The last two posts have been an attempt to give a biblical basis for my contention that the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ. In this last post I want to offer some pastoral reflections.
Right at the outset I said that this was an issue where those with differing positions needed to respect each other. As one who argues that Christians are free with regard to what they do on a Sunday I must not offend the consciences of those who take a different perspective. I don’t think we have always got that right as a church- and we need to make sure that we do.
In that spirit of respect I want to offer one challenge to those who do take a Sabbatarian position- please ensure that you enjoy the reality of rest in Christ. I am picking up the language of Colossians 2 at this point. I remember being struck by the importance of this a few years ago when I started meeting up with a student. One of our earliest conversations was about what should and should not be done on a Sunday. He had a very definite list in each category. However, as I got to know him better, it became evident, by his own admission, that he lacked a sense of peace, contentment and joy in knowing Christ. I decided that we should study Colossians together. By the end of those studies I think he had stopped being a Sabbatarian (apologies to some…) but I think he had a much fuller grasp of the fullness and forgiveness that is ours in Christ. Now I am not saying that his problem is true of all Sabbatarians- and of course it is possible to find rest on a day (Sunday) and in a person(Jesus). My point is simply to make sure that the latter is pre-eminent.
There are ways in which I suspect Sabbatarianism ends up having beneficial consequences. Back in the 1980s Don Carson edited a book- From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (I have to confess at that size and price I have only skim read parts of it in the Oxford University Library…). The argument of the book is pretty similar to the one that I have made in these posts- albeit with greater intellectual rigour and eloquence! However, Carson notes that his practice is not dissimilar from those of a Sabbatarian persuasion. In many ways that is not surprising for the following reasons:
1. Those seeking rest in Christ will want to meet with fellow believers.
I recently spoke on Colossians on an OakHall holiday. I didn’t push the point on the Sabbath but it still produced an interesting conversation afterwards. One man gently pointed out that the young people from his church who came from Sabbatarian families had persevered whilst others, who had started playing football on Sundays, had drifted away. It is no surprise to me that those who had stopped attending church wandered away. As it happens I think their problem was not a wrong view of the Sabbath so much as an inadequate view of the church. Indeed one of the ways in which, according to Hebrews, we strive to enter the Sabbath rest of God is by not giving up meeting together.
2. Those seeking rest in Christ will not make an idol out of their work.
It is quite clear that a day of rest from work is wise and sensible. I remember my non-Christian tutor at university telling us all before finals that we must take a day off each week. I happily agreed and found Sundays to be a great blessing. It certainly helped avoid the collective madness that seemed to take over the rest of the college! Again, though, I simply regard that as a wise application of finding rest in Christ- the one who is joined to Christ will want to set his heart and mind on things above not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2).
So in the end the practice of Sabbatarians and non-Sabbatarians may not be very different. The reason is clear. My aim in writing these posts (and I would argue the purpose of the New Testament on this issue) is not really to encourage people to change their practice on Sundays so much as to delight in Christ who is the Lord and fulfilment of the Sabbath.
That has significant implications actually. It has something to say to our culture. Life is not finally about work- each of us needs to find rest. Nor does leisure satisfy the soul. A lifestyle that works hard in order to party at the weekend is not in the end a lifestyle that brings contentment. I have found that in my personal experience. Partly because of my job and partly because I am single, I am able to take two different types of day off (albeit not each week). For me, the first often involves things like cricket and rugby matches- and I enjoy these. However, generally I am less refreshed by these than I am by my second sort of day off. Ever since my time at UCCF I have tried to take a monthly prayer day. This normally consists of a day away from Oxford, walking, praying, listening to Scripture and sermons and catching up with a Christian friend. It is a day intentionally to focus on Christ. Interestingly those who have worked with me have said that I am much easier to work with after I have been on one of these days! Now in many ways that may sound like a traditional Sabbath- and that is not a bad thing. I commend it to you. But let’s make sure that focus is on Christ rather than on the day itself.
So at the end of these posts can I plead with us to find rest in Christ? Praise God that we don’t depend on our work- either our normal day to day work or even our works by which we may try to please God. No- we rest in the finished work of Christ, the one to whom all the shadows point. He- not our job- defines our identity. He- not our religious works- guarantees our eternal salvation. And one day we will know the fullness of His rest in the presence of God who rested from His work on the seventh day. Praise God for Jesus.