Paul doesn’t want the Galatians to have a “false zealousness,” if I may coin that term. But Paul sees their observance of “special days and months and seasons and years” as just that—they’re being zealous, but for the wrong things. But is the Sabbath included in that?
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
The point of this portion of the Scriptures isn’t about the Sabbath, per se, so much as it’s about how the Jews in Jesus’ day defined “work.” They put healing under the “work” category, which is why they got angry with Jesus for healing the crippled man. However, Jesus is also making the point that he was the Lord of the Sabbath; that the rules about the Sabbath were changing, because of him.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. (Matthew 24:15–25)Also, the same “Lord of the Sabbath” incident is reported in Mark 2, with an extra sentence not in the Matthew account:
Another point to add to the confusion is that the rules concerning the Sabbath aren’t just in the book of Leviticus, or in sections of the Bible outlining rules for Old Testament priests—it’s also mentioned in the Ten Commandments.
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
Then 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.”
(Mark 2:23–28, emphasis added)
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8–11)Many Christians, if asked what rules the Christian should follow, would probably immediately turn to the Ten Commandments—especially in this day and age, when many (if not most) Western Christians don’t spend that much time actually reading or studying their Bibles, and wouldn’t know where else to turn.
What is Paul talking about here? He’s talking about taking the freedom we have in Christ—freedom from the rules and regulations of the Old Testament system—and using it appropriately. Sure, I’m allowed to eat any kind of meat that I want, but if by doing so I’ll cause someone else to stumble, then I should avoid it.
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
- It means that people who have jobs that sometimes require them to work on Sundays don’t have to worry about this, in terms of sin.
- It means that any discussions/disagreements/arguments about what day of the week the Sabbath should fall on—Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or some other day—are irrelevant to the Christian.
- In light of the 1 Corinthians passage above, when Paul is talking about not using our freedom to cause others to stumble, it means that we should be careful to keep that in mind in regards to the Sabbath, too. Picture the following conversation:Christian: Are you allowed to do that today? It’s Sunday, after all.
serna: Sunday? Pfft! Sundays don’t matter!What is this person going to think, after this conversation? That the Sabbath is an Old Testament construct, and not applicable in the same way to the modern-day Christian? Or that one can take God lightly, and disregard His commands at will?
- Since my life is to be one of worship, it means that Sunday is a unique opportunity to get together with fellow Christians, members of the Church, and worship God “corporately.” (That means a bunch of individuals coming together as a whole—one “body,” if you will.) Most commentaries on the Sabbath in this day and age will probably get around to the fact that simply going to church on Sunday morning is not what the Sabbath is all about; and yet, at the same time, it can’t be denied that going to church is probably the most important thing most Christians do on Sunday. (For most of us, it would probably be considered the best part of the day.) As much worshipping as I may do during the rest of the week, Sunday provides a unique opportunity to do it with other Christians.