Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Sunday, 29 March 20:
Deuteronomy 27:1 — “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today.”
Partial obedience is disobedience. Jesus, who quoted Deuteronomy more than any other book of the Bible, commanded us in Matthew 28 to teach others to observe or obey “all” that He commanded. We Christians need to do some deeper thinking about obedience, a word that carries much baggage for us since our sinful nature is to respond to the command to obey with either contempt, despondency or legalism.
For some, the word obedience is a killjoy; it conjures up notions of legalism, judgmentalism, guilt, shame, and confinement. Many view exhortations to obedience as antithetical to the message of grace. But Christian obedience isn’t motivated by a desire to earn God’s love (which is impossible by definition) but rather to unite with God in love, to experience the fulness of God’s love, to display God’s love, to live out God’s love, and to share God’s love. Obedience to God is the natural desire of the one who loves God, and it is how we love others.
– Matthew 7:21 — “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
– But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
– Luke 6:46 — Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
– John 14:15 — “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
– John 14:23 — Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
– Philippians 2:8 — And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
– 1 Peter 1:14 — As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance….
– 2 Corinthians 10:5 — We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ….
– Romans 1:5 — Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations….
– James 1:22 — But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
– 1 John 3:10-11, 14, 16-18, 23 — By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death…. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth…. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
– 1 John 4:7-12, 16-21 — Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
– 1 John 5:3 — For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
The foundation of “all” of God’s commands is love. The first and greatest commandment is love, and the others are practices of love. Love is required to obey, and obedience is required to love – “Love [comes] from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) If we seek to obey the practices of love from anything other than a heart of love (motivated by selfish desire rather than selflessness), we ultimately fall short of the commandment of love. Jesus called those who unlovingly obeyed commandments hypocritical (the word hypocrite means stage actor), pretending to be loving. When we don’t feel like obeying from a heart of love, we must obey nonetheless, not from pharisaical pride but rather from a humble, repentant heart as an act of worship. For the humble Christian, in full acknowledgement of God’s mercy and grace, our imperfect acts of love are not window dressing or whitewash to disguise our true motives but rather practices of love intended to develop in us a more loving character with the continual help of the Holy Spirit as we seek to more closely emulate the righteousness of Christ, along with His mercy and grace.
– Matthew 21:28-31 — “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
Our practices of love, though often poorly motivated, can produce positive external effects for others (clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, etc) and can also produce (with humble submission to the counsel of the Holy Spirit) positive internal results, conditioning our hearts to a more genuine love. So, in practice, we often obey out of a sense of duty (“I don’t really want to, but I know I am supposed to.”) while seeking to obey out of genuine love. Certainly, if we waited for a perfect heart to obey, we wouldn’t obey much at all. Rather, humble obedience helps perfect our hearts. It is in our imperfect pursuit of loving obedience where God calls us to walk confidently in His grace as He continues to sanctify us.
Grace-based living doesn’t feel trapped in hopeless disobedience or in dutiful works of obedience. Instead, grace-based living celebrates the righteousness we have in Christ, which enables us to freely and fearlessly pursue lives of righteousness and genuine love, and grace-based live expects God to make obedience increasingly a joy to us rather than a burden.
Ephesian 4:23 and Romans 12:2 reminds us that our behavior starts with our thoughts. What we choose to focus our attention on will guide our thoughts. The key to sanctification is not focusing more on our failures and inadequacies (identifying our weaknesses and seeking greater will-power) but rather focusing more on Jesus. The more we appreciate the love of Christ, the more naturally love will flow from us Him and to others (Him and others always goes hand-in-hand). Fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 29 Mar 20: “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1) Lay aside the weighty sins which are only slowing you down and exhausting you and run with Jesus. Acknowledge but don’t focus on your failures; focus on Jesus Christ and who you are becoming in Him. Fix your eyes on Jesus and follow Him more closely, allowing Him to lead you out of your current condition. When the woods get thicker and darker, close the distance between you and your Guide so you don’t get separated and lost; get closer to Him, not further away. Most of the time, our problem isn’t knowing what God wants us to do; it is not doing what He has clearly told us to do. When we obey His clear word, what is unclear or uncertain to us becomes evident over time. Trust and obey today and every day.