Guy Prentiss Waters

Encouragement for Those Who Aren’t Resting on the Sabbath

The Sabbath is an opportunity for us to be a blessing to others—to be in fellowship with the people of God, to encourage them, and to serve them. It’s a day of service—gathered in worship and then outside worship in fellowship with God’s people. 

The Blessings of Sabbath
If I were in a position to speak to someone who is not observing the Sabbath, I think there might be three things that I’d want to share.
The first is that the Sabbath isn’t a tradition just observed in the church; it’s something that God has given us in his word. I would want to make that case so that they wouldn’t take it on my word, but they would take it from God’s word. I want them to follow what the word of God says.

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The Benefits & Blessings of Ordination

Ordination is a reminder of the Lord Jesus Christ’s ongoing care for his church. When we attend a service in which men are ordained to office in the church, we are witnessing the faithful love of Christ for his bride. And that is a blessing indeed!

Most Presbyterians have attended an ordination service, but many Presbyterians don’t fully understand what they are witnessing. What exactly is (not) happening when men are ordained to office in the church? What are the benefits and blessings of ordination to the church’s officers?
The PCA’s Book of Church Order defines ordination as “the authoritative admission of one duly called to an office in the Church of God, accompanied with prayer and the laying on of hands, to which it is proper to add the giving of the right hand of fellowship” (BCO 17-2). In the New Testament, we see the church’s officers doing just this. We find both examples of ordination (Acts 6:6, 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6) and commands to ordain men to church office (Tit 1:5; 1 Tim 5:22). Ordination is, therefore, a biblical ordinance.
But what does ordination mean? Some might be familiar with the sacrament of holy orders in the Roman Catholic Church. According to Rome, “grace is conferred by sacred ordination” such that “a character is imprinted [upon the soul of the ordinand] that can be neither erased nor taken away.”[1] Such a high claim rightly provoked strong Protestant reaction at the time of the Reformation. In the centuries since, some have feared that practicing ordination in any form invites superstition and ritualism into the life and ministry of the church.
The Presbyterian doctrine of ordination captures the balance reflected in the teaching of the Scripture. As James Bannerman has well stated the point, “ordination is less than a charm, but it is more than a form.”[2] It is, on the one hand, “less than a charm.” The Bible sees ordination neither as a sacrament of the church nor as a transaction in which grace is transmitted from one or more church officer(s) to another. It is, on the other hand, “more than a form.” Ordination is not a rite of human devising that the church is free to disregard. Nor is ordination without significance in the life and ministry of the church.
What exactly, then, is taking place when a man is set apart to the office to which he has been elected and called by the church?
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The Resurrection

Paul did not preach the resurrection because it was popular. He preached it because it was true. The resurrection of Jesus confirmed the coming judgment but also secured blessing for the undeserving. However God is pleased to use this truth in the lives of unbelievers, the church’s task remains the same—to tell others that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.

The resurrection of the dead is anathema to the modern mind. Rudolf Bultmann, one of the most famous New Testament scholars of the twentieth century and a theological liberal, declared, “An historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.” To the Apostle Paul, however, Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was inconceivable (see 1 Cor. 15:1–11). In company with the other Apostles, Paul proclaimed the resurrection as the great fact upon which Christianity stands or falls.
How do we tell jaded and skeptical people about the resurrection? Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Athens (Acts 17:16–34) gives us much-needed direction. When Paul arrived in Athens, he preached at the synagogue, but he also went to the “marketplace,” where philosophers and teachers congregated to exchange ideas (v. 17). Paul persevered through initial misunderstanding and mockery, and he accepted an invitation to address the Areopagus, an august body of retired public officials.
In that address, Paul first gently but firmly exposes one of the fundamental and fatal weaknesses of polytheism. The altar “to the unknown god” was the Athenians’ standing acknowledgment that their religion was insufficient and inadequate. Paul then presents to the Athenians the solution that they need but never found on their own—the worship of the one true God.
Paul tells the Athenians about the sovereign and all-sufficient God who made and upholds the world and all that is in it (vv. 24–25). He also tells them about themselves (vv. 26–29). God has made all human beings from “one man,” and He has furthermore “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (17:26). The entirety of our lives is lived inescapably before the omnipresent God (17:28). We are, furthermore, His image-bearers (“offspring”; vv. 28–29).
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Heavenly Rewards

But one of the most important things that rewards do for Christians is to remind us of the character of our God. Among Satan’s primal lies is that God is not good and does not want what is for our true good and happiness (see Gen. 3:1–7). Scripture gives us reminder after reminder of the truth about God—He is good, and what He does is good (Ps. 119:68). All that our record deserves from God is condemnation and death. By His everlasting mercy, the Father has united us to His Son.

Starbucks. Marriott. Southwest Airlines. Even Domino’s Pizza. It seems that just about every company has some kind of rewards program. The more you eat, drink, fly, or spend the night, the more you earn. Rewards programs make sense because they reflect the way that the world works. When we work, we earn a wage. Our accomplishments often bring us praise and perks.
So it would seem that when the New Testament writers speak about heavenly rewards in the kingdom of God, we understand exactly what they are talking about. If we work hard in the Christian life, then we will earn blessing from God, right? Wrong. The Bible’s teaching on rewards is just one example of the way that God turns our expectations and assumptions upside down.
If only for this reason, we need to give careful thought to what the Scripture says (and doesn’t say) about heavenly rewards. We may think about this biblical teaching along five lines.
First, there are heavenly rewards, tied to the obedience and service of the believer in this life. Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is filled with references to heavenly rewards (Matt. 5:12, 46; 6:1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 16, 18). Rewards are only for those who trust in and follow Christ, not for unbelievers. These rewards will be given not in the present but in the future, after the believer leaves this life (see 16:27). Rewards relate to the good works that we do in this life, including such minor and insignificant actions as “giving one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple” (10:42).
The Apostles no less emphasize the fact and importance of rewards in the Christian life. Addressing ministers and elders, Paul says that the last day will be a time of sifting and assessing of ministerial labors. “The fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward” (1 Cor. 3:13–14). Addressing all believers, Paul speaks of “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). Paul encourages “bondservants” to live in faithful obedience to Christ because they know “that from the Lord they will receive the inheritance as their reward” (Col. 3:22, 24).
Second, there are differences in heavenly rewards, with some believers receiving more or less than other believers. Jesus underscores this point in His parable of the minas (Luke 19:11–27). In this parable, a king gives his servants each one mina. After some time has passed, each servant appears before the king and gives an account of what he has done with that mina. The first servant has earned ten minas with his one mina, and the second servant has earned five minas with his one mina. The king rewards the first servant with “authority over ten cities” and the second servant with authority over “five cities.” There is inequality in these heavenly rewards. Some will get more than others. But if the rewards are unequally bestowed, they are not randomly assigned. Rewards in heaven are proportionate to (but never based on) obedience on earth—the servant who earned ten minas receives authority over ten cities, and the servant who earned five minas receives authority over five cities. The reward for the investment so outweighs what was earned that our earthly obedience does not actually merit it. The reward is not based on obedience in that meritorious sense.
Third, every believer is justified on exactly the same basis, the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. The Scriptures teach that “none is righteous, no, not one,” that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:10; 6:23). Far from earning life and heaven, humans have earned death and hell. By nature, we are guilty of Adam’s first sin (in addition to all our own sins). We are therefore born into this world condemned, deserving of judgment. The sinner’s hope is not in himself but in Christ.
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How (and How Not) to Keep the Sabbath

When we set apart the first day of the week, we are declaring openly that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. We are testifying to his saving work for sinners. We are no less declaring the reality of the “rest” that awaits us in the consummation—the fullness of the blessing, life, and glory in Christ. Observing the Sabbath is a profound declaration of the gospel—its truth, its importance, and its claim on our hearts and lives. 

What is the Sabbath?
Imagine that you are walking in the neighborhood of a busy city and someone flags you down from the stoop of their brownstone. The homeowner is waving with some urgency, so you stop to see what they want. “Can you come in the house and change out my lightbulb?” they ask you. “Why do you need me to change out your lightbulb?” you reply. “Because I’m Jewish, it’s the Sabbath, and I can’t work on the Sabbath. The house is dark and we need the bulb changed. I figured that since you were a Gentile, you wouldn’t have a problem with doing it.”
Something very much like that happened to a friend of mine many years ago (and he gladly changed the bulb). I suspect that it captures many of the impressions that Christians often have about the Sabbath—It’s just for Israel, but it’s not for the Church. The Sabbath is legalistic and stifling because it burdens people with unreasonable, man-made rules. I am free from the law in Christ, so why would I ever think about observing the Sabbath?

It is tempting to rush into discussions about what to do (and not to do) on the Sabbath. But before we get there, there are a couple of questions that we need to ask. First, what is the Sabbath? The Sabbath is a weekly day that God has appointed for human beings to rest from the labors and activities that fill out the other six days and to devote that day to the worship of God and fellowship with his people. The Hebrew word underlying the English word sabbath means “rest.” The Sabbath is a day of holy resting, of spiritual refreshment in God. We see God establishing the Sabbath at creation. He completed his works of creation in six days, and then he “rested on the seventh day” (Gen. 2:2). That “seventh day” was a day that God “blessed” and “made . . . holy” (Gen. 2:3), that is, a day set apart for people to worship God.

In the life of Israel, the Sabbath takes on added meaning. In Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God tells his people that the Sabbath is a day to “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut. 5:15). It is a day to remember the mighty work of God in redeeming his people. Since the Exodus always pointed forward to God’s work in redeeming his people from their sin through Jesus Christ, the Sabbath, therefore, commemorates what God has done in Christ to save sinners.
Should We Still Observe?
Second, is the Sabbath something that Christians should observe? Some may interject at this point, What you have been saying is all well and good, but that’s the Old Testament. What about the New Testament? That is an excellent question, and the New Testament affirms the Sabbath as a standing commandment for all people. Jesus taught often about the Sabbath. In the Gospels, we see him correcting misunderstandings of the Sabbath. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day had taken a commandment that was to be a joy and had turned it into a miserable burden.
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It’s by Design That We’ve Never Lived without the Sabbath

The Sabbath is a day that God has “made . . . holy”—it is set apart to him and to his worship. And it is precisely because the day is directed toward God that it carries blessing for human beings. It is a day that God has “blessed.” In light of the testimony of Genesis 1:1–2:3, that blessing carries potential for fruitfulness and fullness. Thus, as God meets with people who truly worship him on that day, they experience all of these gifts—spiritual blessing, fruitfulness, and fullness.

The Bible introduces the Sabbath at its beginning. We first meet the Sabbath in the account of God making heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1–2:3). Strikingly, it is God who, in a sense, observes the first Sabbath (Gen. 2:3).
In the creation account, God makes the world and everything in it in six days. A seventh day follows that is set apart from the previous six in some important ways. Genesis 2:1–3 reads,
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
The Sabbath: God’s Ordinance for Human Beings
This observation raises the question, “What kind of worship is in view, and by whom?” The answer of Genesis is, “Humanity’s worship of the God who made them.” Human beings are unique within Genesis 1:1–2:3 as those said to be made after the “image” and “likeness” of God (Gen. 1:26), after God’s “own image, in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27). As such, people are uniquely capable among all the creatures mentioned in Genesis 1:1–2:3 of fellowship and communion with God.2 Thus, the worship for which God provides in Genesis 2:1–3 is given so that his image bearers may have fellowship with him. Strikingly then, “humanity . . . is not the culmination of creation, but rather humanity in Sabbath day communion with God.”3
Genesis 1:1–2:3, in fact, presents a twofold imitation of God on the part of his image bearers. First, God creates human beings to work (Gen. 1:28–30). In part, people express the image of God as they labor in their various callings. The God who exercises dominion over the works of his hands calls humanity to “have dominion” over the earth and all the animals in it (Gen. 1:26). The God who fills the world that he has made calls human beings to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Thus, humans will exercise dominion as they are faithful to marry and produce offspring (see Gen. 2:23–25). But it would be a mistake to say that Genesis 1:1–2:3 conceives no higher human imitation of God than labor. As human beings imitate God at work, so also are they to imitate God at rest. As God made the world and everything in it within the space of six days and rested on the seventh day, so are human beings to engage in six days of labor and one day of holy resting.
In sum, God intends for human beings to imitate his rest by taking the weekly Sabbath to rest from their labors and devote the whole day to his worship. The word translated “bless” (barak) in Genesis 2:3 “is normally restricted to living beings in the [Old Testament] and typically does not apply to something being blessed or sanctified only for God’s sake.”4 Thus, God does not bless the seventh day for his own sake but for humanity’s sake. He is setting apart this one day in seven to be a regular day of rest in the weekly cycle of human existence. He is, in effect, commanding human beings to observe the Sabbath.
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