OBEDIENCE (part 1)

This evening I want to continue my encouragement to you to expand your biblical understandings that allow your faith to grow. We will examine some simple concepts many of us have held since childhood. In accepting these simple concepts, most of us did one of two things. (a) We developed the simple concept when we were children (during one of our most impressionable ages) and we hold those concepts as an adults as though they were the full, complete truth. (b) We accept those simple concepts as an adult to fortify or defend adult religious convictions. We often associate loyalty to those simple concepts as faithfulness to the truth.

This evening I want us to think from a specific perspective. Most, if not all, of us are committed to full faith in God. Most, if not all, of us are committed to the Bible as God's word. Most, if not all, of us are fully convicted that an accurate understanding of God's will must be the foundation of our lives. Most, if not all, of us declare that we should be committed to the "whole counsel of God" which means we should be committed to a full understanding of all that God said.

Let's use some simple focus questions. What is obedience? May I anticipate our most common answer: obedience is doing what an authority figure tells you to do. If you do what God tells you to do, but have little or no understanding of what you do, are God's purposes and the objectives of obedience fulfilled? If you do what God says but have no desire to understand, are God's purposes and the objectives of obedience accomplished in your life?

Is proper, spiritual obedience simply a matter of doing what God said do? What is the relationship between trust and obedience? For a Christian, is biblical obedience authority based or love based? Do we obey because "all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18), or do we obey because "If you love me you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15)? Is obedience just a matter of unquestioningly refusing to rebel against God ("don't talk back to Me!"), or a matter of being motivated by deep affection for God?

Those questions do not have simple answers. Too often some of our basic problems arise from the fact that we assign them simple answers. Most of them cannot be fully answered with a yes or no, or with the "correct" multiple choice selection.

We frequently do God a grave injustice that misrepresents Him by making simple things that are not simple.

  1. Let me illustrate from the Bible with Israel (between the Exodus and the initial entrance into Canaan) that not even the concept of obedience is simple.
    1. After the Exodus from Egypt, God began revealing Israel's law by verbally declaring the ten commandments from Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-20:21; Deuteronomy 5:1-23).
      1. God's spoken declaration of the ten commandments included these statements:
        Exodus 20:8-10 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
      2. Look at the content:
        1. Each week you will observe the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week, our Saturday, as a holy day.
        2. You can work Sunday through Friday, but you must not work on Saturday.
        3. Saturday belongs to God, and you give it to God by not working.
        4. Adults will not work, children will not work, servants will not work, livestock will not work, and any visitor staying with you will not work.
      3. Is that clear and understandable?
        1. Is that authoritative?
        2. Can that be obeyed?
        3. Yes, as long as you understand the correct definition of work.
    2. Numbers 15:32-36 is our first encounter with a Sabbath violation.
      1. An Israelite man is arrested for gathering sticks (firewood?) on the Sabbath.
      2. He clearly was in violation of the Sabbath law.
      3. They did not know the proper punishment for his violation of the Sabbath.
      4. Moses took the situation to God.
      5. God said execute the man for violating the Sabbath command, and he was.
      6. Is that clear and understandable?

  2. Now go with me to one of your first children's Bible stories, the fall of Jericho.
    1. Joshua 6 records the capture of that first city in the promised land.
      1. Joshua 6:1-5 records God's instructions.
        Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. The Lord said to Joshua, "See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors. You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead."
      2. Examine God's instructions.
        1. In preparation for the attack, God said, "I have given you Jericho."
        2. God's instructions for each day, Sunday through Friday:
          1. The entire Israelite army would march around the city's walls one time.
          2. Seven priests and the ark of the covenant would march with the army.
            1. The seven priests carried seven trumpets made from ram's horns.
            2. They were to blow the trumpets during the march.
            3. Verse ten declared these first six circuits were to be in total silence except for the trumpets.
        3. God's instructions for the Sabbath day, the seventh day.
          1. On the Sabbath day the army, the seven priests, and the ark marched around Jericho seven times.
          2. The first six trips were to be in silence except for the trumpets (verses 15,16).
          3. After a long trumpet blast, Joshua would order everyone to shout.
          4. The walls would fall and the army, in unison, would close the circle.
      3. Joshua 6:17-21 records additional instructions from Joshua.
        1. The solders could take nothing from the city for their own possession.
        2. Only Rahab and the people in her house were to be allowed to live.
        3. All other people (men, women, and children) were to be killed regardless of their age, and all the livestock was to be killed.
        4. All silver, gold, bronze, and iron were the Lord's and were to be given to His treasury.
    2. Many of you are quite familiar with the details of the fall of Jericho.
      1. What is your personal, private understanding of the fact that Jericho was attacked and captured on the Sabbath day?
      2. Is God's Sabbath law clear to you in Exodus 20?
      3. Is God's command to capture Jericho on the Sabbath clear to you?
      4. Should Israel have said to God, "We cannot attack Jericho on the Sabbath because You said not to work on the Sabbath."
      5. Was obeying God justification for disobeying God?
    3. I do not see a great divine contradiction.
      1. Jericho was the first city to be defeated as Israel entered the land God promised Abraham that He would give to Abraham's descendants.
        1. God did not capriciously and arbitrarily decide to take some land away from good, innocent people and give it to Israel.
        2. The nations that lived in Canaan were extremely wicked.
          1. Because of their wickedness, Deuteronomy 7:1-5 gave Israel specific instructions about their destruction to prevent Israel being exposed to their wickedness.
          2. Deuteronomy 9:5 made it very clear that God did not give them Canaan because they were righteous with upright hearts, but (a) because of the wickedness of the nations in Canaan and (b) His promise to Abraham.
      2. God gave Israel the land.
        1. The first city that they conquered (which was a powerful symbol) was given to them by an act of God.
        2. God's act gave them Jericho just as God's act released them from Egypt.
        3. He did it on His holy day in His way and everything taken belonged to Him.
        4. Jericho falling on the Sabbath was a powerful message from the living God that Israel was totally dependent on God, and that was a wonderful situation for Israel filled with blessing.
    4. Obedience is a complex response of a person to God.
      1. It involves the interaction of four things: respect for God, love for God, repentance of evil, and trust in God.
      2. Only God can look at a person's heart and see the interaction of those four things.
      3. Only God knows:
        1. The degree to which the person really respects Him.
        2. The degree to which the person really loves Him.
        3. The degree to which the person nurtures a penitent heart.
        4. The degree to which the person trusts him.
      4. We humans know only what we see, and appearances can be deceptive.
      5. God reacts to what He sees with mercy and grace.
        1. It is not our nature to make mercy and grace primary responses.
        2. It is certainly alien to us to use mercy and grace in the manner God does and to the extent God does.

  3. Obeying God is not a matter of memorizing the correct lists of dos and don'ts and then doing what you are supposed to do.
    1. Obeying God is a matter of building a personal relationship with God.
      1. If I asked, "How do you build a personal relationship with God?" what would be your answer?
      2. May I anticipate our most common answer: "Obey him."
      3. I disagree. If a young bride asked you how to build a great relationship with her husband, would you say, "Do whatever he tells you to do"?
        Matthew 7:21-24 Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.' Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.
        1. These people did acts (prophesy, cast out demons, miracles) that Jesus himself did.
        2. They obeyed in the name of Jesus, but they did not do the will of God.
        3. Doing God's will involves more than dos and don'ts.
        4. "But Jesus stressed 'hearing these words and acting on them.'"
          1. What words?
          2. In context, the words of the sermon on the mount.
          3. They included: respecting other people, not lusting, being a person who is trustworthy; being kind to those who hurt you; loving enemies; having the right motives; trusting God; not judging; treating other people like you want to be treated.
          4. Are those simple dos and don'ts?

The obedience of a Christian is based on his or her loving relationship with God. Obedience focuses on God's will. God's will is complex, not simple. That of necessity means that obedience is complex, not simple. When we are committed to doing God's will, we will never justify ourselves by pitting one statement of God's against another.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 21 January 2001
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