Puritanic Rigidity Is not the Problem

Series | The Lord’s Day

Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

Ah, sirs! there may have been a time when Christians were too precise, but it has not been in my day. There may have been such a dreadful thing as Puritanic rigidity, but I have never seen it. We are quite free from that evil now, if it ever existed. We have gone from liberty to libertinism. We have passed beyond the dubious into the dangerous, and none can prophesy where we shall stop. (quoted by MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel, p.87)

Even though Spurgeon was specifically confronting the church’s general lack of holiness in the Down-Grade, I think the quote applies equally well to our modern day disregard for the Lord’s day.

Perhaps we don’t value the Lord’s day because for all our talk, we’re not that desperate for God after all. We treat the Lord as if He were dispensable and we take delight in other things. Maybe if we hadn’t been busy all week trying to drink from broken cisterns we would thirst for the fountain of living waters and come for a corporate drink on His day.

Still the discipline of celebrating the Lord’s day every first day reminds us how much we need Him and how important His Body is. I think that’s why John Calvin said about Sunday corporate meeting,

we adopt it as a necessary remedy for preserving order in the Church. (Institutes, 2.VIII.33)

This is especially so for those of us in student ministry. I am convinced that the first mark of a healthy student ministry is that we are part of the local church. We will always be sickly and weak if we do not participate and praise the Lord on His day with His Body in “big church.”

As we lay to rest this series on the Lord’s day, let me conclude with one final thought. My son Calvin is almost two. He doesn’t know a lot of words but he’s at least learned (his own version of) the names of all the people living at our house. Since he can’t call things by what they are, he identifies an item by the person who owns it. He’ll circle the room and point out everything he recognizes by who uses it: books, chairs, ladders, coffee cups, cars, whatever. The question is, if someone looked at how you spend your Sunday, who would they say owned it? You? Or the Lord?

A Week on the Merry-Go-Round

Series | The Lord’s Day

Obviously our whole lives are to be worship; worship is more than just a Sunday activity even though I’ve tried to make the case that there is something special about the Lord’s day. Not only that, there may be times when the best way for us to worship on a given Sunday means we might miss the meeting of the church. Yet I do believe our customary course toward the corporate meeting of the church on the first day of the week should be like water in a steep, downhill pipe.

Here’s the linchpin to the previous paragraph: The Lord’s day is a part of whole-life worship. Worship is not a one day a week activity, nor is there only one way to worship on that day.

Of course, that teeters the totter to the other side. In everything I’ve said so far about the Lord’s day, maybe it seems like we’re supposed to pause from life on Sunday for worship. In that case Sunday is like a big fat guy at the bottom of a seesaw, laughing at six little school girls of the rest of the week, suspended high above the ground. And to be sure, Sunday corporate worship is weighty. The neglect of the Lord’s day is a serious threat. That is, after all, why I parked here so long to preach and press and plead.

But the above paragraph is not my attempt at being “balanced,” it’s my appeal for being passionate. Sunday and the other six days are on not on opposite sides of a seesaw. Instead, Sunday is like that same big fat guy propelling those little school girls on the merry-go-round faster and faster till they squeal with delight. First day gathering isn’t an interruption of life for worship, it incites and impels whole-life worship.

That’s precisely why the Lord’s day is not a list of “can nots” and why occasionally our best worship may not be with the Body on Sunday and also why I still think the first day is the best day. So as we talk with each other/students/parents, let’s not be balanced about Sunday, let’s be passionate about worship.

Passionately Exult in Worship

Series | The Lord’s Day

This is the fourth piece of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

4. Celebrate

Isn’t this the whole point? Anticipation and participation and concentration culminate in worship. Sunday service is not a funeral, it is a solemn party of praise for our risen Savior! Surely there is a place for repentance, for mourning and sorrow over sin, but didn’t Jesus say those were the truly happy (blessed) people (Matthew 5:3-4)?

With Heart Integrity

Integrity and authenticity are buzzwords today. Some pastors are changing “church” because they feel like too many Christians camouflage their misery with polite, cheesy, Christianese speak; that’s not integrity. And I agree to some extent. We ought not pretend that everything is alright if it isn’t. That’s hypocrisy. But we also shouldn’t act like there’s no forgiveness and remedy our sin. That’s folly.

The heart is at the center of each piece of practical advice and at the core of each possible activity for the Lord’s day. Of course, genuine worship comes from the heart. At the same time genuine worship is commanded in Scripture. So how do we obey the command to worship if our heart isn’t right? It doesn’t mean that we worship superficially or that worship is out, it means we first need to get our heart in line for the sake of worship.

So if our heart isn’t right, let’s not act like it is. But if our heart isn’t right, let’s get it right by the gospel. That’s integrity.

With Multiplied Intensity

If all the other things are in order, watch out, Sunday is going to sizzle. There is something strong and resounding about an orchestra, even though an oboe could play the same song solo. And even though even one match catches fire, it will not burn with the heat and intensity like a whole heap of sticks.

There are multiple ways to articulate these four pieces of advice. Prepare your heart, be present, pay attention, and praise the Lord. Arrange your schedule, attend the services, adjust your spirit, and adore your Savior. Eagerly expect to worship, actively engage in worship, intently endeavor to worship, and passionately exult in worship. The important thing is that we celebrate the Lord’s day.

Intently Endeavor to Worship

Series | The Lord’s Day

Here is the third piece of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

3. Concentrate

Each piece of advice flows naturally into the next. If the Lord’s day is worth our anticipation and participation, certainly it deserves our concentration.

Free from Distraction

It’s not just the leader’s responsibility to create an atmosphere that is as free from distraction as possible. We should and do try to achieve that. But there’s plenty enough to distract most people right inside their own head. Assignments, bad news, a particular guy/girl who’s there, a guy/girl who isn’t, lunch, etc., are all kinds of interference that will hinder the signal from coming through. But instead of allowing our heads to wander, we must deliberately aim our minds in adoration to the Lord.

Free from Disregard

This is dangerous. Any given person could stroll through every external thing we’ve mentioned so far and yet it all be an abomination to God. If someone’s heart is far from Him, if they come it to flaunt their righteousness, the whole show is vain. We must not disregard and disrespect the Lord (ever and definitely not) on the Lord’s day. I may not know. In fact, I may think he’s a hot snot worshipper. But I am not the audience; the Lord knows all our hearts and whether we’re concentrating on ourselves or on Him.

Actively Engage in Worship

Series | The Lord’s Day

Here is the second piece of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

2. Participate

By Getting There

Sheesh. Do I really need to say that? Apparently I do. It’s part of the reason I’m writing about the Lord’s day in the first place.

It is true that no explicit command for church worship services on Sunday can be found in Scripture. But Hebrews 10:24-25 does reveal our obligation not to neglect meeting together.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

So even though there is no command for Sunday, it is imperative that we meet. And after everything we considered concerning the Lord’s day and the first day, I think the primary day for meeting was probably assumed.

Get there. Show up. Sunday is not a solo enterprise. After all, the word “church” (ἐκκλησία) means assembly, congregation, gathering, or group. We’ve heard it before, the church is not the building, it’s the people. So where are we? Corporate praise begins with our presence.

Some of my students say things like, “But my parents don’t come for first service so I can’t get here for big church.” And I typically respond, “Okay, well did you at least ask them? Maybe you did and they said no. Did you call someone for a ride? Did you set your alarm and get on your bike and ride here yourself (like one of our students does)? If you want to be here, you’ll get here.”

By Being There

Attendance is where it begins, not where it ends. We are not (to be) spectators and pastors/leaders are not performers. The congregation is not the audience; God is. And He is watching me and you!

After you get there, be there. Engage! Sing! Listen! Serve! Too many come as consumers. They come to see what other people can do for them and how well the people up front can entertain. They watch, they don’t worship. They take, they don’t partake. But the Lord’s day will only be the best day when we all participate.

Eagerly Expect to Worship

Series | The Lord’s Day

I previously promised four pieces of practical advice for how to regard the Lord’s day as the best day. Here is the first.

1. Anticipate

In other words, prepare for Sunday. Think about it ahead of time. Look forward, count down, and get ready.1

In Your Schedule

I understand that life responsibilities do not cease just because it’s Sunday. But if we are serious about honoring the Lord on His day, it will require some effort on our part to forecast what needs to get done and then to do all the things we can before Sunday so that we can participate in as many the events of the body as possible without distraction.

The fact is, for most of us, Sunday is the most negotiable day we have. “I have to go to school Monday through Friday.” “I have to work during all week.” But Sunday is flexible. The corporate meeting of the church is like sand that moves around the boulders of all our other appointments and responsibilities.

We plan around other things and through Sunday. We all do it. Our vacations are (often) longer because Sunday is another day off; after all, we’ve got to be back in the office on Monday. We plan on doing homework on Sunday instead of working a little longer on another day so that we can go out on Friday/Saturday. That’s because Friday is the best day for us.

I’m not saying we can’t worship God over a weekend getaway. I’m not saying Sunday homework is an unequivocal no-no. But many times Lord’s day neglect can be preempted by a little planning.

Now what about those who have to work on Sunday? Let me answer that two ways. It is possible that it may be the case that someone must work on Sunday to support their family. I don’t desire to place unnecessary conscience cargo on persons in that position. I recommend they do what they can to change their schedule, but in the meantime, and hopefully only for a short season, they should look for as many opportunities as they can to make the Lord’s day special.

However, I believe most people do not have to work on Sunday in the first place. Many make zero effort to ask for Sundays off or switch shifts with someone. True, sometimes those things don’t work out. And they will probably argue that they need the hours. But why? My experience finds that most (maybe not all) people who need to work on Sundays “for the hours” demonstrate that their life priorities are out of line. The rest of their week is full, but not because they are slaves to some master who is squeezing every second. Instead it is because they are pursuing their own priorities. “But I’ve got school and work and family all week long. Sunday is the only day I’ve got.” My point is that what we pursue on Tuesday plays out on the Lord’s day.

We always do what we most want to do, and our schedule is a window into our wants. We have so many options. There are lots of jobs. When I described the pre-pastor time in my life when Sundays were so sweet to me, I was going to school full-time and working 30-40 hours a week. In order to steward my spiritual giftedness, serve the body, and not neglect Sunday meetings, I chose the graveyard shift. More times than I care to count I worked Saturday at 11 pm until 7 am Sunday morning, went home and went running so I wouldn’t fall asleep, attended morning worship, napped before evening worship, and returned to work at 11 pm Sunday night. Was I tired? Yes. Was that schedule optimal? No. But Sunday was the best day and I anticipated it.

Most of us don’t have to worry about that anyway. We just need to turn off the TV and go to bed at a reasonable hour so our heads will be clear and our bodies rested.

In Your Heart

The Lord’s day is a workout, not mainly because it’s a long day or there’s a lot to do, but it’s a workout because our hearts are out of spiritual shape. It is unnatural to take a whole day and focus, with full and hot affections, on someone else. Everything in our flesh pulls our attention and our affections back to ourselves. It is a trustworthy statement, if we spend the rest of our week, and especially our Saturdays and Saturday night centered on ourselves, we will resist centering on the Lord on Sunday.

We will blame the music or the preacher for not engaging us and facilitating our worship. But there is no way to please the self-centered with services that are Lord-centered. The center of those two targets are not complimentary, they are contradictory. There is no switch to flip that will instantly redirect self-affection to Him-affection.

That would be like a person laying on their couch, sucking down milkshakes and pizza all day all week long and then wondering why they were sucking wind after two minutes on the treadmill. Following that illustration, some parents make their students come to the gym once a week and it’s brutal. That’s no surprise. But if there was some anticipation and preparation in their heart they might really enjoy Sunday.

So we should anticipate in our schedule and in our heart. The following pieces will probably fall into place if the first one is laid correctly.


  1. For some additional anticipation advice, see John Piper’s 10 Practical Preparations for Hearing the Word of God on Sunday Morning.

The Best Day

Series | The Lord’s Day

A pastor friend of mine who helps lead a local body on the Lord’s day typically posts the order of service on Saturday so the sheep can prepare. He titled his post a few weeks ago, “Getting ready for the Best Day of the Week.” I’ve been thinking about that ever since. The Lord’s day, the first day, is the best day of the week for Christians.

Sunday has been the center of my week for a long time, not on my calendar but in my affections. As a pastor, Sunday anchors my week. But even and especially before I was a pastor, the Lord’s day was my lifeline. It was rest from the spiritual battle. It was refreshment for my spiritual thirst. Every Sunday was a spiritual family reunion (that I actually looked forward to). It was just the best day.

I earnestly want that for every believer. And I’ve got four pieces of practical advice so that Christians would stake Sunday as second to none every week.

But before I begin publishing these pointers, let me say that I’m almost embarrassed at how rudimentary they are. They do not assume much maturity at all. Yet I am finding that many of my students (and perhaps their parents too) are not beyond a need for the obvious restated. So with that in mind, let us consider how we might regard the Lord’s day as the best day.

Caveats and Clarification on First Day Conduct

Series | The Lord’s Day

Our Lord’s day practices require consideration and sometimes qualification. Even so, the following ammendments will be of no avail if you haven’t read the previous post on first day activities.

First, I am not saying we must do each one of the first day activities every Sunday in order to properly observe the Lord’s day. There are no commands for proper protocol or procedure of worship services like we conduct today. There are no instructions on the right order of service or how much time we should spend on any particular part of the service.

Unlike Israel’s itemized, formal, and systematic Sabbath and temple worship in the OT, there is considerable freedom for Christians as we plan our time together. My point in identifying the three categories of first day and group activities is that we should use the same raw material even though the shape of our Sundays may be different from the first century church. The style our clothes may not match, but they should be cut from the same cloth.

Second, I am also not saying that we can’t do anything else other than these things on the Lord’s day, either when we’re at the house of worship or our own homes. Like I just said, believers have a measure of liberty as a Body both gathered and scattered on Sunday. We do not want to create a “can nots” list and add extra-biblical burdens like the Jews did to the Sabbath.

But I am saying that we should be careful about what we do on the Lord’s day. For some that does mean they should stop certain Christ-dishonoring pursuits. Others need to incorporate more of the corporate. I am also saying that the various activities we looked at, though not commandments for corporate worship per se, are all profitable as they clear the way for us to comprehend Christ’s worth and provision and salvation and instruction on His day.

The bottom line is that we benefit from setting aside an entire day every week to be reminded that we need God! Starting with the apostles, then the early church fathers, through the Reformers and up till today, the consistent practice of the church has been to observe the first day of the week as a special day for Christians to gather and worship.

The First Day

Series | The Lord’s Day

The first day of the week, Sunday, was and is the Lord’s day. While the title “Lord’s day” is only used in Revelation 1:10, “first day” is a common identification of the day when believers gathered.

In the Old Testament, Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath; to set apart the seventh day of the week (Saturday) and rest from their work just as God rested from His work of creation. But there is no command to keep the Sabbath in the New Testament and it is the only one of the 10 Commandments not repeated in the NT. Not only that, but almost immediately after the resurrection of Jesus on Sunday Christians started congregating for corporate worship on the first day.

At least a few New Testament passages demonstrate the first day focus of the apostles (for example, Acts 20:7-12 and 1 Corinthians 16:2). And there is no doubt that when the apostle John mentioned (c. AD 100) that his vision was on the Lord’s day, he was longing for the corporate Christian fellowship and worship from which he was isolated.

We also see multiple references to the first day as the Lord’s day from the early church fathers as well, spanning from the 2nd through the 5th centuries. Just one example comes from Justin Martyr (c. AD 150):

On Sunday we hold our joint meeting; for the first day is that on which God, having removed darkness and chaos, made the world, and Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead.

So since the middle of the first century, almost 2000 years now, Christians have gathered on Sunday and recognized it as the Lord’s day. This is part of our Christian heritage and should be prized as a special thing.

So what are we to do on the Lord’s day, the first day of the week? Are were simply to dress up in our Sunday best and sit around all day being bored? Well, what do we see in Scripture?

Explicit First Day Activities

In Acts 20:7-12 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 we see at least three explicit, that is clearly stated in detail, activities of gathered Christians.

1. The Lord’s Supper – Acts 20:7a

Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread,…

The connection is obvious. The day is the Lord’s day, it is the weekly anniversary of the Lord’s resurrection, so commemorating His death and resurrection in the Lord’s supper makes sense.

So the believers in Troas gathered together to break bread. This was more significant than just having a meal, it was part of their communion service (Paul confronted abuses associated with this connection in 1 Corinthians 11). Remembering the Lord’s sacrifice and celebrating the salvation He provides is an appropriate part of Sunday worship.

2. Teaching and Exhortation – Acts 20:7b

Acts 20:7 …Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

While the believers were gathered Paul instructed them from God’s Word. This was not just conversation (the word “talked” in verse 7 is διαλέγομαι meaning “to instruct, to inform,” and “he prolonged his speech” is παρέτεινέν τε τὸν λόγον indicating that Paul’s speech was at least somewhat arranged). It says he “conversed” with them later (v.11, the word ὁμιλήσας meaning “associate with, talk to”). You might remember that his sermon was so long that particular Sunday that one young man fell asleep and fell from the third floor.

Teaching has always been one of the primary reasons for Christians to gather. The early church was continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42) and Paul exhorts Timothy and Titus to speak and teach and preach and instruct and exhort and remind and rebuke and reprove in season and out of season with all patience (1 Timothy 4:11, 13; 2 Timothy 2:14-15; 4:1-4; Titus 2:1, 15; 3:1, 8 )

I’ve said it before, God’s Word is powerful to save and sanctify. And while the two-edged sword can cut in private, there is a special place on the Lord’s day for wielding the sword in public. On the Lord’s day we give attention to the Lord’s word. (Note also Hebrews 4:12-13, His Word is the only thing that can cut to your heart!)

3. Giving – 1 Corinthians 16:21

1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper.

There is something right about giving to the Lord’s work on the Lord’s day. Instead of giving whatever and whenever we feel like it, it is an important discipline to prepare and bring money (that the Lord provided in the first place) to give to the Lord. This is another way in which we acknowledge that this is His day as we offer financial gifts to Him.

Explicit Corporate Activities

While there are only a few things directly connected with Sunday in Scripture, there are a few more practices that are directly connected with corporate meetings of the church.

1. Baptism

Baptism is the other ordinance our Lord gave in addition to the Lord’s supper. It is the public and corporate identification of the believer to his Lord.

2. Reading of Scripture – 1 Timothy 4:13

1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

Again, we give attention to what our Lord says when we give attention to the Bible. God promises that His Word will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).

3. Prayer – 1 Timothy 2:1

Paul begins giving instructions for various groups in the body when they meet. Prayer is an acknowledgment of our dependence on the Lord.

Implicit Corporate Activities

There are activities explicitly connected to Sunday as well as those explicitly associated with corporate meetings. There are also some activities implicitly related to the gathered church.

1. Singing

Singing is never directly connected with Sunday in the NT nor is it ever commanded for group meetings. But based on the example of Israel’s corporate worship, the NT obligations to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (for example, Colossians 3:16), and the heavenly singing John describes (Revelation 5:9), corporate singing as part of our praise to the Lord is valuable.

2. Ministry Reports

In Acts we see believers regularly giving reports of the Lord’s work in another place, providing opportunity for prayer requests and thanksgiving.

Before we move on to some practical Lord’s day preparation advice, I want to clarify a few things in the next post.


  1. For some extended thoughts on drawing general application from the specific context of 1 Corinthians 16, see the comment thread here.

The Lord’s Day

Series | The Lord’s Day

George Orwell said,

Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.

I’m not claiming intelligence, but I do think some restatement of the obvious regarding the Lord’s day is an eternally and spiritually intelligent thing to do.

Even the phrase itself, the Lord’s day is instructive. It isn’t just Sunday or the first day of the calendar week or the last day of your weekend. In fact it’s not your day at all. It is the Lord’s day. The name is biblical, and though only found in one verse, it is an inspired designation. The apostle John wrote in Revelation 1:10,

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.

John was isolated on the island of Patmos; exiled as punishment for preaching the gospel. As he began to write the Revelation of the end times he tells us when he received this vision: on the Lord’s day.

This is the only verse that uses this exact phrase. And after reading it in English I had a question, because I was familiar with a similar phrase found plenty of places in the Old and New Testaments referring to “the day of the Lord.” I’ve read my Bible enough and taken enough theology classes to know that “the day of the Lord” denotes a coming, eschatological day of judgment, when the Lord comes back and pours out His wrath on those nations and peoples who rejected Him.

And if you know anything about translation you know that there are numerous ways to indicate possession. You can say “the desk of Bob” or “Bob’s desk.” Both constructions show that the desk is owned by Bob. In English we typically show possession by adding apostrophe “s” but in highly inflected languages (like Greek) possession is expressed by this genitive phrasing.

So I wondered if it was same phrase, and if so, why every other time in Scripture we read “the day of the Lord” but here in Revelation 1:10 it was translated “the Lord’s day.” There are at least a couple reasons for the difference. The first is word order.

In most of the references to the day of the Lord, “Lord” comes after “day” in the typical genitive construction.

ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου
the day of the Lord

But in Revelation 1:10, the word for “Lord” comes between the article and the noun. This is the first attributive position and is the principal way to accentuate or highlight the adjective more than the noun. The emphasis is on Lord’s.

τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ
the Lord’s day

But word order is not the biggest reason why Revelation 1:10 is different. The biggest reason is because it isn’t even the same word. The word in Revelation 1:10 is a form of κυριακός. While in the same family of words as the noun, κύριος, meaning Lord, this is an adjective that doesn’t refer to the person, it distinctly describes what belongs to the person.

The word κυριακός is not a Bible-only word. It was used frequently in secular Greek writings in imperial, official language: “concerning the emperor” or “belonging to the emperor,” often referring to the emperor’s accounts and what was rightfully owned and due to his position. John applies the word to a particular day as “belonging to the Lord; the Lord’s.” Like anything owned by the King, this day is set apart for, specially possessed by, and distinctive of the Lord. It is not my day or your day or even the church’s day; it is the Lord’s day.

There is only one other place that κυριακός is used to describe something else owned by the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 11:20 Paul refers to “the Lord’s supper” and totally transforms ordinary food and common meals into something that is distinct, special, and set apart. Paul admonished the Corinthians that they were treating His table with disrespect and therefore treating Him with disregard.

So κυριακός is an imperial, royal, kingly word, and His day is not something for us to treat with indifference. Matthew Henry wrote,

The name shows how this sacred day should be observed; the Lord’s day should be wholly devoted to the lord, and none of its hours employed in a sensual, worldly manner, or in amusements….Those who would enjoy communion with God on the Lord’s day, must seek to draw their thoughts and affections from earthly things.

We are so far away from Sunday’s like this. We do not treat the day like it’s His. It’s our day, and we may share a few hours with Him if we don’t have something better to do. Instead, we should restate the obvious and remember and rehearse that it is the Lord’s day.