What should I do Sunday afternoon, part 2
What should we do Sunday afternoon? In the first post on this topic, we finished by suggesting that to answer this question we must consider the purpose of the Lord's Day. As we consider what Sunday is for, it will help us determine what we should do.
Purpose # 1: Sunday is intended to bring us refreshment, both physically and spiritually.
This aspect of refreshment is a focus that is clear in the exposition of the 4th commandment given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In Exodus 20:8-11, the motivation for keeping the Sabbath is given as "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day." Rest from our normal labors is one of the designs of the Sabbath. What a blessing that God has given us a day where he has told us that we don't need to stress about our normal occupations! Of course, there are occupations that will require us to work on Sunday - jobs which engage us in works of necessity and mercy - and this is not a violation of the Sabbath. Moreover, engaging in recreation that we normally do not have time for during the week can be very physically refreshing and legitimate for the day.
However, physical rest and refreshment is not all that is intended. Deuteronomy 5, which repeats the 10 commandments, gives a second motivation for the 4th command as follows: "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath Day." After Adam fell into sin, the Sabbath has taken on an added significance. It is a day for us to remember and celebrate our redemption in Christ, and so be spiritually refreshed. It is a day for us to remember that we were slaves, not in the Land of Egypt, but to "the prince of the power of the air" and "children of wrath" (See Eph 2) but who have been saved by the great mercy of God. Sunday is an opportunity for us to celebrate our freedom in Christ, a day for us to rejoice in our gracious salvation, a day for us to remember that this world is not all there is, and that we have a hope what goes beyond the activities of "this passing age." This leads to the second purpose.
Purpose # 2: Sunday is a foretaste of heaven, our final rest.
Hebrews 4 is a difficult passage to interpret in all of its details, but one point that does seem clear is that the Sabbath that was a foretaste of the final rest that God would give them. For us, that means that the Lord's Day anticipates the final rest we will have for eternity in heaven. Practically speaking, this means that we should give priority on the Lord's Day to doing what we will be doing for all eternity in heaven. To put it another way, the way we observe the Lord's Day should teach us what life in the heavenly kingdom will be like: a kingdom of worship, fellowship, and eating and drinking with Christ as our host. This means that there must be a priority of corporate worship on the Lord's Day. After all, one thing the book of Revelation makes very clear is that our life in heaven will be filled with corporate worship (Rev 4-5). Worship is what is going to characterize the New Jerusalem, and so it should characterize our life on the day God has given as a foretaste of the New Jerusalem. Here we come to one item that I believe can safely be said is a requirement of the 4th commandment. Persistently refusing to worship God corporately is a violation of the 4th Commandant. And not only is it a violation of the 4th, persistently choosing to engage in our own business (be it work, recreation, professional sports, or just sleeping in) instead of worshipping God together with his people is usually an indication that we have broken the 1st Commandment as well. God demands that he be first in our life, that we worship no other gods but him, and that nothing be more important to us than him. If we will not consistently give him two hours each week on the day to worship and enjoy Him, what does that actually say about our view of him and his importance in our lives?
More than worship, however, we know that Heaven will be a place of the communion of the Saints. In fact, our communion with other Christians will be perfect in heaven. Sunday, therefore, is an excellent day to enjoy and show hospitality to other Christians as a foretaste. Don't know what to do Sunday afternoon? Invite a family from church over for lunch or dinner. Join a small group that meets on Sunday evening. Enjoy recreation with other Christians from your community or your church. On the flip side, we ought to be very slow to withhold or turn down invitations for fellowship from other Christians because we would rather watch the game alone, or go out with our work buddies, etc.
Purpose # 3: Sunday is a witness to a watching world of where our hope is
Think of how counter-cultural it is now to actually observe the Lord's Day in our present context for a minute. If we actually set aside this day for the purpose that God has given it, it will be a testimony to our unbelieving friends, neighbors, co-workers, and culture. We spend most of our time in the common kingdom of this world (6 days). We go to work, engage in recreations and activities, and have many things in common with unbelievers (and this is how it should be). Yet God gives us one day to separate ourselves from the world. By observing this day, we show that this life is not all there is, and that there are things more important to us then the things of this world. In a culture that encourages us to find our identity in our work, observing the Lord's Day reminds us, and witnesses to the world, that there is more to life than work and trying to make as much money as possible. In a society that believes this world is all there is, observing the Lord's day is a witness that our hope is not in this world, but in that city which is to come. On the flip side, of course, failing to observe the Lord's Day also sends a message to the world, namely, that we don't really believe what we preach. After all, as a former seminary instructor of mine remarked, how seriously will people take our preaching against materialism when they see our cars filling the mall parking lot every Sunday?
Bottom Line: We have a lot of freedom to make decisions on what to do on Sunday, but when making decisions we should filter them through the above purposes that God has set forth for the day. Is what I am about to do consistent with these purposes, or does it contradict them? Asking these questions can help bring some practical guidance without falling into unbiblical legalism.
These two posts have been intended to be thought provoking, not condemning. After all, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." May God enable us to better appreciate his day, and receive more and more that spiritual refreshment that it was designed to give us. May we, observing this day, have greater trust in God, hope in God, love for God, satisfaction in God, and be encouraged as we sojourn through this world to keep our eyes fixed on that heavenly city, our eternal home, whose designer and builder is God our Father.