My Sundays got a lot better when I started working on them. Do I mean that I started asking my boss to schedule my hours on the Lord’s Day? No! What I mean is that observing the 4th Commandment takes work. A Biblical, edifying and enjoyable Lord’s Day doesn’t just happen; you must labor for it. And by far one of the worst ways to approach the Christian Sabbath is by trying to pinpoint the exact amount of secular vocation or physical recreation that is allowed. That’s coming at the day as though it were a curse, not a blessing. I wrote about this in an old post called Why Is The Sabbath Controversial? There I wrote:
…the usual questions one gets about the Sabbath concern the exact boundaries of restriction. How much work is too much? What sort of work is forbidden? For what part of the day is the restriction in effect?
This is not unlike the teen boy who awkwardly asks you how far is too far to progress in his physical relationship with his girlfriend until he goes over some invisible line of sin. But we know from experience that trying to define these sort of boundaries and then flirt with sticking our toes over them always leads to disaster.
Rather than approach the Sabbath asking “what can I NOT do today,” we would do far better to ask “how much of a spiritual blessing CAN this day be?” Then, when we have filled our day with worship, fellowship, rest and mercy, questions regarding whether or not I can pay bills or watch football become largely irrelevant.
This post is simply an expansion on that last paragraph. I want to encourage us all to work on Sunday, and by that I don’t mean do the labors we ought to be pursuing on the other six days. Rather, I mean let’s work on Sunday by working on our faithfulness, purposefulness, and delight in this good gift from our God. Here are five ways we should work on our Sundays:
1. We should work to structure our lives in a way that honors the Lord’s Day.
There is an old maxim that states ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ How very true that is regarding the Lord’s Day! Although Sunday is really the first day of the week, our cultural nomenclature of ‘weekend’ and the rhythms of our work week make it feel like it’s the last chance we have to get our tasks done before Monday rears its ugly head. It’s so easy to leave our bills, yard work, laundry, and a million other tasks for Sunday, even when we didn’t intend to. We just failed to plan… but that old maxim has a convicting second half! Much of our ‘working’ on making Sunday better actually involves our organization and planning Monday through Saturday.
Now, it’s not my intent here to argue for the validity or invalidity of any of those or any other specific tasks I mentioned. That might be a worthwhile thing to do, it’s just not the point of this post. However, there are some helpful questions we can run specific aspects of our lives as we work to structure our lives in a way that honors the Lord’s Day. Is this activity something that properly could be done on another day? Does this activity rob time from my pursuit of the principles of Sabbath (worship, rest, fellowship, mercy)? Does this serve the ends of the day or take away from them? What can make it a little complex is that we may answer somewhat differently in different scenarios. For instance, its difficult to argue that joining an Ultimate Frisbee league that has games every Sunday morning, thus disrupting your ability to attend worship services is a valid choice for a Christian. But tossing a Frisbee around with your kids or with friends from church in the afternoon, or as an outreach activity Sunday evening in a city park with a few other Christians is difficult to censure. The issue isn’t the Frisbee, nor the physical exertion it takes to fling it. It’s whether or not the activity serves the purpose and principles of the Sabbath or the Sabbath is being bent in service to the activity. That’s the sort of ‘work’ it takes to improve our Sabbaths- careful thought and Biblical consideration.
2. We should work to build up the body of Christ
Some people love their Sunday afternoon nap. I’ve even been known to snooze a bit between services, especially if I’ve just taught or preached. But in light of the ‘one another’ commandments of the New Testament, let’s all be careful not to sleep away hours we could be better using in purposeful fellowship. One of the best parts of Sunday is opening your home to the saints, or being invited into the home of another. If we take the community aspects of the New Testament seriously at all, we have to see that briefly chatting over the back of a pew is a totally insufficient expression of communal church life. We need to be building up the body, and Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to prioritize that effort.
3. We should work to involve the totality of our being in the worship of God
What does that mean? Well for starters it means get enough sleep Saturday night so that you don’t sleep through the service. If you’ve ever wondered if the preacher notices this, the answer is yes. But that’s not the reason you should stay awake- you should do it because you are including your whole spirit, soul and body in your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23). It’s a Godward, not a manward concern primarily (although it is a bit discouraging for the preacher when you can see the congregants tonsils quiver as they snore).
Again, we run into the issue of flexibility and motive. If an afternoon nap is necessary to refresh yourself for evening worship, maybe that is better than having fellow church members over for fellowship. But what if you purposefully got enough sleep during the week to allow you to do both without struggle? That’s just one example of working to involve the totality of our being in the worship of God. We must not neglect the physical, nor be simplistic about it.
4. We should work to relieve the sufferings of our fellow man
Although it is not universal, there is a general tendency in Sabbatarian circles to treat acts of mercy as an allowed exception, rather than part of the actual essence of the Sabbath. Basically the attitude is that if your ox falls in a ditch you are permitted to pull it out, but don’t you go out searching for oxen to rescue!
I used to think that way as well, but my time in the gospels changed my mind and refined my understanding of mercy and the Sabbath. Jesus healed on the Sabbath. In Luke 6:6-11 he healed the man with the withered hand and asked the Pharisees “Is is lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life of to destroy?” This caused the Pharisees to be filled with rage. Speaking personally, I want to be more like Jesus in this story and less like the Pharisees.
So what does that look like for us? It might look like showing mercy to an elderly widow by bringing your kids to visit her and read Scripture with her on the Lord’s Day afternoon. It might look like purposing to be evangelistic by inviting visitors to your home, or having neighbors over for lunch with gospel intentionality. It might look like stopping to help people broke down in the snow on the way to church, even if it is going to mess with your schedule.
Elevating mercy to a Sabbath component rather than a Sabbath exemption does not in my mind depreciate any other aspect of the day (and it shouldn’t be inappropriately used that way). It simply fills out our observance and reforms us more and more to the example of Christ in the pages of Scripture.
5. We should work to grow in our enjoyment of the gifts of God
This is the invisible but sometimes arduous labor we need to do within our own hearts. If we’re not loving the Sabbath, it is possible that something about our Sabbath keeping might need to change. But it is also true that something in our heart simply might need to change. Perhaps what we need to do is work on the fact that we sinfully refuse to delight in what the Lord has called good.
The worship of God may not always be a perfect combination of gripping music, a knockout sermon, and fervent prayer- but we are to delight in the worship of the Lord of the Day. We may feel the tug to get a bit ahead by doing work that could easily be done earlier or saved for Monday- but we are to rest after the example of the Lord of the Day. We may not feel sociable or be struggling with relational tensions among the body of Christ- but we are to love the brethren and pursue fellowship on the Lord’s Day. We may be tempted to play the priest or the Levite from Luke 10:25-37- but we are to be Sabbatarian and Samaritan both, just like the Lord of the Day.
Is this easy? No. Growth rarely is. It takes work. Let’s all commit to a better keeping of the Sabbath by making sure that every week we keep working on Sunday!
(By: Nicolas Alford)