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Sabbath’s Rest

December 30, 2007

Restful or stressful?

Today, we are taking a break from Philippians to talk about a timely topic: Rest.

Q   A quick poll: Which word best describes the holidays: restful or stressful? I vote for stressful.

The pressure begins the last Wednesday of November as we prepare for Thanksgiving. It builds as we negotiate all of the Christmas parties and begin our Christmas shopping, or more accurately, Marilyn does the Christmas shopping – I hate shopping.

But it’s not over yet, we still have to make it past the gifts-return lines and the New Year’s Eve party.

·         I’m having fun most of the time – except when I’m at WAL-MART.

I am no big fan of Wal-Mart; but the low, low prices keep me coming back. But at Christmas time is it intolerable. It’s way too many people in too small of a space, in a bad mood, pushing and shoving to buy a bunch of junk.

One year at Christmas, as Marilyn and I were walking into Wal-Mart, and I was in a particularly bad mood, I turned to Marilyn and said, “Welcome to hell.”

·         My idea of hell is Wal-Mart at Christmas.

So after all of that, I find myself looking forward to life to settle down after the holidays when I can get some rest. So we are going to talk about rest.

God invented weekends

Rest is actually a deeply theological issue. I mean God created weekends.

Go back about 3,500 years. The Jews had been slaves in Egypt, treated ruthlessly by the Egyptians. God frees them, and one the first things he did was write the Ten Commandments. Rule #4 institutes the weekend.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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.... Exodus 20:8-10 NIV

The purpose of Sabbath was to take a break from labor, to reflect on the freedom and blessings from God, and honor him. Every Saturday – Sabbath – everyone had to rest. Working through the weekend was literally a capital offence.

Sabbath or Sunday?

That brings up two important questions:

Q   Why don’t Christians honor the Sabbath, worshiping on Sunday?

Q   Are Christians allowed to work on Sunday? Is that breaking the 4th Commandment?

·         To answer those questions, I have a short history lesson.

The early church was overwhelmingly Jewish, and followed Jewish traditions and laws, including observing the Sabbath.

Independently of that, it appears that another tradition arose of “breaking bread,” (i.e. celebrating communion) on the first day of the week, to commemorate when Christ rose from the dead.

·         This day came to be called “The Lord’s Day” and is referred to a handful of times in the NT.

We also know from the early church fathers that Christians in the first three centuries met on Sunday morning to pray and sing, then go to work as normal. In the evening they’d meet for a “love feast,” communion taken in the context of a full dinner.

·         Side note, I would love to see home groups taking communion in this way, part of a complete meal.

But even still, this Sunday celebration was not meant to replace the Sabbath day of rest.

Keeping Kosher?

In Acts, an important event occurred that set the stage for a change from Saturday to Sunday: Gentiles began to get saved, and brought the first theological crisis in the church:

·         Did a Gentile have to follow the Jewish laws to become a Christian?

This may seem like an obvious thing to us, but given the entire identify of the apostles and early Christians had been found in the keeping of the Law, this was a very difficult issue.

After much debate and prayer, they decided that Gentiles did not have to observe the Jewish law and issued the “Jerusalem edict:”

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Acts 15:28-29 NIV

This is a very crucial event, because it relieves us of the burden of keeping the law, a really good thing, especially if you like bacon or shrimp. Or shrimp wrapped in bacon.

But on the other hand, things become harder: Rather than keeping a set of rules that are rigid, yet obtainable, Christ calls us to a new law of love:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:37-40 NIV

If you ask me, the Law was easier than that! In fact, much of Jesus teaching was for the purpose of showing that the true law was impossible to keep, in order to show our need for grace.

Gentiles and Sabbath

Now from this edict in Acts, Paul later says that Gentiles don’t have to honor any special days, which includes Sabbath:

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. Romans 14:5 NIV 

However, the Jewish believers by and large continued to honor the Sabbath, and we believe that many Gentiles did as well. But over the next 300 years more and more Gentiles become Christians, and less and less Christians kept the Sabbath.

The final catalyst for moving the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday came in 321 A.D. Constantine, the Roman emperor who later became a Christian, declared that Sunday would be a day of rest throughout Rome, in honor of the Sun god.

·         That’s where we get “Sunday,” in honor of the Sun god.

So Sunday became the national weekend, and it happily coincided with the “Lord’s Day” that Christians celebrated.

Over the next several centuries, Sunday became so entrenched as a day of worship and rest that some of the church fathers condemned worship on Saturday as akin to returning to Judaism.

·         So that’s why Christians celebrate Sunday instead of Saturday.

Required to rest?

So now to the bigger question: Can Christians work on Sunday? If Sunday has replaced Sabbath, are we breaking the 4th commandment?

·         Are we required to observe Sunday as a day of worship and rest?

No. I do not believe the NT teaches that we are required to observe a day of rest. In fact, what we know of church history seems to say the many early Christians did not.

The NT is clear believer should meet on a regular basis, receive Biblical teaching, and serve each other and have fellowship.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV 

But asking if we are required to a day of rest is a misguided question. God made us, and knows how we function best, and the Sabbath was meant as a gift to us.

A better question is: What do we lose when we don’t take a day of rest?

·         The issue isn’t the actual day; many people work on Sundays.

·         I have to work on Sunday!

Q   What do we lose when we don’t have a dedicated time of rest?

My personal Sabbath

When I was in college I really struggled with taking a day of rest. As a full-time student putting myself through college, I was always in class, working, or studying.

Sunday was a prime homework day and I didn’t feel guilty about it. I knew my theology and church history, that I’m not bound to OT laws. I realized that was the wrong way of looking at it.

·         When God gives a command, it’s for our benefit and well-being.

·         The principles of a Sabbath rest are still valid

I took a look at my routine: I never really took time off for rest. Instead, I wasted time here and there, felt guilty but never was refreshed. So I tried an experiment:

I made myself take a set amount of time off each week, guilt-free. It wasn’t on Sunday and it wasn’t a full day, but it was consistent. No work, no studying, just enjoyable activities.

·         The result: I felt better and got more done.

Q   How about you – think about your own life.

Have you ever known that feeling of working hard and putting more hours in, but getting less done, that feeling of just spinning your wheel?

·         We may not be obligated to observe a Sabbath, but I think we’re foolish to ignore our need for a dedicated time of rest.

Granted, sometimes it is impractical or impossible to take an entire day off. Sometimes we need to be creative to make times to rest.

Principles of rest

Since my experience at school, I have made a point of learning what it means to rest and how to take my own “Sabbath,” even if I can’t take a full day off.

Here’s a couple of principles I’ve learned. They’re not exhaustive, but I hope you’ll find them helpful. The goal is simply this:

Come Monday, or when ever your week begins, you should be energized and ready for the week, glorifying God though hard work and a good attitude, regardless of whether you are in construction, at an office, or at home.

1. Rest should be scheduled

Scheduling rest isn’t restricting, it’s freeing. By having a set time, we have permission to take a break without feeling guilty for the unfolded laundry or the unmowed lawn.

It also prevents a time of rest from becoming simply being INACTIVITY. Rest and inactivity are not the same thing; otherwise I would feel great after five hours of TV.

·         Inactivity can be part of rest, but it isn’t rest.

An hour playing a video game may allow me to detach and gather my thoughts, but a whole day gives me a headache and a numb hinnie.

Prolonged inactivity can drain us and promotes more inactivity. But rest energizes us and promotes action. It mends us from the trials of the previous week and energizes us for the week ahead.

2. Rest should be enjoyable

Well, duh. But enjoyable rest requires knowing how you tick. It means intentionally engaging in activities that refresh you. It’s different for everyone. What drains you and what refreshes you?

·         An introvert is refreshed by being alone.

·         An extrovert is refreshed by being with other people.

Study yourself and find those activities that are enjoyable to you and restore you.

If you are married, one of the tricks can be different rest styles. I am more on the extrovert side and Marilyn is more introverted. We are learning the fine art of compromise.

3. Rest should be reflective

The single most rewarding component of my times of rest is personal reflection. More than anything, what mends me from the previous week and energizes me for the week ahead is reflection.

Every Monday, I take an hour to drink coffee and write out my thoughts. What did I do right during the last week? What did I do wrong? What lessons did I learn?

·         My mistakes are turned into an opportunity to grow.

Next, I think about the week ahead. What am I excited about? What am I nervous about? As I examine my thoughts, I find that my concerns are usually over-rated.

·         More often than not, I find myself looking forward to my week.

4. Rest should draw us back to God

By requiring Israel to take a day off, God was teaching them that they were dependant on Him for everything. To make this clear, God also required Israel to take every seventh year off.

But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest... Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. ... You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. Leviticus 25:4-5; 20-21 NIV 

Rest reminds us that we cannot do everything. It should be an expression of our complete dependency on God.

Like tithing, rest reminds us that all of our time is God. He provides for all our needs, physical and spiritual.

·         Rest reminds us we are saved by grace, not our own striving.

And as such, it should be a time of worship for all he has done and should draw us closer to him.

How to make best use of Sundays

For that reason, Sundays still make a very practical day of rest – even if it is only part of a Sunday and you have to work when you leave here.

Sunday are not our only our time of worship. An effective day or time of rest should leave you more ready and able to worship God throughout your week.

Q   How many parents would say your Sunday mornings as “restful?”

Q   How many of you got in a fight on the way here?

We didn’t. Marilyn and I never fight on our way to church. But that’s only because we don’t drive together – I have to get here early. However, we have plenty fights before I leave for church.

Why is it that we get in fights? It’s not simply an attack from the enemy. It’s usually something much more straightforward:

·         We try to do too much, in too little time, on too little sleep.

A meaningful Sunday morning begins Saturday night. If we stay up too late, wake up too late, then scramble to get ourselves and our kids ready.

All while we are still groggy, is it any wonder we fight all the way to church and have to spend the first 15 minutes getting our attitude right?

·         Here is an experiment to try:

Go to bed at a reasonable time, get up with plenty of time to get ready, have breakfast together, and pray over breakfast that God would prepare you and all of us for the morning service.

Much to my wife’s credit, this is what she tries to do. I am the problem child on this one, because I am always staying up late finishing the sermon.

·         With some planning, I believe most of the time we could come church rested and already in an attitude of worship.

This attitude of rest and enjoyment should then carry through most of the day. Along those lines, something I love about this church is our tendency to hang out after church.

At the church I grew up in back in Poulsbo, Sunday afternoon always meant going out to eat with friends or having dinner at each other’s houses. I love that I see that happening HERE.

It’s monday

So to wrap this all up, my hope is that each of us takes a look at our how we rest: Are we taking time each week to recharge, grow closer to God, and closer to each other?

Here is a simple test to see how you are currently doing: How do you usually feel at the beginning of your work week?

·         “Dear Lord, it’s Monday.” or “Dear Lord! It’s Monday!?”

We aren’t always going to be happy about going to work or facing the daily grind, but a truly restful break will leave you energized, not more drained.



Father, as Americans, we are known for our workaholic tendencies. It is good to be busy and productive, and honors you to be good stewards of our time and talents.

·         But please help us find our rest in you.

And we also tend to fritter away spare time without resting. I am a huge offender with video games.

Help each of us learn how to enjoy the Sabbath rest You offer. Help us to make good use of the limited time we have to grow closer to you and be better prepared to serve you.

·         Come to church on January 27th: Discussing vision.

Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

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