to the Lord he stealeth; and he that stealeth not, to the Lord he stealeth not."
What then was Paul talking about? He was talking about fast days. The whole 14th chapter of Romans is about food and how people's beliefs about eating should not be
interfered with. The fast days could be observed according to each believer's conscience.
A man could eat -or not eat, keep the day - or not keep it. It is as simple as this: Each man could observe FAST DAYS, or not observe them, according to his own convictions.
He that does not eat, regards the day.
He that eats, does not regard the day.
The "days" that Paul was referring to were the traditional fast days mentioned in Zechariah 7:5-6. The Gentile Christians in Rome did not keep them because they had no cultural interest in the anniversary fasts that were observed during the Jew's captivity in Babylon. *1
Even the Jews themselves had different convictions about the observance of those days - because those fasts were never commanded by God.
After the captivity (when the temple was being rebuilt) the men of Bethel also wondered if they should observe these fasts unto the Lord. For example, they asked Zechariah: "Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?" (Zech 7:2-3.)
When you read Zechariah's answer, notice the striking similarity of his words with those of Paul to the church at Rome ...
***COMPARE*** Zechariah 7:5-6 "...When ye FASTED and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, DID YE AT ALL FAST UNTO ME, even to me [The Lord]?
And when ye did EAT, and when ye did drink, did ye not EAT FOR YOURSELVES, and drink for yourselves?"
***WITH*** Romans 14:6-7 "He that regardeth the [fast] day regardeth it UNTO THE LORD; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.
He that EATETH, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that EATETH NOT, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
For none of us LIVETH TO HIMSELF, and no man dieth to himself."
If you were the Judge in the case of the CHURCHMEN VERSUS THE SABBATH, would you be willing to say that Paul had cancelled one of the commandments of God based on the evidence you find in the 14th chapter of Romans?
In our opinion, the evidence from Romans and Zechariah demands a verdict for Sabbath observance. The church must obey the Fourth Commandment and that is the only decision that will uphold the Law of God. *2
Harold and Donna Kupp
* These are the four traditional fasts that were mentioned in the book of Zechariah:
1. (The fast of the fourth month) In remembrance of the breaking of the wall of Jerusalem.
2. (The fast of the fifth month) In remembrance of the burning of the temple.
3. (The fast of the seventh month) In remembrance of the killing of Gedaliah, which
completed the dispersion.
4. (The fast of the tenth month) In remembrance of the beginning of the siege of
Jerusalem. See - Jer 52:6, Jer 52:12-13, 2 Kings 25:25, 2 Kings 25:1
It is of interest to note that those dates commemorate the judgments of God upon a people who refused to keep the Sabbath Day holy. (See Jer 17:19-27)
2 "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..." Ex 20:8-10
Part II FUTILE AND USEFUL FASTS
There are two kinds of fasts; the fasts unto ourselves (which are futile) and the fasts unto the Lord (which are useful).
Futile fasts come from a selfish motive. Some are simply hunger strikes that are contrived to influence God so He will give us what we want --or soften his punishment for our disobedience.
Zachariah rebuked the men of Bethel for the way the Jews had observed their fasts during the captivity. They mourned the loss of their temple, its riches, and the desolations of Jerusalem but neglected the condition of their hearts.
Without a broken and contrite heart, fasting becomes a cloak for sin. So the men, who were rebuilding Jerusalem, were told to listen to the former prophets who demanded obedience to God's law. (Zech 7:5-14)
Before the captivity, the prophet, Jeremiah had warned the Jews that if they did not repent of their sins, they would be in captivity for seventy years. Because of their disobedience, the many fasts of the captivity proved to be futile. God did not alter the severity of his punishment and Israel served every single year of its sentence. (Jeremiah 25:11, Dan 9:2)
Throughout history, the children of God have been told that fasting without obedience is meaningless. Here is what Isaiah and an early church father had to say about fasting:
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness ... to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor [brethren] that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him?" Isaiah 58:6-7
"I will teach thee what is a complete fast and acceptable to the Lord ... God desireth not such a vain fast [the accustomed fasts] but fast thou [unto God] such a fast as this; DO NO WICKEDNESS IN THY LIFE, AND SERVE THE LORD WITH A PURE HEART; OBSERVE HIS COMMANDMENTS..." Shepherd of Hermas (See notes below)
The Biblical and historical understanding of the fast that God requires has to do with righteousness; not food. God has promised that he will bless those who keep His
commandments - and curse those who do not. (whether we fast or not) Deut 28
Harold and Donna Kupp
J B Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, p 203,
Baker Book House 1956
According to Lightfoot, "The work [Shepherd of Hermas] is found in general circulation in the Eastern and Western churches, soon after the middle of the second century ... It is quoted by Irenaeus in Gaul, by Tertullian in Africa, by Clement and Origen in Alexandria. All these fathers - even Tertullian, before he became a Montanist - either cite it as scripture, or assign to it a special authority as in some sense inspired and quasi-canonical."
Jamieson Fausset & Brown's Commentary on Zech 7:5 points out the difference between the futile fasts of the captivity and the true "fast unto the Lord" of Romans 14:6,
"did ye ...fast unto me? --No: it was to gratify yourselves in hypocritical will-worship. If it had been "unto me" ye would have "separated yourselves: not only from food, but from your sins (Isaiah 58:3-7). They falsely made the fast an end, intrinsically meritorious in itself, not a means towards God's glory in their sanctification ... (Romans 14:6)" Jamieson Fausset & Brown Bible Commentary Vol. 11,p.855 1888