“Papa, is it a sin to work on Sunday?”
A few weeks ago my wife and I had four of our grandchildren ages 9-13 out to our cottage overnight. On Sunday I was taking a walk with them and we passed two guys building a wall; therefore, the question.
“The short answer to your question of whether or not it’s a sin to work on Sunday is this; it depends! Let’s get some ice cream, because this will take a few minutes to explain.”
The worst kept secret in our family is that I give long answers to almost every question put to me, especially about the Bible. The reason I do is because I value context. I want them to know the “backstory” of why I and other followers of Jesus believe or behave the way we do instead of simply giving them the, “because the Bible says so” line. While that answer may be accurate, it’s not very helpful for helping our children or grandchildren grow in their admiration for the wisdom of God.
What follows is a very simplified version of the theology behind a teaching that still confuses and even angers some adults about “the rules” they grew up with surrounding what they could and couldn’t do on Sunday. I hope it’s helpful to you as you teach your children or grandchildren.
Kids, in protestant theology there are two major schools of thought regarding how Christians are to interpret the Bible, that shape what each group believes the Bible teaches, including Sunday observance.
Covenant Christians view the history of God’s dealings with humans in all of history from Creation to The Fall through the lens of three major covenants – the Covenants of Redemption, of Works and of Grace. A covenant is simply an agreement between two or more people. In the Old Testament, most of the covenants were between God and individuals like Adam, Noah, Abraham and the people of Israel. God agreed to do something, if Israel or these patriarchs did something in return. They made a bargain.
One aspect of covenant theology is that it requires Christians to obey all God’s moral laws, including the commandments God gave to Israel in the Old Testament, which obviously includes the 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” Exodus 20:8-10
“Kids, you may be wondering why, if God made a deal or gave a commandment to Israel, why do we still have to obey it today? Because covenantal Christians believe that when the Jews (Israel) rejected Jesus, God chose the church (true Christians) to continue his covenants. God didn’t reject Israel. God simply couldn’t depend on Israel any longer to carry out their part of the bargain.
It’s kind of like a man who owns a business, but his natural children have rejected his authority and refuse to obey him. So, the father adopts other children who will run the business the way the father wants it run. The father still loves his natural born children and if any one of them ever came to their senses he’d be delighted to invite them back into the family business. That’s God’s attitude toward Israel. He still has a special place in his heart for them because he is faithful to his promises, even if they aren’t.
So, as God’s faithful, adopted sons and daughters we are expected to continue honoring these covenants. That’s why covenantal Christians still believe we ought to obey the moral laws of God, including Sunday rest. That’s why covenantal churches and denominations believe it’s a sin to work on Sunday.
Let the questions begin!
Q. Papa, what’s a denomination?
A. A denomination is like a Christian franchise. It’s a group of churches that all believe and teach the same things. So, just like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC are all restaurants, but serve different kinds of food, Presbyterians, Reformed, Methodists and Congregational churches all are Christians, but believe slightly different things about God and the Bible. Almost all denominations who accept the basic teachings of John Calvin or Martin Luther and other Swiss reformers are covenantal, like Presbyterians, Reformed, Lutheran churches. If they baptize babies, they’re very likely covenantal (but, not always). It’s complicated.
Q. Papa, why do we go to church on Sunday, if the only thing God commanded us to do was to rest on Sunday?
A. In all fairness, nowhere in the Bible, in the Old or New Testament, are we commanded to go to church every week. However, because Jesus regularly went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and we’re supposed to live like Jesus did, that’s what we do. Also, it was the practice of Christians from the beginning of the church to worship at least weekly. The Bible encourages us to, “Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25 By the way, the early church also changed their Sabbath, from Saturday to Sunday, because it was the day Jesus rose from the dead, but the exact day isn’t important.
Q. Papa, do you believe it’s wrong to work on Sundays?
A. No, I don’t. However, I believe working on Sundays is very unwise and I’ll explain why in a few minutes.
Years ago our family attended a covenantal church and that’s the way your parents were raised as young children. However, our church and the church your parents now attend is dispensational. Most Bible churches, Baptists, undenominational, and many charismatic churches are dispensational. Dispensational denomination and churches view the Bible differently. They see the Bible broken up into seven general periods of time they call dispensations.
A theologian named Ryrie once said “Dispensationalist view the world as a household run by God.” It’s clear to them that at different times (dispensations) in human history God required people to do certain things in obedience to him, that he didn’t require in other dispensations. For instance, God asked Adam and Eve only to take care of God’s creation, have babies, serve God and not eat the fruit from the tree God warned them about. They didn’t have to obey the Ten Commandments and neither did Noah or Abraham because God wouldn’t even give the commandments until another dispensation. That’s why dispensationalists believe that the law, the Ten Commandments, including God’s forbidding work on Sunday, are no longer applicable for Christians today. Those laws were given to Israel, for Israel – not to us, for us.
The “Nine Commandments” for Christians
“What? Papa are you saying we no longer have to obey any of the Ten Commandments?” Theologically, yes. HOWEVER, Jesus taught and in essence, reaffirmed nine out of the ten commands. In fact, he even expanded some of the commands. He taught that if you hate someone it’s like murder and if you think impure thoughts it’s like committing adultery in your heart. So for all practical purposes, Jesus actually raised the bar and requires more of us than a legalistic keeping of the law.
However, while Jesus affirmed the idea of Sabbath rest, he rejected the legalism and man-made rules about Sabbath observance and more interestingly, he never reaffirmed the prohibition against work. “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 Also, Paul said this about the Sabbath. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” Colossians 2:16 In Romans 14:5 Paul made it a matter of personal freedom on how we were to use Sundays. “One person considers one day more sacred than another; and other considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.”
“But, Papa, then why did you say working on Sundays might not be wise?” Because we believe God’s idea behind not working was that humans, even animals and the land need rest. (Read Lev. 25:1-7) God was wise enough to know that humans and animals need to rest occasionally or they would get worn out and sick. God loves us enough to protect us from ourselves. It’s just like the rules your parents have for you about going to bed at a certain time, so you’re rested and healthy. Sometimes it feels like a punishment, but it’s really done out of their love for you.
Also, we don’t have to work seven days a week because God said he would meet all of our needs. So by not working it shows him that we trust him to do that and that we’ll be content with whatever he provides in six days. Finally, resting one day a week is a reminder of what God has in store for us someday – an eternal rest from sin and hard work and an eternity of enjoying our heavenly family.
So then, why Sunday Rules?
So, when your mother grew up we established some family rules about Sunday. Nana and I decided that our family would go to church, we wouldn’t go shopping, work, or go to the movies, and our kids couldn’t go on dates. But, we never said those things were sins. We just wanted that day for God and for our family to rest, read, enjoy each other and be together. In fact, we told them, “When you grow up we don’t ever want you telling people that your parents thought it was a sin to… (whatever). These are our rules, so we don’t want you blaming God or Christianity. However, when you have families of your own, our guess is that you if you’re wise, you too will set boundaries and rules for how your family will take advantage of this gift from God of a day’s rest each week.
What do you believe?
I’m sure I’ve left out some important elements of the arguments on both sides. My purpose was to give you a framework for explaining why good Christians who love God and have great respect for the authority of the Bible have different views on this subject so that you can prepare yourself for this discussion with your own children. And if it doesn’t come up naturally, then look for a teachable moment to open the subject. That’s how we pass on the wisdom of righteousness to the next generation – intentionally.
Question: How have you explained Sunday observance to your children?
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You need to know this about me – I’m not always flat out in love with God.
I don’t know about you, but for years I felt guilty because I didn’t always feel the “the joy of the Lord” – this emotional high that other Christians appeared to be able to sustain. The warm, joyous, tearful feelings I do experience come most often when I’m singing praise choruses, listening to the testimony of a new believer, on a spiritual retreat or I experience the beauty of a bright, sun-filled day. They occasionally come in time of personal prayer, or when some new revelation of God washes over me. But those don’t happen every day, or even every week to me.
And, I’ve found that I can’t by an act of my will just conjure up these feelings of love for God and make them happen. I love it when I’m surprised by joy – I just can’t surprise myself into joy. I’ve tried, but when I do it feels phony and contrived.
So, in between these occasional mountain top experiences are there other ways we can demonstrate to God and others our love for him? Is it really possible to love God when we’re really not excited about him, or our hearts are heavy? Be encouraged. The answer is YES!
One parenthetical thought before we go on; I personally find it easier to love Jesus, than the Father. Perhaps it’s because when I grew up I thought of Jesus as the kinder, more gentle side of God. The Father scared the wits out of me. I was grateful to Jesus, not only for his salvation but that he stood between me and his DAD to protect me from his wrath. I’ve matured theologically, but I think some of those feelings linger and influence me today.
To simplify things I’m going to use God and the Father almost interchangeably, which again isn’t theologically correct but for all practical purposes that’s how most of us think about God anyway.
God is our spiritual father. That’s how Jesus taught us to refer to him and think of him. In fact, Paul used the word Abba, a term of endearment used by children for their father – daddy. So, years ago I began thinking about the times I felt most loved and honored by my children, other than birthdays or Father’s Day. The following are just a few ways that by an act of our will we can love God, in the everyday happenings of life.
1. Speak respectfully to God and about God to others.
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me? Says the Lord Almighty…” Malachi 1:6a
When my children speak respectfully to me about me to others, I want to turn to my friends and say, “Did you hear that? Did you hear beyond the words – did you hear the tenderness and respect in their voice? You know, they didn’t have to say that! But they did.”
When you’re with your friends do you speak respectfully and personally about God and Jesus? I’m not talking about discussing church or the sermon. Do your friends see a tear in your eye occasionally when you talk tenderly of your love for Jesus? No using his name in a way that diminishes his majesty – just for a cheap laugh or to make a forceful point. Do you really revere God and do your friends know that you do?
I can imagine God upon hearing us speak respectfully and tenderly to him and about him to others, turning to the angels and the saints, “Did you hear that? Did you hear how much they love me and how proud they are of me? No, St. Peter at the pearly gates jokes, referring to me as “the man upstairs” or thoughtlessly invoking my name at civic gatherings to bless their food and country like I’m a spiritual rabbit’s foot. They really love me enough to honor me and my name. Those are my children!”
2. Show God you love him by obeying him, even when you don’t want to.
“This is love for God: to obey his commands.” I John 5:3a
When our children were small, they had chores. As kids they couldn’t possibly understand how their thousands of simple acts of obedience contributed to the orderly management of our large household. Neither could they have imagined at the time they were actually learning the skills of cooperation and self-sacrifice so important for their own future households, businesses and relationships. And it wasn’t important for them to always know that. They just needed to trust us and do what we asked.
So, one time I asked my son, who was about twelve at the time to do something for me that I knew he didn’t want to do, fully expecting to hear the favorite question of children and the least favorite of parents, the big “why?”. But, to my surprise he simply did it. Ironically, it was the kind of request that ought to have raised “the question”, because the reason for my request wasn’t terribly obvious! But, he just did it – no questions asked.
God loves our obedience even if our hearts are not fully into it. In fact, Jesus told a story to prove this very point. “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted? “The first”, they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Matthew 21:28-31. Would God love to have both our obedience and a good attitude about it? Of course! But, it’s clear from this story that simple obedience, even if done with a bad attitude still tells God we love him and trust him.
3. Be thankful to him for everything.
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18
I absolutely love it when one of my children or my friends go out of their way to call or write a note to me just to say, “thank you”. In fact, I have a file full of notes to encourage me on days when I want to hide all sharp objects. “Thank you’s” are powerful because they’re a gift to me that tells me I’m on their mind – that I’ve blessed them in some way.
What’s even more moving is when I get these thank you’s from people who are personally going through tough times. I think our Father’s ears tingle when his children are grateful even when life is junk at the moment – maybe especially when life is junk!
I believe it is just this kind of childlike love, this humble trust in the face of chaos and confusion that makes God so proud he actually brags about it to the angels. “See that? That’s my child! She’s expressing gratitude, not for what I’m giving to her, but for who she knows I am. Isn’t that amazing?” God loved Job’s devotion to him and trust right in the middle of his own personal Holocaust. It’s what God uses to rebuke Satan and his demons. This is at least part of what I think Paul means when he writes that it was Jesus’ intent that through the church (you and me), “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…” (Ephesians 3:10).
I’ve heard it said that gratitude is the mother of all virtues. When we take time to thank God for the little things in life – it deflates our covetous hearts. I’ve also found that the more thankful I am, the more content I am.
4. Tell God you’re sorry, then live like you are.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:8-9
I’ve always had a great relationship with our children. So when one of our daughters was uncharacteristically distant, I asked her if something was wrong. “It’s nothing.” (It’s always nothing.) Days later she came to me and shared something she’d done for which she was ashamed. Ironically, I knew or strongly suspected what the problem was. In any case the important thing was that she understood what she had done, was sorry for it and had made some good decisions to lessen the likelihood this would ever happen again. Seeing how terribly sad she was, I just held her and told her I loved her and how honored I was that she had confided in me.
It wasn’t only her tearful confession that moved me; it was the safeguards she put in place to keep from temptation in the future, which impressed me even more. She understood intuitively that while confession is good for the soul, repentance is better. Repentance is more than remorse. It’s disgust, even anger over our sin and a wholehearted desire to never do that sin again. If we tell God we’re sorry then he expects us to live differently if we truly are. And he loves us and loves it when we do.
Trust and Obey
I began this blog admitting I don’t always feel flat out emotionally connected to God. Yet, when I do the things I’ve just outlined, I am loving God and God loves me for doing them. The old song had it right, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Question: Are there other ways you too have loved God even when you didn’t feel in love with him?
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A Father’s gift to his children
Last week a godly guy I really respect told me about a gift he gave his children years ago at the close of Father’s Day. He gathered his children together and asked them this courageous question, “Have I ever broken a promise I once made to you?”
He told them to think about it for a day or so then he’d meet with them and ask them for their answer. He then met with each one separately. To his surprise all of his children remembered a promise or promises not kept by him. He was resolved not to argue or attempt to explain away his failure. He just listened. Then simply and tearfully he asked each one for their forgiveness. In one case, he was still able to fulfill the promise, so he did. It was his Father’s Day gift to his children and to his God.
Ten ways to love your children
Fathers, you will be challenged by this piece written by Pat Morley. Pat was a very successful commercial realtor in Orlando, Florida before he felt called to give that field up and serve God by serving men. More than 20 years ago, I was greatly influenced by his book, The Man in the Mirror. Pat has great practical wisdom and when I saw this article on his website, I thought on this Father’s Day weekend I should share it with you.
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“Mr. De Graaf, I understand what the Bible says, but what do you say to people who are gay, love each other and want to commit their lives to each other in marriage? Didn’t Jesus say we should love others and want for them, what we want for ourselves? Besides, how can that be wrong if that’s the way God wired them?”
On my recent teaching trip to Europe with four Christian college seniors, this question regarding homosexual marriage came up in light of President Obama’s recent statements on the subject. In an interview with ABC News he even invoked the Golden Rule, “It’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
This blog isn’t political or a thorough discussion of the homosexual issue. Neither were the guys on the trip advocating gay marriage, but were searching for a more thoughtful, yet biblical way to dialogue with those who are. So, here’s how I believe followers of Jesus ought to frame this and similar discussions when what is being advocated seems to be clearly at odds with the Bible.
I know what the Bible says, but…
To begin with, there is a particular phrase and a word that should never be used in this combination by Christians; “I know what the Bible says, but…” Using the word but implies that what follows the but, has equal or greater weight than the Bible. I hear people say it all the time, “I know what the Bible says about forgiveness, but…” and “I know what the Bible says about creation, but…”
In all fairness, if the Bible truly isn’t clear about a particular teaching, then a but may be appropriate if there is equally strong biblical evidence that “appears” to support a contradictory position. Then it would be better that we say, “I know what the Bible says and it also says…” However, but should never be followed by our, or anyone else’s opinion, only God’s. This treatment preserves the preeminence of the Bible in all matters it addresses.
What brought this discussion up was our reading together of the following verses relating to homosexuality.
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Leviticus 20:13
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Romans 1:26-27
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men.” I Corinthians 6:9
So, guys whether you and I personally like the biblical position on this issue, do you think the Bible is ambiguous regarding God’s prohibition against gay sex? Here’s the first principle for framing any discussion on moral or spiritual issues. The Bible trumps man’s opinion.
Keeping First Things First
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39
Most of us can quote this passage in our sleep. But here’s the point: The first and greatest command is not love your neighbor. It’s love God above all else. But, what exactly does it mean to love God? Next week’s blog will address that issue more fully, but Jesus made it really clear that one of the primary ways we love God, is to obey God.
“If you love me, keep my commands.” John 14:15. Again in John 14:21 he says, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21 Jesus said it over and over until he was blue in the face. The second principle is this; loving others cannot be done at the expense of disobeying God.
But, is there really a tension here? Is obeying God, really not loving others? I don’t think so, but it will feel that way to those who are disobedient. It sometimes even feels unloving to me. But, to say we don’t agree with God is the same thing as saying to him, “I think I have a better idea that perhaps you, God haven’t thought of.” Really? I’m not sure I could think of a more arrogant statement. “I don’t understand why God says…,” is an intellectually honest and more heartfelt statement/question. But, I have a better idea is arrogant and a sin.
God condemns virtually all sexual sin equally
So, I said to the guys, “Let’s apply this to the homosexual issue. Are there ways we can both obey God and try to be sympathetic to the dilemma of being gay?” Let me say right up front that I do not think the Bible teaches that simply being gay is a sin. But, it does clearly prohibit gay sex. And if we’re really honest, we heterosexual Christians tend to rank homosexuality as a greater sin than heterosexual, sexual sins. The thought of adultery outside of marriage is not as repulsive or sinful in our hierarchy of sins, as homosexuals having sex. I don’t think we can prove that from the Bible. Just read Lev. 20:10-16. God lists six heterosexual sexual sins that are so grievous in his eyes that they deserve death, including adultery. I Cor. 6:9 lumps all sexually immoral sins together as “Class A felony sins”. For reasons known only to God, he ranks sex outside of marriage, both heterosexual and homosexual, as equal sins.
So years ago I met with a homosexual Christian, who I considered to be a brother in Christ, who’s goal was to be celibate. I told him, “You and I have this in common – we both are lusters. My occasional lust for someone other than my wife is no lesser a sin than your lust for men. And, if I ever actually have sex outside of my marriage it will be no lesser a sin in God’s eyes than you having sex with a man.” He appreciated the fact that I somewhat understood his struggle.
However, I don’t share this common ground with homosexuals I’ve met who claim to be Christians, but have fully surrendered and embraced the homosexual lifestyle, including sex. But, the same is true of people who say they’re Christian but have given up the struggle with the heterosexual sins of pornography, or fornication (sex outside of marriage). In fact, followers of Jesus ought to find more in common with a celibate Christian homosexual than with a sexually active, unmarried, Christian heterosexual college student.
Finally it’s both helpful and humbling to remind ourselves that as serious as sexual sins are, Jesus had just as much or more to say about the sins of hypocrisy, pride, unbelief, the misuse of wealth and failing to care for the poor.
But, that’s just the way God wired me
We’ve all heard, the “But that’s just the way God wired me, so how can it be wrong?” argument. My answer to another gay guy I once met with was, “Sam, that’s not the way God wired you! Because of the fall and sin’s affect on the human race, that’s the way we are, but that is not what God intended for humans. If you had a brother-in-law who had an anger issue and beat your sister, would you honestly accept the “that’s just the way I’m wired, argument?” I already admitted I’m a natural born, heterosexual luster, but God didn’t make me that way. It’s sin!
In fact, every negative command in the Bible is there to curb and correct the way we are. God expects those of us who have been born again by the Holy Spirit to rise above the way we are, to live the way he designed us to be, holy and righteous and pure. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll never be perfect, but we can do better! “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:5
“You heterosexual Christians have marriage as an option if you are in love with someone. Why can’t we?” And, it’s with this argument that I have the most sympathy. However, for all recorded history, in every culture and in all of scripture, marriage has always been defined as a union between a man and a woman (and sometimes to more than one woman). To attempt to redefine it to be something else would be the equivalent of a movement for calling welfare, wages. Everyone knows that welfare, or unemployment insurance isn’t the same as wages, which is pay for actually working. While I sympathize with welfare recipients who may want to dignify unemployment pay, it’s unfair and inaccurate to those who work for wages to simply re-brand the term to do so.
I personally believe this is the primary reason gays and lesbians are pushing so hard for the term marriage and want no part of calling it a “civil union”. All the legal rights of marriage could be accomplished with a civil union. But, they need the word marriage. The very word would legitimize their relationship and because sex is implicitly part of God’s design for marriage, being “married” would have God sanctioning homosexual sex. As a human and a Christian, I sympathize with gays that neither marriage nor sex is available to them. Nevertheless, our well intentioned attempts to love them can never be done at the expense of disobeying God. That’s the danger of loving others too much.
At the outset I said this blog was not intended to be a full blown discussion of the homosexual/marriage issue. But, Christians have not always framed the discussion well. At times, we’ve been shrill and hateful. This is where we’ve loved too little, not too much. And, today Christian young people are so into fairness and love that unless we do a better job of framing the issue with grace, we’ll lose them.
Question: Are there other thoughtful, biblical ways you’ve approached this difficult subject?
A Bonus Blog: This Saturday, as we think about Father’s Day, I’ll post a special blog, entitled 10 Ways to Love Your Children.
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