Advice for Sabbath-keeping

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Having preached a sermon that touched in part on the Christian Sabbath (the text was John 5:9-18), I followed it up with a pastor's letter that gave advice to those learning to keep the Sabbath.  I though it might be of benefit to our readers here as well.


I am persuaded that the Fourth Commandment, establishing the Sabbath observance, remains in effect for Christians.  Not all Christians agree on this and some think Sabbath-keeping is a form of legalism.  I am persuaded that this is mistaken, since Sabbath-keeping is one of the Ten Commandments, since the Sabbath ordinance is rooted not in the old covenant but in creation (see Gen. 2:2-3), and since as a sign and foretaste of God's eternal rest in glory, it is still needed on this side of Christ's Second Coming.  As Hebrews 4:9 states, "There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God."


The Fourth Commandment says that on the Lord's Day "you shall not do any work" (Ex. 20:10).  This means that each of us should rest from whatever is our typical work.  Students should set aside their books; businessmen should set aside their business; housewives should set aside their chores.  We are to rest from our normal labor.  Isaiah 58:13 adds that we are to refrain "from doing your pleasure on my holy day... not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly."  This tells us that the day is to be set aside for worshiping, fellowshipping with God, and enjoying his spiritual blessings.


I know that many do not have experience in observing the Sabbath, so the idea is intimidating.  The question is raised: "What are we supposed to do all day?"  It is a good question and I would like to offer some practical advice:


·        Our Lord's Day should normally be framed by morning and evening worship.  If we simply do this, our Sundays will be generally structured around God and His blessings.

·        This means that the key time is between the two services.  A little planning and structure will make a big difference.  For instance, the family may have its main meal after morning worship, and include more extended family prayers and singing.  One of the best things to do is to get together with one or more families for this meal, using the time for especially spiritual fellowship. 

·        What about singles or widows?  It is good to get together with friends for the Lord's Day meal.  When I was a single new believer in Philadelphia, a group of us would spend the day together and then go together to evening worship.  Often one would have a guitar and we would sing, we would spend time in prayer, and we would simply enjoy our Christian fellowship.  Those are precious memories to me.

·        The Lord's Day is a good time for devotional exercises.  The family might read a Christian book together, set aside time for personal devotional reading, or spend time in hymn or psalm singing. 

·        Husbands/fathers should be especially concerned that their wives get rest and refreshment on the Lord's Day.  Perhaps Dad might take the kids so that Mom can spend some time with the Lord or read a book.  Perhaps he might prepare a meal so that Mom can rest.

·        Some of us may be able to use the Lord's Day for acts of gospel mercy, such as visits to those in the hospital or shut-ins.  As Jesus makes clear in John 5:, we are not violating the Sabbath by doing the work of the gospel.

·        You can't sit still for five hours, so children especially will need exercise and activity.  If they are going to attend evening worship, they are going to need to go to the playground - this is perfectly consistent with a day devoted to God.  I find an afternoon nap to be a useful way of preparing for evening worship, too!

·        Do not become legalistic about the Lord's Day.  There are some kinds of work that are appropriate for the Sabbath, such as my work as a minister, the work of doctors and nurses, and others who do works of gospel ministry, mercy, and basic necessity.  Still, how important it is that we be able regularly to worship in the church.  Freeing up our Sundays as often as possible is one of the most important things in our lives.


Lastly, let me plead with you not to be intimidated by an emphasis on Sabbath-keeping.  I am persuaded that God has given the Lord's Day as an essential component of our spiritual lives - therefore it is my duty to teach it.  So if you have not practiced Sabbath-keeping, I urge you to think about making some changes in this direction.  Simply adding one of the above activities between the Sunday worship services will have a big effect on your Lord's Day.  You may not do it perfectly, but our gracious God will bless you.  Let's not be legalistic or prideful about the Lord's Day, and let us not have a judgmental spirit among one another.  Please do not fear that you will be judged for not observing the Lord's Day exactly as others do, and please do not judge others for differences of conviction or practice.  But let us zealously seek the blessings that God offers through our devotion to him.  He promises to those who call the Sabbath a delight:


You shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father (Isa. 58:14).


Posted April 21, 2008 @ 4:37 PM by Rick Phillips
TOPICS: Ethics, Sabbath

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