The Obedience Quartet – Part 2
Category : Biblical Meditation
In meditating on this subject of obedience, I came to realise that there are four concepts which flow to and from one another. As you consider one, it soon becomes clear that it causes or encourages each of the other three. Here are the first three: Love, Fear of God and Obedience which are found together in this instructive passage:
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good? Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (emphasis added)
The other concept which is inextricably linked is forgiveness.
All these concepts are held together by faith since the hearing of God’s voice requires faith to move us to obedience, love, a fear of God and forgiveness.
Let’s look in more detail at the relationship between each of these concepts.
Obedience and Forgiveness
Psalm 119:67 tells us, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” The Psalmist is telling us that at one point, he had gone astray but then there is a change. It is implicit that, as he had been afflicted, he had recognised his sin, received forgiveness and come to a place of obedience. Forgiveness leads to obedience.
The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we should forgive others (Matthew 7:14-15) so when we are obedient to the Word, then obedience leads to forgiveness.
Obedience and Love
In Foundational Truths for Christian Living, Derek Prince says the following: Throughout the whole Bible the supreme test of man’s love for God can be expressed in one word: obedience.
In the Old Testament, God stated this truth to His people in Jeremiah 7:23: Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people.
True love for God is always expressed by obedience to Him.
In the New Testament, likewise, Jesus, in His parting discourse to His disciples, emphasised above all other requirements this point of obedience. In John chapter 14 He stresses this point three times in succession within the space of a few verses: If you love Me, keep My commandments. (v.15)
He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. (v.21) (see also 1 John 2:5 and 2 John 1:6)
Then He puts two alternatives of obedience and disobedience very clearly side by side, for He says: If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. (v.23)
And then, on the contrary: He who does not love Me does not keep My words. (v24)
In the light of these words, it is plain that for any Christian to profess love for Christ without obeying the will of Christ revealed in His words and His commandments is mere self-deception.
The supreme commandment of Christ in the New Testament is love. Without love, it is impossible to speak of obedience. But if we go on to examine the nature and the outworking of Christian love, we discover that the New Testament offers us the pattern of a life that is controlled in every aspect by this love.
This works in both directions. We are obedient because we love God, but we also love in obedience to His Word where we are told in Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Obedience and the Fear of God
Let’s consider now the coupling of obedience and the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is something that tends to evoke one of two reactions on opposite ends of the spectrum – either people completely disregard it and seek a buddy-buddy relationship with God, or the concept related to “fear” effects a carnal fear in them (If God is so powerful how could I ever approach Him?). Somewhere in between is a path of understanding and blessing that is healthy and wholesome.
The fear of the Lord is a respectful attitude towards the God who loves us, but who cannot put aside His holiness. It enables us to come humbly before God to receive what He offers us with thanksgiving. The Bible has a great many positive things to say about the fear of the Lord. For further study, I recommend Derek Prince’s book Where Wisdom Begins (formerly titled Gateway to God’s Blessing).
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses juxtaposes observation of the statutes (The Law) with fearing the Lord and then goes on to say that this is for our good always. Not just sometimes, but always.
And the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Deuteronomy 6:24
Another instance of obedience and the fear of the Lord is in Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple:
…that they may fear You, to walk in Your ways as long as they live in the land which You gave to our fathers. 2 Chronicles 31:21
We are called to fear Him and walk in His ways, that is, to be obedient. Then a similar passage is found in Psalm 128: Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways. (v1)
To round off, we will look at an example from the New Testament which we touched on in Part 1 of this series from Hebrews 5. It is said of Jesus who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. Hebrews 5:7-8
As we saw previously, Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered, but He was heard because of His holy fear. Both obedience and fear of God are integral to the process.
Love and Forgiveness
Both directions of this relationship between love and forgiveness are illustrated in Luke 7:47: Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.
This verse tells us that the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume ahead of His burial had her many sins forgiven “for she loved much”. Her act of faith and obedience showed her love for Jesus. That love, in turn, was the key to receiving forgiveness from and through Jesus.
The second part of the verse shows us the other perspective: “to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” By this we understand that the measure of our love is related to the amount of forgiveness we have received.
The more the Holy Spirit shines His light into our hearts and reveals areas that need repentance and forgiveness, the more we are willing and able to love God and man. Consider an unbeliever who has not yet come to acknowledge his need of forgiveness – he doesn’t understand God’s love and thus cannot express it himself. When he comes to faith, shows repentance and receives forgiveness, God’s love becomes a reality and he can begin to “love because He first loved [him]” (see 1 John 4:19)
Love and the Fear of God
The love and the fear of God may seem to be two incongruous concepts, but they balance one another perfectly. Often due to our upbringing, we have a bias towards one or the other. Some who have been in churches where the love of God is highlighted, have a great expectation of good from God but may not have an awareness of His holiness which breeds a reverent fear. On the other side, those who have suffered from an orphan spirit may need healing to appreciate the love of the Lord in more of its fullness. This is because an orphan spirit is a door-keeping spirit who lets in spirits like loneliness, poverty, passiveness, rejection, apathy and fear of man.
I don’t believe it is possible to read the Bible extensively and not become engendered with a deep reverence for the Lord. Judgements throughout the ages as well as the prophecies yet to come of individuals, nations and the forces of evil receiving due punishment for their sin are all included in scripture as a witness of God’s requirement for righteousness and holiness only made possible through Jesus.
A helpful picture of the love and the fear of God operating together is of walking along the straight and narrow way which leads to life. It is the love of the Lord that draws us on, closer to Him. It is the fear of the Lord that keeps us from straying. How does it do that? There are two main ways – firstly because we don’t want to disappoint our Friend, Saviour, Lord and King or impede our fellowship with Him who has given us everything we have that is of any value; secondly, we have an understanding that persistent willful sin has severe consequences – not because God wants to be mean, but because He is true to His holiness.
Forgiveness and the Fear of God
The relationship between forgiveness and the fear of God is easy to see in experience. Let us take the example of a person who criticises the government. In her opinion, the government doesn’t do as they ought and so she makes it her objective to point out their faults. Whether or not her assertions are correct, God does not invite us to harbour a critical spirit or to judge outside of the jurisdiction God has given us.
One day, in reading the Scripture, the Lord directs her to 1 Peter 2:17 which says: Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
The Holy Spirit convicts her that she hasn’t honoured “all people” or the “king” and his government. Conviction from the Holy Spirit is something that is often very deep, but is always meant for our good. She looks again: “Fear God” and asks the question, “Have I shown God and His ordained government appropriate honour and respect?” She makes the right decision and repents of her disrespect, criticism and of being judgemental. In this first part of the story, fear of God has brought her to a place of forgiveness.
In this newfound forgiveness, the woman one day reads Matthew 7:1 which says, Judge not, that you be not judged!
Again, the Holy Spirit is at hand to guide her. The forgiveness that she received enables her to realise that had God not shown her grace and forgiveness which empowered her to change her old ways, she would have been awaiting judgement for her judgemental attitude and her critical ways. Her forgiveness, then has opened a way for increased fear and awe of God.
A Beautiful Interdependence
Each of these concepts interplaying helps us to position obedience in our hearts and minds. Obedience doesn’t need to be a scary idea all on its own, but encourages and is encouraged by Love, Fear of God and Forgiveness.
Here is how we could show the relationships between each of these concepts:
Lord Jesus, as I continue to learn obedience and how it is interconnected with love, fear of God and forgiveness, please help me to put aside all my fleshly fears. I recognise my need to trust You in this process as I lay down my will and become thoroughly obedient to Your will. In Your name I pray. Amen
- Peter Lindop