“And he said to them,’The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath'” (Mark 2:27, NKJV).
On one trip into the mountains of Nepal to preach among the villages, we took a Nepali cook who was a practicing Buddhist. Over the course of the two weeks we traveled, we spoke to him several times about his religion and about the Gospel. One comment he made has stayed with me. “I am tired of the priests’ extravagant demands – for everything there must be a sacrifice and I must always pay.”
His attitude and experience are by no means unique, nor are they restricted to any one religion. Many have fled from the apparent greed of religionists who seem to place their doctrines, practices, and institutions above every other need of humanity. It is easy to argue that for many faiths, man seems to have been made to serve the religion, not vice versa.
When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, Jewish leaders were offended (Mark 3:1-6). Similarly, when the disciples picked grain from the stalks on a Sabbath day, and ate on their way through the fields, the Pharisees accused them of violating one of the Ten Commandments (Mark 2:23-26).
That prompted the Lord’s response that man was not created to observe the Sabbath. Rather the Sabbath day was declared holy for the benefit of man. Presumably God in his wisdom saw man’s need for respite from his labors and provided a weekly “day off” in order to meet that need.
It is so easy for us to lose sight of that priority. Religion is not enslavement. It is not designed to be a hardship to already burdened humanity. We have enough problems without God loading us down with troublesome obligations. And God is neither vain nor in need of our service (Acts 17:24-25). He has nothing to gain by placing odious duties upon those who come to him.
Christian faith is about meeting the needs of sinful humanity. God gives us comfort through our prayers, songs, and study (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Jesus came to save sinners, not to condemn them (Luke 19:10). The church is designed to build its members up, not to break them down through excessive demands (Ephesians 4:11-16). Its worship, though it is praise offered to God, also serves to edify all those who are in the congregation (1 Corinthians 14:1-5). The works which Christians do in the name of God are expressions of gratitude for his grace (Ephesians 2:8-10).
When one asks questions like, “Do I have to go to Church every Sunday?” he or she is missing the whole point. Our relationship with God is a great privilege by which we are blessed. True Christianity makes life easier, not harder. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
His invitation to suffering mankind is very plain on this point: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).
When we perceive God’s will as overly demanding or impossible to obey, we have grossly misunderstood him. He wants us to have a good life (1 Timothy 2:2-3), at peace with him and with one another. His laws were designed for our benefit. They are a great blessing for which we should be grateful (read Psalm 119).