THE LORD'S DAY OR THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK
The first day of the week, of course, is not the Sabbath; that was the last day of the week, as seen when one compares Genesis 2:2 with Exodus 31:16-17. The latter passage tells us that the keeping of the Sabbath was given to the children of Israel. This is said time and again throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. It has no relation whatever to the day of grace in which we live. Seventh day Adventists will tell you that the Roman Catholic Church changed the Sabbath to the first day of the week the Lord's day-but this is not true. Our blessed Lord honored and recognized the Sabbath because, as Romans 15:8 shows, "Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision (a minister to the Jews) in order to confirm the promises made unto the fathers." But after the death of Christ, when the Holy Spirit used the apostle Paul to unveil the truth of the Church as a new heavenly body of believers, composed of both Jews and Gentiles saved through faith in Christ and His redemptive work upon the Cross; then, I say, the Sabbath was set aside and the Lord's day is henceforth seen to be peculiarly connected with the Church. The only time the "Sabbath" is mentioned in the New Testament epistles is in Colossians 2:16-17 where the believer is told the Sabbath was only a shadow of things to come; we today have all the substance of God's rich grace in Christ, so the shadow has disappeared.
I was told one time by a Seventh-day Adventist preacher that there is no ground for recognizing a "first day of the week"; and that it is never mentioned in the Old Testament. But he was mistaken about that. It is mentioned twice in that great twenty- third chapter of the book of Leviticus. We read there that the nation of Israel was to wave a sheaf of the firstfruits on the "morrow after the Sabbath," which of course is the first day of the week. First Corinthians 15:20 tells us clearly that Christ's resurrection is typified in that sheaf of "firstfruits" and of course our Lord rose on the first day of the week-Mark 16:9. Again we read in Leviticus 23:16 that fifty days after the sheaf of firstfruits was offered, Israel was to bring a new meat offering unto the Lord, again on the morning after the Sabbath-the first day of the week. Fifty days from the day Christ rose from the dead brings us to Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to earth to fuse believers into the one Body-the Church. This therefore also took place on the Lord's day-the first day of the week-as the book of Leviticus had foretold long before.
Our blessed Lord rose from the dead on the Lord's day-the first day of the week.
He appeared to His disciples in the upper room two successive times-on the first day of the week.
The disciples later on came together to break bread on the first day of the week - Acts 20:7-8. This is all the more remarkable because that day was not an "off' day then. The Jews kept the Sabbath, and I understand the Greeks celebrated Friday; certainly the first day of the week as a special day was then unknown; yet they came to together to remember their Lord on that day.
The offering for the work of the Lord was laid aside on the first day of the week - see I Cor. 16:2.
If all these facts do not mark out the Lord's day as a day to be specially honored then nothing in Scripture has any meaning.
There is the Lord's supper - I Cor. 11:20; the Lord's table - I Cor. 10:21; and the Lord's day - Rev. 1:10. At the Lord's table saints meet in Christian fellowship wherever they meet; once a week on the first day of the week they come together to partake of the Lord's supper. Isn't it remarkable that the only other time we have that word "the Lord's" is in Rev. 1:10 where we read of the Lord's day? Doesn't it seem to connect Christian fellowship and Christian worship with a special day, the Lord's day? Doesn't it set apart in this manner the Lord's day to be a day specially devoted to Him?
The apostle John heard a voice behind him on the Lord's day - Rev. 1: 10. It does not say he was told to turn around (there was no law about it); no, he just did. Somewhat as in John chapter twenty-one when Simon Peter was told to follow the Lord; John was not told; he just did. In the gospel John heard the voice of his Lord and he followed; in Revelation chapter I he heard the voice of his beloved Lord and so he turned around to see. He did this on the Lord 's day. If your and my desire is to see the Lord and follow Him You will want to do so specially on the Lord's day (as well as through the week) and more so because that day gives you more opportunity and greater liberty to do so. You are not under law to make much of the Lord's day, but you can be under the controlling influence of love-love to Christ. It will not be a must to you, but a holy, happy may. John saw his Lord in His glory on that first day of the week. He turned around to do so, and so may I turn from the many things that must needs occupy much of my time through the week, such as business, household duties, mixing among those who do not care for the One I love; yes, I may turn my back on all those and see Jesus. If that is legality, let me have more of it. This does not mean that I am not to live in communion with Christ all the week long; that I am not to feast at His table on Monday as well as on Sunday, but it does mean that on the Lord's day I can be let loose in order to specially enjoy Him-to really live.
Romans 14:5 is often cited to defend spending part of the Lord's day in pleasing the flesh. That verse says: "One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." The argument is actually drawn from this that, if a believer esteems the Lord's day above the other days of the week, he is putting himself under the law, even as the Jews kept one special day-the Sabbath. And on the other side, that if another believer esteems every day alike, it means he can go playing golf or fishing or on boat rides or whatever else, on the Lord's day as well as any other day. Needless to say both those conclusions are utterly unwarranted. The truth of the matter is that every believer should live for the Lord the six days of the week and do the same on the Lord's day; there is no warrant for self-pleasing on Monday any more than there is on Sunday. That is the attitude of the religious professor who goes to church or to mass Sunday mornings and then is free to spend the rest of the day in pleasure or even downright sin. All that Rom. 14:5 teaches is that each believer is responsible to his Lord and is not the judge of the lives of fellow believers. But that does not mean that esteeming every day alike is right and esteeming the Lord's day above the other days of the week is wrong.
The real question is not what a believer does, but why and how he does it. If one rigidly keeps Sunday as a special day after the manner of the Pharisees who did everything to be seen of men, then such an one puts himself under the law and it all amounts to nothing. But if a believer honors the Lord's day and devotes it to His glory and praise (when love impels him) then it is very precious to God. Whether law or grace rules, depends entirely on the motive that controls. Nothing is legal that is done out of love to Christ.
When Paul speaks of one esteeming every day alike, he is not setting his stamp of approval on a Christian feeling free to go golfing, etc., on the Lord's day but rather the reverse - he intimates that one should live for the Lord every day of the week, including the Lord's day. If that is the standard of one's daily life there will be no difficulty in pleasing the Lord on His day, for it will not be done in a legal, self-magnifying spirit. It will be done not because one may do so and so, but because one may do so. If we live our lives, not because the law demands, but because love impels, we will honor the Lord on the first day of the week. In that case the believer, free from the obligations, duties and environment in a godless world will feel on the Lord's day like a bird let loose, free to soar into God's brisk, healthy spiritual atmosphere, where he can enjoy and taste the precious things of Christ to the full.
When the plea is made, in order to excuse pleasure of recreation on the Lord's day, that every man should be free to act as he pleases-should be allowed to be fully persuaded in his own mind, one is welcome to that. No believer has a right to dictate to any other believer as to how he spends this precious day of spiritual blessings; every believer is responsible to God alone. However, he should consider that he must be "fully persuaded" in his own mind. My personal opinion is that the only way in which a true believer in Jesus can be fully persuaded that it is right to spend part of the Lord's day in self-pleasing is to be in a poor spiritual state of soul. I am afraid the conscience of such believers needs regulating by the skill of the Holy Spirit. In fact, I have found that those who fall back on this "being fully persuaded" are always busy to persuade others rather than themselves. They themselves are never fully persuaded, else why do they always give you some excuse when they are challenged or when they feel that you don't approve of their ways?
To honor the Lord's day is not a must of course (the believer is not under the law) but it is a blessed may; it is not a question of legality but of spirituality.
We all know that the world today has gone berserk. All moral values seem to have disappeared. Fear of God and regard for His honor are "out." It seems to me this calls upon us Christians to go out of our way to specially honor His day, which the world today totally ignores and despises. Men won't be able to help noticing our reverence for God when we set this day apart for Himself alone. I know that, as things are today, many believers are forced to work on the Lord's day. But we who don't have to work on that day may we value the high and holy privilege John had of turning around on the Lord's day and beholding the glorious Person of our blessed Lord, as we worship and serve Him that day.
I esteem the first day of the week the Lord's day-above all the other days of the week. God's Word, as I have shown, sets it apart from all other days. If that means that I am under the law, as f some contend, so be it. Personally I am fully persuaded not only in my own mind, but by the teaching of God's Word, that the Lord's day belongs to the Lord. He should reign in our hearts now on the Lord's day, as by and by He will reign over the world in the day of the Lord.
-August Van Ryn