But this command I gave them, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’
There are many commandments in the Bible that just make good sense, whether one is a Christian or not. Moral principals like “do not steal,” “do not kill” and “do not bear false witness” are healthy for any society. To be obedient, however, is to do more than just what one perceives as healthy. After all, it is possible that one might think stealing or killing is just fine, they just don’t do it to avoid the criminal consequences. We are not only supposed to follow the commandments in order to avoid punishment. We are supposed to follow the commandments because of the connection between obedience and love. We obey the commandments out of love for others. We obey the commandments because we love God. We obey the commandments so that we can show love for others, and we obey the commandments so that we can show love for God.
The reward of obedience is a loving relationship with Christ, again not an obedience resulting from fear, but an obedience that comes from love and that results in love. Christ was obedient even to death for us, so it is not as if He’s asking us to do something He has not already done for us. He has shown obedience in leading us to salvation, and now He is asking us for our obedience.
Two thousand years ago, if a person walked up to Golgotha and saw the crucifixion, they might have thought it was pointless. Here was an ostensibly good person, who had spent years preaching a message of good news, who had healed countless people, who had mercy on the downtrodden, who just about everyone liked. Someone coming upon the scene might have wondered “Why this? Why Him? What’s the point?” That sacrifice on the cross, that obedience to God’s plan for His life, that love shown to God and to humanity in that moment, opened the doors to Paradise and has changed (and continues to change) the lives of the countless believers in the two thousand years that have followed.
We know that Jesus was afraid of death. The night before His crucifixion, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed to God the Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) Even Jesus struggled with His calling, but He was obedient, even to death. The “reward” for Christ was Resurrection from the dead. This is our reward as well if we remain obedient throughout our lives.
Most of us (hopefully) will not be called upon to die for the sake of the Gospel. Yet we are all called to be “martyrs.” “Martyr” means “witness.” Typically the martyrs of the church are those who have been killed for their faith. However, in another sense, every Christian is called to be a witness, and all the saints were obedient witnesses to the Word of God, and are now joyful recipients of His promise of eternal life.
In obeying the civil law, we not only avoid the negative (punishment), we enjoy the positive (freedom). In obeying the commandments of God, we not only avoid the negative (hell), we will enjoy the positive (heaven). How we do this is a challenge. Because all around us there is encouragement to disobey the commandments, or ignore them, or to follow them selectively. If someone tells the truth 90% of the time, that means that they are lying 10% of the time. If someone lies 10% of the time, can they be trusted? If we are obedient to God’s commandments 50% of the time or 80% of the time, or if we follow 80% of the commandments and disobey or ignore the rest, are we really obedient? And this is where it gets really hard. Because to be obedient means that we aren’t selective about what we obey. We faithfully follow everything, and when we fall, we repent and follow again. Many people are selectively ignoring commandments, perhaps reasoning if we follow a good percentage of the time, then that is good enough. Going back to the example of Christ on the cross, imagine if His obedience stopped short of the cross, if He was just a moral teacher and a healer; He wouldn’t be our Savior and the path to Paradise would not have been reopened through the Resurrection. It was critical then and it is critical to us now that Jesus practiced obedience, even unto death. This is the bar we are to strive for when it comes to obedience—that we are willing to be obedient even in the face of great sacrifice, even in the face of the ultimate witness.
Obedience is hard. This is one reason that we practice it in the context of community, to be encouraged in our obedience to God by others who are striving to do the same thing.
O Virgin Mary, when Joseph was racked with sadness, on the way to Bethlehem, you said to him, “Why are you miserable and troubled, seeing me pregnant? Are you completely ignorant of the tremendous mystery unfolding in me? Well then, put away all your fears, and understand the extraordinary wonder. God, in His mercy, has come down to earth, and He is now in my womb, and He has taken flesh. You will see Him born of me, as He wills; and you will be filled with joy; and you will worship Him, as your Creator, the One whom Angels unceasingly extol and glorify, as they do the Father and the Holy Spirit.” (Idiomelon, 9th hour, Royal Hours of the Nativity, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: How can we best walk in the way God commanded us?