Obeying When It Hurts
By Eld. Yap Chee Kian
In his book Miracle on the River Kwai, Ernest Gordon tells the true story of a group of Prisoners of War (POWs) working on the Burma Railway during World War Il:
“At the end of each day the tools were collected from the work party. On one occasion a Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing and demanded to know which man had taken it. He began to rant and rave, working himself up into a paranoid fury and ordered whoever was guilty to step forward. No one moved. “All die! All die!” he shrieked, cocking and aiming his rifle at the prisoners. At that moment one man stepped forward and the guard clubbed him to death with his rifle while he stood silently to attention. When they returned to the camp, the tools were counted again and no shovel was missing.”
No other details were given in the story about the man who stepped forward and why he did so but obviously his death saved the lives of many. What this man did is similar to what the Lord Jesus Christ did on the cross: He gave his life so that we may live. What I wish to highlight here is the obedience of Christ to His Heavenly Father, even unto death.
Biblical Obedience Or Human Morality?
Biblical obedience comes from a reverential awe of who God is and what He has done for us. There is a distinction between obedience that comes from choosing to obey God and doing what is moral in our human understanding. There are many morally upright people in our society who do not know God and yet the things they do may even put Christians to shame. Their morality may be the result of environment, upbringing, personal integrity and perhaps even Church influence. There is however no reverential fear for God in them. If the Christian is not careful, he may also do likewise and conduct himself in moral uprightness but having little to do with the fear of God. This is not biblical obedience.
Biblical obedience begins with the heart of love. 1 John 5:3 says: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. This summarizes the obedience which expresses our love for God. Deuteronomy 6:4 – 5 (verse 4 is also known as Shema Yisrael שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל; meaning “Hear, O Israel”) instructs the Israelites:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: 5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
This is to be passed down from generation to generation. Again, this is emphasized by Jesus in Matthew 22:37: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
The Cost of Obedience
Obeying God costs Jesus his life. If we think the cost is nothing to Jesus because He is God, remember He is also fully man. The Bible in Hebrews 4:15 tells us that He is subjected to the same infirmities that we are subjected to, but yet without sin. Hebrews 5:7 gives a graphic description of what Jesus went through as He agonized over His impending death at Calvary: Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared. Following our Master will mean that obeying God will cost us dearly too. Let us examine two areas where obedience can be costly:
Choosing forgiveness (Rom 12:12,14,17) – God loved us and forgave us at great cost to Himself. We are to love others, even at great cost to ourselves. Sometimes, this means a willingness to NOT see justice done as a condition of forgiveness for a personal wrong committed against us. This does not mean that we condone the misdeed. Instead, we are prepared to let it go because we choose to obey God. We may have to humble ourselves, cause inconvenience to ourselves and even forgo our sense of justice. Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, together with her family members, helped many Jews during World War II. She was imprisoned for her actions and many of her family members died during the imprisonment. She related the story of how she chose to forgive her persecutor whom she met years later. (Read her book: I’m Still Learning to Forgive).
Depending on God (Rom 12:9-11,18-21)–We need to realize our total dependence on God when we choose to obey Him. This costly submission to God means we will lose our independence. Oswald Chambers, an early twentieth-century Scottish Baptist evangelist and teacher, in a daily devotion in his book: My Utmost for His Highest said that our obedience will be tested when we need to depend on God. Our entrenched human pride will resist the humiliation of refusing to be independent. We are to be constantly on guard that we do not dictate to God any condition for our obedience to Him.
Application – Consciousness of God
Our obedience to God needs to be examined daily. We will be constantly tempted to disobey God just as Adam did so at the Garden of Eden. Cultivating a conscious awareness of God’s presence daily will guard our spiritual foot step. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, gave us a warning here, “Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God”. Let us draw near to God and depend on Him in every situation as we seek to obey Him out of a reverential heart of love for Him.