A Weekly Honeymoon
When I first learned of the ongoing obligation to keep the Sabbath day holy, it felt like a bucket of ice water being dumped over my head— I was shocked and gasping for answers. “How could I have missed this for so long? What do I do now? What do you mean I’m not allowed to do x, y, or z?” My experience is not unique. As a pastor, I have had countless conversations regarding the 4th commandment and been asked questions in the same vein as my own. It is that third question, “Why can’t I?,” that I have had to think through carefully and ask God for wisdom to respond in such a way that it will help the inquirer to call the Sabbath a delight.
The question itself, “Why am I not allowed to do x, y, or z?” betrays an exclusively privative view of the Sabbath day. The individual is fixating upon the relatively few things to which God says “no” and in so doing misses the many things to which God says “yes.” When Scripture speaks of the Sabbath, it presents it in an overwhelmingly positive light, as a divinely appointed means through which true and lasting rest and satisfaction are communicated. It is toward this positive end that we need to direct our conversations regarding the Sabbath if we hope to convince our brothers and sisters to love it and observe it as Scripture commands. Persuasion is to be preferred over coercion.
I like to illustrate this positive attitude toward the Sabbath using my own honeymoon as an example. When my wife and I married 8 years ago, we went on a nine-day Caribbean cruise for our honeymoon. These floating cities come standard with all manner of creature comforts (pools, theaters, all you-can-eat buffets), save two— no internet connection and no cell reception. However, despite not being able to scroll through my Facebook feed, respond to emails, or check sports scores, I was not complaining in the slightest because what I was able do was far more satisfying than what I was not able to do. The focus of my honeymoon was my wife and I drawing closer together as one, not all the things that we left behind in order to do so. Because my focus was all on her, all else naturally faded into the background.
Scripture teaches that the marital bond between a husband and wife was designed to be a living, breathing picture of the love that Christ has for his church (Eph 5:32). Elsewhere, the church is spoken as a bride and Christ as her bridegroom, once again illustrating the close connection that Christ enjoys with his people (Rev 21:2, 7, 9,). Just as newlyweds go on their honeymoon for the purpose of establishing and deepening their connection as husband and wife, so too has God cleared his calendar and appointed a weekly honeymoon for the purpose of drawing his people into a deeper union and communion with him. And, in the interest of guarding this precious time, God calls on us to refrain from participating in those activities which are not in themselves sinful, but will inevitably distract us from the purpose of the day (WSC Q.60). Only once we realize that God’s calling us away from doing our own pleasure is in the interest of calling us to the higher pleasure of communion with him will we begin to see the Sabbath as among God’s chiefest blessings and not an unwelcome burden.
In Isaiah 58:13-14, the prophet turns his readers’ attention to the blessings that are theirs if they would but turn and observe the Sabbath as God commanded:
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then 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, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
If we stop before Isaiah’s “then,” then we will always struggle to see the Sabbath as anything but a list of finger-wagging prohibitions. This is the point over which Jesus confronted the Pharisees in Mark 2:23-27. In response to their incessant hair-splitting and fixating upon what not to do on the Sabbath, Jesus reminded his opponents, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Pharisees prioritized rules over rest and in so doing forfeited the rest promised therein. In their attempt to keep the letter of the 4th commandment, they lost the spirit entirely.
Centuries later, Augustine of Hippo would write in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Taking Christ’s words in Mark 2 together with Augustine’s, we could say that the Sabbath was made for man because man was made for God. There is no time or place better than in corporate worship on Sunday for us to find rest in God. It is the closest we get to heaven on earth. It is the highest expression of our chief end of glorifying and enjoying him forever (WSC Q.1). Given Scripture’s high view of the Sabbath day and all the blessings promised therein, the more appropriate question to ask is not, “Why can’t I do x?,” but, “How is it that I get to do all that is available to me on the Sabbath?”
Thomas Watson once wrote, “What does he lose who parts with a flower and gets a jewel?” All that which we forego pales in comparison to the worth of that which we gain on the Lord’s Day. So long as we keep this in the forefront of our minds, that feeling of resentment that we so often feel will soon give way to gratitude and delight in being able to commune with our bridegroom once again.
Stephen Spinnenweber is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida.
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 Thomas Watson, The Duty of Self-Denial and 10 Other Sermons: By Thomas Watson (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1996), 34.