Obedience to What?

Obedience to What?

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Scripture: Matthew 28:16-20

(view Ella Enchanted movie clip)

Ah, yes, the perfect child, indeed! A child who obeys everything you say! Only in fairytales. Of course, in the movie this blessing of obedience turns out to be a curse.  And many years later she discovers that she’s, in fact, not subject to the blessing laid upon her as an infant.

Now, in reality, we all know that if we want our children to do something, all we have to do is tell them not to do it! Usually it’s the opposite, though. If we tell them not to do something, what’s the first thing they now want to do? Obedience is not a natural occurrence in us humans.

There’s a story in my family that our daughter asked me to tell again and again when she was younger. This story even developed a name or title. It’s called “Drew Drank the Milk.” Daddy, tell me the Drew Drank the Milk story again! Through the years I’ve told and retold that story so many times she can tell it herself…which I’m sure she will to her own children someday. Oh, you think your grandpa is all that, huh? Well, let me tell you a story about him…

Here’s the story. When I was about 8 years old our family was on vacation. At that time we had a camper-van that had a refrigerator. Inside that fridge was a Tupperware cup full of milk which my parents made very clear to us children that was to be saved for the next morning’s breakfast. Throughout the day, however, I pestered my parents about drinking it, and each time the answer was the same: “No, that’s for breakfast tomorrow.”

At some point we stopped at a rest area, and the last things my parents said to me before they got out to use the restrooms was, “Drew, do not drink that milk! Do you understand?” I’ll give you one guess as to what happened as soon as they were away from the van…I blatantly disobeyed them and drank the milk. (I guess I figured they’d never notice!). Well, I’ll give you one more guess as to what my younger brother immediately shouted to my parents when they got back…“Drew drank the milk!” Needless to say, I got into a bit of trouble that day.

We all have our own Drew Drank the Milk stories, don’t we? Stories about our own children’s disobedience, and stories about our own disobedience. But the thing is, disobedience isn’t just a kid thing. It’s a human thing. It’s our human condition. We adults struggle with obedience just as much as children. I could share a personal disobedience story from this week. As could you about yourself.

The short passage from Matthew that Shirley read has been the source of quite a few sermons over the past couple of years. At least, the first part v. 19 has been a source. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations. Go and make disciples. I’ve talked quite a bit about discipleship: What it means to be a disciple, what a disciple ‘looks like,’ how we live out our discipleship, and so on

Then our Lord give us two directives for how we live into the command to make disciples. First, baptize them. And we do this in the name of our Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. United Methodists affirm the practice of both infant and believer baptism. Why include infants, who aren’t aware of it? Because we believe the effectiveness of baptism depends not the cognitive development of the one being baptized, but on the work of God himself upon and within the life of the one being baptized. So, that’s the first directive for developing followers of Jesus Christ. We baptize them. It’s the easy one.

The not-so-easy directive is in v. 20, where Jesus tells us to teach all followers to obey everything he commanded us to do. We’re called to teach obedience to Jesus’ commands. The bottom line: all followers of Jesus Christ are called to obey Jesus. A significant aspect of discipleship is obedience. The question is, obedience to what?

The short answer: everything he’s commanded us to do! Everything? He didn’t say “90% of what I commanded.” Or, “as much as you possible can.” Or, “those things that come naturally to you on account of your personality.” Nor did he say, “Your choice!” No, Jesus made it pretty clear: teach all of my followers to obey everything I’ve commanded.

So then, v. 20 begs two important questions: First, what exactly did he command us to do? And second, is it even possible to obey everything we’re supposed to do?

I’d like to attempt the answer the 2nd question first, because it’s actually the easy one. We’re called to obey everything he commanded, but is that a realistic endeavor? I could answer it from two vantage points. One answer could be Yes, but… On the flip side, the answer could be No, but… In other words, the best answer is Yes and no.

Yes, we’re called to strive to be the best disciple of Jesus Christ we can possibly be, even in spite of our limitations, life experiences, and liabilities. In Mt. 5:48, Jesus encourages us to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfection here doesn’t mean being mistake-free or sinless. Rather, it denotes showing love to other people. So just as our Heavenly Father pours out his love on every single person in the world, so we are called to be vessels of that love to every single person with whom we come into contact on a daily basis. That’s the goal. Loving others perfectly. Do we always do it? No. But it’s the still the goal of the follower of Jesus. That is, if our ultimate goal is to be like Jesus.

Remember, Paul likens our endeavor to become like Jesus to a race, and in 1 Cor. 9:24 he encourages us to “run [this race] in such a way to win the prize.” The emphasis is in such a way. Make winning your goal. But, again, winning doesn’t mean being morally perfect or sinless. From God’s perspective, winning is walking with him.  And yes, growing in him. I believe it’s fair to say that consciously and purposefully growing in our relationship with God is how we live into obedience.

So, to answer the first question—Is it even possible to obey everything Jesus tells us to do?—the answer is: No, it’s not humanly possible on account of our broken human condition. But God nevertheless wants us to make it our goal to obey everything. Getting to this point is a life-long process called sanctification. And always remember, God’s grace and love covers a multitude of sins! Where our disobedience gets the best of us, God’s grace steps in!

Now, back to the 1st question: What exactly has Jesus commanded us to do? Well, answering this question is a bit trickier because there are a quite a number of things that Jesus verbally commands his disciples to do, but there are also other commands that are more inferred, written between the lines, so to speak. The verbal commands are many —

  • forgive offenders
  • give generously
  • repent and believe
  • follow me
  • love your enemies
  • seek the Kingdom of God
  • honor your parents
  • Love the Lord your God
  • Feed my sheep, just to name a few.

Back in 1925, J.S. McConnell identified 147 commands of Jesus. In his book, “Hear Him!” Peter Wittstock identified 125.

But there are some that aren’t necessarily commanded by Jesus himself, but which we hold as just as important when it comes to living out our faith. For example:

  • Colossians 3:15 tells us to “let the peace of Christ rules in your hearts…And be thankful.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5.13 exhorts us to, “live in peace with each other.”
  • 2 Timothy 2.24 says we are not to “be quarrelsome,” but instead to “be kind to everyone.” That verse also instructs us to not be resentful.

These are just 3 examples of a multitude of Scriptural “commands” that don’t necessarily come straight out of the mouth of Jesus, but they’re based on the various teachings of Jesus. There are many, many more.

So, whether they come directly from Christ or they’re implied and taught elsewhere in Scripture, how do we go about obeying them? Well, clearly there’s no fairy godmother who can wave her magic wand over us an make us obedient. And while someone with attention deficit disorder may be able to take a pill and gain cognitive focus almost immediately, there’s no obedience pill on the market. Really, what it comes down to is just this: the hard work of doing it. The hard work of choosing to obey.

The hard work of choosing to repent of disobedience – which is really a daily task – and then doing what we know we’re called to do. Choosing to forgive when we don’t feel like it. Choosing to give thanks when we’re not feeling very thankful. Choosing to stop and listen to our children babble on about nothing consequential when we’ve got 1001 important tasks to do. Choosing to confess our worry as soon as we realize we’re going down that unhealthy path. Choosing to participate in a service project even though the project makes us uncomfortable. Obedience is ultimately a choice that every disciples has to make.

And you’ll make it every day. Because every day our default is disobedience. Doing things my way. The easy way. The way of the world. The way my flesh cries out for. We have to choose obedience.

There one other thing: we have to know what Jesus commands. How many of you understand the nuances of physics just by living in this world and being subject to the laws of physics? Likewise, knowing how to live according to what God says doesn’t come without making the effort to learn it. The heart of God is antithetical to our human condition. So if we’re going to know what God would have us do, it’s up to us to figure it out.

And the best way to figure it out is to avail yourself of the opportunities you have to learn God’s Word. Here are some possible means:

  • Sunday School…
  • small groups…
  • short term classes…
  • Bible studies…
  • daily devotions…
  • books on Christian living…
  • youth group
  • Vacation Bible School

There’s another resource I’d like to tell you about, and it’s something that we’re going to talk more about next Sunday. It’s a wonderful resource from from RightNowMedia.

(view RightNowMedia video)

One of the signs of a vital church is that a majority of it’s people are actively involved in ways of growing in their faith and understanding. That and outreach. If you currently are not taking steps to grow in your faith, let me encourage you to consider doing otherwise. How else are any of us going to know what Jesus commands us to do?

Here’s a reminder of part of our working definition of a disciple. A disciple is

a follower of Jesus Christ
who is committed to becoming more like Jesus
through a life of obeying Jesus

By God’s grace and through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit within us, let us run this race with perseverance so as to win the prize.

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