Just as Western culture has become more tolerant of blasphemy in entertainment, so it has also seen a marked degradation in observance of the fourth commandment. Only a few decades ago, it was impossible in many parts of the United States to find any commercial establishment open on Sunday. Except for a handful of businesses that provided goods for necessities—pharmacies that dispensed medications, for example—everything else was closed so that people could have a day of rest. Today, however, commerce continues on Sunday just as it does every other day of the week.
The formerly heavy influence of Christian thought on Western society explains why Sunday was a day of rest. From the early church to the present, virtually all Christian traditions have held that the command to set apart the Sabbath day as holy continues in some form. And this is because unlike the other more ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, the Sabbath was established in creation. Genesis 2:1–3, for example, tells us that the Lord rested on the seventh day and blessed it, and Exodus 20:8–11 explains that we should observe the Sabbath day in imitation of God’s activity and rest. The idea is not that on the seventh day the Lord ceased all of His activity or that we are to just sit around and do nothing on the Sabbath. Instead, as God rested after finishing the initial creation, so we are not to be focused on producing goods and services on the Sabbath. We are to set aside one day in seven for resting from our ordinary vocations. This is the Christian Sabbath. (Some believers work on the Sabbath out of necessity—nurses, police officers, and others.)
Under the old covenant, God’s people kept the Sabbath on the last day of the week as they looked forward to the final rest the Messiah would provide. Today, the Christian Sabbath is the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, for we look back to what Christ has provided through His death and resurrection (Heb. 3:7–4:13; Rev. 1:10).
In addition to being a day of rest, the Lord’s Day is also a day for worship. Deuteronomy 5:12–15 repeats the fourth commandment, and it adds the rationale that God’s people should set apart the day as holy because the Lord redeemed them from slavery. Scripture connects the remembrance of God’s acts with worship, so if we keep the Lord’s Day in order to remember salvation, worship should be part of celebrating that day (Ex. 14:1–15:21; Rev. 5).
Discussions continue about what we can and cannot do on the Christian Sabbath. While these discussions are important, what is vital is that we are setting apart the Lord’s Day as holy by gathering for worship with God’s people and resting from our ordinary vocations. Are you hallowing the Lord’s Day in these ways?