It’s Friday, and for a lot of us, our workweek is ending and a free weekend is ahead. For others, the weekend means more work, like for Christine, a nurse in Louisville. “Dear Pastor John, thank you for your wisdom over the years. By God’s grace, I have grown up in a solid Christian home and have known your name as long as I have known my own. I recently graduated as a registered nurse and now work in an ICU that requires all nurses to work every third weekend (Saturday and Sunday). Since I work day shift, this means that I miss being with the body of Christ every third Sunday for both the morning and evening. This is hard on me. I believe the Sabbath is a precious day of rest and refreshment in the Lord and in the company of his people. And yet, I am thankful to have the opportunity to help bring physical healing on the Lord’s Day, as our sweet Lord Jesus healed on the Sabbath. What wisdom could you give to us with jobs that require weekend work?”
Well, the way Christine asks this question shows remarkable discernment, it seems, already into some of the New Testament teachings about the Lord’s Day. She calls it “a precious day of rest and refreshment in the Lord and in the company of his people.” That’s a beautiful description.
And she draws the connection between work that blesses people on the Lord’s Day and the way Jesus got himself in big trouble precisely because of healing people on the Jewish Sabbath. And remember, Jesus rebuked the leaders by asking them this really amazing question: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4). I mean, what a question! “Is it lawful to kill?” What in the world?
“When we rest one day in seven, we say, ‘I am not God. God is God.’”
Here’s what I think he’s saying. I think he’s implying that if I don’t do this good, it’s like doing evil; it’s like killing. That’s amazing. “You guys pull your beast out of the ditch on the Sabbath. How much more should a human being be pulled out of his disease?”
So let me build on what Christine has already clearly seen with just a few thoughts.
1. Celebrate Jesus’s Victory
First, ponder for a moment the term the Lord’s Day and its implications. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was marked on Saturday, the end of the week, because God finished the work of creation and rested on that day. When Jesus rose from the dead, he rose from the dead on the first day of the week, on Sunday. He was the firstfruits of our resurrection. He was a kind of inauguration of a new creation that’s starting now and coming fully later.
So Christians, already in the New Testament, began to mark one day in seven, which they called the Lord’s Day, and they marked it on the first day of the week. And that term, the Lord’s Day, from Revelation 1:10, was never used in the Old Testament for the Sabbath. They could’ve called it Jesus Day or Christ Day or the Christian Day, but they chose to call it the Lord’s Day. Kurios, the Greek word for Lord, also referred to the emperor, the king, the Caesar. And so this is a risky business. Caesar has his day, and we mark our Lord’s Day, our Emperor’s Day, once a week, when he rose from the dead.
One implication of this was — and I think still should be — that on that first day of the week, we mark worship of the Kurios, worship of the Lord. We bow before and reverence the Lord of lords and the King of kings on the first day of the week, when he blasted the power of death, and he overcame sin, and he inaugurated the new heavens and the new earth, the new creation with the resurrection of the dead. We say by gathering in worship that he is worthy on that day — the Lord, not just Jesus, not just Christ, not just a Christian day, but the Lord’s Day.
And, of course, they all began to do this when there were no Sunday laws. I mean, everybody evidently was working because there hadn’t been centuries of cultural influence by the church that could in any way cause a whole empire to turn things around and say, “Oh yeah, everybody gets a day off here from now on.” That didn’t happen for a long, long time. And so, the worship had to happen early in the morning on that day or late in the evening. And it looks like in Acts 20, poor Eutychus fell out of the window when Paul extended his sermon until midnight (Acts 20:9). So evidently, they were gathering and worshiping in the evening.
“Seek to be employed in a way that gives you as much freedom as possible on the Lord’s Day.”
My first counsel would be that we all try, if possible, to worship with God’s people on the Lord’s Day, early or late. I wonder, just in passing, if churches that long ago gave up Sunday evening services might, in a day of awakening and refreshment, find a Sunday evening service useful and precious again if they could get over the cultural compromise of everybody staying home and watching their favorite movie or TV show.
2. Determine a Day of Rest
Here’s my second observation: I would say to those who must work on Sunday that the principle of resting one day in seven is God’s wisdom. When we worship on the first day of the week, we say that Jesus is Lord. When we rest one day in seven, we say, “I am not God. God is God. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things — not me. I am a creature. I need rest. God does not need rest.” When he rested, it wasn’t because he was tired or because he had to. He was celebrating, marking the perfection of his work.
We mark that celebration as well. And the truth that we are not God is a big part of it. God can handle the world without my 24/7 help. So, that day could be on Sunday, or we could take it some other day. I was a pastor for 33 years, and Sundays were certainly not my day of rest. So, I tried to honor that principle by taking another day to unwind.
3. Seek Sunday Freedom
Here’s my third observation or expectation: I would say to seek, as God makes it possible, to gain as much freedom as you can for your Sundays — not because God demands or requires no work on Sundays of any kind, but so that you can have as much freedom as possible to make Sunday what you want it to be, and not what others require you to make it.
It’s similar to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. I’ll paraphrase his instruction to slaves: “Serve faithfully in your position, but if you can gain your freedom, gain it” (see 1 Corinthians 7:21). And that’s what I would say about having to work on Sunday if you must. But I would sure pray and work toward as much freedom as possible.
Talk About His Day
So, in summary, here are my three counsels:
- If at all possible, worship with God’s people on the Lord’s Day, the day he rose from the dead — Sunday, the first day of the week — to declare that he is risen and he is Lord of lords.
- If possible, use one day in seven to break your routine, unwind, not pursue vocational deadlines, and acknowledge that God created the world and that you are not the Creator and not the Sustainer of this world, but are finite — and you are thankful.
- Seek to be employed in a way that gives you as much freedom as possible on the Lord’s Day.
“As you interact with people at work, talk about the Lord’s Day as you come to understand its riches.”
And let me add one more thing that comes to mind. As you interact with people at work, in the neighborhood, or anybody, talk about the Lord’s Day as you come to understand its riches. Probably, in the world, the only picture that people have of Sunday observance, whatever that might be, is a set of rules, mainly don’ts. And they don’t have any idea what it means. They don’t have any idea, and you could introduce them, as you just talk about what it means to you, to a whole new way of thinking about the Lord, about the Lord’s Day, which they’ve never heard. They may have never even heard that phrase.
You could introduce them to the resurrection, you could introduce them to the new creation, you could introduce them to the lordship of Christ over all lords. You could introduce them to the first creation and its riches and your own sense of finiteness and need and dependence. You could talk about trust in the Lord. And my guess is that in the early church, as this habit began to form over and against Jewish Sabbath worship, it was inevitable and unavoidable that this topic would come up for conversation, and probably was a great opportunity for bearing witness to Jesus as Lord.