The Pharisees were great at following rules. And although they often get a bad rap, what teacher would not want a room full of Pharisees in her classroom? What parents would not want their children to be pharisaical? 🤨 But Jesus had serious issues with the Pharisees and they with him! They questioned Jesus’ message and motives and actions constantly.
“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?’”1 The disciples were, in fact, breaking the rules. It seems to me that following the rules would be something that Jesus would want his disciples to do out of respect for the law and for the Pharisees who valued the laws so much. I mean, Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”2 So why were the disciples (with Jesus’ blessing) disrespecting the Pharisees and their laws?
And here is Jesus’ answer: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”3 Hmm. 🤔What does that mean exactly? It means that rules should not be followed just because they are rules, but rather they should be followed if the purpose for which they were inaugurated applies to the situation at hand.
The Sabbath rule was established to set aside a day of rest and worship in order that man could be replenished. It was made for man. The rule was not created in order to enslave men to a list of things not to do on the Sabbath. And this “rule” about rules should be followed for every rule. 😬
Many nonbelievers mistakenly believe that God has given man a set of rules to follow that will be the key to getting into heaven, and most of these rules prevent us from having fun! And I have to admit, many religious people do appear to be a bunch of boring “rule-keepers.” The problem with stressing the rules so much is that no one can live up to the standard of obeying all the rules! 🤪 Jesus actually broke many of the religious rules of the day. That’s why the Pharisees were threatened by him, accused him of blasphemy, and eventually conspired to have him killed.
But don’t get me wrong! Rules have their place. We need laws and guidelines in every aspect of our lives—in the classroom, in our relationships, and especially on the highway! 😏 But when following the rules become the end all, the goal, then we have misunderstood or perhaps overlooked the very reason for the rule. Understanding the reason will help us discern if the rule should be observed or not! 🧐
So, what’s my point? Following Jesus has nothing to do with following rules. The Pharisees, in order to trick Jesus, once asked him what the greatest rule of all was. His answer? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”4 In other words, all of the laws stem from the two laws about love. And really, if you think about it, if we would just follow these two laws, there would be no reason for any of the others!
And so. We believers must be careful to not hold on to rules for the sake of holding on to the rules! And we cannot expect a nonbeliever to understand the reason for following a good rule—even if it’s a good reason! Instead, we need to listen to the words of Jesus. When he recruited his disciples, Jesus never said, “Follow the rules.” He said, “Follow me.”5
1Mark 2:23-24 2Matthew 5:17 3Mark 2:27 4Matthew 22:37-40 5Mark 1:17