How to Observe the Lordís Day
by Nathan E. Lewis
In the fourth commandment, God cures the ills of our laser-lane living. He whispers in our hearts, "Be still and know that I am God." Many a modern-day Christian ignores the fourth commandment because it touches upon a most rare commodity: time. The fourth commandment instructs us to relinquish control of "time" and to allow God to order it for us. Most of us desire regular escapes from the tyranny of our labors, the toil under the curse. Yet most of us are unwilling to allow someone else to command us how and when we shall escape. This is the irony of many a response to the fourth commandment: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy...."
Allow me to remind you of two biblical teachings concerning the ten commandments as a whole:
1) All ten are a package deal (Exodus 20:1; Deuteronomy 5:22);
2) All ten are for our obedience today (Matthew 5:17).
Thus the fourth commandment is worthy of our consideration toward impacting our lifestyles. What does the fourth commandment say? Firstly, it is positively stated, "Remember...." In Deuteronomy, Moses uses the word, "Guard...." Both of these words say, "Wake up! This is important; this is special." Then we are told to keep the sabbath day holy. How do we do this? Exodus 20:9-10 supplies instruction:
1) "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God...." God tells you how to use all seven days of the week. You do not own nor control time, but God does. You are commanded to use all seven days of the week to glorify God. With six days, you are to glorify God through your productive and profitable work. As a steward of all of Godís gifts, abilities, resources, and opportunities, you have six days to use all of it for Godís glory and your good. A major portion of this command is to be industrious. "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (II Thess 3:6-10);
2) "The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates...." This seventh day is reserved for special activity. You are not to use this day to engage in the work you perform on the other six days. You are responsible for your own actions as well as the actions of your family members, personal employees, and your guests. Though you may persuade others outside of these categories to obey the fourth commandment, God does not hold you responsible for their sin. Nothing prohibits you from promoting the fourth commandment beyond your personal responsibility. (By the way, since the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the church has reserved the first day of the week as the Lordís Day [Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2; Hebrews 4:9-10; Revelation 1:10.])
Why should we obey the fourth commandment? The reason for obedience is given in Exodus 20:11. There are two parts to the answer given:
To celebrate Godís creative work. Our six days of work are patterned after Godís six days of creation. Made in the image of God, we re-create, invent, arrange, rearrange, produce, build, categorize, and work, work, work;
2) To celebrate his royal work. Our one day in seven is patterned after Godís seventh day in which he rules and reigns over all his creation. When God rested on the seventh day, he did not collapse upon a bed, exhausted from his work. Rather, he completed his creative work and assumed his royal work. As his subjects, we formally and corporately gather to worship our Lord God. We enter into his delight to enjoy all that he has made. We find relief from toiling under the curse and focus upon our being made in the image of God and in our redemption unto glory. On this special day, God refocuses our lives upon the hope of the coming day when we shall be welcomed into the new heaven and new earth--free from the curse of sin and death.
Here are three good reasons for you to obey the fourth commandment:
1) You benefit: Read Isaiah 58:13f and Mark 2:27. God is not an angry father who grounds you for one day each week. He is your loving Father who knows what will produce the most joy in your life. How many times have you said or thought, "I never have enough time to spend with my family?" The fourth commandment is the answer to your problem. "I never have enough time to attend worship meetings." The fourth commandment is the answer to your problem. "I never have time to take a nap or sit in my garden to enjoy the flowers and a cup of coffee." The fourth commandment is the answer to your problem. "I never have time to do charitable, volunteer work." The fourth commandment is the answer to your problem. "I never have time to relax and have a good conversation with a friend;" "I never have time to take a walk or play touch football with the kids;" "I never have time to read the Bible with my family and to pray together;" "I never have enough time to take a walk and sort things out in my head." The fourth commandment is the answer to your problem;
2) God benefits: Read Psalm 147 and 149. God delights in our worship of him. He derives pleasure from our devotion of him. He is honored by our serving of his will and mission;
3) God commands you to obey: Listen to these words of Jesus, our Lord, "Not one bit of the law shall pass away until all is accomplished." "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. . . " "If you love me, keep my commandments."
In Part Two of this article, I will present those New Testament texts which seem to deny Christian sabbath practice, namely (Romans 14:5-6; Galatians 4:9-11; Colossians 2:16-17). I will also discuss the difference between legalism and obedience.
It is important for us to see and understand the radical shifts that have occurred in the practice of obeying the fourth commandment since the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ the Lord. We no longer set aside the seventh day, Saturday, as the Sabbath Day, but instead we set aside the first day, Sunday, as the Lordís Day. The actual day of observance has changed as well as the title of that day.
This change has occurred because the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day. While the disciples of Jesus continued to attend synagogue meetings on Saturday and to frequent the temple courts throughout the week, they also began to worship together on the first day of the week to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. With Paulís mission to the Gentiles, Christianity expanded in less than one century to include many non-Jewish communities. While Jewish Christians continued to observe Jewish feasts and sabbaths, Gentile Christians, on the whole, did not. More and more, then, the obeying of the fourth commandment transpired on the first day of the week. This was a radical change.
Jesus and his disciples modeled proper behavior and activity in obedience to the fourth commandment to the chagrin of the legalistic establishment who had maintained a rigid adherence to a sabbatarian scheme of their own making. For centuries, people were misled to believe that outward conformity to sabbath laws was sufficient obedience of the fourth commandment. Jesus was a radical because he took issue with this type of practice. He healed a man on the Sabbath, in a house of worship, and he allowed his disciples to pick grain in the fields and to eat it. These actions broke the rules of those who were the religious leaders of the day. Jesus and his disciples walked distances prohibited by sabbatarian laws. They associated with people who were sabbath breakers. In response to picking and eating grain as opposed to fasting and praying, Jesus introduced the practice of feasting and celebrating as legitimate sabbath behavior. Upon healing the man with the withered hand in the synagogue, Jesus took issue with the definition of work that had been assigned to the prohibition of work, which is part of the fourth commandment.
Jesus brilliantly shifts the purpose of sabbath observation with these words, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." It is for our good, which is the purpose of all of Godís laws. The law is for our good. This was a radical change from the prevailing teaching and practice of his day. Jesus also said, "So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." This statement is steeped in irony. Think of it: God is Lord of all seven days, is he not? But on the sabbath or on the Lordís Day, Godís children are to commemorate and celebrate his lordship.
When well-meaning people, who are mere human beings, begin to add rules to govern behavior, it becomes easy for them to forget who is lord of the day. It is one of the ironies of human experience to get embroiled in the details of life at the expense of losing the purpose and desired results toward which the details are designed to guide us. It is possible for us, on the Lordís day, to do the right things with the wrong motives and towards the wrong ends. It is also possible on the Lordís Day for us to do the wrong things with right motives and toward the proper ends. To help prevent such behavior, Jesus said something radical, "So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
There are at least three texts in the letters written by Paul which appear to abolish any kind of adherence to the fourth commandment for Christians living after the ascension of Jesus. Many Christians believe these statements abolish the fourth commandment. The proper way to apply these texts is for you to see them instructing you to properly obey the fourth commandment. Read Romans 14:5-6. Paul is concerned here with activities that are not specifically commanded and thus not binding upon Christians. Whether or not you eat meat should not be moral issue. Members of the church should not be bound to eat meat, nor to refrain from eating it. Likewise, whether or not you observe a special Jewish festival day is not to be a dividing issue between Christians. Remember, many first century Christians were Jewish. They were still attending synagogue on Saturdays and participating in family rituals and national feasts. Paul is referring to these Jewish traditions.
But the ten commandments are Godís moral and abiding law. Obeying the fourth commandment is a moral issue. Paul is not referring to the fourth commandment in this text. Read Galatians 4:9-11. In this letter, Paul is guarding Gentile Christians from the Jewish contingency in the midst of the church who were demanding that all Christians should observe all of the Jewish festival days listed in Leviticus 23. Along with this demand was the insistence that all observe these festivals in accordance with the thousands of specific rules written in the Talmud, the rabbinical commentaries, concerning these festivals. When Paul writes, "these weak and miserable principles," he is referring to these man-made rules binding the behavior of Christians.
This text does not refer, then, to the fourth commandment. Paul is not announcing the abolishment of Godís moral and abiding law. Read Colossians 2:16-17. Here Paul actually mentions a Sabbath day. But donít miss his point. Immediately preceding these statements, Paul was explaining how you were dead in your sins, but God made you alive in Christ. Christís death upon the cross is the basis for your new, eternal life. No one can take that away from you. Therefore, donít let anyone judge your salvation on the basis of what you do. What you eat is not the basis; nor is your celebration of the Lordís Day; nor is your keeping of the ten commandments! Only Jesusí death upon the cross is payment for your salvation. Paul does not tell the church, "Donít obey the fourth commandment." But rather, he says, "Donít let anybody judge your salvation by whether or not you obey the fourth commandment."
"Well, Pastor, if we are to obey the fourth commandment, tell us specifically how to do so." In response to this type of statement, I and others in the church must be careful not to duplicate the mistakes of past Christians and Jews, who have produced long lists of specific prohibitions concerning behavior on the Sabbath or the Lordís Day. A better approach is to discuss with you the difference between legalism and obedience in hopes that you will begin to shun legalism replacing it with genuine obedience.
Legalism is establishing man-made laws that extend beyond Godís laws to bind his blessing. Legalism may also be an outward conformity to the very laws of God with no understanding of the matters of the heart, nor the foundation of grace for the rewards that belong to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Legalists love to turn the Lordís Day of free delight into after-school detention. They will give you a list of 101 prohibitions, most of which fit their peculiar, if not twisted fancies. One of the more popular prohibitions has been "Do not read the Sunday newspaper." The reason given usually is that it is frivolous entertainment which keeps you from reading spiritually edifying literature. There is one problem with this reasoning: It does not address matters of the heart. A person may study Greek Grammar on Sunday or read a theological journal, or even read the Bible itself, but still fall short of setting the day aside to be spiritually edified. This personís heart may be far from God and the spirit of his day, as he reads through the Bible looking for ammunition for the wounding of his Christian brother, whom he hates. But another Christian brother may be moved to prayer as he reads The Oregonian, and he may learn more about the challenge before us to promote a biblical world view and to proclaim the gospel in a community accurately presented by the newspaperís staff. Others insist that if you read the Sunday paper, you are employing the people to produce it, making them work on the Lordís Day. There are at least two problems with this argument: 1) The Sunday paper is produced in most cities on Saturday, (so you should refrain from reading the Monday paper); 2) When you buy a newspaper you are not employing anybody. Are you promoting the employment of people on the Lordís Day? Are you encouraging the making of a profit on the Lordís Day? These questions go beyond the demands of the fourth commandment which prohibit you from working toward personal profit on the Lordís Day. The command lists the categories of people for whom you are responsible. They include your family, your animals, your employees, and any foreign guests who are working for you as they attempt to establish themselves in your community.
Is it valid to ask and to discuss these two questions listed above? Yes. These will engage us in a discussion concerning how we might persuade others in our community to obey the fourth commandment. These two issues are related but they are not one and the same. Donít you think that the first and major step would be for you to begin to "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" ?
In contrast to legalistic thinking and practice, obedience is living according to Godís laws in order to please him and to enjoy him. The fourth commandment teaches us that one day in seven, in our case, Sunday, is to be devoted with joy to the worship and service of God. We must search our motives for what we do with all seven days in the week. We must evaluate our behavior and habits, ready to repent, to change, to conform to the image of Christ Jesus. Each person and every family needs to carefully consider how to observe the Lordís Day. You may discuss your thoughts, convictions, and practices with others.
One indication that you may have not studied nor thought enough about the issue will be your frustration towards or intolerance of someone else who thinks and practices differently. As soon as you begin to hate or even think less of your Christian brother or sister for his/her practice on the Lordís Day, you have slipped into a most gross and serious breaking of the day yourself. As your love for Jesus deepens, you will learn how sorely you need the fourth commandment to manage your life. As you learn to set aside the first day of the week as a special day, you will begin to live as Abraham lived, with his hope fixed upon God. You will see your present day in relation to eternity. You will view yourself inseparable from your Father in heaven. Your work will become his work; your time, his time. You will begin to live for God.