I think about obedience a lot. As a mom, obedience or disobedience play a big part in my day to day conversations with the kids. There is a corner inside me that cringes every time I call an action disobedient or obedient. So I find myself approaching it indirectly by talking about listening skills. Good listening vs not listening.
After all, obedient has a very negative connotation. Whether it harkens back to the dysfunctional side of the 1950’s or to the darker 50 Shades of Gray territory, obedient is not seen as a good thing most of the time. It’s feels oppressive, maybe even abusive in some situations. Obedience is something we just try to avoid… while still trying to achieve it at home, or school programing, or corporate America.
All the confusion and discomfort surrounding the word obey creates a problem in us when we read about obeying Jesus’ commands and teachings. Does the fact that He tells us to obey Him make Him a holy tyrant? Is Jesus trustworthy if He’s saying obey? Or, is this one big misunderstanding of what it means to obey?
I’m leaning towards the latter. Really, obedience is only a problem when the one exercising authority is not worthy of that authority. When the person in authority approaches instruction with care and the best interest of the other, obedience is a good thing because it means taking good direction that leads to a good end. When you think about it in this light, we don’t have a problem with obedience, we have a problem with authority.
Here’s what I mean. What is obedience, in its essence? I would argue that it is agreement, or agreeing through action. Someone gives instructions, the one listening says in their thought processes, “I agree with that, I’m going to do that.” Then their actions communicate the agreement determined in their mind. If they disagree with the instruction, the thought processes follow suite and a lack of action communicates that disagreement.
So, when we don’t agree with the one in authority, or even the idea of authority, we don’t obey and we don’t like obedience. Jesus gets caught up into all this internal baggage and we do our best to change what Jesus said so He isn’t really included in all that nasty authority/obedience business. We change the parts of Jesus that makes us uncomfortable. Or rather, we change the truth that makes the established lies in our hearts and minds uncomfortable. Then we go along thinking we know Jesus and follow Jesus, when in reality we don’t.
Isn’t that what Jesus was getting at in John 14:1? “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” If I really love someone, then I know them and love them for who they are. If I know Jesus, I know He has authority, when I give my life to Him, I put myself under His authority. Since I know Him, I know He is good and His authority is good and worth obedience.
Jesus even has a parable that gives an example of what the outcomes are of obeying good authority vs disobeying it. “He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.” Compare to the other man, “a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. The ruin of the house was great.” (Luke 6:48-49 NKJV)
What made the difference between these two men? Jesus spells it out pretty clearly, “But why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like:” (Luke 6:46-47 NKJV) That’s when Jesus tells us about the man with his house built on the rock. The man who built his house on dirt is, “He who heard and did nothing.” (Lk. 6:49)
One man did the hard work of obedience, notice he had to dig down through all the dirt to reach the rock on which to build. The other avoided obedience, avoided the work of agreement-action. He left the dirt in place and did what seemed right to him, only to be met with great ruin. Also notice, the flood was inevitable. It wasn’t if, it was when.
Jesus, in His good and loving authority has given us commands that require action and effort, but the reward is that we are able to stand firm in the inevitable storms of life. Obedience is work and blessing when Jesus is the one we are obeying.