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Welcome back to Part 2 of our Celebrate God with Your Obedience Series. If you’re just joining us, it’s going to be imperative that you listen to each episode in order. So, make sure you do that.
My name is Aaron Michael Brewster, I’m the founder of Evermind Ministries — of which The Year Long Celebration of God is one. I’m also married to Johanna and have two children, Micah and Ivy.
Here’s an interesting tidbit about me that some of you will already know — since my wife and I were married in 2006, we have had over 50 young people live in our home — the vast majority of which were teenage boys.
Truth.Love.Family. grew out of those experiences, and The Year Long Celebration of God started off as a resource for families.
I’m sharing this because it’s cool to see how God uses various experiences and circumstances to lead a person in His will. To think that — within a limited sense — the genesis for The Year Long Celebration of God started when my wife and I invited a delightful young lady from China named Angela to live with us for a year is pretty cool.
It was so fun to introduce her to our American holidays, and it was way back then that I started to realize that American Christians really do focus on so many of the least important things during the holidays.
Anyway, regardless of how we’ve gotten to where we all are right now, I thank the Lord that He orchestrated our having this conversation today, and I’m glad you’re here.
Alright, let’s talk about the second part of our definition for biblical obedience.
But first, by way a quick review, the greatest calling in your life is to worship God. But you will never worship God if you don’t love Him more than you love yourself. And if you love God, you will be obeying Him. Therefore, obedience is — in its totality — worship.
And we also learned that the first part of what it means to obey is that you need to do the right things. Of course, what is right is ultimately ordained by our sovereign God. It’s not something we or any other human gets to decide.
And I hope that some time between our last episode and now that you’ve been meditating on the nature of true obedience and carefully considering your own life.
So, how are you doing so far? How is your worship of God? Is your life characterized by doing the things that God says are right, good, holy, and perfect?
I’ve taught this material quite often. I’ve had the chance to preach it and teach it for many, many years.
And I always like to ask people to estimate the percentage of time each week they spend doing the right thing. And the answers I get are pretty consistent. If the person is an unbeliever, they are pretty quick to conceded that if God gets to decide what’s right, there are a lot of things they do that are wrong. They will often comfortably land in the 50% range. And if the person is a professing Christian, the number is usually between 75 and 95%.
By the way, that is also how at-risk teens answer. I know, I’ve asked many of them.
So, can you come up with a percentage? What percent of your week is spent doing the right things — as defined by God? The inverse of that number should be very instructive as well. Let’s say that you believe 80% of your week is spent doing the right things. How comfortable does is feel to say that 20% of your waking week is spent sinning against God in an act of self-worship?
Not too comfy is it? But’s it’s very helpful. If we truly do want to grow in our worship of God, then that 20% is the part on which we need to focus our attention.
But now we need to deepen our definition of obedience.
Obedience is doing the right thing, but it can’t stop there. Let me prove it to you.
If I work for you, and you give me an assignment to be completed by Wednesday, but I send it to you perfectly completed on Friday . . . did I obey?
What about a child who goes through the motions of cleaning her room, but she hates every moment of it?
What about a fast-food worker who completes every hamburger in the time allotted with a shining attitude, but forgot the patty on each one?
Yeah, there’s more to obedience than just doing the right thing.
2. Obedience is doing the right thing . . . in the right way.
Let’s start our discussion today by considering I Corinthians 11:27-32: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
Okay, so that may appear to be a strange choice for today’s study. Here’s why I selected it:
1. The Lord’s Supper is an example of “the right thing” to do.
Jesus instituted it on the night He was betrayed, but gave very little instruction concerning it save “do this in remembrance of me.” All the disciples knew was that it was the right thing to do.
But . . .
2. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.
A number of years later the church in Corinth was abusing the ordinance. They were using it as a time of gluttony and disrespect for the latecomers. They weren’t approaching it with the requisite respect and significance necessary. So Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, basically tells them that they’ve been doing it all wrong. They may have said they were obeying by observing the Lord’s Supper, but since they were doing it the wrong way, there were significant consequences.
People were dying because of it.
That’s because obedience is not simply doing the right thing.
As you may expect, the Old Testament teaches this principle as well. In I Samuel 15:22, Samuel says, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”
It would have been in accordance with God’s commands if Saul had offered sacrifices to God from the spoils they took from the Amalekites. But God had specifically told them to destroy it all, so because they weren’t obeying the right way, God was not pleased. In fact, it was due to this situation that Saul had the kingdom stripped from him and his family.
I will go so far to say — because God says it — it doesn’t matter if you do what you’re told if you don’t do it the right way.
Now, most Christians have a working idea of what the right things are.
Basically, everything God commands, we do. But what’s the “the right way” to obey? I think many of us would view that as being a little more subjective.
Well, thankfully it’s not.
First, the Bible is very clear about the way many things in life should be done. A perfect example is I Corinthians 13. In that passage God tells us that speaking in tongues, prophesying, and even giving ourselves up to be martyred are worthless without love.
Second, if an authority gives specific instructions (that doesn’t include sinning), we need to make sure we do everything we’re told the way we’re told. That’s obedience.
But, I’d like to give you three ways to help you understand what we mean by “doing the right thing in the right way.”
It was my friend, Rand Hummel who introduced this concept to me. A long time ago he told me that taught his children a very simple lesson that would help them determine if they were obeying the right way. He would tell them that “Everything you do must be done quickly, sweetly, and completely.”
Now, I know that may sound a little childish, but humor me for a moment as we break these down:
The idea behind this concept is that you need to do what you’re told within the time constraints given by the authority (whether that be from God or from man).
This applies equally to a child who is told to clean their room right now or an adult who’s told to have the project in the bosses inbox by Thursday.
If the child gets sidetracked playing with the cat instead of cleaning his room, he didn’t obey. If you don’t complete your project by Thursday, you didn’t obey.
Now, I don’t have a particular passage to support this principle, but it’s biblical nonetheless. You’re not obeying if you’re told to do something now, but you don’t do it now. That’s cut and dry.
Think about the various times in Scriptures where God commanded someone to do something immediately. For example, when the Jews marched around Jericho, on the last day Joshua, after the trumpets blew, said to the people “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city.” And the expectation was that the people were to shout then and there. They wouldn’t have obeyed if they had waited 30 minutes.
I do like to joke that at least Judas obeyed when Jesus told him, “What you do, do it quickly.” Of course, Judas never truly obeyed — that will be abundantly clear later on — but unfortunately, that may have been the closest Judas ever came to obeying God.
God says that today is the day of salvation. Every day an unbeliever refuses to submit to God, they’re not obeying. God wants us to love and serve and admonish and be holy, and He wants us to do that now.
Okay . . .
Whereas most authorities attach a timeframe to their instructions, they rarely express an expectation for your attitude.
I’m not saying that the authority has no expectations — they do have expectations — but I find that too many authorities seem to be fine with mere outward conformity in spite of the fact that the individual may clearly hate what he’s been told to do.
A cliched example of this is the child who — after being told to take a seat — says, “I’m sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.”
My friends, that’s not obedience. It’s not obedience when a child does it, and it’s not obedience when we do it.
In II Corinthians 9:7, God says that we’re not pleasing Him if we give to the church in a grudging or under-compulsion kind of way. We need to be cheerful givers! God really does care about our attitudes.
So, what does it mean to obey sweetly?
Well, I believe there are four biblical concepts that will help us understand what it is to obey with the right attitude.
1. God commands us to be at peace.
Galatians 5, Philippians 4, Matthew 5, II Timothy 2, I Thessalonians 5, Colossians 3, and so many other passages call us to the sweet soul rest of God.
I look forward to doing a series with you from Philippians 4 all about the magnificent peace of God. It’s one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible.
But for now let’s consider Colossians 3:14-15, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
The next verse then tells us to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly.
If you want to learn to obey sweetly, the word of Christ is going to have to dwell richly in you, because only then can you start to experience the peace of Christ.
But not only does God expect us to be at peace . . .
2. God commands us to be content.
In II Corinthians 2, Paul tells us that he’s content in weakness. In I Timothy he tells us that if we have food and clothing, we need to be content. The author of Hebrews tells us to be content with whatever we have. And in Philippians 4, Paul tells us that he’s learned to be content in whatever situation he’s in. In addition, the commands to not covet and not steal and not lie all revolve around the idea of being content with what you have . . . that includes being content with your authorities and what they ask of you.
The secret to contentment is found all throughout Scripture, but I like the way Hebrews 13:5 says it, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
Just like the 10 Commandments, this call to contentment is rooted in the nature and character of God. If I believe what God says, I can’t not be content.
Now, if you struggle understanding how contentment grows from believing that God is Who He says He is, check out our Grow Your Worship Series. That should clear it right up for you.
Okay, so we will have no problem obeying sweetly if we do what we’re asked with a contented peace.
But . . .
3. God also commands us to be joyful.
Again, Galatians 5 commands us to have joy. But I love James 1:2, and think it really applies well here: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” If that doesn’t describe having to do something we’d rather not do . . . I don’t know what does.
In fact, the trials discussed in that passage include not only the temptations that arise in the trials, but the testing of our faith that comes from the high biblical expectations of our spiritual authorities.
Mature disciples of Christ should one day come to the place where they’re able to count it all joy when an authority tells them to do something — even if that thing is difficult or uncomfortable or “not fun.”
I know you may not be there yet, but that’s how God expects us to mature.
And . . .
4. God commands us to be thankful.
Do you remember Colossians 3:14-15 that we read earlier: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
All of these ideas: peace, contentment, joy, and gratitude are all tied together and necessary for the others to exist. We need to strive to not just do the right things, we need to do them with a contented, joyful, thankful peace. That, my friends, is true “sweetness.”
Okay, quick review:
1. It’s not good enough to do the right thing. We need to do the right thing in the right way.
2. Obedience needs to submit to the appropriate time constraints. We call that, “obeying quickly.” And . . .
3. Obedience needs to submit in a peaceful, joyful, content, and thankful way. We call that, “obeying sweetly.”
And lastly, our obedience needs to be complete — our obedience needs to be done quickly, sweetly, and completely.
When I think of complete obedience my mind goes back to the earlier illustration about Saul when he was told to wipe out the Amalekites. But I also think of Achan in Joshua 7 — something that took place right after the conquering of Jericho.
God told the Children of Israel to destroy everything that was in Jericho, but one man took just a couple pieces of clothes and some money. It wasn’t total, complete obedience. And not only did Achan receive dire consequences for his sin, there were consequences on Achan’s family, and there were consequences on Achan’s nation.
My friends, we need to stop living under the delusion that partial obedience is true obedience.
If you tell your child or student to complete her task before eating her snack, but she eats the snack and goes about happily finishing her task the way she was instructed . . . she didn’t obey.
If you tell your child or student to complete her task before eating her snack, and she quickly completes the task the way she was instructed, but she has a rotten attitude the whole time . . . she didn’t obey.
If you tell your child or student to complete her task before eating her snack, and she runs off right away with a good attitude, but she does a sloppy job on her task so she can run back and get a cookie . . . she didn’t obey.
I use these examples, because it’s so easy to see when someone isn’t truly obeying our commands, but we like to cut ourselves a lot of slack when it comes to our obedience . . . don’t we?
So, how do we learn to start doing the right things in the right way?
1. Read and understand God’s Word.
Do you know the high biblical expectations God has for you? Do you truly understand what God expects of you?
2. Expect Christ-honoring obedience from yourself.
I know that sometimes spiritual battle can feel like Gettysburg when it comes to simply pushing ourselves to do the right thing. But generally speaking, you’re not helping yourself by making excuses for your bad attitude or partial obedience or slow obedience.
3. Work on maturing in your obedience with a friend!
This is discipleship! You and other of God’s people should be speaking the Scriptures to each other, praying for each other, sharpening each other, admonishing, rebuking, encouraging, and edifying each other. And the content of that life-on-life discipleship needs to be worship; which means it’s all about how we obey God better.
Alright, obedience is doing the right thing in the right way. What’s the right way? Quickly, sweetly, and completely. What if you don’t do the right thing in the right way, are you truly obeying? Are you glorifying God when you aren’t at peace, content, joyful, or thankful?
Now, at the beginning of the show I asked you to consider what percentage of your week you spend doing the right thing. Do you remember the number?
Okay, not let’s modify the question. What percentage of the week do you spend doing the God-ordained right thing within the time expected, at peace in God, contented, joyful, and thankful, and exactly as God or the authority expected you to do it?
What’s your new number?
Well, don’t feel too bad if the percentage is lower. When we’re being honest, it’s easy to recognize that we do many right things the wrong ways.
Generally speaking, I’ve found that someone who gives themselves an 85% on the first question, normally drop another 20 to 40 percentage points when asked if they obey the right way.
Of course, I’m not asking these questions to make us feel bad about ourselves, per se. I’m asking them so that we see ourselves as God sees us so that we can become the people God wants us to be.
Now, before we go, let me ask you one final question. What if you asked an employee or a child to do a task just the way you expect them to do it, and they do it perfectly . . . but the only reason they did exactly what you told them to do was so that they could manipulate you into giving them what they want?
I’ll just leave that question right there and invite you to join us next time for the third part of our Celebrate God with Your Obedience Series when we answer that question.
Don’t forget about our episode notes on our blog at CelebrationOfGod.com, and please share this series with all your friends.
And join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing the best reason to obey.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.