Do Good or Do Harm?


In early 2018, a house fire broke out in a small town in southern Washington. When the first two firemen arrived, they heard cries for help coming from the garage. State law requires that three firemen be on-site before entering a building. The law was created to save lives, but in this case, adherence to the law would have resulted in loss of life. In order to save the people inside the home, the firemen broke the law and entered the building before additional help arrived.

  • What circumstance can you imagine where breaking the law might actually fulfill the purpose of the law?


23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand.And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


  1. What actions of Jesus and his disciples did the Pharisees object to and why (vss. 2:23-24, 3:2)?
  2. Who did Jesus liken himself to in his response to the Pharisees in the first section? What authority did Jesus claim for himself in verse 2:28? How did Jesus validate his claim to be Lord of the Sabbath (vs. 3:5)? What authority did this give Jesus over Sabbath law?
  3. What key understanding of the Sabbath did Jesus communicate in verse 2:27? Based on this, what is the correct answer to Jesus’ questions in verse 3:4? What do these verses show about God’s heart for people and his desire for Sabbath observance?
  4. Where in your life has your adherence to rules come at the expense of loving and blessing the people closest to you?


In this passage, Jesus challenged the religious leaders on the appropriate interpretation and application of laws regarding the Sabbath. As Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus asserted his authority to interpret Sabbath law. The Pharisees were so focused on adhering to the letter of the law that they missed both the miraculous healing and the heart of the law—God’s desire to extend love and blessing to all people, to do good and not evil. Our guiding principle in life should be love and mercy and blessing to our fellow humans, reflecting the love and care of God for people, which undergirds all biblical law.

  • Thank God for the ways he blesses and does good for you, and ask him to show you where you may be prioritizing rules over loving people.