Why Obedience May Not Mean What You Think It Means

May 26, 2017

John 14:28-31

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

“Come now; let us leave.

CONSIDER THIS

There is a strong theme weaving its way through this closing session between Jesus and his disciples. I haven’t referenced it yet but will do so now. It can be brought down to one word:Obedience. Here are a few examples.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 13:34

“If you love me, keep my commands. 14:15

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.  

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. 14.23

Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. 14:24

but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. 14:31

If you obey my commands you will abide in my love just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and abide in his love.” John 15:10

English Bible translations bounce around with the underlying Greek word and its meaning. The root Greek term is, “tereo.” Sometimes it is translated “keep” and at other times “obey.” People tend to resist obedience language because of its association with slavery, oppression, authoritarianism and yes, parenting. When one person tells another person to “obey” them, it usually happens in a “powering down” context.

When Paul tells children to obey parents and slaves to obey masters in Colossians 3, we see a different Greek term, “hupakouo.” Interestingly, this term carries a meaning more like, “to hear or to listen intently.”

So why all this? We need to grasp the gravity and intensity of Jesus words. When Jesus tells us to keep his words or obey his commands and when he tells us how he obeys his father’s commands here’s what he means. Go back to the passages above and everywhere we see the term keep or obey insert these words:

Pay close attention to what I say, keep these words in your mind, impress the teaching on your hearts, guard it with vigilance, give all of your energy to applying it to your life, be careful to put it into practice, and treasure it above everything else. 

Let’s give this a shot with John 14:23, which says Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

Anyone who loves me will pay close attention to what I say, keep these words in your mind, impress the teaching on your hearts, guard it with vigilance, give all of your energy to applying it to your life, be careful to put it into practice, and treasure it above everything else.

This is how Jesus handles the commands of his father. This is his instruction to us. I don’t know about you, but this both convicts and encourages me. I’m afraid I am a little more casual and too often aloof. I hold Jesus’ teaching too much at the aspirational level and not enough at the “I must do this at all cost because my life depends on it” level.

This, my friends, is the sum total of what it means to love Jesus.

Obedience is not blind submission. It’s the totalizing attention of love.

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who not only calls us to obedience but who shows us exactly what it looks like in action. Deliver us from our easy familiarity with his words. Teach us to cherish and to love his words. Open our minds to perceive them afresh and train our hearts to love them with all we are. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. How have you tended to think about the term “obedience” in the past?
  2. How does my amplified “take” on what the term means help you? challenge you? encourage you? How do you push back on it?
  3. What would it mean to get the whole notion of obedience out of the category of power and into the category of love? What would be the implications of this for your relationships? your leadership?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. JD,
    I would be very cautious, if not completely against, using the phrase, “I must do this at all cost because my life depends on it”. This could very easily be interpreted as support of a works-based salvation.
    Admittedly, finding the correct gravitas with the correct theology is difficult. “I must do this at all costs because my joy depends on it” might be closer to a correct theology, but it also could be easily interpreted too lightly, particularly by those without a strong education in Christian theology.
    Like “life”, other possible choices such as “hope”, “faith”, “soul”, and “future” are all in some degree of violation of sola gratia.
    Like “joy”, words such as “refreshment”, “peace”, and “happiness” show a neglect towards sanctification.
    Perhaps a choice such as “strength” is the right middle ground. If we get our strength from Christ, that strength can go unclaimed if we are not living in Christ. Goodness knows that I won’t make it without Christ’s strength in my life, as I don’t have the personal strength for the yoke currently laid before me. But if I obey Him, His strength can make the burden light.
    In His Love,
    JAy.

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