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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:What Are You Doing on the Lord's Day?
Text:LD 38 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 4th Commandment (Resting)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 43:3,4                                                                                            

Hy 5:1,2,3,4  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Proverbs 25

Ps 66:1,2,6,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 38

Hy 26:1

Ps 134:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ Jesus, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” That’s the fourth commandment—unique among the other ten. It’s unique, because it’s framed in a positive way. Almost all the other commandments tell us what we cannot do: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not murder. You shall not covet.” There’s still a positive application for those other commandments, of course, but the fourth begins with the positive: Remember this day, and keep it holy.

Something else unique about the fourth commandment is how God is the first to keep it. “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and He rested the seventh day.” After working for six days on his creation masterpiece, God delighted in his rest on the seventh day. He made the day holy, for Him, for all people, and especially his people. He consecrated this day by his work of creation, and later He consecrated it by his work of redemption—delivering Israel from Egypt, and delivering us from sin.

So the next question is: Just what should we do on a special day like this? That’ll be our theme for this sermon: “What are you doing on the Lord’s day?” And today we use the book of Proverbs as our guide to the fourth commandment. Proverbs has plenty of lessons for what sort of activities we ought to do today.

Among the first things that people think of when it comes to observing the Lord’s day concerns work. You’ve probably heard this protest, or maybe you’ve even said it yourself: “You can’t do that. It’s the day of rest!” Among us there’s a keen awareness of the need to put aside our work on the Lord’s day.

This surely arises out of the emphasis that is given to rest in the fourth commandment: “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work” (Exod 20:9-10). And the commandment goes on to speak of how that Sabbath rest must be taken not just by us, but by our children, and our servants, even our animals and the strangers among us.

With that emphasis, it’s interesting that when the Catechism explains this commandment, it doesn’t spend much time on the idea of physical rest. It does speak of the Lord’s day as “the day of rest,” and it does explain how we are to use this day—as every day—in order to “rest from [our] evil works” (Q&A 103). But the focus of the Catechism isn’t so much on what we should NOT do on the Lord’s day (we shouldn’t work). Rather, its focus is on what we OUGHT to do (we ought to worship the Lord). We’ll come back a bit later to both those activities, as well as that idea of resting from “evil works.”

But first a few words about our daily work, and our rest from that work. Because it needs to be understood: it’s good to work! We all like our time off. I think that the students are all happy when they get some time away from school, and all the tests and assignments. We like vacation, and we complain when we have to put in a lot of overtime. But the teaching of Scripture is that work is a rich blessing, and that laziness is a dangerous trap.

This is one of the many lessons that Solomon impresses upon his son in the book of Proverbs. He praises the value of diligent labour, and he warns against the temptation to take the easy way out. We can read his words in chapter 6: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest” (vv 6-8). The little ant in your backyard, always busy with building and gathering, is a model of industry. Without anyone forcing it to, and even without receiving payment, an ant does its work with faithfulness and care.

And yes, that little ant puts the sluggard to shame: “How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep—so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man” (vv 9-11).

When we have a lazy attitude towards our daily work, we’re going to run into trouble. When we hope for success and prosperity with a minimum of effort, it’s almost certain that we’ll be disappointed. Solomon warns the sluggard that he’ll probably have to deal with real shortages in the necessities of life. Now, we acknowledge that everything we have comes from God; it’s not our hard work as such that pays the bills and keeps food on the table. But the LORD uses our daily labours and monthly pay as the means by which He provides.

This is why the Catechism teaches us to pray in the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Provide us with all our bodily needs so that we may acknowledge that you are the only fountain of all good, and that our care and labour, and also your gifts, cannot do us any good without your blessing” (Q&A 125). Hear how they go so closely together: our labour, and God’s gifts. Our daily work then, can be seen as a blessing from the LORD. It always has been—even from the very beginning, when God gave that holy command, to fill the earth and subdue it.

Still, we can’t always work! Consider against those ants. In the summer they work so hard, Solomon says, because they’re storing up for the winter, when they won’t work. And for us too, rest is a gift. It is, because we all know how difficult work can be. Our daily job can be a non-stop stream of challenges and problems. Our labours can make us sore, and make us sweat. Our employment can make us tired, frustrated, and stressed out. And sometimes our daily work can even seem pointless—what’s it all for? Many will speak about how busy life is; there’s always so much to do, and seemingly not enough hours in the day. Whether it’s homework, housework, paperwork, or odd jobs that need doing, our lives are full of toil and labour.

And perhaps we do work too much, for whatever reason… Perhaps we let ourselves to become too busy, because we’re pursuing a certain lifestyle. Here Proverbs warns us about the dangers of greed, when we try desperately to pile up material things. We have the admonition in 23:4-5. It’s still amazingly relevant in the 21st century: “Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Hear those words, “Do not overwork!” Don’t make your work the only thing important to you.

Not everyone makes an idol out of work, or an idol out of income. But the point remains: God knows that our work can be tiresome. He knows that we need a day set aside from all the others. And so He’s given us this day for rest. Recall those words of Christ, “The Sabbath was made for man.” This day has been given for our benefit and blessing.

Today is a day to stay home from the office and the job site. It’s a day to stop with all the regular tasks and assignments, to put off every duty that we don’t really need to be doing. It’s a day to sit back and relax and even to get some extra sleep. Long before science and psychology confirmed this, God knew it: Physically and mentally, we sometimes need to stop working.

And that means we must also guard this day zealously. We must keep it free from what occupies us regularly. It’s easy to start thinking today about what must be done tomorrow. It’s even tempting to make preparations for our tasks in the coming week: sending off some quick emails, jotting down some notes for tomorrow, making arrangements. But may we keep this day holy, as God commanded—that is to say, make it a day separate from all the other days. If we allow it to, work and our other pursuits will overrun our life. Work will always demand more. But God doesn’t want that for us. He wants our bodies to rest, our minds to be restored.

So use today for enjoying the many good gifts of our God! Spend time today with your loved ones. Delight in your food and drink. Enjoy the creation, and enjoy some good music. It’s good for the mind and body to do such things. And if we see all these things as coming from God, then it’s also good for the soul.

Being at rest like this then puts us in the right frame of mind for other important Lord’s day activities. We’re talking about those activities that focus on God and his Word. This is what gets the place of priority in the Catechism’s lesson, beginning with those words, that “I diligently attend the church of God” (Q&A 103).

The LORD’s people have always gathered together for official worship; whether at the tabernacle in Shiloh, or in the temple courts of Jerusalem, along the rivers of Babylon, in the synagogues of the Roman Empire, or in wood and brick buildings in this country. We know the church doesn’t consist of a building—it’s the people, filled with the Spirit and gathered around the Word—but wherever it is, that’s where we want to be!

Included in attendance at church are several things. First, is that we hear God’s Word. Already in Lord’s Day 35 we spoke about the importance of the Word to true worship. For there’s a real need for us to have instruction in the will and ways of God. This is why we’ve started our own schools, something that the Catechism mentions—because through the schools, our children can be trained in the fear of God’s Name. And then for all of us, every Lord’s day again, we can receive instruction in the Word. Every Lord’s day again, we sit here as the pupils of Christ—ready to be taught by our chief prophet and Teacher.

Elsewhere in Proverbs, we can hear how Solomon warns us against ignoring the Word. Listen to 29:18, “When there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” For us that means that without the regular preaching of God’s Word, we’ll most certainly begin to forget and to slide. Without gathering here faithfully to hear the Scriptures, we’ll begin to lose a sense of who we are in Christ, and how we should serve Him.

“When there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint”…  and then the rest of that proverb, “…but happy is he who keeps the law.” Happy is he! In the Bible, God never tires of “selling us” on obedience, persuading us to take the path of righteousness. It’s the blessed life. It’s the better life, to listen to the Scriptures.

And why is it so good? Because the Word of God is exactly what we need. You and I go through a long week of labour from Monday to Saturday. It’s six days where we might have had a constant burden of anxiety on our hearts. It’s six days where we’ve seen a lot of ugly sin, and bad news, and thorny challenges. After a whole week of that, we might be mentally burdened, physically tired, emotionally mixed up, or just discouraged by all the stuff going on in this world—but then we come here, and we get to hear something powerful and beautiful and life-changing. We get to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how He’s delivered us from sin!

Solomon describes what this is like in our reading from chapter 25, “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country” (v 25). On the Lord’s day, we get to hear that news from “a far country.” We get to hear how from heaven, God the Father sent his only Son, to become one of us and to die for our sin. That’s good news! That’s cold water for the weary soul! On the first day of every week, we remember the salvation that was made possible by Jesus. This is our greatest joy on the Lord’s day. You belong to Christ! And it’s exactly the refreshment and encouragement that we need for a new week.

The second Lord’s day activity mentioned by the Catechism is that we “use the sacraments” (Q&A 103). The sacraments, of course, are closely tied to the Word of salvation that we get to hear. What the sacraments help us to do is to remember the gracious word and works of God. Which is key, according to Solomon: “Write [these things] on your heart,” he says to his son (3:30). Secure the gospel in your mind, by hearing it, memorizing it, experiencing it in the sacraments. Never forget what God has done for you, because it’s the most important thing that you’ll ever know.    

Moving on to our third Lord’s day activity, we learn that we are to use this day for “[calling] publicly on the Lord” (Q&A 103). Again Proverbs tells us why this is so vital. This book often sets before us the great sovereignty and power of God, especially in contrast with our own smallness and weakness. Consider Proverbs 19:21, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand.” That’s the perspective we need to have, that it’s not our will, but it is the Almighty God’s will and decree that directs every event in this world, and in our own lives! The LORD maintains power over all things, and He commands all things in his wisdom. What is our humble response to that truth, if not to pray?

We call on the LORD, because God is great, because God is good, because God governs. We gather as his people and together we pray. Together we ask his help and blessing. We ask it for our church life, for our daily work, for our studies, for our plans, for our families, for our friendships—for everything! Just like Proverbs 3:6 taught us, “In all your ways acknowledge him.” Acknowledge him, and then let that acknowledgement be expressed in prayer. That He’s the great Giver. That He’s the great Healer. That He’s King and Father and Saviour. His Name is a strong tower, so call on His Name, today and every day!

Part of such a prayer must also be the acknowledgement that we are sinners. This is part of our personal prayers, and it should be part of our congregational prayers. Like it says in Proverbs 28:13, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” We have our individual failings as believers. We also have our collective failings as congregation. But if we confess our sins and if we forsake them, we have the full assurance of God’s grace in Christ. Think of how God greets us as the beginning of the worship service: “Grace, mercy and peace to you!”     

When they’re offered in faith, our prayers in this place are pleasing to God. And God also much prefers them to unthinking worship. As Solomon tells us in 15:8, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is his delight.” That’s another good reminder for us as we come to church. The outward form of our worship is important, but it’s far from the only thing—it’s even far from being the main thing. Remember that God is looking at your heart as you sit here. We’re well-dressed and everything is done in good order, but do we have that attitude of lowliness before Him? As you worship, is there within you a spirit of humility, of dependence, of thanksgiving to God? Only in such worship, does God find pleasure. He does not want the sacrifice of the wicked, but He delights in the prayers of the upright.

The last activity for the day of rest mentioned is that we “give Christian offerings for the poor” (Q&A 103). This activity too, is commanded throughout Scripture. It begins in God’s law, where the LORD insists that the people of Israel care for the widows and orphans. Then Proverbs, in its commentary on God’s law, expands on that theme. For example, in 22:9, “He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.” That’s an interesting image, having a generous eye. This is being in the habit of looking for those who need help, even seeking them out. We might be inclined to avert our eyes from the poor—we’re often embarrassed by poverty and neediness—but God’s law teaches us to have a spirit of generosity: “Here’s a needy person, a struggling person. What can I do to help them?”

And for Christians, giving to the poor is never just a humanitarian act. The Bible portrays any giving we do as done for God. We’re presenting our gifts to Him! Like Proverbs 19:17 says, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD.” By giving we lend to the LORD—lending to him, because we know that God will pay back our gifts with his blessing.

That’s why a better name for what happens in church is offering, not collection. “Collection” makes it sound like something the tax-man does, collecting the money that the law entitles him to. But “offering” gets across the idea that we are freely presenting something to God. We’re offering it, sacrificing it, laying it at his feet.

After all, we understand where our blessings really come from: “This income is something God has granted to me in his grace. This gift is yet another proof of God’s faithful care for me, his child.” In that spirit we rejoice whenever we give back to God. We’re thankful to render him a small token of thanks. Giving in such a spirit brings joy to the Lord.

Something that the Catechism doesn’t mention in speaking about the Lord’s day, but something that is still vital to it, is the blessing of fellowship. Think of the Psalm 133, one of the songs of ascents, sung while on the way to the temple. That song celebrates the communion of worshipers, “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (v 1). It’s good to reflect for a moment on why our fellowship with one another is so valuable.

As Christians, we can sometimes feel very alone in this world. Christians are looked on as a strange and backwards minority. But when we gather for worship on the Lord’s day, we receive a wonderful reminder that we’re not alone. We see again that we have brothers, we have sisters—a family in Christ! Here’s a whole group of people with whom we share something precious. That can give a powerful encouragement, as we join our fellow saints in singing, as we unite with them in prayer, as we sit together under the Word. We’re not alone!

When we enjoy the companionship of believers we also receive their support, through things like good instruction and advice. This is another theme that Proverbs emphasizes. It’s the importance of being with the right people. Think of 13:20, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” When we are together as believers in worship—talking together afterwards, studying the Scriptures together—we can gain real wisdom. For we can share with one another the joys and challenges of the Christian life. Yes, the living communion of believers on the Lord’s day is so rich.

A final thing the Catechism mentions is that idea of rest we spoke of earlier. The Lord’s day is a day of physical rest, but it’s much more, because it has that spiritual focus: “All the days of [our] life, [we are to] rest from [our] evil works” (Q&A 103). Every Lord’s day again, we hear the call to leave behind all the remnants of our old way of life. Every Lord’s day again, we’re exhorted to break from sin.

And to help us, to warn us, Proverbs paints a picture of one who lacks all self-control, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (25:28). A person without the blessing of God’s Word will not last. If you don’t rest from your evil works, you won’t ever find rest! If you don’t break from sin, it’s going to break you! So God calls us today to leave aside whatever hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles.

Put your sin behind you, draw near to God, and hear his Word. That’s where real joy is experienced. That’s where real wisdom is found. And that’s an activity that connects us from the Lord’s day, to the rest of the week. Because you’ve heard the gospel message on Sunday, strive to live differently on Monday and every day. Because you know yourself loved by God in Christ, resolve to depart from evil, and do good.

On this day, the good news is like cold water to our weary souls. So now, refreshed and encouraged, live to please God and to glorify Him. After all, every day is his day, a day that He has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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