THE LORD'S DAY
by David Chanski
An “endangered” commandment?
In the world today, all of God's commandments are ignored, neglected, and
despised to one degree or another. There is one commandment that has been
subject to assault even from the professing church of Christ itself. That is the
Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." The Puritan
pastors who wrote the Westminster Larger Catechism were right when they said
about the Lord's Day, the Christian Sabbath, that "Satan with his instruments
much labor to blot out the glory, and even the memory of it, to bring in all
irreligion and impiety." We have seen the evil one make such progress in this
battle in our generation that we have to wonder if he is declaring, "Mission
accomplished!" What sensitive Christian does not grieve over the empty pews in
churches, especially on Sunday evenings, which have been abandoned for the idols
of the NFL, the NBA, or the Mall of America.
The church historian Philip Schaff wrote that observance of the Lord's Day "is a
wholesome school of discipline, a means of grace for the people, a safeguard of
public morality and religion, a bulwark against infidelity, and a source of
immeasurable blessing to the church, the state, and the family. Next to the
Church and the Bible, the Lord's Day is the chief pillar of Christian society."
Many Christians today are calling for a return to the faith of our nation's
founding fathers. The Lord's Day was a pillar of their religious worship. The
godly Jonathan Edwards wrote, "Those who have a sincere desire to obey God in
all things, will keep the sabbath more carefully and more cheerfully, if they
have seen and been convinced that therein they do what is according to the will
and command of God, and what is acceptable to him; and will also have a great
deal more comfort in the reflection upon their having carefully and pain-
stakingly kept the sabbath." As Edwards points out, we should observe God's day
because the Bible tells us, not just because our forefathers did it. But we fool
ourselves if we think we will see the blessings they experienced if we are un-
willing to imitate their devotion to God.
For the Jews only?
One of the first arguments brought against the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the
Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8), is that it was a commandment
intended only for the Jews, but not for Christians. However, such reasoning
overlooks the Bible's plain teaching that the Sabbath institution has been
around, literally, since the creation of the world. It was on the seventh day of
the creation week that we read that "God blessed the seventh day and sanctified
it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made"
Genesis 2:3). That He "blessed" and "sanctified" the day means that He made it a
special day, a holy day, set apart for His own purpose. But that was not so that
He could observe a day of worshipful rest every seven days, but that we might.
s Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath"
Mark 2:27). So man's obligation to keep the Sabbath has existed since the
creation of the world.
But what about the objection that the Fourth Commandment was not written until
the days of Moses? First, the very wording of the Commandment points back to its
institution at creation: "Remember the Sabbath day". This directs us back to
Genesis 2:23, for there is no other statement regarding the institution of the
Day in the Bible. Second, consider the reason given for obedience to the
Commandment: "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea,
and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day" (Exodus 20:11). This motive
for keeping the command is as relevant for Adam and all mankind as for the Jews
in the desert. Third, consider that the same objection could be raised against
the rest of the commandments. But would anyone want to argue that Cain did not
sin in murdering his brother, Abel, just because the Sixth Commandment had not
been written yet? Or that idolatry or lying were not sins before Moses' day?
Christian friend, don't resist the ordinance of God. Instead, embrace the
teaching of God's word and find that the Lord's Day was given to us for our
good, as Jesus said. Remember, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.
The Sabbath established at creation
The first pillar of the Bible’s doctrine that Christians are obligated to keep
one day in seven holy to God is the fact that the Sabbath ordinance was
established at creation (see Genesis 2:3). The second pillar is the fact that
this obligation is one of the Ten Commandments. God commands, in Exodus 20:8-11,
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all
your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you
shall do no work." But who says the Ten Commandments are so special? God does!
Remember that when the Lord gave these ten commands He spoke publicly with His
own voice, He wrote the commandments on stone with His own finger, and he later
told Moses to keep the stone tablets in the ark of the covenant. Not only are
these commandments very significant, but God also regards them as a unit
(see Exodus 34:28; James 2:10-11). Therefore, we should expect them all to stand
or fall together. Yet both Jesus and the apostles assumed that the Ten
Commandments are still valid for us today (Matthew 5:18-28; Romans 13:8-10;
Someone might object that we can easily see how it is true that the other nine
commandments are a reflection of God's own character and that our keeping them
is part of our imitating Him—but is this true of the Fourth Commandment?! That
is exactly the point of Exodus 20:11, in which we are told that we should keep
God's day holy, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the
sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day."
Many people say that Christians who keep this commandment are the ones who have
to prove that God requires it of us. But we have seen that the Bible clearly
teaches that the Sabbath was established at creation and that keeping it is part
of his moral law. Do you want the task of convincing the Judge of all the earth
that these are not strong enough reasons for you to remember God's day? If you
have neglected this commandment, confess your sin to God, and keep His day holy
for the good of your soul and the glory of His name!
How do we “observe the Sabbath”?
If Christians are really obligated to keep the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the
Sabbath day, to keep it holy," just how do we do it? What is the purpose of the
Lord's Day? What are we supposed to do on Sunday? For one thing, we are supposed
to rest. The Hebrew word, "sabbath", means to rest or to cease from something.
On the Lord's Day, we cease from our regular labors. God has given us a time for
rest and recuperation. In this way we imitate God, "for in six days the Lord
made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was
refreshed" (Exodus 31:17). But the Lord has not given us this day simply to kick
back and spend time with our families--let alone to devote ourselves to hunting,
water-skiing, or watching the Vikings.
Rather, we are to come apart from our six-day-a-week labors in order to devote
ourselves to another kind of enterprise—worshiping our God. Throughout the Old
Testament, we are reminded that the Sabbath was not just a holiday, but a
religious holiday, a holy day. "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day
is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it
is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings" (Leviticus 23:3). Notice that
it is a day of solemn or holy rest, on which the people gather together to
worship the Lord in a holy convocation. And it is not our day, to do as we
please, but it is the Sabbath of the Lord. It is a day of rest for worship.
What a simple, yet blessed way to devote ourselves to the service and glory of
God in our generation. Not by observing a number of meaningless, manmade holy
days on a church calendar, but by honoring and celebrating the one truly holy
day the Lord has instituted in His Word—fifty-two times per year! May the Lord
restore a love and a reverence for His day among His people in our generation,
and may we know His promised blessing:
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
Teaching of the New Testament
We have observed that the Bible directs us to set apart one day each week as a
day of rest for the purpose of worshiping God. This is so because 1) God set
apart the Sabbath day for that purpose from the time of creation and 2) He
requires observance of that day as part of His moral law. "But," the discerning
reader may reply, "that's what the Old Testament says. What does the New
Testament say?" For many have said that the New Testament does away with Sabbath
observance altogether. What about it?
Many claim that Jesus Himself abolished the Sabbath, both by His teaching and by
His actions. But a careful reading of the gospels reveals that that is not at
all the case. First, the Scriptures give every indication that Jesus faithfully
and conscientiously obeyed the Fourth Commandment. Luke 4:16 says that it was
Jesus' custom to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Furthermore, in the
passages in which many allege that Jesus criticized Sabbath observance, he is
really criticizing only the Sabbath laws and practices of the Pharisees (see
Matthew 12:1-15; Mark 2:23-3:6; Luke 6:1-11). In Matthew 5:20-48, Jesus over and
again condemns the teaching and practice of the Pharisees, and enforces the true
meaning of God's holy law. Similarly, in these passages concerning the Sabbath,
Jesus exposes the Pharisees' legalistic and perverted understanding of God's
law. (By Jesus' time, the Jewish rabbis had developed over 600 manmade laws to
corrupt God's holy day and to obscure its gracious intent.) Jesus opposes these
false teachers; He does not oppose the Old Testament, the Fourth Commandment, or
the God who gave them both!
Think of it. The Jews saw fit to add their own rules and regulations to the
Sabbath and thus turn it into a harsh, legalistic, and oppressive affair. When
you read the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", do
you view it as something negative and legalistic? That is, are you interpreting
God's word as the Pharisees did? Or do you read it like Jesus, who saw the day
as a gift from God, a great blessing and a delight?
If we admit that Jesus did not abolish the Fourth Commandment, either by his
teaching or his practice, we are still left with some "controversial" statements
from the pen of the Apostle Paul. In Colossians 2:16 Paul wrote, "So let no one
judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or
sabbaths." Some believe that this text clearly and directly shows that there is
no longer any obligation to keep God's command to remember the Sabbath day. But
this view does not stand up to a careful consideration of the apostle's words.
The word "sabbath" in the New Testament refers only and always to the seventh
day sabbath—Saturday—or to Jewish feasts or holy days. Paul is therefore
sserting that Christians are under no obligation to observe the Jewish religious
calendar. Paul lumps the Jewish holy days in with the Jewish food laws. The
Christian is not required to observe them--no matter what the "Judaizing"
teachers insist. Paul is addressing the subject of things that are 1) Jewish and
therefore 2) indifferent. But obedience to the Ten Commandments does not fall
into either of those categories. Obedience to the Ten Commandments is not
exclusively for the Jews, and it is not a matter of indifference. The Christian
must remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. The Christian, however, obeys
this command by making the first day of the week God's day, not the seventh.
Paul's statement is indeed damaging to the notion that we must still observe the
seventh day as a sabbath, but it does nothing to overturn the Fourth Commandment
or to wrench it from its place in God's moral law.
We are reminded of the danger of twisting the Scriptures to suit our native
laziness and selfishness. As Paul wrote, "Now the purpose of the commandment is
love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from
which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be
teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which
they affirm"(1Timothy 1:5-7).
Change of the day
Perhaps the most perplexing question regarding the Christian Sabbath is, On what
day of the week should it be observed? The Old Testament clearly designated the
seventh day, Saturday, as the Sabbath. Indeed, there are some who argue that the
Sabbath is still the seventh day of the week. Others say it does not matter what
particular day is observed, so long as we give one day each week especially to
God. Others like to use this confusion as proof that there is no obligation to
observe any day as a holy day under the New Covenant. But the New Testament
provides the basis for the Christian church's unwavering observance of Sunday as
the Lord's Day for nearly two millennia.
When the Apostle John wrote that he had a vision on "the Lord's Day" in
Revelation 1:10, he was telling us that it was the Christian church's day of
worship, the first day of the week. It is not simply coincidence that the church
came out of the first century uniformly celebrating a day called the "Lord's
Day" as a day for corporate worship, and doing that on the first day of each
week. And this is not the only mention within the New Testament that the early
disciples worshiped on the first day of the week. When Paul stopped in Troas on
his way to Jerusalem, he had to wait until Sunday to see all the church, since
that was the day they gathered together for worship (Acts 20:6, 7). Paul knew
that this was also the practice in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:2)—in both cases
because he himself had taught them!
But on what grounds could the Apostles introduce such a momentous change? Simply
this. God finished the First Creation and then rested on the seventh day. Jesus
inaugurated the New Creation with His resurrection and rested from His work of
redemption on the first day. This helps us to understand why each of the four
gospel writers was careful to point out that Jesus rose and appeared to His
disciples on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1,
13, 33-36; John 20:1, 19, 26). It is fitting therefore that the New Covenant
people of God observe the first day of the week as their special holy day.
Is it difficult to accept that the God-appointed day of public worship has been
changed from the seventh day to the first day of the week? Consider these
Scriptural parallels. When God delivered Israel out of the bondage of Egypt in
the Exodus, this was Israel's redemption. It typified the greater redemption to
be accomplished by Jesus Christ. Two memorials were observed in Israel in honor
of this redemption: the Sabbath and the Passover (Exodus 12:13-14; Deuteronomy
5:15). Besides being a sign of creation, the Sabbath became a sign of
redemption, its rest typifying the deliverance of Israel from slavery.
The New Testament presents the work of Christ as a greater deliverance, a new
exodus, and a perfect redemption which sets believers free from the bondage of
sin and death (Hebrews 2:14-15; 4:8-11). But again, two memorials are appointed
of this redemption by the Redeemer Himself: the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians
11:20) and the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10). (The exact Greek word translated
"Lord's" in these verses occurs in only these two places in the New Testament.)
No longer do Christians celebrate the Passover and the Sabbath. Now, in
commemoration of a greater salvation, they observe the Lord's Supper and the
How eloquently this speaks of the fact that the Lord's Day is patterned on the
Sabbath and, like the Sabbath, should be kept holy. Just as Israel's observance
of the Sabbath and Passover indicated thier esteem for their God, so also our
reverence for the Lord's Supper and the Lord's Day measures our love for the
Savior. And if that be true, what does it say about the condition of today's
church? Christian friend, what does it say about you? Have you left your first
love? God help us to remember from where we have fallen, and repent and do the
first works (see Revelation 2:4-5).
Delight yourself in the Lord
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 honorable, and
shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor
speaking your own words, 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 (Isaiah 58:13 & 14).
Do these words of the prophet Isaiah describe your attitude and your experience
when it comes to the Lord's Day? If they do not, why is that? Many people who
profess to love the Lord Jesus Christ respond to the Bible's teaching that we
ought to observe the first day of the week as a day of holy rest and worship by
saying that such an idea is legalism. They think that it is overly restrictive,
if not downright harsh and oppressive, to tell the Christian that he has no
business being in the workplace on the Lord's Day, let alone being on the golf
links, at the Metrodome, on the beach, at the mall, or at the State Fair.
But is such an attitude even close to the spirit of the prophet—indeed of the
entire Word of God? The Bible teaches us that the Lord is the Christain's
portion, his chief delight. Moreover, the Scriptures teach that the Lord is
present with His people in a special way when they gather together to worship
Him on His appointed day. And we are told that He grants them a peculiar
blessing when they consciously and deliberately deny themselves other earthly
pleasures just so they can be with Him. To say that spending an entire day with
God is oppressive is in effect to say, "I don't want to be cooped up with God
all day, and no one can make me!"
Think of it in these terms. Would you tell a young man who is looking forward to
spending a week with his new bride in a secluded cabin that he is being hard on
himself? Of course not! He wants to be with the one he loves! Whom do you love?
When it comes to spending God's special day in His company, can you say from the
heart, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"?