Kids learn from an early age that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The food eaten early in the day gives one energy for the day’s tasks. But while breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, it is not the only one. People eat throughout the day. Some people, like myself, would prefer to “graze” throughout the day rather than sitting down and eating a few big meals. Others like the big farmhouse breakfast, hearty sandwich for lunch, and 5 course dinner. Whatever the case may be, healthy people take time to eat. If we didn’t eat, our bodies would not have the strength necessary to fight disease. We would not have the strength to accomplish whatever tasks lay before us. We need sustenance if we are going to make it through the days, months, and years of our lives.
The Third Commandment deals with sustenance, not of our bodies, but of our souls. The new creation given to us in the water of baptism feeds on the Word of God. Without consistent time in that word, our souls will become weakened and more susceptible to the temptations of the devil. Our Father in heaven knows we need this continued time in his Word to survive, so he has given us the 3rd Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” As Paul tells us, things are made holy through the Word of God and prayer [1 Timothy 4:5]. The Sabbath day, then, is a time set aside to be in God’s Word and in prayer.
As with the rest of the commandments, this is a gift, not a curse. The Third Commandment is tantamount to a parent telling a child to be sure to eat a good breakfast before going on a field trip. The parent knows that if the child doesn’t eat before going to the zoo with her class then she will not have the energy to make it all the way back to the giraffe habitat. The parent’s commandment to eat is given for the benefit of the child; it is not given simply because the parent needs the emotional fulfillment of seeing the child eat the breakfast that mom worked hard to prepare. What is at stake is the health and wellbeing of the child, not the fragile psyche of the parent.
So also the gift of the 3rd Commandment. God’s children are called to set aside time to worship God and be fed by his Word not because he somehow needs it to survive. It is not as if God’s self-esteem is so low that without human praise he begins to become somehow less God. The Third Commandment is not ultimately about God; it is about his children. It is about the baptized. It is about the people of God having the strength needed to make it through the challenges and trials of everyday life. It would foolish be to attempt to drive Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica without stopping for gas. You’ll never make it. You need to replenish your fuel if you’re going to make it that far. So also God’s children need the regular refueling of Word and Sacrament. The gift of baptism brings us into the Christian life so that we can spend the rest of our days living in that baptismal grace, “fueling up” on God’s Word so that we can make it all the way to our eternal destination.
In his small catechism Luther explained the Third Commandment like this: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” We hold it sacred because without it our faith is lost. We hold it sacred because it is the heavenly food that nourishes us from day to day. We hold it sacred because it presents to us time and time again the honest truth about our sin and the sweet release of our salvation. The Third Commandment in the life of the baptized is a gift, the gift of spiritual nourishment and renewal, the gift of God’s Word.