You’re coming across a passage where Jesus corrects the pharisees for Jesus’ Sabbath practices by saying “the sabbath was made for man”. Now you’re wondering what does it mean?
The Sabbath was made for man is a statement of the spirit of religious practice that Jesus wants his followers to practice. The Sabbath was not meant for us to be burdened by obeying. Rather, in line with the sentiment of having new wine for new wineskin, it is a statement encouraging us to engage in practices that help us grow in our faith versus obeying mindless religious rules.
Let’s break that down.
As we do so I think you’re going to be so blessed by the implications of why the sabbath was made for man.
The meaning behind The Sabbath was Made for Man
Sabbath was Meant for Good
Let’s look at the passage:
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”
And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
We see here that as the disciples are following Jesus through a grain field, they are picking off the heads of grain for them to eat.
To this, the Pharisees are aghast and ask Jesus, a respected teacher gaining notoriety at the time: Why are you and your disciples not practicing what is not lawful to practice on the Sabbath?
Jesus then quotes a story of King David in 1 Samuel 21 of when David went into a holy temple to eat the temple bread. Of course, this was not lawful because David was not a priest. Yet Jesus is bringing up that story as if David is in the right.
Jesus’ point is that even though it’s against the law for David to go into the temple, it was okay because David was taking care of himself. Jesus was pointing not to the letter of the law but the spirit of the law.
At that point Jesus explains to the Pharisees: The sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
The implication is pretty awesome:
The Sabbath was made such that God intended for it to take care of us. God intended that the day of rest would not be a burden for us, but we would embrace its practice and see its value in restoring our minds, bodies, and souls.
I can totally see Jesus shaking his head at the teachers of the law wondering, “Don’t you get it?”
The Sabbath was meant to provide a rich well of refreshment for the people who practice. Instead the Pharisees took what was rich, stripped it, and decorated it with their own mundane and ugly religious rules.
Are you practicing Sabbath now? And is it giving you life? in case you haven’t noticed, I’m writing a book on Sabbath. If that’s of interest to you, be sure to sign up to receive updates when it’s published!
The Spiritual Practices Were Meant for Our Good
This passage has massive implications about spiritual practices.
The pharisees came to Jesus perhaps similarly to how Christians think about Christian practices today. They focused on the form of the practice and not the power of the practice.
They worried about the rules of doing the practice correctly and incorrectly and placed a social value on conformity. In case you didn’t know, the Pharisees had ornate and detailed rules about what you could do and could do for the Sabbath. This included detailed hand washing, whether you could get your donkey, etc.
But Jesus flips it in on their hand and makes them realize they’re missing the entire point of spiritual practices. Instead of focusing on the rules of spiritual practices, we need to focus on the result of spiritual practices.
In this instance, one could extrapolate what Jesus was saying and say:
Spiritual practices were meant for people; not people for Spiritual practices.
His emphasis, similar to when he drew up the story of King David going into the temple to eat, is that it should be for our good. Spiritual practices are meant to be life-giving, not life-taking, burdened by the weight of religious conformity.
You should assess the spiritual practices you practice
I think the massive implication about this passage is that: you should assess the spiritual practices you practice.
Jesus is not against tradition; he is against tradition that yields no fruit.
Think about it like this way:
God = mind-blowingly amazing.
Spiritual practices = meant to meet God
If spiritual practices are NOT amazing = something is wrong
What are your current spiritual practices? Are they amazing?
Are there rules or ways you’re engaging God in those practices where you feel exhausted or tired?
If not, then you should consider deeply why you are doing what you’re doing and whether they are worth doing it. We need to, as Jesus suggested, put new wine in new wineskin. For this season, assess if your spiritual practices are bringing you closer to God or whether they are dry and boring.
The intent of spiritual practices as I’m trying to imply is that they are meant to bring us closer to an amazing God. We should leave our practices having new life, new perspective, and new passion.
When we pray, the way we pray should leave us feeling empowered knowing God hears.
When we worship, the way we worship should lave us feeling that we have been in the courts of heaven.
Spiritual practices should give us life. Not make us bored like Sunday Christians or treacherous like the Pharisees.
My joy and the aim of this site is to help readers go deeper in their Christian faith.
You know know that the sabbath was made for man is a statement of how we need to approach our spiritual practices to see if they serve us.
Books to Go Deeper
One of my favorite authors as of late is Dallas Willard who wrote an amazing book not about spiritual disciplines, but the spirit of disciplines.
If you really want a practice that will help you go deeper, check out my resource on spiritual journaling.
I echo Willard’s thinking and approach to spiritual practices in that I believe the aim of spiritual practices it so witness spiritual transformation in the furnace of God’s amazing love.
How about you? How are your practices? Do you find certain practices and approaches to practice not serving you?