Obedience is often defined by what I am willing to do rather than what I am asked to do. Allen Dvorak explained this well in an article “Our Perfected High Priest” (Biblical Insights : December 2014) when he writes, “It can be easy to ‘obey’ the command of another if my desire is to do that very thing anyway. The command may be incidental to my behavior; I did what I wanted to do, regardless of the command. I wasn’t necessarily submitting to another’s authority. To illustrate further, the parent who commands his child to eat ice cream is not likely to encounter resistance because the child probably is quite willing to do so anyway. The command to eat some food that the child dislikes is quite another matter. If the child subjects his own desire to that of the parent, he has ‘learned obedience,’ i.e., he has submitted to the authority of another by doing what that person wants. That’s true obedience.” (page 4)
Brother Allen well explains the challenge of obedience to the will of God when we find it easy to do the things we like to do but find it difficult when asked to go against our own will. Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you” (Matthew 5:46)? Loving our enemies would be easy if we liked them. We don’t even like them and yet the Lord commands we love them, bless them, do good to them and pray for them. A deeper lesson of humility is found in our willingness to obey God even when we do not want love our enemy.
I am not fond of brussels sprout anything and if a bowl of peach ice cream is set before me there would be no problem emptying the bowl. The commands of God are not always easy and pleasant (like eating brussels sprouts) but finding the strength to do what He has commanded always (and I stress always) finds a greater joy. That is the most amazing thing about obedience to God: it is always the better plan.
Loving an enemy and praying for them is not an easy command to follow. Found in the grace of God through the experience of forgiving an enemy and praying for them elevates the spirit of the person to a higher level of peace. There are no words to describe it. When Jesus prayed earnestly in the garden to find another way He was seeing the horror of the cross for all it was going to be. Submitting to the will of His Father our Savior found joy immeasurable when the first day of the week unveiled the resurrection. Our struggles to the will of God may be filled with deep anger and resentment at what we are asked to do but nothing will compare with the resurrected spirit of obedience.
Jesus was challenged about the question of marriage and divorce in Matthew 19. When asked if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason Jesus answered, “No.” Challenged further He stated the will of God in matters of marriage and divorce and His disciples understood clearly what Jesus had said was a difficult decision to be made. “But He said to them, ‘All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it’” (Matthew 19:11-12). This was not ice cream religion. Those who want to enjoy the blessings of God have to decide whether they are willing to be obedient to His will or choose their own desires. To live after the manner of a eunuch for the kingdom of God is the cross some must bear. Many are unwilling to submit to His will.
Growing as a disciple of Christ will bring difficulties in every part of life. Paul reminded Timothy that if anyone desires to live a godly life persecution will be a key ingredient (2 Timothy 3:12). This may come for a change in the manner of dress where modesty is not measured by the world but the yardstick of God’s will. It is easy to dismiss modesty as a choice rather than obedience to the Lord. But there is such a thing as immodesty! It can be the lack of clothing or too much. “Do not let your adornment be merely outward–arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel–rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4). Obedience is when we follow the Lord’s pattern regardless of what the world accepts.
Entertainment is so difficult to keep pure these days. Television, computers, IPads, IPhones are filled with immorality with an ‘easy button.’ Immorality is the norm and without a heart of obedience lives are being destroyed by the plethora of evil desire. If having the internet causes us to sin what profit will it be to stay connected to a conduit of sin and lose our soul? Signing up for cable or satellite television can put many temptations before our eyes that are destructive and to what end? It can be a matter of being obedient to the will of God to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts (James 4:8) or refuse to change our lives. The pattern of obedience seeps into all parts of our lives.
The easy commands of God are easy. It is the hard ones that we struggle with. When our parents told us to eat our vegetables it was for our good. Contrary to our youthful wisdom eating ice cream all day would have been harmful. Which command has God ever asked us to do that we cannot do and that by doing will not bring about our better good? This is where faith comes in. Abraham was told to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. This man of God obeyed in every way he was asked to do because he believed that only good would come from the command of God. He realized in the sacrifice of his son that the Lord would be glorified and that is all that mattered to him. “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Doing the hard things of God is possible when we look through eyes of promise to what God has in store for us. Our lives are forfeit for Him. Why do we complain about what He has asked us to do for Him when He sent His only begotten Son to a miserable world of men who would abuse and kill His Son? What right do I have to pronounce my complaint to what God has asked of me when I stand before the cross of Jesus with His blood dripping down my face? “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
There is nothing our Lord has asked of us that we cannot do – with His help. After the young man walked away from Jesus being told to sell all he had and give to the poor, the disciples of Jesus were “astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:25-26). This is the key to obedience. Refusing to follow the will of God denies the power of God. Accepting the power of God guides us to do anything asked of us. Joy will be the reward when obedience is measured by the promises of our Savior.