Why are we commanded to keep the Sabbath Day Holy? By John Hilton III

Great article and teaching ideas about keeping the Sabbath Day holy!

John Hilton III has earned a reputation for being an amazing teacher, speaker and author! If you are a regular at Deseret Book, Time Out For Women, EFY or BYU Education Week, you probably already know him. We are SO lucky to have him sharing what he knows with us.

He was born in San Francisco and grew up in Seattle. He served a mission in Denver, and got a Bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. Along the way he met his wife Lani and they have five children. They have lived in Boise, Boston, Mexico and Miami. Currently, they live in Utah. John has a Masters degree from Harvard and a Ph.D from BYU, both in Education, and currently is an Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU. He has also written several books with Deseret Book, you can see them HERE. Besides being with his family, his favorite hobbies are learning Chinese and doing humanitarian work. For more information visit www.johnhiltoniii.com


Honor the Sabbath Day

As my friend Anthony Sweat and I wrote in our book Why?, “The Lord has told us to “Call the Sabbath a delight” (Isaiah 58:13); but some people feel like Sunday is a restrictive day, a day when they can’t do certain things. They might say, “Stuffy white shirts and ties, dresses and heels, shushes and hushes, talks, and more talks, early morning fast offerings and late evening firesides, no shopping or dating or dancing. And this day is a ‘delight’? Please tell us why!””

Idea #1: Teaching why we should honor the Sabbath day

Teaching Ideas for: Why are we commanded to keep the Sabbath Day holy?

Show your students various hand motions that communicate (or send a sign) to other people. For example, you could do a friendly wave, shake your fist in anger, or perform a beckoning motion. Rhetorically ask your students, “How were you able to tell what I was communicating?” (The obvious answer is that your gestures signaled to students how you were feeling. Invite students to turn to Ezekiel 20:20 and have them look for the sign between us and the Lord. Ask students to explain a principle from this verse. One possible answer is that how we treat the Sabbath day sends a sign to the Lord about how we feel about Him. Is our Sabbath day observance sending a welcoming sign, or one that shows that we don’t really care?

Elder Mark E. Peterson of the Quorum of the Twelve taught, “Observance of the Sabbath is an indication of the depth of our conversion. Our observance or nonobservance of the Sabbath is an unerring measure of our attitude toward the Lord personally and toward his suffering in Gethsemane, his death on the cross, and his resurrection of the dead. It is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of his atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us” (Mark E. Petersen, Conference Report, April 1975, 72). Testify to students that one reason why we should honor the Sabbath is to show the Lord how much we care about him.


Idea #2: Teaching How to honor the Sabbath Day

Show students this picture and ask them if it reminds them of the Sabbath (hopefully it doesn’t!)


President Spencer W. Kimball said:


The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts, and if one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it. To observe it, one will be on his knees in prayer, preparing lessons, studying the gospel, meditating, visiting the ill and distressed, sleeping, reading wholesome material, and attending all the meetings of that day to which he is expected. To fail to do these proper things is a transgression” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, [1969], 96-97).

Invite students to read and ponder Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-12. These verses teach that one of the purposes of the Sabbath is to “more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world.” Another primary purpose of the Sabbath day is to“pay thy devotions unto the Most High” (D&C 59:10). Some good questions to ask ourselves with our Sunday behavior is: Does the activity help me draw nearer to God?  Does it keep me unspotted from the world? Doctrine and Covenants 59:12 also says that on the Sabbath we should “offer [our] oblations” of “time, talents, or means, in service of God and  fellowman” (see D&C 59:12, footnote 12b).  In other words, does a particular Sabbath activity help me to give of myself in selfless service to God’s kingdom and those around me? Does it help me serve in my calling, visit the needy, and give of myself?

Suggest to students that there are lots of things that probably are not “wrong” to do on the Sabbath, but they can ask also ask themselves, “Is this the best thing I could do with my time on the Sabbath to help myself draw nearer to God, be unspotted from the world and serve others?” Honestly answering this question can give powerful guidance to making the Sabbath more meaningful.

Point out to students that on the Sabbath day they spend 3 hours in church, but 13 hours at home. Ask students to brainstorm some of the best activities they could during these home hours to draw nearer to God, be unspotted from the world and serve others? Invite students to keep the Sabbath day WHOLLY by planning out different things that they will during their Sabbath day (the below could be used as a bookmark where they write down their schedule and ideas). Follow up with students via a text message during the week to remind them to put their WHOLE efforts into keeping the Sabbath day HOLY.


Idea #3: The Sabbath Day and Homework




D&C 59:10 teaches that a principle of the Sabbath is “to rest from your labors.” For many students, their primary “labor” is school work. Should Sunday be a homework day? Invite different students to read each of the following accounts.

1. President Henry B. Eyring talked about his experience when participating in a very competitive graduate program. He was in a program where one-third of the students would fail – and he did not want to be one of the failing students. The competition was fierce though, and most of his classmates studied on Sunday. But President Eyring said, “For me, there was…no studying on Sunday” (Education for Real Life, CES Fireside).  Remember, schoolwork is usually the main daily labor for students; the Sabbath is designed to have us rest from our daily labors. When we use Sunday for a homework day, often our thoughts are more on the things of chemistry than the things of eternity.

2. President James E. Faust advised, “I would counsel all students, if they can, to arrange their schedules so that they do not study on the Sabbath.  If students and other seekers after truth will do this, their minds will be quickened and the infinite Spirit will lead them to the verities they wish to learn” (President James E. Faust, Ensign, Nov. 1991, 34). What a promise!

3. “I believed that I should labor hard for six days at my work, which was studying law, and should, therefore, refrain from student-like labor on the Sabbath…. Study was my work and the Lord had commanded us to labor for six days and rest on the seventh….I followed my father’s example and my mother’s gentle teaching, and I was also blessed for it” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Life’s Lessons Learned, 24).

Point out to students that President Henry B. Eyring, President James E. Faust, and Elder Dallin H. Oaks were extremely successful professionally, and also chose not to do homework on Sunday. Does this mean that we can be lazy and leave homework undone? Of course not. For the Strength of Youth says, “Prepare during the week so that you can reserve Sunday for the many uplifting activities that are appropriate for the Sabbath day. Such activities include spending quiet time with your family, studying the gospel, fulfilling your Church callings and responsibilities, serving others, writing letters, writing in your journal, and doing family history work. Your behavior and dress on the Sabbath should show respect for the Lord and His holy day.”

Invite students to go for one month without doing any homework on study. Invite them instead to prepare more during the week so they will not have pressing homework assignments due Monday morning. Invite them also to fill time that they would have used for homework with uplifting activities such as doing family history work, working on Personal Progress, or studying Preach My Gospel. Follow up with students on a regular basis to see what they experience as a result of taking this invitation.



Check out the Teaching Package for this topic:

You can find this package HERE.

It is also available in our September combo package available HERE.

This 20 page PDF package has seven amazing learning activities, lesson prints, and a handout to help you study, discuss, and act upon what you learn.


Included in this package are illustrations to help you teach the doctrines taught in For the Strength of Youth.  You can put them on the board or lay them out and have those you are teaching come up with lots of detailed ideas for each picture.

You can find this great package HERE.


  1. Thanks, this is such an amazing resource. I love the ideas and flow. I would have never thought about talking about homework like that.

  2. I have noticed that many teachers need more specific guidance than the church website has, especially with asking and coming up with good questions that promote discussions. It is hard! But, once it all “clicks” it can become easier. That is why I have spent that last 8 months studying and creating this website:


    Teaching The Chosen is a website geared to helping LDS teachers with the youth Come Follow Me program learn how to better lead a discussion. We offer lots of different help and guidance, and encourage you to add your ideas, so we may all be leading one another to become a mentor.
    Check it out to see exactly what it is all about, and share it with your friends!

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