This article is about how we should view the fourth commandment in the New Testament. It discusses the Lord's day and the image of God. It also looks at the Sunday as holy day, the Lord's day as a day of self-denial and joy.

Source: New Horizons, 1991. 4 pages.

The Lord's Will … for the Lord's Day

The Fourth Commandment teaches us to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, and for us that means to remember the Lord’s day, the first day of the week, by keeping it holy.

In any given… church of 200 members, there are probably 200 different ideas on what it means to keep the day holy, and on what should or should not be done on the Lord's day. Maybe there are even more… There was a time when we had a consensus on what sorts of activities were appropriate for the Lord's day. That time is past and probably never will return… The meaning and application of the Fourth Commandment is definitely not one of those matters that evangelical Christians hold in common.

This presents a major challenge to a minister, to any minister. No matter what he says, whether he is too strict or too loose, in all probability he will upset someone. If the minister is a people-pleaser, he will follow the path of least resistance: he will not talk about the Lord's day. The issue is too sensitive. Maybe that's why popular radio preachers don't seem to have much to say about what it means to obey the Fourth Commandment.

Or the people-pleasing pastor might poll the congregation to see what the majority opinion is, or what the opinion of the influential members of the congregation is, and then preach accordingly. Ministers know how to manipulate people; and, believe it or not, there are people who love to be manipulated. Hopefully the readers of this periodical are not that kind of people, and they don't want that kind of pastor. They want the minister to set forth the truth of the Word of God, so that the Holy Spirit is free to do his sanctifying work. That is why we cannot sidestep the Fourth Commandment. We have too much respect for the Holy Spirit and his Word to permit that kind of high-handed treatment of Scripture.

The risk, of course, is that at some point along the way someone may be tempted to get angry at the preacher. He may be tempted to say, "If that's the way he's going to preach, I'm leaving the church and I'm not coming back." Quite frankly, that is a scary prospect. No minister wants to see people get angry and leave. But a faithful pastor will take the risk for one basic reason: it is a far more terrifying prospect to have Jesus say, "If that's the way you're going to preach, if you are going to ignore my commandments, then I'm leaving this church and I'm never coming back." What a calamity, what a total disaster that would be!

The Fourth Commandment teaches us that the Sabbath is a day to be remembered. The only things you can remember are things with which you are acquainted. When Israel received this commandment at Mount Sinai it was not the first time the people had heard about it. They were already accustomed to gathering manna on the first six days of the week but not on the seventh. The seventh day was the Sabbath, a day of rest, according to Exodus 17:23. No manna was gathered.

The origin of the Sabbath commandment, however, goes back much further than that; it goes back all the way to the creation itself. The Fourth Commandment stretches our memory back to the very dawn of human history.

For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

From the dawn of creation the Lord established a pattern, a rhythm, of work and rest for all humankind.

The Sabbath commandment is much more than just another command from the Lord. It is a matter of reflecting the divine image, of doing on a human and created level what God does on a divine level. When God's people observe Sabbath, they are being conformed to the divine image, and that is the goal of our redemption.

Yes, our task is to remember the Sabbath day; but how do we do that? How do we remember the day? The answer the commandment gives is simply, "By keeping it holy."

To be "holy" means to be morally pure, but the basic meaning of the word is separateness. The Sabbath day is to be kept separate, different from the other days. It is a day that is sacred, sacred to the Lord and his people, and consecrated to his service. It is a day when God's people in a very special way cultivate and enjoy their union and communion with God. It is a sign of the covenant.

It is not that one day is sacred while the other six are secular. In terms of a sacred/secular distinction we would have to say that every day is sacred. In the kingdom of God, nothing is secular. The Lord has something to say about how we spend every day of the week. During the six days we are to labor and do all our work. That, too, is the command of the Lord; but the seventh day is different.

Ezekiel 22 contains some very useful instruction in this regard. The chapter is talking about the sins of Jerusalem that led to her downfall. Notice verse 26:

Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the clean and the unclean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.

They make no distinction between the holy and the common. They wear blinders when it comes to Sabbath observance.

The Lord fully intended from the beginning for his people to make distinctions among the days. There were six days for work and to pursue all of the things that go to make life in this world what it is, not only labor but also recreation. The Fourth Commandment does not mention sports and recreation simply because there was no time for them in the ancient world. Leisure time as we know it is something comparatively new for human beings. In terms of the commandment, sports and recreation would be included with the activity of the six days.

The seventh day is to be of a totally different kind. It is a day for rest and a day for sacred assembly.

There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord.Leviticus 23:3

There is an interesting expression in Leviticus 16:29, 31 and again in Leviticus 23:26, 29. In these verses the day of Atonement (a yearly observance) is established as a Sabbath. The Lord says,

Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves… Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people.

Yes, the Sabbath day is a day of self-denial. Isaiah 58:17, 18 indicate that there are things God's people do on other days that they do not do on this day. It is a festival day of joy and rejoicing, a day of rest from labor and a day of sacred assembly, a day of blessing; and that blessing comes to God's people in the way of self-denial.

It was intended as a day of blessing for God's people; but instead, they experienced it as a day of burden. You can read in Nehemiah 13 and in Jeremiah 17 how the day was turned into a day of buying and selling, an ordinary business day. The distinction between the sacred and the common was wiped out and every day was alike. When the day was observed, the vast majority were "antsy." They couldn't wait for it to be over. Amos 8:5,

When will the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?

Ezekiel shows that the desecration of the Lord's day was a major reason for the nation's downfall.

The holiness of the Sabbath day was to be a symbol of the holiness of the people of the Lord (Exodus 31:13). Their desecration of the Sabbath was also a symbol, but now a symbol of their abandonment of the ways of the Lord. Israel's Messiah was destined to bring salvation to God's people, and one of the blessings of the Messianic age would be the restoration of true Sabbath observance. Because of the Messiah the Sabbath is also a blessing for the church today.

Earlier I mentioned the wide diversity of opinion there is concerning the Sabbath, Many Christian brothers and sisters believe that one of the great blessings of the Messianic age is the annulment of the Fourth Commandment. They believe that the other nine commandments still have some relevance to us in this age, but not the fourth. They believe there is no longer a distinction among the days. Whatever is good and lawful on the other six days is also good and lawful on the seventh day, that is, on the Lord's day. While we respect these persons for their Christian testimony, we have to demur when it comes to this view of the Lord's day. Why?

We have already noticed one of the major reasons for the downfall of God's people under the Old Covenant. They desecrated the Lord's Sabbaths. They made the Sabbath into a day for business as usual. Now why did the Messiah come? Did he come to confirm and establish the people of God in the very sin that led to their condemnation? Did God finally capitulate? "If you don't want to observe the Sabbath, that's all right; you don't have to! You win that round." Of course not! The very idea is revolting to every Christian conscience. Jesus (Messiah) did not come to abolish the Fourth Commandment.

We cannot say that the holiness of God's people resides in setting aside the Ten Commandments. Or even in setting aside one of them. The holiness of God's people resides in conformity to the will of the Lord, conformity to the pattern of God's holiness; and God, to this day, keeps a perpetual Sabbath. Hebrews 4:1-11 represents our ultimate redemption as an entering into the rest of God's Sabbath.

The Sabbath was not first given to Israel alone, only after the Exodus from Egypt. The Sabbath was given to all humankind at the dawn of human history. Therefore it has relevance for Gentiles as well as for Jews. Moreover, the Sabbath was given to humankind before the fall into sin, while Adam and Eve were still in a state of innocence. Therefore, it has relevance to us precisely after our conversion when through Christ we are restored to that state of innocence from which we fell in the beginning. The Sabbath commandment has as much, if not more, relevance to us in the church today as it did to Israel under the Old Covenant. And, by the same token, the Lord intends for us to enjoy the Sabbath blessing even more than was possible for Israel.

Few of us object to receiving a blessing from the Lord, even the blessing of 24 hours of rest, time to enjoy Christian friends, and time for the sacred assembly. The trouble is we are blinded to the blessing by that other problem the Old Testament mentions, the matter of self-denial. All too often self-denial seems like too much of a burden to bear in order to lay hold of the blessing.

There are many things that we can do and should do on the Lord's Day. It is a day of sacred assembly. We can and should make a point of going to church as often as we are called together… To say "no" to this call to worship is to say "no" to the Lord of the church, and that is a serious matter.

We can and we should do works of necessity and mercy. Think of the help that we could give to our deacons. Suppose each family and each person spent a portion of the Lord's Day in doing deeds of mercy and kindness. Think of the blessing we could bring to our church and to the community.

But there are also things we may not and should not do on the Lord's Day. No, I am not going to give you a list of them because that would let you off the hook. You would be responsible to this writer instead of responsible to the Lord and to his Word.

Just read the Fourth Commandment. Read Nehemiah 10 and 13, and Jeremiah 17. Read Isaiah 56 and 58. Read Ezekiel 20. Then you decide! Take your Bible in hand, and open it to Exodus 20. Stand before the living God and look him square in the eye. Tell him pointedly and specifically what you intend to do and what you intend to deny to yourself on the Lord's Day. You are responsible to the Lord of the church for your own conduct; and fathers, you are responsible for the conduct of your families.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work. No, I am not going to give you a list of do's and don'ts; but I am going to propose a test. All you need to do is ask yourself whether there is anything that you do or would do on the six days that you refuse to do on the Lord's Day, just because it is the Lord's Day.

I see Christians taking jobs on the Lord's day when they don't have to. I see them going to concerts and to sporting events. I see them traveling for business and pleasure. I see them doing just about anything they want to do. Is there anything that we refuse to do in order to keep the Sabbath day holy? Anything at all? Do we draw a line anyplace?

If not, then we have already lost the Lord's Day. We have no more Fourth Commandment. We have no distinction between the holy and common. We have forfeited the Lord's Day together with its blessing. Whether we know it or not, we are the losers. That's the sad part for us personally, for our church, and for our community.

None of us would deny that the Lord is Lord of our souls, our spirits, our hearts. None of us would deny that the Lord is Lord of our bodies, these temples of the Holy Spirit, or of our possessions. Why do we find it so easy to deny by our deeds, if not in word, that the Lord is Lord of our time?

The Lord is Lord of our time. The Lord does have something to say about how we use our days and hours; and if so, then we ought to listen, for God's glory and for our own good. "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." The Son of Man, our Savior Jesus Christ, he is Lord of the Sabbath. It is his day, the Lord's day.

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