How can we sanctify and enjoy this queen of all days — the Sabbath? The answer is relevant because one-seventh of our time each week is set aside for rest. Sanctifying the Sabbath is a question of supreme practicality.
The word Sabbath means rest, and its verbal form to sabbath means to rest. On the first day of the week which is the Lord’s Day, the church is commanded to sabbath. I phrase it this way because the old Saturday Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ, so that the first day of the week is not (technically) the Sabbath Day (Col. 2:16).
The breezy attitude of those who say that every day is a Lord’s Day, based upon a misreading of Romans 14:6, where Paul describes those who observe a day to the Lord, and others who do not observe the day, but to the Lord they do not observe it.
If every day is alike, then what Paul says about eating would also be true of the Lord’s Supper. There would be no Lord’s Supper because some eat to the Lord, and others who do not, eat not to the Lord. But Scripture teaches that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrosanct meal distinguished from all others, so the Lord’s Day is distinguished, too. Each day is unto the Lord, but only one is the Lord’s Day.
The Essence of the Lord’s Day Is Rest
What is emphasized in the Fourth Commandment is not just worship, but rest: two kinds of rest. We spiritually rest in Christ on the Lord’s Day when we diligently attend church, learn the Word of God, use the Holy sacraments, call publicly upon the Lord, and give Christian alms. Our spiritual rest consists in heartfelt worship of the Triune God.
Jesus commanded, “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, And I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). In Christ we have entered into His rest in this life (Heb. 4:10); He has given us a day to worship Him, an earthly sabbath. The principle of rest carries over into the New Covenant.
The second rest is physical: a cessation from our work, to do what refreshes our spirits and bodies. God Himself labored for six days, rested, and was refreshed. The day is for both worship and rest.
The command to rest is just as authoritative as to worship or to work the other six days. We might take a nap on the Lord’s Day, watch a movie, or shoot some hoops. The other six days are for work; we work six and rest one. “We can do a week’s work in six days, but we cannot do a week’s work in seven days.”
Sabbathing has two features. We take pleasure in our accomplished work. This is what God Himself did at the creation. His refreshment on the Seventh Day included His taking stock of His creation. He did not rest because He was fatigued. Rather, He reflected on His creative work and found it to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31). We should follow this example. We gaze upon our accomplished work and are delighted!
The second feature is that the Sabbath is the eye of “Hurricane Work.” We do not merely enjoy what we have done, but we rest from what we have done. This energizes us for productive future work.
Questions about what you can or cannot do on the Lord’s Day miss the point. Certainly, there is such a thing as profaning the Lord’s Day. But most questions about Sabbath-rest tend to be scholastic hair-splitting. Once the hair is split, we split the same hair again and again.
When I attended Westminster Seminary my pastor wined and dined me at a restaurant on the Lord’s Day. I was unsure about his invitation and even hemmed-and-hawed for a while before accepting. Since he ministered in a Presbyterian church, I concluded that he knew better than myself, who was living a dog’s life as a seminary student.
After a great feast we journeyed back to the seminary grounds and passed some neighborhood kids playing football on the seminary lawn. Immediately, my pastor cried out, “Look at those kids profaning the Sabbath!” I wondered how this meshed with our eating in a public business on the Sabbath.
The Rev. Greg Bahnsen once told me about attending a Christian youth camp when two campers were found tossing a football on the Sabbath. A minister admonished them to put away the sacrilegious pigskin. In its place he suggested their taking “a nature hike”!
We Eat and Fellowship on This Day, Too
In the Old Testament the Sabbath was a feast day, not a fast day. God’s people were commanded to gather a double-portion of manna on Friday, so that they would not have to work on the Sabbath. Even if all the food was prepared the day before, the Sabbath
was a feast day.
It strikes me as odd that some Christian families fix modest meals on this royal, queen of all days. I once was a part of a delegation of ministers who were sent to a certain region to preach in the morning. This entailed driving the car quite a distance. After the service no food was provided. Many of the ministers would take a sack lunch, usually sandwiches and sweets. They did not want to frequent any restaurant on the Sabbath.
Their zeal was noble, but misapplied. God designed this day to be a “feast day.” Was it really sin to stop for a sumptuous meal at a restaurant? What is more in sync, a Spartan diet eaten in a moving vehicle in the midst of frenzied traffic, or a feast in a restaurant in a restful, stationary position? More, the Lord’s Day, like the Lord’s Supper, is designed especially for Christ’s church. It is not necessarily sinful to be served food by a pagan on the Lord’s Day.
In the New Testament we see God’s people feasting often on this day. After Christ’s resurrection there are a series of disappearances and appearances. The disappearances of Christ are just as significant as His appearances. Christ disappeared for six days and appeared for one, on the Lord’s Day.
What did He do after He appeared to them? There are two answers and we will take the second of the answers first.
Christ passed over the old Saturday Sabbath to fellowship with His people on the first day of the week. The Saturday Sabbath was funeral, Jesus lay in the grave on that day. And, His laying in the grave spelled the grave of the old Saturday Sabbath!
But the Lord’s Day is festive. “This is the day the Lord has made, we will be glad and rejoice in it” (Ps. 118:23). When Christ appeared, He not only gave His disciples the hidden manna, but He ate and drank with them, too.
Listen to Luke’s description in Acts 10:40-41: “Him God raised up on the third day, and showed him openly. Not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.”
Christ vanished for six days, and then appeared on the first day to be with His people around the dinner table. In the early church this was expressed by the agape feasts that were for a time eaten in connection with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Thus the first day of the week is for bread and wine. If the early church banqueted everyday, how much more so us when we meet on the Lord’s Day?
The climax of our Lord’s Day enjoyment is the public worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. The day belongs to Him, a holy day set apart for joy and celebration. On this day we hear the preaching of the gospel, which is joyous news. We hear the word through the ear-gate and we see the word through the eye-gate of the Lord’s Supper. On this day, the resurrected Christ appears to us through lively preaching.
Without the resurrection there would be no Lord’s Day at all. It is a day that celebrates Christ’s victory over the four “p”s: the pollution of sin, the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and the pleasure of sin. It is for resurrected people who worship the resurrected Christ.
We Are To Diligently Attend Church on This Day
This does not mean that we go to church; rather, we are the church! The church gathers to meet with Christ.
This realization is missed by those who have forgotten just what we do when we meet. The Lord’s Day is not for sloppy-agape or warm, fuzzy-wuzzies. Nor do we meet to grade the performance of the choir, the preaching of the minister, the ability of the pianist to pound out the hymns of Zion, etc.
A common error is that we attend church to assess how others have done, without measuring our own performance. In short, the main issue when we attend to the business of the church is not “How did they do?” but “How did I do?”
The same question should be asked us about our worship. Imagine returning home from worship and being asked, “How did you do?” Most of us would not understand; yet, we should regularly ask ourselves about our worship, “How did I do?”
The Puritans believed that the whole day should be set aside for public and private worship, effectively transforming the day into a religious workday. Our thoughts and words on that day (whatever they might be) are to be Christ-centered. A lively discussion about politics, sports, or work, etc., is appropriate on the day as long as we connect these things to the Kingdom of God. Just as a minister may allude to sports and work in a sermon, God’s people should be able to talk about virtually anything as long as the discussion bears upon the Kingdom of God. If a minister can preach a whole sermon on the topic of labor, while applying it to his people, why is it sinful for his people to discuss their work on the Lord’s Day in light of the sermon they just heard?
The Lord’s Day is a royal day of worship, a royal day of fellowship, and a royal day of feasting. It is a foretaste of the eternal Sabbath when we shall finally rest from all our works while enjoying the presence of the Triune God. That is when we will dine with the patriarchs at the marriage supper of the Lamb. May all our earthly Sabbaths be a foretaste of that great day!
- Jim West
Jim West has pastored Covenant Reformed Church in Sacramento for the last 18 years. He is currently Associate Professor of Pastoral and Systematic Theology at City Seminary in Sacramento. He has authored The Missing Clincher Argument in the Tongues Debate, The Art of Choosing Your Love, The Covenant Baptism of Infants, and Christian Courtship Versus Dating. His latest book is Drinking with Calvin and Luther!