The most-abused commandment.
What I think singles this one out is that many people are not even aware of this commandment. Alternatively, even if they do, they think they are obeying it, when in fact they are not. Most people, for example, if they steal something, have a conscience telling them they did something wrong. However, many people work on Sunday in clear violation of the law, and have no qualms about it. Maybe they never had any. Please note: there are exceptions to the prohibition of work on Sunday. I do not intend to address them here. Exceptions make bad law, so I'm assuming you're a typical Christian with a rather 9-5 job.
Apparently, God considered this law on a par with "Thou shalt not murder." There are good reasons for this, but I don't intend to get into those either. All I want right now is to motivate this discussion. It is important, this law, and we should know what it is saying.
There have been several interpretations of this law. One, which I'll call the puritan view, held that not only should you not work, you should not indulge in normal recreations on the Sabbath. This was based on Isaiah 58:13-14, which reads thus:
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own
Now the puritan view, it seems to me, is nothing more nor less than an attempt to take this passage seriously. I have yet to see a different view explain this passage in some other way than the plain meaning.
Another view, which for lack of a better term I'll call the relaxed view, states that recreations are ok, but work is not ok. (Of course there are works of necessity that are allowed, and Jesus Himself said it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.) This is the seeming view of guys like John Calvin and Martin Luther. They went bowling on Sunday. But I ask you: the real question is, did they bowl on the other six days? I don't know the answer to that, but if they didn't, then they were closer to the puritan view than you may realize. The reason for that is that they viewed bowling as something different they did on Sunday. At the risk of sounding trite, bowling was a holy recreation. They did not do it the other days. And maybe they used bowling to relax, the better to get on with their Sabbath duties. Taking a nap would be in the same category, actually.
Another view is simply do whatever you want, whether work or study or playing or sleeping or whatever. I do not think this view holds water.
I am tending towards the puritan view right now, because of its clear interpretation of the Isaiah passage. Now if someone wishes to dissuade me (using the Bible!) of this view, I am open to it. But I should warn you that any argument to the effect of, "Well, that's in the Old Testament, therefore we can ignore it," won't work with me. I am what I call covenantally Reformed, which means among other things that I believe that while there are some discontinuities between the Testaments, there is in general more continuity. I believe the Isaiah passage applies today, so you better do some careful exegesis!
pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (emphasis mine)