There is nothing wrong with a church offering many different activities and programs and studies. Each of them can be a tremendous blessing and a part of a well-balanced spiritual diet. Each of them can provide an opportunity to serve and to be served, to deploy our gifts for the good of others and to have others deploy their gifts for the good of us. Yet attending them all, or feeling that we should or must attend them all, can quickly wear us down and wear us out.
The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. Sabbath is a gift God has given us for our good. We are feeble creatures who need rest, yet foolish creatures who would otherwise work ourselves to the bone. The sabbath is a reminder of our weakness, of our finiteness, of our inability. It is a reminder of all of these in a physical sense and, more ultimately, in a spiritual sense, for so much of what is true of our bodies is true of our souls. We accept sabbath as a blessing from God and ignore or reject it to our own peril.
Yet even as we accept sabbath, we are prone to profane it, which is exactly what the religious authorities of Jesus’s day had done. They had taken the simple gift of a day of rest and surrounded it by complicated laws. Terrified of breaking the one big commandment, they had hedged it in with a whole list of small rules and regulations—only walk so far, only carry so heavy a burden, only do these kinds of activities. Soon the day of joy had become a day of fear, the day of freedom had become a day of captivity. Instead of anticipating the sabbath people dreaded it, for they had become enslaved to it. In this context Jesus reminded them: You weren’t made for the sabbath, the sabbath was made for you! And in doing so he warns us that even the best of God’s gifts can be coopted and perverted by the legalistic hearts of fallen men.
I have often wondered if we need to hear a related admonition today: The local church was made to serve the Christian, not the Christian the local church.