Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord
Isaiah 58:13, 14The sabbath day is widely broken today. This is done not only by the world, but also by the church.
It is desecrated by working. For many it is business-as-usual on Sunday. Stores, factories, and restaurants are open. Buying and selling take place just as much as (or even more than) on any other day of the week.
It is also desecrated by playing. Throughout our country and the world, Sunday is a day for sport, entertainment, and pleasure. These activities, perhaps more than any other, contribute to the violation of the sabbath.
The child of God is also tempted to break the sabbath. He might be tempted to work on Sunday because of the risk of losing his job. He is perhaps pressured by friends to participate in sport and leisure. He is possibly tempted to turn on his television and to break the sabbath by being a spectator of those who are breaking that day. We are not immune to this sin.
We might be inclined, in light of this, to take a negative approach to sabbath observance. That approach would be to produce a list of things we consider inappropriate for Sunday—the kind of list the Pharisees produced. We would then impose this list upon ourselves and others. Proper sabbath observance would be to abide strictly by these rules.
While rules are often helpful and sometimes even necessary (as parents well know), a legalistic approach is wrong. Instead, the child of God should approach the sabbath day along the lines of the Word of God in Isaiah 58:13, 14. The day ought to be viewed positively as a day in which to delight.
Sunday is a special day. It is so because it is a holy day. This means it is a day that is set apart from the other days of the week. It is unique. It is not the same kind of day as Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. It is different from every other day of the week.
That Sunday is a holy day means it is a day that is to be dedicated to God Himself, and thus to the things of God. Sunday is God’s day. God says so in Isaiah 58:13 when He states that it is “my holy day!” It is not man’s day, but God’s. It is to be used, therefore, not for man, but for God.
The unbeliever has, of course, no desire or intention to do so. He has no interest in keeping any of God’s commands. He will not and does not keep the sabbath day holy.
But the problem today is that also many confessing Christians forget (or even deny) that the sabbath is God’s day. They imagine that it is man’s day and that man can use it as he pleases.
As a result, many use the day to do their own things, to seek their own pleasures, and to speak their own words. They have no problem with Sunday being used for work. They have no problem with Sunday being used for recreation. Such activities, they claim, are legitimate on Sunday. And what legitimizes them, in their judgment, is that by means of such activities they can use the day for quality time with the family, as though “family time” justifies breaking the sabbath.
In contrast to this, the spiritually minded believer delights in God’s holy day as God’s day, and therefore seeks to honor Him in it. That ought to be the case with us.
To delight in something is to enjoy it, to take pleasure in it. To do that with regard to Sunday means we do not view it as a burdensome day. We do not consider it a hardship that we cannot use the day for ourselves in order to do what appeals to our flesh. We find the day a day of great joy. It is a day we look forward to. It is the best day of the week.
Such delight becomes evident in the fact that we strive to keep the sabbath day. We do so by doing in it what God requires. We delight in it by not doing our own ways, not finding and doing our own pleasures, and not speaking our own words. We delight in it by delighting in our God.
We delight in the sabbath and honor God in it, first of all, by not using it as a day for doing our own ways.
“Our ways” refers to our daily work, to the things that normally occupy us during the week. Whatever that work may be, whether one is a teacher or student, an employer or employee, a husband and father who works outside the home or a wife and mother who is a keeper at home, on Sunday we put that work aside. Apart from works of necessity and mercy, all work is strictly forbidden. We may (and must) work on the other six days of the week, but not on Sunday.
God’s purpose with this command is not, however, that we sit around and do absolutely nothing on Sunday. A positive activity is implied. We must still be busy. But we must be doing the things of God. The command not to do our own things must be obeyed exactly so we are able to be busy doing what God requires on His day.
We delight in the sabbath, in the second place, by not finding and doing our own pleasures.
Isaiah 58:13 mentions twice the sin of seeking one’s own pleasure. This is repeated for emphasis. And it is a necessary emphasis today in light of the fact that that is exactly what most people are doing on the sabbath day, using it for their own pleasure. And is it not also true that we, by nature, desire to do the same?
It is tempting for us to think, and perhaps even to argue, “But all week I’ve been working hard. It’s been a difficult and exhausting week. And now finally, on Sunday, I have a day for myself. Finally a day to pursue my own interests. Finally a day for vacation or sport or travel or television. Finally a day to relax by doing what I want!”
We are instructed to turn away from our own pleasure on Sunday. That means we may not look for and seek out our own pleasures. And it means that even if those pleasures are before us, we may not do them. We may not use the day to please ourselves. That is a sinful use of the sabbath day. And why? Because Sunday is God’s holy day. We must do, not what pleases us, but what pleases Him.
We delight in the sabbath, thirdly, by not speaking our own words.
It is striking that keeping the sabbath involves also our speech. Forbidden is speaking our own words. This refers to speech characterized by mere idle talk, the kind of talk in which God is forgotten or ignored, the kind of talk about things which draw us away from thoughts concerning God.
We often do just that. We use the sabbath to talk about all kinds of earthly things. But all such trivial and idle talk should be avoided. Not that we may not speak at all on Sunday. We must speak. But our conversation should contain the words of God. Our speech must be centered in the Word that is preached and the Word that we read. Is it?
Finally, we delight in the sabbath day by doing something positive—delighting in Jehovah.
We delight in Jehovah on His holy day by going to His house, in order there to fellowship with Him. What a joy it is to do so! There we can delight in Him as He reveals Himself and His grace to us in Christ through the preaching of the gospel. There we can delight in Him when we hear Christ say: “Your sins, though many and great, are forgiven! I have delivered you from them all. I have delivered you from the punishment of hell that you deserve because of them!” We can delight in God when the Spirit writes the Word upon our hearts and assures us that we belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. We can delight in God when we are assured once more that we are heirs of eternal life. And we can delight in fellowship with God’s people who rejoice with us in all these things.
What a joy it is to delight in Jehovah! What a joy it is to focus, in God’s house, on Him and His love for us in Christ! What a delight to hear the blessed gospel! What a pleasure to fellowship with our covenant God who delights in us!
Is there anything else that gives the child of God that kind of joy and delight? Can any earthly pleasure compare? Can anything earthly give such great joy? Is it not, then, foolish (utterly so) for the child of God to want to be somewhere other than in God’s house on Sunday?
We also delight in Jehovah throughout the rest of the day. We do so through personal worship of God. We do so through worshiping Him as families. We do so through singing God’s praises together, either in our homes or as we visit with each other. We do so by what we read. We do so by visiting with other believers and discussing with them the things of God. We do so by visiting and giving encouragement to the widows and widowers, the elderly and the lonely.
What wonderful and blessed activities with which to occupy ourselves on Sunday. There is so much to do. There are so many ways in which to be busy in the things of God. How can there possibly be time for our own ways, our own pleasures, and our own words?
And remember, we need to delight in the sabbath. We need to for our own spiritual welfare. We need to so that we may hear the blessed gospel and be assured through the Spirit’s work in our hearts that we are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you call the sabbath a delight? Is it a delight to you?