If we were really honest with ourselves we would admit that we struggle when people tell us what to do. In fact, its very likely that we more than struggle – we may highly dislike or even HATE people telling us what to do.
If you are anything like me, you have had to, on more than one occasion, fight to suppress frustration, annoyance or indignation when someone has told us what to do.
However nine times out of ten we tolerate it. We put up with it. We learn to accept it in certain circumstances because the result out-weights the consequence – you keep your job by doing what your boss says – you stay in school by doing what your teacher says – you obey your parents (sometimes) because you will remain safe and more importantly, might get to watch cartoons on Saturday.
Our aversion to being told what to do feeds into our selfishness – into our fallen nature – into that part of us that wants to say and, once in a while, may even slip out of our mouths at the wrong time – “What right do YOU have to tell me what to do.”
Of course there is one person who has EVERY right to tell us what to do. He has the right not just to tell us what to do but to command us to do it.
There is an anonymous poem that says:
Where our Captain bids us go,
‘Tis not ours to murmur no;
He that gives the sword and shield
Chooses too the battlefield.
Where we are to fight the foe.
This morning I want to share with you about obedience – the necessity of the Christian life to learn to do what the Lord has commanded us to do in his word – but I want to add that to learn the gift of obedience is a blessing. [And today we have living example – we are obeying the command of baptism by baptizing little Stella Welch – and that is a blessing!]
As a Christian – as a follower of the creator God obedience is not, should not be a chore – something to be tolerated – it is meant to be a blessing – a joy an honor – something that will lead us closer to and into more intimacy with our God.
This morning I want us to understand three ingredients which can help us in our obedience to God: Firstly, we need the help and encouragement of others to remain obedient; Secondly we need self-discipline and thirdly we need to want to obey.
In our Old Testament reading this morning – Naaman is a commander of the Syrian army. He is a military man – mighty in deeds – greatly successful – he knew the importance of obedience – an army cannot run without it.
Yet Naaman was a leper.
But he wants to be healed and so he goes to a foreign nation – to a prophet called Elisha and he is healed. But look at how Naaman comes to go to Elisha. His servant / slave girl from Israel tells Naaman’s wife about Elisha. Why would a slave want to help her master? But she does. Because of this Naaman is encouraged to go to the King for permission to go to Israel. Then, when he reaches Elisha’s front door he becomes angry because firstly, Elisha does not even show Naaman the courtesy of greeting him himself – which is outrageously disrespectful! And secondly the instruction is so basic – go wash in the Jordon seven times.
Naaman’s natural reaction is “No – who do you think you are to tell me to do this minor, trivial thing – I am not going to listen to you.” Naaman’s pride is getting in the way.
It takes the encouragement of Naaman’s servants – his slaves – who give him wisdom – if the prophet told you to do some great thing you would have done it – the issue here is Obedience – do what the prophet says – and he is healed.
Sometimes we need that encouragement – we need the wisdom of others to help us be obedient – that is why we are part of a church. We cannot be Christians on our own – we cannot hope to survive the journey of faith by ourselves – we need others to help us and encourage us when we are thinking “I refuse to do this” or “I don’t NEED to do that” to show us “No, you should really be doing this.”
We need others in our Christian walk to help us and encourage us to be Obedient to the Lord and to his ways – we need other mature, biblically focused, Christ centered people.
Then we have Paul the Apostle. Our Epistle reading sounds like hard work doesn’t it. I get tired just reading it. But his point is crucial for us as believers – while we need others to help us on our Christian journey we also need to cultivate self-discipline.
But don’t misunderstand Paul here – he is not talking about self-discipline for the sake of self-discipline or even for ascetic purposes. To do so, Paul says would be pointless and aimless – it would like a runner running a race without a finish line or a boxer fighting nobody. Not even the athletes who competed in the ancient games thought this. Self discipline for the sake of self disciple is stupid. Athletes trained – and they would train hard – going away for up to six months to train for specific games – but they trained for a purpose – to win a race and a wreath – a wreath which was laid on a persons head at the end of the games and in a matter of days would have withered and died.
What Paul does is make a comparison of an athlete who was willing to spend years in training and six months in pre-game training camp in order to win a perishable wreath as a prize with a Christian. Why would he do that? What’s his point?
Paul’s point is that the Christian life of self-discipline has a goal – and that goal is a blessing – it is to receive that which is imperishable. This is about eternity – the goal is to live forever in the presence of the eternal God. The goal is the salvation of our soul – the goal is eternal peace. The goal will last forever and ever. Thus, how much MORE training should we be willing to put in for a prize that is eternal.
God should captivate our hearts so powerfully that, with the Holy Spirit, we work to bring our thoughts and actions under God’s will and commands. Paul says in 2 Cor – take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
However, although we may have people who are willing to help us and encourage us and although we may have some self-discipline we do need a final ingredient. And I think it’s the most important ingredient. We need to have the desire to want to obey God.
Our Gospel reading is remarkable. A leper approaches Jesus – breaking all known protocols. If Jesus had been a good religious man he would have rebuked this leper and fled. The equation is fairly safe is it not – something unclean touching something clean = something unclean.
But not with Jesus. When Jesus touches something that is unclean the unclean becomes clean. Also, notice that the leper approaches Jesus without promising he will repent or that he would even become a disciple or even a follower of Jesus. The leper makes no concession. Yet Jesus, out of his love and compassion FREELY heals the leper but then places a demand upon him.
He tells him to go to the temple and to present his healing to the priests for verification. Why does Jesus do this? Well, I think for three reasons – firstly the priests would examine him and then declare him clean and admit him back into the worshipping community which he had been excluded from. Secondly this would be a testimony to Jesus’ power and authority – having priestly verification of this lepers healing, when the priests and the leaders find out who healed him they would have irrefutable evidence from their own law and eyes that Jesus had healed him.
Thirdly, and most importantly, Jesus gives the healed leper a test – will you now obey the one who has healed you and restored you into the worshipping community. Do you desire to do what I, the one who healed, says.
Sadly, the answer was no.
The leper is given ALL of this simply by approaching Jesus and asking was he willing to heal him – but the leper chooses not to obey Jesus’ command to him, which by the way was not optional.
The same is true with faith & salvation. Salvation is offered freely – it does not depend on what we have done we can do nothing to receive it – it is offered from God’s mercy and grace. It costs us nothing, except our complete and full obedience to him and his word.
There was a consequence to disobeying Jesus. There was an undoubted consequence to the leper, who, while we do not know what became of him, we do know that if he remained unwilling to obey Jesus would place him in eternal danger. There was also the consequence to jesus’ ministry – it stopped Jesus entering some towns to minister.
While Obedience to God is a blessing – disobedience has real and eternal consequences.
Jesus is our ultimate example as always. Jesus knew obedience as a blessing. He obeyed his father in heaven with joy knowing that it would lead to glory. Throughout the gospels Jesus says time after time that he did only what he saw the father do and said only what the father says. He gathers 12 men around him to share in his journey – he has self-discipline of prayer and intimacy with God not because it was a chore or requirement but because of the joy he knew he would receive from it and his desire was to obey the Father completely – even to the point of dying on a cross.
Hebrews 12:2 says that for the joy that was before Jesus he endured the cross. In the Gospel of John Jesus says “I know that His (the fathers) command is eternal life.”
For the joy of obeying his heavenly Father Jesus was willing to die – That too should be our joy – enduring what comes to us, with the help of others, with self-discipline and because we want to obey – knowing our prize is imperishable – spending eternity in the new heaven and new earth.