Is it a sin to work on Sunday?
Many people have jobs that require them to work on Sunday. One such person once asked to speak to me concerning the question: Is it a sin to work on Sunday? After our discussion he asked me to write about the topic. He believed that as a result many with a burdened conscience might find relief.
To Israel God gave the command that the seventh day or the Sabbath should be a day of rest. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Working was strictly forbidden. However, necessary chores were allowed. An ox that fell into a well was pulled out, etc. The main purpose of the Sabbath was to hear the Word of God (Lev. 23:3). The Sabbath had a symbolical significance. It pointed to the rest for the conscience and the heavenly rest that Christ earned for us. "There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (Heb.4:9). The Sabbath was part of the Ceremonial Law (Deut. 5:15), which since the beginning of the New Covenant is no longer in effect.
The Apostle Paul writes: "Therefore let no one act as your judge in... respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day" (Col. 2:16). The Sabbath had been a "mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." In other words: As long as we see only the shadow of a person coming toward us from behind a building, we look at the shadow. But just as soon as the person himself comes into view, we forget the shadow and look at the person. Thus during the New Testament era we are no longer bound to symbols or shadows, but in God's Word we see Jesus Himself.
Jesus did not replace the Sabbath with something else. Christians voluntarily for the sake of order selected Sunday as their day of rest, because it was the day on which Jesus had risen from the dead. Now there is no command of God that sets aside a certain day of the week apart from the others. "One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). When the legalistically?minded Christian Jews demanded that the Sabbath day be observed, Paul told them it belonged to the elemental things of the world, which lead them away from the grace of Christ (Gal. 4 and 5). Therefore the Sabbath and Sunday are now matters neither commanded nor forbidden by God. There is no divine command concerning them, and their external observance or non?observance does not affect our salvation.
But what then is required of us in the Third Commandment?
Dr. Luther's explanation is excellent: "We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it." Luther says nothing about working or about special days. But what does he emphasize? Studying and hearing God's Word. In His Large Catechism Luther says that we must always have God's Word in our heart, upon our lips and in our ears.
As far as the Word of God is concerned we may with a good conscience work on Sunday, as long as we do not use such work as an excuse to neglect the hearing and studying of God's Word.
Our Lutheran Confessions state: "At whatever hour, then, God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all."