Sabbath Considerations in Healthcare

Mark Sandoval, M.D.
“We have come to a time when every member of the church should take hold of medical missionary work,” and we as Seventh-day Adventist healthcare professionals have answered this call to a significant degree. Beyond caring for the physical needs of our patients, this calling requires us to be living examples of the three angels’ messages that have been committed to us by God Himself.
We recognize that medical missionary work, or comprehensive health evangelism, is far broader than caring for the physical health of our patients. “Genuine medical missionary work is bound up inseparably with the keeping of God’s commandments, of which the Sabbath is especially mentioned, since it is the great memorial of God’s creative work. Its observance is bound up with the work of restoring the moral image of God in man. This is the ministry which God’s people are to carry forward at this time.”2
And these three angels’ messages are the focus of our existence and work as a people. “In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention. The most solemn truths ever entrusted to mortals have been given us to proclaim to the world. The proclamation of these truths is to be our work. The world is to be warned, and God’s people are to be true to the trust committed to them.”3
Of every phase of this earth’s history, now is the time to hold high the banner of our allegiance to God and show clearly to the world who’s side we are on. “The observance of the Sabbath is the sign between God and His people. Let us not be ashamed to bear the sign that distinguishes us from the world…In keeping the Sabbath, which God declares shall be kept holy, they give the sign of their order, showing plainly that they are on the Lord’s side.”4
And this admonition is not only true for the Adventist healthcare professional, but also for every Adventist institution. “The Sabbath is ever the sign that distinguishes the obedient from the disobedient…His work is to be carried forward in right lines. The people who bear His sign are to establish churches and institutions as memorials to Him. These memorials, however humble in appearance, will constantly bear witness…in favor of the Sabbath instituted by the Lord in Eden….”5
The Sabbath, as central to the three angels’ messages and the commandments of God, is a topic of particular concern to God’s last-day people, and especially to those who have whole-heartedly responded to the call to comprehensive health evangelism. So, how should we as Seventh-day Adventist healthcare professionals relate to the Sabbath within the context of our healthcare careers? Let us look at God’s word for Sabbath principles that we can apply to our careers.
1. Break away from your weekly occupation on the Sabbath.
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.” Exodus 20:8-10.
2. Avoid business transactions on the Sabbath.
“In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day?” Nehemiah 13:15-17.
3. Take time to fellowship with other believers on the Sabbath.  
“Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.” Leviticus 23:3. “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” Luke 4:16.
4a. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.  
“Then He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.” Matthew 12:11-13.
4b. Don’t use your career as an excuse to do unnecessary work on the Sabbath.    
“Those who, from whatever cause, are obliged to work on the Sabbath, are always in peril; they feel the loss, and from doing works of necessity, they fall into the habit of doing things on the Sabbath that are not necessary. The sense of its sacredness is lost, and the holy commandment is of no effect. A special effort should be made to bring about a reform in regard to Sabbath observance.”
“A spirit of irreverence and carelessness in the observance of the Sabbath is liable to come into our sanitariums. Upon the men of responsibility in the medical missionary work rests the duty of giving instruction to physicians, nurses, and helpers in regard to the sanctity of God’s holy day. Especially should every physician endeavor to set a right example. The nature of his duties naturally leads him to feel justified in doing on the Sabbath many things that he should refrain from doing. So far as possible, he should so plan his work that he can lay aside his ordinary duties.”7
“Often physicians and nurses are called upon during the Sabbath to minister to the sick, and sometimes it is impossible for them to take time for rest and for attending devotional services. The needs of suffering humanity are never to be neglected. The Saviour by His example has shown us that it is right to relieve suffering on the Sabbath. But unnecessary work, such as ordinary treatments and operations that can be postponed, should be deferred. Let the patients understand that physicians and helpers should have one day for rest. Let them understand that the workers fear God and desire to keep holy the day that He has set apart for His followers to observe as a sign between Him and them.”8
“The Lord says, ‘Verily My Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations.’ Exodus 31:13. Let no man, because he is a physician, feel at liberty to disregard this word of the Lord. He should plan his work so as to obey God’s requirements. He should not travel on the Sabbath except when there is real suffering to be alleviated. When this is the case, it is not a desecration of the Sabbath for physicians to travel upon that day; but ordinary cases should be deferred.”9
We can see that the application of this principle will lead us to plan in such a way that we avoid all unnecessary work on the Sabbath. As the joy of the Sabbath is more and more of our experience, we will be more and more dedicated to guarding that special time with the Lord.
5a. It is okay to take care of legitimate needs on the Sabbath.      
“Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath…?’ And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’” Mark 2:23-28.
“The sick and suffering require care and attention upon the Sabbath, as well as upon the other six days of the week; and it may be necessary for their comfort to prepare warm food and drinks upon the Sabbath. In such instances, it is no violation of the fourth commandment to make them as comfortable as possible. The great Lawgiver is a God of compassion, as well as of justice.” 10
5b. Prepare in advance for your needs so you don’t have to prepare on the Sabbath.        
“‘‘Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work.’ In this time all the duties necessary to prepare for the Sabbath are to be done.”11
“Those who neglect to prepare for the Sabbath on the sixth day, and who cook food upon the Sabbath, violate the fourth commandment, and are transgressors of God’s law. All who are really anxious to observe the Sabbath according to the commandment, will not cook any food upon the Sabbath.”12
6. The money earned for services performed on the Sabbath belongs to the Lord.          
“It may be necessary to devote even the hours of the holy Sabbath to the relief of suffering humanity. But the fee for such labor should be put into the treasury of the Lord, to be used for the worthy poor, who need medical skill but cannot afford to pay for it.”13
How many worthy poor could we help with their health challenges if we pooled our Sabbath incomes in a fund for their relief? I think we should find out!
As we consider these simple principles related to the Sabbath and apply them in our personal context, we will be set apart as a people who love and obey the Lord, who orient our lives toward God’s will, and who are preparing for the soon coming of our Lord and savior. And as we live these principles in our lives, we will be living testimonies of the power of the grace of God to redeem men and women from sin to righteousness in Christ. I challenge each of you to consider how you will conform your life to these principles as you enjoy the liberty and joy of the Sabbath rest in your own lives.
1White, E.G. (1923) Counsels on Health. (p 425). Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
2White, E.G. (1901) Testimonies for the Church, Volume 6. (p 266). Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
3White, E.G. (1909) Testimonies for the Church, Volume 9. (p 19). Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
4White, E.G. (1923) Counsels on Health. (p 235-6). Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
5Ibid. (p 235).
6White, E.G. (1932) Medical Ministry. (p 215). Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
7White, E.G. (1923) Counsels on Health. (p 236). Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
9White, E.G. (1932) Medical Ministry. (p 214). Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
10White, E.G. (1870) The Spirit of Prophecy, Volume 1. (p 226). Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association.
11White, E.G. (1932) Medical Ministry. (p 50). Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
12White, E.G. (1870) The Spirit of Prophecy, Volume 1. (p 225). Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association.
13White, E.G. (1932) Medical Ministry. (p 216). Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.