During the wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the vicar with an unusual offer. “Look, I’ll give you $100 if you’ll change the wedding vows. When you get to me and the part where I’m to promise to ‘love, honor and obey’ and ‘forsaking all others, be faithful to her forever,’ I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave that part out.” He passed the clergyman the cash and walked away satisfied. It is now the day of the wedding, and the bride and groom have moved to that part of the ceremony where the vows are exchanged. When it comes time for the groom’s vows, the vicar looks the young man in the eye and says: “Will you promise to prostrate yourself before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life and swear eternally before God and your lovely wife that you will not ever even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?” The groom gulped and looked around, and said in a tiny voice, “Yes.” The groom leaned toward the vicar and hissed, “I thought we had a deal.” The vicar put the $100 into his hand and whispered back, “She made a better offer.” I met Ken who had been with his partner Ralph for 46 years. “Amazing. 46 years!” I said. “What’s the secret to being together for so many years?” “Well,” he replied, “It’s like this. I makes all the little decisions and Ralph makes the big decisions.” “Really?” I asked. “Does that really work?” “Oh, yes,” Ken said proudly. “46 years, and so far, not one big decision!” One of the hardest things in life is obedience. Unless we’re wielding it, we don’t even like the word. It strikes us as contrary to liberty, foreign to freedom, dangerous to self-determination. By nature, we don’t want to be told what to do. We believe we know what’s best. Besides, why should anyone else dictate what I should or should not do? The truth is even if you sincerely want to be obedient, you still find yourself struggling in succeeding at it. It’s a large, bitter pill that feels very unnecessary and bad for one’s health. And yet obeying is a fact of life. It’s difficult but necessary. You may have to listen and follow the dictates of a boss, parent’s rules, a police
officer’s commands, a judge’s orders. Laws require it; financial obligations demand it; the most important relations must have some touch of it. But it often scratches at us. Our desire is to do what we feel and think is right. When something doesn’t make sense to us or is difficult to comprehend, we immediately dispose of it as something that we shouldn’t do. Obedience is the response of last resort, continually being undercut as unworthy of an authentic person’s response to this or that situation. As we know scripture hasn’t always made obedience easy to swallow. In Colossians, it says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything.” And in Ephesians, one of my personal favorites, though I haven’t told Marit this yet, it says, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” You may have noticed I’ve never preached about the submission of the Christian wife to her husband. Obedience has become more than a little uncomfortable to many people. But should the baby be thrown out with the bathwater? Is it really playing with fire to talk about obedience? Is the concept of obeying a slippery slope that starts us down a hill so that when we talk about obedience in one instance then we are in danger of continuing until the whole of life is best understood as the domain of the obedient person or its opposite, the disobedient? While we tend to think of obedience as the opposite of freedom, this isn’t the heart of the problem. The threat of obedience is that it appears to oppose reason. On the surface level we’re afraid of the demands to obey because it limits freedom, but the rubber hits the road when we must follow someone else’s demand or command rather than being able to use our own rational powers to decide whether or not something is right or wrong, good or bad, mine to follow or better to reject. To many people’s thinking, obedience throws reason and independence out the window and says, “Do, no matter what you think of it, no matter your own value system, no matter how you perceive what is asked of you is wrong, ineffective or dangerous.” But this is not how obedience actually works, even in the military, for example. The issue of obeying or disobeying a superior officer’s illegal order is answered to a large extent very simply. Not only do you not obey an illegal order, but you are required to disobey it.
Contrary to what many think, military members are not expected to go guns blazing and commit any war crime or illegal act they are ordered to commit void of thought, remorse or legal liability. In fact, it has been proven that “just following orders” is not a plea that holds up in a military court with cases going back to 1799. In fact, the Vietnam War presented the United States military courts with more cases of the “I was only following orders” defense than any previous conflict. The decisions during these cases reaffirmed that following manifestly illegal orders is not a viable defense from criminal prosecution. For example, in United States v. Keenan, the accused (Keenan) was found guilty of murder after he obeyed in order to shoot and kill an elderly Vietnamese citizen. The Court of Military Appeals held that “the justification for acts done pursuant to orders does not exist if the order was of such a nature that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know it to be illegal.” Obedience doesn’t mean we’re to let go of common sense or reasoning capacity. We need to be able to inquire, ask questions, reason, figure things out. But what obedience ought to mean to us is that we take the actual step of fulfilling what is best, what God seeks, what is right. Obedience is the act of stepping through the door of commitment, where we do more than just ask questions or inquire or talk out loud. Obedience means action taken, duty fulfilled, commandments carried out. Obedience doesn’t oppose reason. It fulfills the will. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands the Church to teach Christ’s followers to obey everything the Lord commanded. Many don’t mind the part about teaching—it’s the other part where we hesitate. When we go to church, read the Bible, pray, do mission projects, volunteer in any and all kinds of important ministries out of a sense of willingness to be faithful, love others as ourselves—even when we don’t necessarily feel like it—we’re answering God’s call to be followers of Christ. We are doing as Christ commands. The truth is there is much room in our faith for obedience because without it we will never really enact the completeness of ourselves before God. We are in some essential sense fulfilled by obedience, by loyalty, by hearing and doing, by faithfulness that does without disputing.
As scripture says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” With all your being, it may as well say. Our being includes the element of obedience. If you don’t believe just think about how essential and early we rightly demand obedience from our children. Something so natural for us as children must not be thrown away as adults. It ought to be wisely and rightly utilized. But this isn’t always so easy to do. Charles Swindoll had an interesting way of putting this when he told this story: Imagine, if you will, that you work for a company whose president found it necessary to travel out of the country and spend an extended period of time abroad. So he says to you and the other trusted employees, “Look, I’m going to leave. And while I’m gone, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I’m away. I will write you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do from now until I return from this trip.” Everyone agrees. He leaves and stays gone for a couple of years. During that time he writes often, communicating his desires and concerns. Finally he returns. He walks up to the front door of the company and immediately discovers everything is in a mess–weeds flourishing in the flower beds, windows broken across the front of the building, the gal at the front desk dozing, loud music roaring from several offices, two or three people engaged in horseplay in the back room. Instead of making a profit, the business has suffered a great loss. Without hesitation he calls everyone together and with a frown asks, “What happened? Didn’t you get my letters?” You say, “Oh, yeah, sure. We got all your letters. We’ve even bound them in a book. And some of us have memorized them. In fact, we have ‘letter study’ every Sunday. You know, those were really great letters.” I think the president would then ask, “But what did you do about my instructions?” And, no doubt the employees would respond, “Do? Well, nothing. But we read every one!” Look to practice obedience. Find places in your life where being faithful means doing without disputing, acting with allegiance, loving through loyalty. Trust in the blessings God gives to those willing to do without disagreeing or demanding something in return. The truth is obedience is crucial to a Christian’s life, to anyone’s life. A heart and mind that rejects altogether the importance of obedience will
experience many hardships. A misunderstanding here lead many to lives of increasing and unnecessary difficulty. Lack of obedience can lead to a wandering and a meandering, a sense of being tossed about by all sorts of waves; a lack of confidence in oneself, a lack of anchor in trust that builds oneself and one’s family; an inability to pursue objectives, to accomplish one’s goals; a continual resistance to God transforming oneself, to overcoming ethical challenges, to develop a moral character appropriate for a person of faith. When you resist obeying, you oppose that final step that seals the deal. The Lord can’t take you somewhere if you’re unwilling to follow that voice, listen to the urging. The truth is sometimes we’re listening to the wrong voice. We’re skeptical about following through because we’re not skeptical enough about something else. What we call reason may in fact be resistance. What we call rational may be disobedience to what’s better. What someone may call my way of doing things may be stubbornness that can’t be blessed. Our refusal to reconsider a way of doing things as reasonable may be the most significant factor in our hardship. Our disdain for obeying a new and better command may be the cause of much pain. We need to drop a guard that has been standing sentry too long. Search your life. Look into your heart. Disbelieve that your best interest is something you always know better rather than someone else who loves you. Be willing to obey something that seems at first wrong or unreasonable. Accept being taught. Learn how to learn, and grow, and trust the Lord for better blessings and a fuller life than you have presently. Stop refusing to follow what God is trying to give you through acts of willingness. Show an increasing faithfulness. Follow your heart’s loyalty. Obey Christ’s commands. Can the church say Amen?
- New Here
- Online Giving