My childhood friend Nancy was forbidden to participate in a number of activities on Sunday because her parents felt that Sunday was the Christian Sabbath, purposed for focusing on God. Recently, I read a similar comment about not participating in anything on Sunday that isn't centered on Christ, including family activities. I love the zeal and heartfelt desire to please God that these restrictions represent, but I wonder–isn’t there something in this perspective that misses God’s heart for people?
On the other hand, in fleeing from legalism have the rest of us lost the benefits of the sabbath commands? Do we miss any focus on Christ in the midst of family fun? Has the pendulum swung too far when we determine that sabbath is Law, without any merit to Christ-followers? Is there something positive in its practice that many of us are missing?
I would answer all the above questions with “yes.” If so, what does sabbath look like when it’s not a legal obligation but a blessing?
Jesus declared in Mark 2:27 that God made sabbath for people. That means that He intended it as a blessing, not a burden. I fear that it can border on bondage when we refuse to participate in family celebrations. Sabbath is a family feast day for the Jews, a wonderful time to enjoy good food and good fellowship with those whom they love. Celebrating the blessings of family and creation should be benefits of the sabbath, not restrictions. Somewhere along the way, well-meaning Christians prohibited anything fun on Sunday, believing that pleases God. Instead of enjoying a day without work, it became a day without joy.
When our Sundays look like every other day, we lose something. It is to our benefit to take a day off, refraining from work-related activities. Is Sunday a day of stress that wears your family out instead of refreshing you? Practicing sabbath is renewing. It helps driven people release the burden of work by trusting that God, our Provider, will supply. Weekly time for worship heightens our focus on His character and greatness, which builds our faith and helps us live in a broken world. Shouldn’t Sunday look a bit different when we love and worship the Creator who rested on the seventh day? Would our neighbors notice that we have a different perspective of life because of our Sundays?
There is no cookie-cutter list of how to celebrate a freedom-giving sabbath. What is work for you may be a blessing for me. Something in our brokenness likes rules; it’s easier to make a list and follow it. It’s straightforward to say that all activities must focus on God. But I would counter that by saying that enjoying rest, fellowship, and even fun involves celebrating God’s goodness. Instead of detracting from our God-focus, such activities can enhance our worship of the One who gives good gifts (James 1:17).
Let’s live in freedom from the Law and yet enjoy the refreshment of practicing sabbath!
(For a theological discussion of our relationship to the Jewish sabbath, search the topic on www.bible.org