“Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything” (2 Corinthians 2:9).
A friend of mine once told me that obedience is God’s love language. Obedience is a hard word to understand because we tend to focus on the what rather than the why. For instance, Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” It sounds like Jesus is saying, “When you obey me, it shows your love for me.” Some would say that sounds a bit like slave language, as if Jesus were playing a game with the key, dangling it in front of our faces. However, could it be that he knows what is best? Could it be that God sees the picture as a whole and knows what hurts as well as what is best for us?
Why is it important?
My son Sylas loves to ride his bike at our house. We live in town where traffic flows frequently, and sometimes he gets the urge to veer toward the street. I mean, after all, who doesn’t love the open road? For a 6-year-old, it’s so much better than a measly old sidewalk. Sometimes I wonder if my son has been listening to Willie Nelson sing, “I just can’t wait to get on the road again!”
However, Sylas knows he is not allowed to leave the sidewalk. Is this because I am a mean and hateful dad? Am I a fun killer? No, I’m simply someone who sees the bigger picture. As an adult, I have more experience than a 6-year-old. I know that cars travel up and down the road quickly. Sometimes the driver is paying attention and sometimes the driver is not. I know nothing good ever comes from a child playing in the street. I don’t want him to get hurt. I can’t imagine anything ever happening to my kids. So because I love him, I don’t allow him to ride his bike in the road.
His response is typical. “Why can’t I, dad? I am not hurting anything. It’s more fun.” If only he could see what I see. The same is true of God. It’s not like God is trying to take away our fun, but he sees things differently than we do. He sees the big picture. He knows what is good for us and what will hurt us, and so because he loves us, he gives us instructions to obey. I find it incredibly loving that God cares so much about us that he is brutally honest for our better good, even when we don’t understand. “Obey what I say, because I love you and I know what’s best for you.” It’s what he expects of us, and what makes him feel loved by us.
What does it look like?
Submission is the key to being an obedient follower of Christ. When we submit to God, we demonstrate our love for him. John tells us, “We can be sure that we know God if we obey his commandments” (1 John 2:3, New Living Translation).
Understanding obedience is a tricky thing. Some people scare others into obedience. My children might learn obedience if I threatened them: “You better obey me because I am your father. If you don’t obey me, bad things will happen.” I know many people who were raised that way and raised well. But this is obedience based on fear. I have heard it described as a punishing obedience. Another way to train a child to understand obedience is by rewarding obedience. Children who obey receive praise and rewards.
Both approaches get results, but they develop two different types of children. One approach develops children who are terrified of doing the wrong thing. The other develops children who want to do the right thing. It’s the same reason I touch my brakes when passing a police officer on the side of the road. I slow down because I don’t want a ticket. However, if my family is with me, I automatically drive carefully and stick to the speed limit because I don’t want to endanger them. One response is motivated by fear, and the other is motivated by love.
I know many people who attend worship because they “have to.” “I have to because my mom will be upset.” “I have to because I don’t want to go to Hell.” How about prayer? “I have to pray before I eat because I don’t want to choke on my food.” However, the other perspective is the “get to.” “I get to go to church today because I love to worship God with others.” “I get to talk to God! It’s unbelievable that I have direct access to the Creator of the world.” When you understand obedience, you want to obey because it connects you to God by your love.
How can we cultivate hearts that seek to obey God in all things?
So how do I stand the test to be obedient in everything? How many commands is that? Jesus was so good at simplifying things. He took all the commands and wrapped them up into one passage. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37, 38, NIV). Do you want to be obedient in everything? Love God in everything. Love him in the good times and in the bad. Love him when you get the job promotion. Love him when you get the bad news that a family member has cancer. Love him when you find out that you passed the difficult test. Love him when your car breaks down. Here is the key; Jesus says to love him with all your heart, soul, and mind. It isn’t a part-time job. It isn’t done halfway. It’s with all you’ve got. When that happens, you will be standing the test because you will start to care about the things he cares about. It won’t be because you are afraid of him, but because you love him.
Early in my ministry, I had the opportunity to baptize a man into Jesus. We began to talk about all of the hard questions that come with a life of following Christ. He said, “Micah, I am not making this decision and obeying Jesus because I don’t want to go to Hell. I am doing this because this is what Jesus says to do, and I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life without him.” As a father, I want this for my kids. I love my kids and would do anything for them. I always want what’s best for them. As much as I love my family, I’m an imperfect father. Can you imagine how much more our perfect Father loves us? So as Paul said, be obedient in everything. When you understand that love and obedience are linked together, you will begin to understand God’s love language.
Micah Stephen is the senior minister at Odon Christian Church in Odon, Indiana. He and his wife, Crystal, have two children, Sylas and Lyla.