March Mailbag - How a Girlfriend Trains Her Non-Romantic Boyfriend, Theological Differences in Dating, & Practicing Sabbath Rest

Christ is risen!

After an amazing month of celebrating Christ's death and resurrection, here's the March edition of mailbag. 

"What does Biblical rest look like? I feel like I’m either working too much or not working at all and being lazy. What does it mean to “keep the Sabbath holy” other than going to church on a Sunday? Should I not work on Sundays? Is that Biblical rest? What should I be doing if I’m not working? What’s the difference between rest and sloth?"

Anonymous / Rowland Heights (CA) 

Great question. This will probably be best answered “Sabbath down” meaning, it will be helpful to first capture what it means to “keep the Sabbath holy” in order to meaningfully slot concepts such as “rest” and “sloth” underneath so that we can put the horse before the cart, and not the other way around.

To cut to the chase, I would define “keeping the Sabbath holy” as one’s intentional effort to give God worship through the restful enjoyment of the giver and his gifts.

My rationale? While the idea of the Sabbath appears as a continuing theme in the narrative of the Biblical story dressed differently at different times, it continually seems to point back to this idea of worship through enjoyment of God and his provisions. 

Consider this short summary: 

  • Sabbath in Creation: God sets the paradigmatic template of the sabbath in the beginning of the story. There is no sin, God does not tire, and yet we find God presumably enjoying Trinitarian fellowship in the aftermath of creation (Gen 2:2-3). We see worship through restful and relational enjoyment being practiced by God himself. 
  • Sabbath in Fall: Rest is found wanting when Adam and Eve reject God. Toil and pain become present in basic human functions such as work and childbearing as humanity is driven “east of Eden" (Gen 3:24).
  • Sabbath in Redemption: Though sin mires all things, God’s people are still pointed "back towards Eden" through forwarding progressing covenant.  
    • God's OT people are given promise of a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 33:3), where they will be God's people and he, their God (Ex.6:7). The sabbath becomes formalized and officially embedded into their thecracy as a lifestyle to be practiced but also as a perpetual reminder that God is taking his people to Canaan (Ex. 20:8-11). Worship, rest, enjoyment become spiritually and practically wired into the worldview of the people. 
    • The New Testament would further understand Canaan, not just as a geographical location, but one without a timezone in relationship to God where God's people would enter "true rest" (Heb 4:11) on account of their trust in Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8), who restores and gives rest, an easy yoke, a light burden (Matt 11:30), to sinners in relationship with God which is ultimately accomplished through his own toil and death on a cross.
  • Sabbath in Consummation: God's people worship God for eternity through enjoyment of God and his gifts without sin in the New Heavens and the New Earth (redeemed Eden; Rev 21). 

In light of viewing the Sabbath this way, the application of Sabbath becomes a bit clearer. The follower of Jesus is invited to exercise intentionality to cultivate one's worship of God through the enjoyment of God and and his provisions. This means... 

  • Our practice of Sabbath is not passive, but active. We don't just sit around all day and call it "rest." In fact, sitting around and doing nothing can be very draining and ruin worship (slothful). It is an "intentional effort" done with thought, care, preparation, and purpose (restful). This means, it is okay to set aside time to do what we want to do, with intentional and self control. 
  • Our enjoyment of God and his gifts can be wide-ranging from a worship service, to an activity that we find recharging. Everyone has a different hobby or interest that enables us to stop focusing on "building life" and allows us to "be" enabling us to realize our blessedness, where the truth of God's goodness is felt. For some, this may be taking a surfboard down to the local beach for an hour, while it means others are curling up to a book before brunch on a Saturday morning with friends. 
  • The test and quality of our activity is ultimatley found in our celebration of God and hopefulness in His plan during and at the culmination of our activity. If we participate in some hobby in the name of sabbath only to find ourselves more stressed out and upset, we may need to pursue something else for the purposes of sabbath. A hobby or interest is the means for sabbath only when it leads us ultimately to enjoy and give thanks to God. Otherwise, it's just a hobby. 

"How would you counsel a dating couple who disagree on the miraculous spiritual gifts? What are the issues, apart from foundational gospel truths, that may cause you to counsel a dating couple to break up if they were to disagree on them?

Sam / Anaheim (CA)

Thanks for this question Sam.

To answer the first question, without really knowing the context of the dating couple, I would really be curious as to how deeply real the issue is for the dating couple as opposed it still be in theological process. 

Here's what I mean, just to give an example. When it comes to the secondary issue of miraculous gifts, there are a lot of self-proclaiming continuationists who are so, much more in theory than in practice. They do not pray in tongues, would not ever feel comfortable receiving a word of prophecy in any context, and do not even attend a charismatic church (or have charismatic friends), but they're continuationists theoretically. Though a continuationist in theory, this person would actually be a cessationist in practice. They prefer a theological position, even though it never shows up in their lives. In this case, I wonder if it's a little hypocritical for this person to suddenly make this issue a big deal towards one's cessationist dating partner, when it's not even a real issue in one's own personal life. 

Now if a boyfriend prays in tongues, while the girlfriend claims that tongues are of the devil, that's different. Theological convictions are being lived out in intentional reality, which in this case, if they're both unwavering in theological positions, it may be practically better off not getting married and raising kids in the future where mom is teaching the children that dad is speaking in demonic language. 

But it may be the case that theological convictions are still in process, which should invite deep humility, but fierce learning, for a season of time to see what results. 

To answer your first question, I think ecclesiology (church) is one of the biggest issues. I wonder if this is actually a primary issue since discipleship outside of the local church context isn't Biblically possible and is a practical logical conclusion of salvation. If a boyfriend thinks the local church is dispensible but a girlfriend does not, I think this is a major issue. I also believe gender roles can be a big player since the affirmation of male headship has marital and ecclesiological implications. 

Additionally, I wonder if the lived-theologies of money, sex, anthropology (human) are often too quickly assumed and should be more highly considered. It appears that the mishandling of money, sex, and people cause some of the deepest issues in marriage. Someone can affirm the Trinity but be utterly utilitarian when it comes to how they treat other people (poor Biblical anthropolology). Someone can believe in God's sovereignty, but be haunted by one's family of origin when it comes to finances and/or sexuality. 

It's important to talk about baptism, the place of Israel, and spiritual gifts, but I wonder if a shared understanding of the church, money, and sex - place more on the line for a dating couple. 

"How do women deal with expectations? I wish my boyfriend has gotten me flowers for Valentine's Day. He isn't the type to plan things or do spontaneous surprises and it often leaves me disappointed. What if this continuously disappoints me in the future- whether it's Valentine's Day, birthdays, engagement, etc? I know we are to set our mind on things above and seek after God's heart but I feel like this is important to a small extent."

Mary / Los Angeles (CA)

Thanks for this question Mary. Yes, it is true that people who follow the way of Jesus should have their minds set on the things above (Col 3:2). But it's also true that the things above must inform every nook and cranny of how things are lived on the earth below, so your question is fair. 

I cannot answer this question from the vantage point of "How do women...." because I am at a huge disadvantage in answering from that perspective. However, I can answer it from the vantage point of a guy, which I hope answers your question in a roundabout way. 

It's not fair to generalize, but generalizations exist for a reason and I think there's wisdom to be gained from them. When it comes to a lot of guys, we can live in a practical world of compartmentalization where "store" and "delete" are often the only two buttons (even if we can press a lot more buttons for video games) in a very simplistic day-to-day filing system. 

For example, a guy will spend his Saturday playing basketball with the boys in the morning, taking a nap in the afternoon, and hanging out with his girlfriend in the evening. There's a high likelyhood that for him, those 3 things have little to do with each other. They're 3 separate things. So, if a friend says, "Basketball on Sat?" it gets "stored" into the "This Saturday" file. If something breaks in his apartment and he has to get it replaced, his nap gets "deleted" from his Saturday file.

And so you can imagine what happens when basketball gets canceled one Saturday, and his girlfriend says, "Hey, you have the whole day open. Why can't we go on some sort of day trip? Why can't you think of surprising me or doing something nice?" The guy will probably be surprised and a little annoyed. This is not because he does not care about his girlfriend, but because his mind is compartmentalized. He's thinking, "But that's what we have Saturday night for." In fact, you're introducing a brand new "file" that he hasn't even considered before.

Now, girls can look at this and say guys are stupid, but that would be just as unfair as guys seeing this scenario and calling girls "complicated." No, the issue isn't "complicated" the issue is "connected." While guys tend to think via compartmentalization, enabling them to better see the "big picture" (chunks of filing systems), girls tend to think via connectedness which enables them to see the interplay of reality, which is why girls are often better with details for planning and thoughtfulness. 

So here's my practical encouragement - help your boyfriend. Train your boyfriend. Yes, I'm being totally serious. No, don't train his mind to be different (or you will crush his soul), but train his mind to better understand your mind. How?

Tell him directly, "Hey, for Valentine's Day, it would mean so much to me if you got me flowers and took me out for dinner." And then when he does it, thank him and celebrate him for following through. Over time, he will think, "Wait, this makes her happy. I should do stuff like this more often. I'm a freaking genius." 

I know what you're thinking - "But that's not romantic." Okay, then your other options are to either have low expectations (which we'll still not meet) or to break up with him. Either communicate clearly and help him or don't expect anything to change. 

"What if I communicate clearly and he never changes." Then he's not caring for you well, in which case, he's the problem in the relationship and you should probably dump him. Hope you had an awesome Easter Mary! :)