J.C. Ryle said that the spiritual state of the nation could be gauged in terms of how the population spent its Sundays. I think there is a lot of truth to this. If we are not able to set aside one day in seven to rest from weekly business, engage in private and corporate worship and receive necessary spiritual refreshment, what is it saying about us. It is dishonouring to the Lord and detrimental to ourselves. Having made these comments, I also feel that Christians who live conscious of the fourth commandment can unwittingly have a wrong approach. As a consequence, they do not honour the Lord as they should, nor do they receive or give the blessing intended. Here are three errors we must avoid.
Do not isolate the Lord’s Day from the rest of the week. Of what value is it if we live worldly lives Monday through to Saturday, then on Sunday we put our religious hats on. Every day belongs to the Lord. Every day is a day for worship, service, and obedience. Sunday is different as the day designated for the church to come together. It is the day of the resurrection and as God’s people we corporately celebrate the new life we have in Christ. We are to approach the Lord’s Day as the pinnacle of the week – meaning the other six days lead up to Sunday and even prepare us for it. Sunday is set apart not in the sense that our desires, behaviour, and interests suddenly change, but in terms of the context of our worship. The Christian life is not about Sunday. It is about each and every day. The Lord’s Day is the “market day of the soul” which brings focus, refreshment, and comradery as we make our way through the wilderness of this world.
Do not approach the Lord’s Day in terms of abstinence. The fourth commandment is framed in the negative as are the other commands. Exodus 20:10, “In it you shall do no work……….” This has led some Christians to a mindset of rules and regulations. It is all about not doing this and not doing that – just like the Pharisees. Jesus addressed this attitude by saying “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. God is not impressed with inactivity; He is concerned that we do not neglect and crowd out what we should be doing. He is concerned that we do not fail to remember Him and fail to come together because we are so preoccupied with other things. How many Christians sit back, arms folded, pleased with themselves because they do not put petrol in the car on Sunday. Perhaps they have missed the point.
Do not practice the Lord’s Day individualistically. Isaiah 58:13-14, “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honourable, And shall honour Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, (14) Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
God’s complaint against the Jews was their self-indulgence, that is the context of Isaiah 58. They were living to please themselves without regard for others. This included the way they practiced the Sabbath. Laws existed for writing, walking, and cooking, all the while neglect, oppression and injustice abounded in the land. I remember a sermon by my friend who ministers in the city – “if you want to keep the fourth command invite someone over for lunch, visit the infirm who can’t get to church, take a box of groceries to someone in need”. We may not be in a position to do some of these things, but surely we are to take a genuine interest in one another. The Lord’s Day is a corporate activity, as we look vertically to God it necessitates looking horizontally to the people whom He loves – people we must love.
Let us have a high regard for the Lord’s Day but let us not be like the Pharisees. They rigorously “kept” the fourth command – and God took no pleasure in it.