Briefly stated, this means that we should fear and love God that we may not despise the preaching of His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Because God ceased from His work of creation at the end of the
day, the Law of Moses required that all work should cease at the end of
six days. The Sabbath day was set apart to be a day of rest. As a
to rest, this commandment is a political law that is not absolutely
upon Christians. God instituted this law as an act of kindness,
rest from toil for both man and beast. However, it was twisted by
into a law that would forbid acts of kindness and mercy. Because of
abuse, the Pharisees condemned Christ for doing things they would do
-- as if the commandment was fulfilled by doing no manual work.
that was not the intended meaning. They failed to understand that the
should not be upon work, but upon keeping the day of rest holy.
As a political law, the external requirement to rest was only binding upon those living in Israel. The government of Israel has no authority over those living outside of its jurisdiction. Therefore, in Christ we are free from the external requirement. However, we should use our freedom to glorify God, not as an occasion to the flesh.
To Christians, Sunday, like all holidays, should, first of all, be a time of rest. It is a day that gives businessmen and workers a respite from their daily toil, so that they might relax, enjoy their family, and be refreshed.
However, since there is little opportunity for worship on other days, our attendance at Divine worship is a more important aspect of Sunday. It is a day for us to come together, sing, pray, praise God, and hear His Word. Unlike the Jews, who were restricted to observing Saturday as their day of rest, we are not restricted to a certain day. In itself, one day is no better than another. In fact, we should have prayer and time with God's Word daily. However, since few would be able to attend daily worship, one day of the week must be set apart. Because Sunday [the Lord's Day] has been the day set aside by Christians from the time of the Apostles, we should continue worshiping on Sunday. It would be wrong to create division and strife by unnecessary innovation.
Therefore, what this commandment requires is that our weekly holiday be devoted to worship, fellowship, and hearing God's Word. The special purpose of the day should be the ministry of the Word to the young and people in general. At the same time, the command to rest should not be interpreted so strictly that it forbids any incidental work that cannot be avoided.
We keep the Sabbath day holy when we occupy ourselves with holy words, works, and life. Nothing we do can make the day itself any more holy than it was when God created it. Our behavior is what needs to be sanctified. God wants the Holy Day to be holy to you, and it only becomes holy to you when you are occupied with things that are holy. Sitting in a corner and refusing to do any work will not make the day holy. Likewise, putting on our best clothes will not make the day holy. You keep the day holy when you occupy yourself with God's Word, and allow that Word to govern your life.
Christians ought to keep every day holy. We should daily be occupied with God's Word, carrying it in our hearts and upon our lips. We should devote several hours a week to the Word of God and prayer. However, we do not always have the time. That is why one day needs to be set apart for things that are holy. This is especially important in the training of the young. During such training, special emphasis should be placed upon the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, because they summarize the doctrine of Scripture, and our entire life should be in accord with God's Word. Whenever we are occupied with holy things, the day is being kept holy as the commandment requires. There is no virtue in idleness. Idleness cannot make the day holy. Even the heathen can be idle. Likewise those Papists who stand daily in their churches, singing and ringing bells, are not keeping the day holy, because they neither preach nor practice God's Word, but teach and live contrary to it.
The Word of God is our chief sanctuary. Consecrated garments and the bones of saints cannot make anyone holy. If we had them all in a heap, they would not be one bit of help to us. God's Word is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which the saints themselves were sanctified. At whatever hour God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon; the person, day, and work are sanctified. They are not sanctified by the external work, but because they have access to forgiveness in Christ through the Word of God. It is that forgiveness that makes us saints. Therefore, if our life is to be God-pleasing or holy it should be ordered according to God's Word. Where that is done, this commandment is in force and being fulfilled.
In contrast, any observance or work that is practiced without God's Word, and faith in Christ, is unholy before God, no matter how glorious it seems to men! That includes the unscriptural spiritual orders followed by monks and nuns. Those orders are contrary to the Word of God, for through them men seek holiness in their own works.
Therefore, the force and power of this commandment does not lie in the resting but in the sanctifying. And none of our works are holy unless we have first been made holy through the forgiveness that is ours in Christ. But this commandment offers a work by which we can be made holy through the Word of God. Through that Word alone, the Holy Spirit brings us to faith and keeps us in faith. This work of the Holy Spirit is the reason God wants us to keep His Day holy. As we come together for worship the gospel is proclaimed and through the preaching of the Word we are brought to faith, strengthened in faith, and kept in faith.
Since so much depends upon God's Word that the Lord's Day cannot be kept holy without it, God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment. Simply being in church may not save you, but staying away from church might damn you, for it is only as we stay close to the Word of God that we stay strong in faith.
This commandment is not only violated by those who desecrate it
their sinful lifestyle, but also by those who attend church only out of
habit and at the end of the year know as little of God's Word as they
at the beginning. It is easy to see that those who couldn't care less
church attendance or those who spend Sunday in a drunken stupor are not
keeping the day holy. It is more difficult to see that those who come
preaching and listen to God's Word as to any other trifle while having
no desire to learn, understand, or retain what is taught are not
the day holy. Up to this time people generally believed that they had
hallowed Sunday if they heard a mass or the Gospel read, but no one
for or taught God's Word. Now we have God's Word, but do not correct
abuse. We allow ourselves to be preached to and admonished, but we
without seriousness and care.
Do not think that church attendance is just another duty to be fulfilled. We should not only be concerned with hearing, but also with learning and retaining it in memory. Do not think that such learning is optional, or of no great importance. It is God's commandment, and you will account to Him for how you have heard, learned, and honored His Word.
We must also reprove those difficult people who find sermons tedious and dull. Having heard a few sermons, they think they know it all and see no further need of instruction. Such people are under a satanic delusion and do not realize the great danger they are in. They fail to see their own sinfulness, their wretched condition, and their need of salvation. They take everything for granted. For that reason, they fail to understand or appreciate the forgiveness we have in Christ. Satan wants nothing more than to turn their hearts away from the Word of God so that they can never learn the truth.
Because you live every day in the dominion of Satan, who continually seeks to destroy your soul, you must always keep God's Word in your ears, in your heart, and upon your lips. Even if you really did know the Bible perfectly and were a master of theology, you would still need the Word of God to put the Devil to flight. Satan does not stop trying to snare your soul just because you have a certain level of knowledge. He continually seeks to kindle wicked thoughts and unbelief in your heart. Wicked thoughts against this commandment are only one small part of his assault on your soul. Whenever the heart is idle and the Word does not sound, he breaks in and does the damage before we are aware. On the other hand, because the Word of God is so powerful, it will never be without fruit. Whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used it will awaken new understanding, pleasure, and devotion while producing a pure heart and pure thoughts. For the words of Scripture are not inoperative or dead, but creative, living words. Even if we lacked any other motivation, the fact that the Word of God puts Satan to flight should create in us a desire to learn it and know it. Besides this commandment requires us to stay close to the Word, and obedience to it is more pleasing to God than any work dreamed up by those hypocrites who think that they have no need for God's Word.
[The above is based upon, and closely follows, Martin Luther's explanation of the Third Commandment.]