“Sunday is a ‘holy’ day, set apart for God. It is the Lord’s day, not our day. It is therefore to be spent in His way, not in ours, for His worship and service and not just for our selfish pleasure.” John R. W. Stott, from his book Basic Christianity
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Commandment Number Four…
Before I began this post, I did not know Stott would have the words “not just for our selfish pleasure” in his comments about the Sabbath and the fourth commandment, and that those words elicit a response from me. You see, for many years I looked at Sunday Christian Sabbath as a day entirely for my selfish pleasure.
I disregarded the fourth commandment almost completely.
I grew up in a Christian home which meant that one day a week was set aside for church attendance. The day that was set aside at my church was Sunday. Many Christians on Sunday to praise God through song, pastoral preaching and scripture study.
Stott writes “To set one day in seven apart is not just a human arrangement or a social convenience. It is God’s plan” . This fourth commandment is in the first half of The Ten Commandments which concerns our duty toward God.
In the Old Testament God made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that are in them and He rested on the seventh day. He blessed the Sabbath and made it holy. It was His day. He forbade people to work on the Sabbath and the penalty for desecrating the Sabbath was death [Exodus 31: 14]. It is notable that this commandment begins with the word “remember.” This is the only commandment that begins with that word, possibly because the Sabbath was mentioned earlier in the Bible before Moses gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments. The sanctity of the Sabbath was spelled out by Moses in Exodus 16: “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord’” followed by specific instructions to not do any work on the Sabbath. The commandment follows with the other nine in two later places, Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21.
The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word “day of rest.” The Israelites felt this day of rest began on the seventh day, sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. The pattern for this day of rest is based on God’s cessation from the work of creation in Genesis 2: 2.
Another aspect of the command that is unique are the words “to keep it holy.” Those words mean to consecrate, to set the day apart, or to sanctify. For the Israelites the seventh day was distinctive from the other days of the week. Keeping it holy was a sign of the covenant between Israel and the Lord. Exodus 31:13 says “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between Me and you for the generations to come.”
Most of my comments on the Sabbath to this point have been about the day and its importance for Israel, but I was raised in a Christian home and I went to a church that was under the New Covenant.
Are there any hard and fast rules regarding the Sabbath for Christians? Traditionally Christians have held most worship services on Sunday, the first day of the week in celebration of Christ’s resurrection [which occurred on Sunday, see Matthew, 28: 1; Mark 16: 2; Luke 24: 1 and John 20: 1]. However it is important to understand that unlike the Jewish people, Christians are not commanded in the New Testament to worship either on a Saturday or Sunday. The Christian church is not under Mosaic Law.
Nevertheless the Sabbath was on Jesus’ mind when He clashed with the Pharisees over the special day. The Pharisees were so keen on enforcing the Jewish Sabbath that they were constantly watching for Jesus to break the hard and fast Sabbath rules. In the book of Luke, the disciples were accused of breaking the Sabbath by picking grain as they walked through the fields. Jesus was condemned for healing people on the Sabbath. Jesus stated when the ox is in the ditch it should be pulled out because it is an emergency [despite this symbolic incident occurring on the Sabbath]. At one time Jesus said to the Pharisees “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” [Mark 2:24-28]. On the whole, Jesus seemed to have the attitude that God gave man the Sabbath to encourage man to love Him and to love others. Jesus never felt that the Sabbath was a day where someone could not help someone else. The Pharisees acted as if God had created people so that He would have someone to keep the Sabbath, but Jesus felt the Sabbath was given as a gift to the people He had created. Stott writes “Man’s body and mind need rest, and man’s spirit needs the opportunity to worship. The Sabbath is therefore a day of rest and a day of worship” .
Something has happened to me regarding the Sabbath. I did get taken to church on a regular basis almost every Sunday as a child [I don’t remember Dad and Mom missing hardly any worship service]. Like many young people, my Sabbath observances were spotty at best in college, but I did attend every so often. Some Christians only make it to church at Christmas and Easter but I was better than that. When I got married I attended church from time to time but when my job got more demanding and I began to pursue an advanced degree, I quit going to church altogether. For many years I did not “darken the door” of a church.
As I reflect back on those times not going hurt me quite a lot. I needed to be around other Christians, I needed to worship God and I needed the foundation that the church affords all of us who will attend.
Now my week revolves around church. I teach an adult Sunday school class and I sing in the chancel choir on Sunday. When asked. I read from the Old Testament and pray a congregational invocation as part of Sunday worship. On Tuesday morning, I work with a team of intercessors to pray for the church, our pastor and staff and many others. On Thursdays, I like to think that this blog is my way of spreading a little of God’s word out to the world. I have grown to like the regularity of the things I do for the church but of all the things I do, Sunday worship is the most important.
Do I get up on Sunday morning and sometimes moan and complain that I don’t feel like going to church? Of course I do and I won’t go if I am really ill, but if it is just tiredness or a bad mood or even overwork from Saturday, I will go on to church. No one “commands” me to go but it is surprising the number of times I feel positive feelings after I have gone.
It is surprising the number of times when I turn to my wife and simply say…
“I am glad I went to church”…