In the New Testament we have an example of how principles can annul the will of God. Jesus was arguing with the Pharisees about the Sabbath, the day of rest. God wanted to bless His people with a day off. However, the Pharisees had created a series of obligations and prohibitions that stole all the joy out of having a day off every week. They had also given the impression that God is a demanding deity and is almost never satisfied with our efforts to please Him. The Sabbath, instead of being a blessing, a joy, a day off, became a rigid obligation that was ruled by a series of dictates that were almost impossible to fulfill. This created guilt instead of joy. Which of the agrarian peoples of those days enjoyed a day off every week? It was a day dedicated to God, but the emphasis became focused not on God, but on the rules.
Jesus broke the Sabbath rules by healing several sick people on that day.1 He could have said to them, “Hey, let’s meet tomorrow and I’ll heal you then.” His disciples also broke the rules that raised a protest from the Pharisees by picking heads of grain on the Sabbath.2In that incident, Jesus pronounced His famous quote, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”3The principles of God were made for us; we were not made for the principles.
A modern day example might be that of going to church. A church service should be a joyful, happy event. But rather than hearing the attendees say things like “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.”4 or “Better is one day in your house than a thousand elsewhere”,5 we hear pastors say, “You need to come to the church service”, and that to those who are already sitting there in the church service!
The Sunday service is a fount of joy — God’s people see each other, there is fellowship one with another, (something that is often impossible during the week), we get together to praise God as one, we pray one for another, we listen to the Word of God, there is then more prayer, more miracles…
However, when something is subtly converted into an obligation two things happen:
First, the obligation (the law) kills.6 There are some very interesting verses like “the law entered, that the offense might abound.” or as the New American Standard says, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase.”7 What does THAT mean? Or what about the verse that says “the power of sin is the law.”8 What should be a source of joy can produce impatience or crankiness. (We’re going to be late for church!!!)
The second thing I have observed is if church attendance is rigorously obligatory, the quality of the church service will go down. A little kid asked his mother, “Mom, is the sermon over?” “Yes, dear,” replied his mother, “but the preacher doesn’t know it, yet.”
I don’t want a service that is to entertain the people with the fear that if they are not entertained, they won’t return. I am not concerned about trying to please those people who need to be entertained in church. But I don’t want a lame service, either. What sincere people want is true communion with the rest of their brothers, a time of worship in Spirit and truth, a time for effectual fervent prayer, the clear, concise preaching of the Word with conviction of the Holy Spirit, a powerful call to respond to what God has said — with conversions, if possible — and then even more fellowship with others. Every time I preach, my goal is that there never be a mediocre church service.
We have to encourage each other to know, and to “follow on to know the Lord”.9 Church attendance is a part of this following on to know the Lord. It is a means, not an end in itself.
1- Mark 3:1-6 (as well as many others) 2- Mark 2:23, 24 3- Mark 2:27 4- Psalms 122:1
5- Psalms 84:10 6- 2Corinthians 3:6 7- Romans 5:20 8- 1Corinthians 15:56 9- Hosea 6:3