Man for the Sabbath or the Sabbath for Man?

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).


I have a problem. It’s a problem that a lot of men have. My problem is that I don’t always follow instructions very well. It drives my wife crazy. Sometimes we will buy something, maybe a new item for our condo, and I won’t necessarily use it properly because I don’t completely read the directions. Then a few months later that item won’t be working as it should, and I will get frustrated with the company we bought it from.

The reason that this gets my wife so frustrated is because of her job. She works in a very customer facing position. She has situations frequently where customers will complain about a product they have received. However, when she asks some questions, my wife often finds out that the product isn’t working because the customer hasn’t been using it properly. The customer has been provided the proper instructions, but they chose not to follow them.

As the designer of the product, my wife’s company knows the way that the product should be used. They are not providing the operating instructions just to see if the customer will follow them or not. They know the optimal conditions that will allow the product to run the most efficiently for the longest time. It is in the customer’s best interest to follow the directions of the designer/manufacturer if they want to get the most value out of the product they have purchased.

This reminded me of a biblical principle that came from the mouth of Jesus Christ. In Mark chapter 2, Jesus and his disciples are moving through some grain fields. When his disciples begin to pick some heads of grain, the Pharisees question Jesus asking, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” Jesus responds to their question and ends His response with, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

I have heard that verse referenced countless times, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to truly understand it. With this response, Jesus is questioning the Pharisees entire perspective on the law. The Pharisees viewed the law as thing that must be adhered to in order to avoid punishment. If we substitute the Pharisees for the customer and God for the designer in the example above, it was as if the Pharisees were viewing God as an entity who was just creating laws for His own amusement to see if people would follow them or not. They were acting as if God cared more about the law itself than the very people that the law was created for.

Jesus’ response paints a much different picture of God. Jesus’ response would imply that God instituted the Sabbath, and every law for that matter, for our benefit. God instituted the Sabbath to give us rest. He created it so that we could operate in the most efficient and effective way possible for what we were created to do. It wasn’t Him giving us another command to see if we could keep it or not. It was because He looked down at His creation and said, my people will need to know that they can rest from their work. They will need time to spend with me and each other so that they can be refreshed. Then they can move forward doing their work from the right place. They will be able to do the work I have created them for more efficiently, with peace in their hearts and with clarity in their mind.

Not only does this view have a different perspective on the law itself, but it paints an entirely different perspective on the law maker. One view paints God as an angry God constantly watching to see if we screw up. The other paints God as a loving Father who instructs and corrects, because He has our best interest at heart. God’s laws are the instructions provided by the designer/manufacturer with the intended purpose of creating the most value out of the life that He has blessed us with.

Personally, I struggle with this sometimes. I believe that is because we live in a culture that is always itching to point out mistakes. We are always looking for that next big news story that highlights and magnifies moral failure. We are so insecure that it makes us feel better about ourselves to critique and criticize others. Thank God for the cross. Thank God that Jesus’ crucifixion painted us a whole new picture of God: a picture of a God who would look past our failures to uphold His laws, come into our world and die for us. His death not only gave us a new perspective, but it unleashed the Holy Spirit to live in us and empower us to follow God’s instructions – not out of obligation, but out of complete love and trust. We can now follow God’s laws with joy instead of resentment, because we can now see Him as the loving designer whose instructions result in our greatest good and His greatest glory!

Written by Brian Maisch

I have a heart for setting people free from spiritual bondage and world oppression. I believe that the radical love of God manifested through his people can transform the world, and I believe that journey begins with us on our knees in a place of humble submission to God’s will.

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