“Thou Shall Not Dishonor The Sabbath”

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To be honest with you I am convicted that I have not in my own life placed due emphasis on the Lord’s Day. So here I want to explore the Sabbath and what it means to us today.

Four major views on the subject:

First, the Seventh-Day Sabbath view. Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and Seventh Day Baptists hold this view. This group gathers on Saturday for worship.

Second, the Christian Sabbath view. Edwards, Spurgeon, and a lot of other puritans held this position. They believed the 10 commandments are eternal moral laws and thus the 4th commandment still applies but they believed it applies to Sunday rather than Saturday.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism, for instance, says the whole day should be spent in “the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” (Question 60).

Third, the Lord’s Day view. This is the view that I hold. Many of the people that hold this view are not very distinguishable from the Christian Sabbath view because of the way they live on Sunday.

In this view Old Testament regulations are obsolete (cf. Col. 2:16-17). However, believers follow the New Testament principles about the Lord’s Day. 1) Worship with other believers is the priority on the Lord’s Day. Believers are to gather together (Heb. 10:25) and it is observed from the New Testament when they gathered (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2), on Sunday-the Lord’s day, the day when Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead. 2) This group observes Sunday as a day for remembering the Lord. It is His day! They evaluate every activity in light of this truth. This day is reserved for extended worship of our great God.

Fourth, the Oblivious view.  This is when Christians do not care and do not even consider what is and is not right to do on Sunday. This is where the majority of Christians are. However, it is also the worst place to be.[1]

What does it mean for us today?

What does “honor the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” look like now (see Ex. 20:8-11)?[2] It appears from Scripture and early church history that the Church began meeting on Sunday instead of Saturday, the Sabbath, because that is the day that Jesus rose from the dead (See 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; Acts 20:7; Jn. 20:19 see also Matt. 28:1,6; Jn. 20:17; Lk. 24:45-47; Jn. 20:21; Matt. 28:19-20; Jn. 20;22; Acts 2:1-4 for other “first day of the week” passages). That is why the majority of Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day rather than the Sabbath. This was truly a radical shift. Yet, of course, the shift came because of something far more radical, the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15).

So historically we see the surprising shift from gathered worship on the Sabbath to worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. We also see that in Mark Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:27-28 note context). What did Jesus mean? Can we just do away with the fourth commandment?

Jesus meant that Sabbath observance is not the end-all and be-all. The Sabbath is not an end in itself or the greatest good. It is designed to help, restore, and revive God’s people. The Sabbath is not to be legalistically observed like the Pharisees in the passage but neither is it to be disregarded.

Dr. Donald Whitney has said,

“Resting from work and worshiping God in prescribed ways on the Sabbath (Saturday) was a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews (Exo. 31:16-17). But it isn’t a sign of the New Covenant, and the Old Covenant Sabbath isn’t for New Covenant believers (Gal. 4:9-11). The Sabbath was a symbol, a “shadow . . . but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Jesus Christ and His work is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. A person now enters the Sabbath rest by resting from trying to work his way to God and trusting in Christ’s work (Heb. 4:9-10). Thus we should read the Fourth Commandment with New Covenant, Christ-focused eyes.”[3] 

Ok, so we have a little bit of the context set. What does that mean for us? Does the fourth commandment still matter? Yes! All of the other commandments are still very vital, thou shall not kill is a good one. All of them are good ones. So, I think it is more a matter of how we keep it. Jesus did not say I am doing away with the Sabbath or the importance of the Sabbath. He said it was important, we need it, it is for us. Yet, that does not mean that we have to count how many steps we walk on the Sabbath to ensure that we are not working on it. However, it is important!

The Lord’s Day is a great privilege and not a burden. In fact, it is a great means of undeserved kindness to us. We must remember that God told us to honor the Sabbath, which I believe now is the Lord’s Day, not to burden us but to bless us. Often people talk about not doing anything on Sunday because it is wrong, yet I think it would be more accurate to carefully consider what we should  do. We are exhorted to keep the Day holy; we are not exhorted to lounge around, though that is not necessarily wrong. I believe, however, that the Sabbath is meant for much more than just physical rest, though that for sure is a blessing which you will see if you’re at my house around 3pm on Sunday, yet what we need more is spiritual refreshment. We need the Words of life to feast upon. So yes, lounge around. But I greatly encourage you to lounge around with a Bible or a godly book. Make the Day holy!

A Few Practical Principles:

Lastly, a few practical principles for keeping the Lord’s Day holy (for myself as well!):

  • Remember, the Lord’s Day is a blessing and a grace. We do not want to neglect that which God has blessed us. “Men honour God when they come to worship hungry and expectant, conscious of need and looking to God to meet them and supply it.”[4]
  • We must prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Day. Pray that the Holy Spirit would move in powerful ways, for the pastor, for the whole service. Pray for and examine your own life and confess sin. We prepare for so many things, should we not prepare to meet the LORD God in worship?! As J. I. Packer says, “An aimless, careless, casual, routine habit of church-going is neither rational nor reverent.”[5]
  • Public worship is central on the Lord’s Day. We must do what it takes to make it central. Go to bed early, wake up early, have clothes laid out and ready to go, etc. We make plans for other important things… we must also plan to make worship gathering central. It should be a priority (Heb. 10:25).
  • Does your normal Lord’s Day use of time feel like Monday? Does it rob you of joy? How can you restructure your day to be refreshed in the Lord? At my house, for example, we often have a simple meal cooking in the crockpot so we have one less thing to distract us from worship.
  • In regard to what is acceptable to do on the Lord’s Day, I think it is helpful to ask if it is necessary, is it an act of mercy, does it celebrate the Lord’s Day, and truly revive your soul?
  • Though, the Lord’s Day is very important and very helpful we must avoid the pitfalls of legalism. I, for instance, have in the past had to miss church because of work. We should not make these decisions lightly. Individuals have to work out their particular convictions on their own based on Scripture.

_______________________

[1] From class notes from Dr. Donald Whitney’s class “Personal Spiritual Disciplines.”

[2] In answering this question, J.I. Packer’s book, A Quest for Godlinesshas been a great help. He explores the puritan’s view of this question.

[3] See: http://biblicalspirituality.org/speaking/handout-downloads/

[4] J.I. Packer, The Quest for Godliness, 252.

[5] Ibid., 253.

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