Sabbath the Basis of Christian Culture (Preparation)


“So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” (Hebrews 4:9; NASB).

 

In 1952, Josef Pieper published Leisure the Basis of Culture. In this book, he makes the case that the modern, Western mind does not often stop to contemplate, and thus to philosophize, because it is too busy with work and not busy enough with leisure. Now, we often think of leisure as mere idleness, much like how we tend to think about rest, but it certainly is not. Leisure, like rest, is a singular devotion to any pursuit that is not subject to the demands of one’s life (finances, career, educational advancement, etc.). Leisure is having time to stop and contemplate, and serve the greater good. Without leisure the field of philosophy is shrinking in our modern age’s slavish devotion to serving the urgent. Sadly, in our day, leisure is increasingly a luxury.

Not long after I started pastoring, we met with a young, visiting family at a nearby park. Throughout the course of the day, several subjects were raised, but the one that stuck with me was our discussion of the bi-vocational pastorate. Some studies had recently been released showing that Western pastorates in general would be moving more and more toward bi-vocational ministry as the norm, and there are many within the church that see that as very a good thing. I was already aware of the statistics, but was listening with patience as my friend tried to share these statistics with me in as positive a light as he knew how. Finally, at one point, I stopped the conversation and I said, “The pastor needs time for his family, the church and, most importantly, to be in the Word and in prayer.”

Bi-vocational ministry can be a noble pursuit, but it should not be seen as more noble than devoting oneself full-time to preaching and teaching the word. In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul instructs Timothy to ensure that elders who rule well receive double honor, “especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching,” (NASB). Now, some have taken this verse to be teaching that there are two types of elders: those who simply rule and those who preach and teach. I would argue, however, given the testimony of the rest of Scripture regarding the qualifications and duties of an elder, and given the fact that the verb 'rule' is used in verse 17 to describe all elders, that all elders are also preaching and teaching elders. The distinction that Paul is making is not between ruling and teaching elders, but rather between those who rule well and those who don't and elders who work hard at preaching and teaching and those who don't (presumably finding the bulk their income through other pursuits). Pastors need rest just as anyone else, and those who are afforded the most rest are often able to be of the greatest benefit to the church.

What about for everyone else, though. Is not every Christian deserving of some time off to be with the Lord? The argument of many anti-Sabbatarians is that we rest in Christ every moment of every day, but they can't possibly mean that we actually set aside our secular labors every moment of every single day to contemplate Christ. In fact, even to waste any daylight can be detrimental to many more agricultural pursuits. I personally have spoken with many men who tell me that they know they should be in the word and in prayer daily, but they simply do not have the time.

As we’ve already stated in previous articles, the Puritans understood the Sabbath to be a market day for the soul. That is to say that the Sabbath is a day in which the Christian could come to the marketplace of God, get all the spiritual supply they would need for the week, and then return home with plenty to keep them fed throughout the week. Most Christians today think about the Sabbath instead as one of many spiritual one-hour rest stops along the highway of secular labor and distraction.

Imagine what might be possible for the average Christian, though—indeed, for all of Christianity—if we committed to completing all of our labors by Saturday in order to make the most of our spiritual market day each week. How much more could we contemplate, how much more singularly might we focus on God, His Word, His people, and His worship, if we cleared our entire day to pursue those ends? As you begin a new Saturday, consider how you might labor today to break the yoke of the urgent so that you might more singularly serve the Lord tomorrow, on His Day.