[These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. If you would like to listen to that message, just click on "The Lord of the Sabbath, Part I".]
In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was a day that was set apart from the rest of the week. It was enjoyed by God in creation and commanded for God's people to remember. I will not take the time to reiterate all that background information. If you want to listen again, just click on the link to the sermon, given above.
In the New Testament, we see that there is a particular day of the week that is emphasized above others. It is the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). This day would become known as the Lord's Day (Rev. 1:10) because it was on the first day of the week, Sunday, that our Lord Jesus was raised from the dead (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; Lk. 24:1; Jn. 20:19). So, just as the Lord's Supper remembers the death of Christ, our gathering each week on Sunday remembers His resurrection.
So...how are we to think about the Lord's Day? In Christian history, the marks of the Lord's Day have been the concepts of rest, public and private worship, and refraining from secular employment/recreation (see 1689 Second London Baptist Confession, ch. 22 or article 15 in the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith or chapter XXII of the Westminster Confession). These documents certainly give a Sabbath flavor to the historic view of the Lord's Day.
As we think about what each Lord's Day should look like, I want to do three things. (1) Repeat what I said in the sermon about Romans 14, (2) reiterate the dangers I listed in regard to the Lord's Day...with one added, and (3) give a brief personal testimony.
(1) Romans 14 - There are three principles that need to guide us as we make decisions about the Lord's Day...let me give you in one sentence each. FIRST, we must make decisions about the Lord's Day based on biblical conviction (v. 5). SECOND, our conviction should be carried out with the motive of honoring the Lord (v. 6). THIRD, we should make decisions this way because we will give an account of ourselves to God (v. 12).
(2) Dangers - Briefly, let me mention three dangers to avoid in making things regarding the Lord's Day. (a) We must not despise another believer because their conviction about the Lord's Day differs from our own. That kind of division is what Paul is fighting against in Romans 14. (b) We must avoid the danger of not searching the Scripture on these things, not having a firm conviction, and not acting to honor the Lord. (c) We must avoid the danger of building legalistic walls around our convictions so that we are no different than the Pharisees. Jesus must be Lord over these convictions...not us.
(3) By way of personal testimony, let me say that looking again into these things has brought conviction and challenge to my own life. Our family is committed to being with God's people on the Lord's Day. That seems to be the easy part for us...we love being with God's people. Every week, our children do chores in our house, but we have made it a habit to refrain from housework on the Lord's Day. We do this to rest from our labor, but we also do it to teach our children the need to rest from our labors. The exception to this is when we want to be hospitable with a family from our church...to provide an environment in which hospitality is better performed (e.g. - we will need clean glasses to drink from, plates to eat from, and bathrooms to offer our guests). In our house, we generally have a purposeful rest time (notice the word "generally"...we are growing in these things as well). Our goal is to have some time set aside for physical rest, so we will have our children go to their rooms with no screens (i.e.- video games, computers, TV). They may play quietly or read, but it is meant for real downtime.
As I have revisited this area anew this week, I have wrestled with it. I continue to wrestle with it even as I write this blog entry. I don't have to wrestle to avoid housework or take a nap or be in church on the Lord's Day. I don't have to wrestle to avoid secular employment on the Lord's Day. Those convictions come easy to me. My struggles come in arenas of things like entertainment and sport. I struggle against anything that would lead me into the legalism of the Pharisee. However, in my effort to not be legalistic, I also don't want to ignore the possibility that God would want me to adjust how I mark this day off as especially His (remember, every day is the Lord's...even in the OT, He was still Lord of all of it).
That's a picture of what's been going through my mind in the last week. Let me give you four questions from Alistair Begg's Pathway to Freedom: How God's Laws Guide Our Lives. These are questions he suggests to help one think through the activities of the Lord's Day. You may or may not find them helpful, but they are thought-provoking. (1) Is this activity a selfish indulgence? (2) Am I just doing as I please without reference to God and His Word? (3) Will participation be a help or a hindrance to delighting in the Sabbath? (4) Am I helping others to take the Lord's Day seriously by engaging in this activity?
I write these things to let you know that we all need to grow and change...not necessarily in this area, but in general. The God who began a good work in us continues it to this very day (Phil. 1:6), and that work will not end until we are with Him. The way in which He continues to work in us for His good purpose is seen in the fact that we are continually working out our salvation (Phil. 2:12-13). We all need to stay aware of why we do what we do. So, let's keep our eyes on Jesus, who has given our souls rest, and let us seek to please Him in all we do, including our observance of the Lord's Day.