Some Thoughts on the Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Exodus 20:8-11

A little bit ago, Elizabeth wrote about Sabbath Rest: its importance, its seriousness, and its benefits. Her post was born out of a sermon this summer and much dialogue between us, and I thought I’d post some of my thoughts, too. She was thorough, so I will try not to repeat things, except perhaps to voice my confusion about why it’s not normal to observe the Sabbath.

For one, why is it okay for Christians to adjust the fourth commandment to our culture and to our wants and needs, but not the rest of the Ten Commandments (though it could be argued that other commandments have been hijacked by culture, too)? Christians still think it’s wrong to violate the sixth commandment (murder) or the ninth (bear false witness), so why has the fourth been downgraded to “optional?”

Why is it okay to catch up on homework or work a shift at the mall or go take care of paperwork at the office or do yardwork or go shopping? Why has the concept of an entire day set aside for the Lord turned into merely a morning to go to church with the rest being free time to catch up on the rest of your life’s chores and errands? Why does the Sabbath look like just any other day, instead of one day in seven set apart and holy? Why do we rush home from worship on Sunday mornings to make it in time to worship at the altar of the National Football League?

Why are Christians who are honestly trying to keep the Sabbath Day holy looked down upon as dorks, fanatics, uber-conservatives, legalists, or fundamentalists? Have we let the consumerist, individualist, task oriented, fast paced, entertainment-worshipping modern culture seep into our churches and our hearts so much so that we look down upon brothers and sisters who desire to follow the Lord’s commands in Scripture?

That said, here’s a brief glimpse into what feeble steps we are taking to try to keep the Sabbath Day holy. I qualify this by saying that this is not an across the board formula, and we don’t think we’re holier than thou because of what we do or don’t do on Sundays. However, I would say that some of the general principles on which some of these items are based should be wrestled with and applied, though they might not be applied in the same way we have applied them.

For example, I don’t think professional football is inherently bad, but I had made it an idol. I wasn’t keeping the Sabbath holy by watching football for hours on Sunday afternoons. Others of you might have a clear conscience and might not have confused priorities about watching football or engaging in other forms of entertainment on Sundays, and that’s great. But for us Pearces, we decided to abandon football on Sunday afternoons for the indefinite future. Also, I don’t intend to get into the “works of necessity” discussion, though I think some work is necessary (i.e. pastors, nurses, policemen, EMTs, etc.). Though maybe not the policeman who stops traffic to let the people coming out of mass turn left and thus makes us late to church. I’m not sure cooking at a local dining establishment or playing professional sports is a work of necessity. I digress.

Our Sabbath Days (Sundays) typically start earlier in the week in that we try to prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Day in advance instead of just showing up to church and trying to “get in the groove.” On Thursdays or Fridays, our church emails out the Scripture passage that will be preached on that Sunday, which is great. We also typically try to stay “quiet” on Saturday nights (i.e. not staying out or staying up late, etc.) so that we will be rested and refreshed on Sunday mornings. This has made a world of difference for us.

We try to have a quiet, relaxed pace in the mornings before church, with time for breakfast, worship, prayer, and Bible reading, but it is a struggle for us to get ready on time without stressing or rushing. Ideally we would like to make it to church with plenty of time to quiet our spirits, confess sin, and prepare our hearts. But, as this “perfect storm” video shows, it’s difficult and probably something most households struggle with at some point. But that’s no excuse.

After morning worship, the afternoons consist of eating (Elizabeth often prepares something ahead of time in the crock pot), fellowshipping with other believers, reading, listening to sermons or podcasts and music or hymns, learning the Shorter Catechism, and of course, napping. We also have instilled a “no screens Sabbath” policy, mainly because we were distracting ourselves from keeping the day holy by mindlessly watching hours of football, movies, or episodes of Arrested Development; or wasting hours upon hours glued to our laptop screens. Yikes. I will say that I schedule my “Sunday Citations” in advance. We also try not to eat out or engage in commercial activity on Sundays. Our Sabbath Day typically winds down in the evening after dinner.

More importantly, we try not to go about the day in a legalistic manner with cold hearts, but with joy and a desire to please the Lord. The law was not given to be harsh and overbearing for believers, but sweet and refreshing because our heavenly Father knows that we need it (for many reasons). It should should be a joy to His children to obey His word. We are to obey our Father with love and gratitude for the work he has already accomplished for us through his Son Jesus Christ. My wife wrote, “But the covenant elect are to remain faithful to His Word and to His Law, joyful at the revelation of His character and standards and grateful for His grace through Christ’s atoning work since we can never perfectly achieve those standards.”

Since being more conscientious of where our hearts and attentions go on Sundays, by God’s grace we have been refreshed, renewed, and so much more. We look forward to each Sunday as a time to rest from our daily activities, rehearse the Lord’s mighty works in history and in our lives, grow in knowledge and love for him, and more. Psalm 19:7-11 sums it up wonderfully:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

In closing, I often wonder if the loss of observation of the Sabbath is related to evangelicalism’s shift from viewing the role of the church as primarily an administrator of Word and sacrament to a facilitator or coordinator of activities. My hypothesis is that if the primary purpose of the church is centered on the proper worship of God – teaching, fellowship, sacrament, prayer (Acts 2:42) – then I think the Sabbath will be taken more seriously. But if the primary purpose of the church is viewed as a place for people to merely be engaged in activities, the Sabbath will be relegated to the background.

There are many other discussions about the Sabbath that I won’t get into here (partly because of space, partly because I have finite, limited understanding), like why Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday, what the difference is between Old Covenant and New Covenant Sabbaths, the general relationship between Old Covenant laws and New Covenant fulfillment, and Jesus’ teachings on the Sabbath. But this will have to do for now.

2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the Sabbath

  1. Great stuff Joel. Thanks for taking the time to write out your thoughts on this. I think we all can benefit from taking the Sabbath more seriously ourselves and putting a little pressure on each other to do the same. As the church, our lives all affect one another and should matter to one another. If we don't worship God as we should and keep the Sabbath day holy as we should then it affects the whole community of believers and not just our individual lives. I definitely want to continue to grow in this area. I think what relates to this topic is cutting down on selfish time as well, such as going out to eat and vedging in front of a game all afternoon. Planning a meal ahead for the Lord's day and having a family over after worship to eat and fellowship together is a great way to honor the Lord and build up the body. In my experience there's no better way to build unity and tight bonds with people. I think this is one huge way we can keep the Sabbath holy.

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