Obedience, a word long despised, actually opens flood gates of blessing.
In the very first conversation Satan ever had with a human being, he promised there would be no consequences from disobeying the word of God. In fact, he promised some pretty great benefits—You will be like God! Instead, our world was plunged into misery untold.
Yet the devil’s promise, so misleading and destructive, still continues to circulate today. We buy it. Look how easily we’ve redefined marriage, family, and gender, as well as things like love and justice. Our new understandings directly contradict the plain words of scripture. A familiar old voice tells us it will be harmful if we obey God, that it will limit us, cause us to miss the pleasures of life, and frustrate our human potential.
Without a doubt, scripture is full of commands. It not only invites, but prescribes what should be done, and prohibits things that ought not to be done. Even when we present the gospel to unsaved people–what we call “the gospel invitation”—at a certain point, it ceases to merely be an invitation, and turns into an imperative. Acts 17:30 says that God commands all men everywhere to repent. He commands it, rather than invites it.
Even after initial faith and repentance though, God continues to be anything but ambivalent about the things we do and the way we live. Commands continue.
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said to his disciples, “all authority in heaven and on Earth has been given to me.” He confronted them, post-resurrection, with His authority, and then said in verse 19, “go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Based on His rights as uncontested sovereign, He sent them to bring all the people of the world under a regimen of learning, making them disciples. The first item on the list was “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Then, “teaching them to observe [follow, obey] all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
At least two great reasons exist for obeying the commands of scripture. The first is relational. We should obey the Scriptures because obedience affects and reflects the way we relate to Christ.
In Luke 6:46, “Jesus asked, why do you call me, ‘Lord. Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” We find what Jesus told us to do by looking in the scriptures. These include not only His words in the gospels, but those spoken through the Apostles in the rest of the New Testament.
Your attitudes toward the things written there says something about what Jesus is to you.
For instance, let’s say I joined you for a sack lunch at your workplace. When I got there, I found you having a conversation with a person, and this person was telling you that your spreadsheets had been done wrong. You replied, “Oh well, whatever.” The next week I came back again, and this time I found the same person saying to you, “Hey, I notice you’re coming in late almost every morning.” Then you casually replied to them, “Meh. Nobody’s perfect.” After hearing those exchanges, I’m going to conclude that whoever that person is, he or she isn’t your boss. This is the logic of Jesus in Luke 6:46. If he is your Lord, either you are doing what He told you, or you are failing, asking forgiveness, and then seeking to do what he told you. But there’s no such thing as calling Him Lord, while ignoring, excusing, or muting the things He tells you.
It seems both religious people, and Jesus, often use two different dictionaries when they’re defining the word “Lord.” The version Jesus uses says, “If I am Lord to you, you will do what I tell you.” That’s simple, and logical. But our definition of “Lord” means an inspirational figure, or moral point of reference, or choice of religion.
It is shocking then, in Matthew 7:21-23, when believers finally give an account before Christ about the way they lived their lives. Some are saying, “Lord, Lord” and Jesus says to them, “I never knew you.” It’s as though He’s telling them, “I have many subjects in my kingdom, and I know all their names, but I’ve never known you as being subject to me in much of anything.” They actually thought “Lord” meant volunteering, getting involved in religious causes, and inventing ministries. And yet meanwhile, these same people were neglecting his will, the larger, expansive commands of God contained in scripture.
Ultimately, a person’s attitude towards that which is written, reflects whether Christ is Lord to us, or not.
However, we don’t just relate to Jesus based on authority.
In John 14:23, Jesus said, “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him.” This is a love relationship—a believer loving Jesus, the Father loving that believer, and right in the middle of this dynamic, the believer keeping the word. As a result, Jesus said, “We [the Father and the Son] will come to him and make our home with him.” That is, the Father and the Son will treat the believer who keeps the word like a go-to place, a home, a locus of rest, of disclosure, and understanding. Home is where you always return.
Then in verse 24, it says, “Whoever does not love me, does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” Again, love and keeping go together. Most people love the idea of Jesus. They just don’t love Him. If they did, they’d keep His word.
You know how it works. When you love someone, you tend to listen to them and even obey them. In marriage, we often vacation and live in places we would never have chosen if we were single. We’re not there because we love that place, but because we love somebody that loves that place. Additionally, before we know it, we find ourselves hoping and praying for the success of projects we never would have been interested in before. Why? Because it is theirs. This doesn’t mean we lose our personality, only that we truly begin to feel the same way they feel about something. It is deep, raw, loyal affections. Yes, there are sometimes struggles involved, but that’s part of what it means to build a home–like the Father and the Son with the believer in these verses.
Our attitudes toward the commands of scripture reflect our relationship with Christ.
The second great reason for obeying the scripture’s commands is formational, that is, having to do with your development and progress as a believer. There was a time when Paul wrote to his young understudy, Timothy, giving him the strongest advice possible about how to develop his ministry, and his Christian life. We can distill quite a bit of benefit for our own selves from these passages.
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Tim. 4:13-16).
Timothy was to practice public reading, immersing himself in scripture, because that was where his progress would occur. Meanwhile, he was to keep a close watch on himself. The young man was not above being influenced by the surrounding Godless culture. The way to calibrate himself would come from simultaneously keeping a close eye on the teaching of scripture.
In a similar passage from 2 Timothy, Paul also wrote,
3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Timothy was to continue in those wisdom-building scriptures because, 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Where healthy development is concerned, his obedience to scripture was critical.
This reminds me of the Old Testament King, Jehoiakim. One winter night, he was sitting in his royal chamber, with a fire pot going right by his throne. He sent a court official to fetch a scroll of the book of Jeremiah. The official brought it, and at the king’s request began to read it out loud. Each time the official finished a section of it, the king reached over with a knife, cut off that part of the scroll, and threw it into the fire. He was obviously offended by what he heard, and wanted to be rid of it. Finally, the entire scroll was cut up and burned.
Later, God judged that King, but two things instantly became clear in the moments Jehoiakim was burning the scriptures. First, Yahweh, the God of Israel (and of the universe) was not his Lord, nor did this king love Yahweh. Secondly, Jehoiakim’s spiritual progress was non-existent. The man had progressed up the political ladder and ascended the throne, but as far as God was concerned, he had no spiritual growth whatsoever. He was a zero–about the same as any of the kings of the Pagan countries surrounding Israel.
Obviously, Jehoiakim is an example of how not to be. Yet think about all the times you’ve happened upon scripture you didn’t like. Maybe you had failed to obey it, and your first response was to get away from it, or even get rid of it. We have ways of doing so that are far more subtle than Jehoiakim. Like simply googling an alternative interpretation. Typically you’ll find a hundred entries that will help you escape a difficult verse. But the people who write them are themselves unfaithful to scripture, and have personal agendas and hobby horses. With their help, you’ll understand the passage exactly the opposite of the way it is plainly written.
For a better approach, let’s reverse-engineer the whole month of this series. First, you’ll encounter a scriptural command. It seems pressuring, even impossible. But if you look a little deeper, as in last week’s post, you’ll see not only a command, but an invitation into something—perhaps an experience of fresh repentance. I’ve had this happen many times, and even after being brutally honest about myself, my attitudes, and my behavior, I was delighted that God didn’t wag His finger, saying, I told you so! Instead, His gracious redemption comforted me. At other times, scriptural invitations are to enter greater empowerment or a broadening of the heart, or unto addressing one of our many blind spots.
If you’re feeling reluctant to answer the invitation, let’s go back two weeks, where we pointed out that the scriptures substantially describe the beautiful, magnetic, glory of God. That is what draws a hesitant believer forward.
And if you wonder where that glory comes from, then go back three weeks, when we pointed out how, no matter what, the scriptures remain the eternal word of God. They have come out of the timeless One, and been captured on paper. When you face a command of scripture therefore, eternity lies beneath it.
May this wonderful book not only sit on your shelf, or cell phone, but may it live in your heart.