I’ve been teaching from the book of Philippians at my church, and I’m intrigued by Phil. 2:8 which says that Jesus “humbled himself in obedience to God.” That sentence alone should give us all reason to pause.
The word obey is a word we like to throw around as parents when we are teaching our children, and we are right to do so. Children must learn quickly that life is dangerous and they must listen to our instructions.
Later as they turn into teenagers they think they know what is good for them, but they still need our guidance. They still need to obey the rules of the house – rules we know they will push and try and stretch and seek ways to maneuver around, because that’s what we did as teenagers.
However, obedience is a word we still tend to rebel against as we grow out of our teenage years and become adults. In fact, we tend to laugh at it. Do you want an example? How many of you always obey the speed limit and how many set your speed control to 69 or 70 MPH when the speed limit is 65? When you come to a stop sign do you come to a complete stop 100% of the time or do you tend to roll on through? Is anybody consistently just a tad late for work or coming back from lunch? How many of you take ALL the antibiotics prescribed by your doctor, and how many stop taking it when you feel better? We don’t allow our children to pick and choose what orders they will obey, but we practice just that every day we drive or go to work or see a doctor.
The word “obedience” in verse 8 means to listen, to give ear to. It describes the position of a porter, a door or gatekeeper who, at hearing a knock at the door, comes to listen to who it is. To obey is to hear what we have been told and then to follow with actions that line up with our instructions. When our kids disobey something we’ve told them, we’ll often respond with, “Did you hear what I said?” And we say it in a voice a bit louder than when we first gave our instructions. We laughingly say some kids have selective hearing. You yell at them to go clean up their room and they ignore you and keep playing in the living room. But if they are clear across the house in another room and you whisper something about going to Braum’s for ice cream, they’ll come running in with one shoe on and the other in their hand with a big grin on their face, wondering why you haven’t started the car yet. Selective hearing is nothing more that selective obedience.
Obedience, (as we have experienced with our children because most of us know how we ALWAYS obeyed our parents. . . . .) is something we learn. Even Jesus learned obedience. Heb. 5:8 says, “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.”
Just as Jesus had to learn obedience through practice, so will we. It is one thing to say we will do whatever our parents or employer or leader wants us to do, but quite another to do it. In our minds we tend to assume they will only ask us to do those things we enjoy or agree with. But the example of Jesus tells us that sometimes obedience takes us to places we’d rather not go. Sometimes it means we have to die to our will and our desires. Sometimes, as in the case of Jesus, it may mean physical death. This is where the statement, “I want to be just like Jesus” starts to get a bit shaky. We want to be like Him in His glory, or in His miracles or His ability to teach. But what about obedience, especially when that obedience is going to cost us a great deal?
In our Wednesday night Bible study of Matthew, we were talking about Jesus’ teaching in chapter 5 about bringing our sacrifice to the altar. He says, “If you are bringing an offering to God and you remember that your brother is angry at you or holds a grudge against you, then leave your gift before the altar, go to your brother, repent and forgive one another, be reconciled, and then return to the altar to offer your gift to God” – Matt. 5:23-24 (The Voice). How often do we worship God knowing that we owe someone an apology or that there are people we need to be reconciled with, but instead of calling them or going to see them before church, we just keep on doing what we’re doing, thinking we’ll get around to it?
So let me ask you two questions that I am going to ask my church this morning. Perhaps as you answer these questions you will find an opportunity to “have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Phil. 2:5)
- How have you seen people be selective in their obedience to God?
- What are some areas of “selective obedience” you are currently struggling with in your life?