Important Things (1) “Keeping Sundays Special”
Exodus 20:8-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1 & 2
When I was growing up in Zimbabwe, Sundays were very special. All offices & shops were closed & the streets were quiet. The pace of life slowed down after the busy working week. Sunday was a day for family & friends to get together. It was a day for enjoying church.
New Zealand, I understand was very similar. However in 1990 when parliament brought in the Shop Trading Hours Act shops were allowed to open any day & any time, with the exception of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, & Christmas Day, & half of ANZAC Day. Today, in Auckland at least, Sunday seems little different to other days of the week – except perhaps for the fact there is no school!
As many of you know, in China the hours of opening for most shops on a Sunday are the same as all other days of the week. And in Hong Kong, most shops are open on Sunday from 10 or 11am & they stay open right through to 10 or even 11pm. In Japan too, Sunday is a big shopping day.
In such a world, how do we make Sunday special? First of all, let us look at what the Bible teaches us about Sundays & the day of rest.
1. What The Bible Teaches Us About The Sabbath
After God brought the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt, He gave them the Ten Commandments. These were the basic principles governing their society. One of those laws states, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) The Sabbath was a day set aside for rest & worship. God knew that human beings need unhurried time for worship & rest. This was His provision for His people. As with all God’s laws, the command about keeping the Sabbath day holy was given for man’s blessing & benefit.
The Jewish Sabbath actually runs from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. The people were to work for six days but the seventh day was a day of rest. It was a day to be set aside for the things of God.
All through the Old Testament this principle of keeping the Sabbath for rest & worship was taught. For example in Isaiah 56:2 we read, “Blessed is the man who …keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, & keeps his hand from doing any evil.” God wants us to serve Him every day, but He wants us to make one day special & for the Israelites, that special day was the Sabbath (Saturday). For Christians, however, as I will explain in a moment, Sunday is the day we usually set aside for rest & worship.
In Leviticus 23:3 we read, “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.” Not only is the Sabbath a day of rest, it is a day of sacred assembly, a day when God’s people gather together for worship. And it says here, wherever we live we should set this day apart as special. Even if our culture or society does not treat Sunday as special or holy – we must!
God says in Isaiah 58:13 & 14, “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath & from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight & the Lord’s holy day honourable, & if you honour it by not going your own way & not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, & I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land & to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” In other words, when we treat the Lord’s Day as we should, we will find much joy. We ride on the heights – we are truly blessed. Resting one day in seven & honouring God on that day is good for family life. It helps our children set priorities in life. The day of rest & worship refreshes us spiritually & physically – giving us the chance to gather with others for worship without the stress of our everyday activities.
2. Jesus & the Sabbath
Jesus, of course, kept the Sabbath. We often read of Him being in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. However, Jesus also criticised people like the very religious Pharisees, for the way they regarded the Sabbath. The Pharisees had made all kinds of extra rules & regulations which people had to observe. For them, their rules & regulations about what you could or couldn’t do on the Sabbath had become far more important than resting & promoting love for God & others. The Pharisees were so focused on their rules & interpretations that they totally missed the purpose of the Sabbath. They lost sight of what was good & right.
When, for example, Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, the Pharisees got upset saying healing people was the same as working & should therefore not be done. For Jesus, however, it was right & proper to do good on any & every day, including the Sabbath day. Yes, the Sabbath was a day of rest & worship, but this did not mean that people in need could be ignored – “sorry friend, wait till tomorrow!”
Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” (Mark 2:27 & 28) God gave the day of rest for our benefit. It was made for us. We were not made for the Sabbath – just to keep all kinds of rules & regulations. The day of rest enables us to be restored both physically & spiritually as we take time to rest & to focus on God.
3. Why Sunday Is Special For Christians
Believers in the early church used to meet every day in the temple & in private homes – “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes & ate together with glad & sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:46) As most of the believers were Jewish, they probably continued to take part in both synagogue & temple worship. However, as time went by & as more & more Gentiles became Christians, we discover they began meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week. This was the day Jesus rose from the dead. Several passages in the New Testament show that Sunday, the first day of the week, became the day believers met together.
For example, when Paul was in Troas for a week (seven days) we read in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week [i.e. Sunday] we came together to break bread [i.e. have communion together].” And in 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul tells the believers in Corinth, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” This collection seems to have been linked with their gathering for worship on Sundays.
Another reference comes in Revelation where the apostle John says, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, & I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” (Rev 1:10) Most Bible scholars believe “the Lord’s Day” is referring to Sunday.
Most leaders in the Early Church – often referred to as the ‘early church fathers’ – regarded the Sabbath as the day Jewish people would meet for worship, but they saw the Lord’s Day as the day Christians would meet for worship. For example, Ignatius described Christians with a Jewish background as those who “have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in observance of the Lord’s Day.”
Even in the Early Church, however, there were different opinions about things such as keeping the Sabbath. In Romans 14:5 & 6 Paul writes, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.” Paul says that having different opinions on such matters must not divide us.
As we saw when we looked at the topic of unity a few weeks back, issues that are fundamental & central to the faith are non-negotiable – we must hold firmly to these truths. However having different opinions on non-essential issues is OK. As 4th century theologian Augustine put it, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in everything, love.” Liberty means there is room for different understandings & interpretations. But whether we see things the same way or not we must still love one another.
The principle of one-day-in-seven for rest & worship is a basic & important doctrine, but when it comes to how we actually spend the day we need to show grace towards those who do not see things exactly the way we do. For example, I personally do not like shopping on Sundays because that would be expecting others to work. I recognize, however, that other believers are happy about shopping on Sundays. We must do what we feel is right & give others the freedom to think differently – “in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”
4. Keeping Sunday Special
Now while we may not agree on exactly how we spend our time on a Sunday, we must remember that, as Christians, Sundays are to be holy to the Lord, set apart for Him – “in essentials, unity.” Hebrews 10:24 & 25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & 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.”
These are certain things we should do on the Lord’s Day. We should gather together to share our faith & to strengthen one another in the Lord. We “spur one another on toward love & good deeds”. When we do this we will find our faith growing.
Sadly, it seems some in the early church found excuses for not meeting regularly with other believers. The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” And sadly, some believers today also make excuses for not making it a top priority to meet with other believers on the Lord’s Day.
Here are some excuses people make:
1. Sunday is the only day I can sleep in. If that is the case, try going to bed earlier on Saturday night. By the way, some people work so hard, trying to make money, that they are totally exhausted by Sunday. If this is your situation maybe you need to re-evaluate your life. Yes, we must work hard for six days but one day in seven we need to set aside time for rest, refreshment & worship. Otherwise our physical health could be ruined as well as our spiritual health.
2. I have to work on Sundays. This is certainly a very real problem for some – people like bus drivers or doctors or shift workers. If you do have to work on Sundays, as I know some of you do, then try to arrange your schedule so you can still attend worship before or after work. Maybe you can negotiate with your employer. Tell them you want time off to get to church & they might be able to help. And when job hunting, look for work that does not involve you having to work on a Sunday.
3. I have no time – this is a matter of priorities. You make time for the things that are important to you. Some people only come to church when they have nothing else more important to do. Some have the attitude, “Oh God, you must be very pleased with me. I have managed to give you an hour & a half of my precious time! I cannot promise I will be free next week, but at least I made it this week, & I may even put some money in the offering bag! Please make sure my business ventures go well & that I stay healthy. See you next time – whenever that may be!” I can assure you, if this is your attitude in coming to church, your Christian life will never grow. Having time for church & making Sundays special is all about priorities. The same applies to people involved in sports. Those who make golf or tennis or rugby, whatever, their top priority on a Sunday are never going to enjoy spiritual fitness. I am inspired by people like Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner who refused to race on Sundays & still won gold, or Michael Jones, one of the best rugby players of all-time who never played on a Sunday. You will discover that God honours those who honour Him. I do not regret making church on Sunday my number one priority – even at exam time! I know I have been hugely blessed as a result.
4. I have been hurt by someone at church. Sadly, this may be true, but just because someone said or did something unkind to you should not stop you from drawing closer to God or from being part of His family. I know of one guy who got upset over something a certain lady said at church. So he stopped going. Meanwhile the lady who supposedly had offended him moved away, but he never did go back to his church. Who is the one losing out? Of course, it is the man who got offended. Imagine if your son or daughter got so upset with one of their brothers or sisters that they refused to ever join in family gatherings – such as Birthdays, or Christmas or Chinese New Year. Imagine how you as parents would feel! If we allow hurts or criticism or misunderstandings to stop us coming to church – we are the ones who lose out, & the church family also suffers.
5. I can worship at home. Of course Christians can worship anywhere, but the Bible clearly tells us we are part of the body of Christ & we need one another. Yes, sometimes the sermons may be boring, & sometimes we do not get a whole lot out of coming to church – but remember, it isn’t all about us. We do not attend church just to “get something out of it.” No, we attend in order to honour & worship the Lord & in order to encourage others. Church is our spiritual family. We may not always find the singing or the worship to our liking, but again, worship isn’t about us & our preferences. It is about praising God & encouraging one another.
I was interested to discover that there is a secular organization in the UK called Keep Sunday Special. They say, “We believe that Sunday is a special day because people want a day with a different character & shared time for family & community life. A real 24-7 society would mean that all days were the same.” Well, it seems that what God commanded Moses & the Jewish people many thousands of years ago, is still relevant today.
For us as believers, of course, Sunday is special for all the above reasons, but also because it is the day we gather together for worship. And yes, it is also a day when we can do fun things together as families. When I was young my parents always invited people round for lunch after church. We often had a big crowd round our extended table. Things got very interesting when we brothers were in our teens & mum & dad allowed us to invite certain young ladies to come for lunch.
Sunday has always been my favourite day of the week, & it strengthens me for going out into the world, Monday to Saturday, as a witness for the Lord Jesus. Why not think of ways to make Sunday special for your family. Make attending church your number one priority but then think also of ways to relax & have fun as a family. Make & keep Sundays special.