Reflections on Evening Worship – Keeping the Whole Day

As Pastor Donny has mentioned, the Session is considering the addition of an evening service of worship to complement our morning service. In order to facilitate conversation about an evening service, this reflection—and the next five—will lay out a multi-faceted case for why an evening service is a God-honoring and edifying addition to the life of this church. With that in mind, the first installment in this series will consider how framing the Lord’s Day with morning and evening worship is a fitting way to honor the fourth commandment’s command to keep the whole Sabbath day.

Before looking at the fourth commandment, it is important to note that Scripture does not mandate the New Testament church to worship morning and evening on the Lord’s Day. We are not being disobedient to the Word of God if we do not come together both morning and evening. But, the same can be said about worshiping together on Christmas Eve. There is no command to come together to worship on Christmas Eve, and those who do not do so are not disobeying God’s will. We do worship on Christmas Eve, however, because we find that it is God-honoring and edifying. It is God-honoring because it sets apart and recognizes the incarnation as an important event in the history of redemption. It is edifying because 1) we are worshiping God, 2) we are communing with brothers and sisters in Christ, and 3) we benefit spiritually from recognizing important events in the history of redemption. We should view evening worship in a similar way. It is not required, but when we do it, it honors God and edifies the saints.

One way that evening worship honors God and benefits us is that it provides structure to each Lord’s Day so that we are better able to keep the whole day holy to God. Let’s consider what God says in the fourth commandment, and then how evening worship fits in.

The four verses that comprise the fourth commandment shout out loud that God’s people are to keep the whole Sabbath day holy to God. Specifically, we see a few things related to the word “day.” First, it is frequent. Seven times the word “day” or a reference to it pops up in these verses. Second, it is central to the point. At the beginning of the commandment, “day” modifies the word “Sabbath” to highlight that we are to remember not just a Sabbath but a Sabbath day. Moreover, God blesses the whole Sabbath day because he rested on the seventh day of creation. Throughout this commandment, we see that the unit of measure is a day. We are to keep time not in hours nor in any other measure, but in (whole) days.

We also see in this commandment that the pattern of keeping one whole day out of seven as a Sabbath to God is founded on the creation week. Exodus 20:11 makes explicit reference to Gen 2:2-3 which summarizes what has happened in Gen 1:1-2:1. In Gen 1:1-2:1, there is a description of six consecutive days of creation and one day of rest. There is no eighth day and there is no repetition of the first day of creation. This suggests that God’s creation week was the model for how Adam and Eve were then to keep time going forward—and therefore how we are to keep time as well. Six days we are to work; one day we rest; rinse and repeat.

What we learn from this model is that one whole day is dedicated to rest. God did not create over the course of seven days with periods of rest here and there. He worked six whole days and rested one whole day. Thus, we are not conforming to God’s pattern when we try to intersperse some rest time here and there with the hope of it all adding up to one seventh of our week. Ordinarily, we are to keep the whole Sabbath day and to work the rest of the week.

The fourth commandment gives us good reason to think through how we can honor God in the way that we keep the whole Sabbath day holy to him. What evening worship offers to us is a structural support. It is like book ends that support books sitting on a desk. Without both book ends, the books are far less likely to stay where you put them. When you use both book ends, whatever is placed in between is more structurally secure than it would be without them. An evening service of worship is that second book end to help us organize and keep structurally sound all the other activities of rest and worship that we will do on the Lord’s Day. Is it possible to keep the whole day holy without an evening service? It certainly is, just as it is possible that a row of books on a desk will remain standing even if it does not have book ends. But consider what happens when you bump the desk. There is nothing to keep the books steady, just as there is nothing to help us to keep the whole day when our lives get complicated. When we frame the Lord’s Day with worship, we have a helpful support in our endeavors to honor God’s command that we keep the whole day holy to him.