Obeying God Goes Beyond Mere Obligation or Prescription… (continued)
Now understand, Jesus is saying that He is going to obey this law, not because He has to, but because He wants to. He does not want to offend them, and they were not false teachers like the Pharisees, they were simply fulfilling the Law. And Jesus, in love for them, in respect for them, and to keep His ministry blameless says, ‘But I will still obey it.’
If you had to take this to a judge, Jesus would win. Jesus doesn’t have to do this. And if Jesus was a minimalist in His obedience, He would say, ‘I don’t have to pay this tax, so I won’t. I am not guilty if I don’t pay, and that’s good enough for me.’ But Jesus our Lord showed us the heart of obedience. Jesus did things which no law compelled Him to do, but He did it out of love for His Father, and love for man. He was driven not merely by must, but by love.
Now there are things you have to do. But maturity goes beyond trying to do the minimum and wants to do the maximum. Christian, your life cannot be dominated merely by obligation. If you live your Christian life trying to do the absolute minimum that you think you have to do, you will usually do even less than that.
There are many things to which you could say, ‘I don’t have to do that’:
Church attendance more than once a week.
Giving to the Lord.
Memorising the Word of God.
‘Who said I can’t listen to this music?’
‘Who said I can’t watch this film?’
‘I have never found a clear command saying this kind of place is unwholesome and a child of God shouldn’t be there.’
‘I have never found a command saying this activity is not fitting for a child of God.’
Putting off the old man more, and putting on the new man more.
And perhaps, if we took it to a judge, you would be right. But you are missing the heart of being a follower of Christ. A follower of Christ is not trying to defend apathy and indifference and laziness. A follower of Christ is not trying to only get by with what is clearly mandated. A follower of Christ does not try to see how close to the world he or she can get without crossing the line.
It is not about whether or not it is compulsory. It is about what is most pleasing to God, and edifying to man. It must grieve the heart of God to have children that are looking to just eek by, to do as little as they can for Him and still get a ‘pass mark’. Think of it like a husband and wife saying to each other, ‘Must I kiss you goodnight?’ If you are being controlled by merely a sense of some things you must do to tick off your list, you are not experiencing the joy of the Christian life.
The life of a believer is one of being free to do all that you can out of love for God. This is what it means to be under grace vs. being under the Law. Being under grace is not freedom from responsibility. When we free someone, we not only free someone from something, we free them to something.
This is what it means to be under the Law: when all that controls you is the thought of obligation to keep certain rules. You obey a list, not a Person. You serve your conscience, not Christ. Exodus 21 gives a list of things the people had to obey under the Law.
There is a superstitious streak in minimalistic obedience. It acts like God is waiting to punish or harm us if we do not do a basic minimum of spiritual stuff. So it figures, ‘Let me do my stuff, so I will have less trouble in my life, and have more good fortune.’ But that does not honour God, and it is not a walk of faith. The heart of our Lord was not, ‘I don’t have to; therefore I won’t.’ It was, ‘I don’t have to, but I should, and I will.’
Imagine what would happen to our families and our church if our attitude toward the Lord was like this – not ‘What can I get away with’, but rather, ‘What is the most I can do? How much time can I spend in the Word before I will end up being late for work? How many encouraging phone calls can I make before my phone bill gets out of hand? How much time can I devote to my local church, what more can I do there, what ministries can I begin in my church? How many people do I know who I can still share the Gospel with?’
Obedience to God Goes Beyond Ability
Here is the interesting thing about this miracle. It apparently shows how poor Jesus was financially speaking. It appears He did not have, on hand, the money to pay this tax for Himself and Peter. This wouldn’t surprise us – after all, the Bible tells us that Jesus Himself said, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’.
2 Corinthians 8:9 says, ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor…’
So, from one point of view, you could say that Jesus did not have the resources on hand to meet his obligation. And Peter, being under Christ’s authority, could argue the same thing. ‘We are not able, because we do not have.’ And they could feel very justified. ‘Not only do I not have to, but I am not able to.’ What more needs to be said, ‘I don’t have to meet this command, because I don’t have the resources to do so.’
But once again, the response of Jesus teaches us that when you want to please God, and love man, God will supply the means to do it. Jesus and Peter don’t have to pay, and they don’t have the money. But Jesus loves God and man, and wants to please His Father and care for these men, so He seeks to obey this command – and it comes true.
Now think for a moment about the kind of power necessary to make this miracle happen. The sovereignty of God would have had to have someone be on a boat with money. And the money couldn’t be just any money; it had to be exactly four drachmas, the exact amount for Jesus and Peter. And the person had to do something to cause the coin to drop into the water. And then one fish in hundreds of thousands would have to be there at that precise moment, and as the coin fell through the water – it swallowed it.
And then Peter would come probably days, weeks or even months after that event, and throw in a hook. He did not use a net, and then have to cut open twenty fish, but a hook, and the very first fish he pulled out, would be that very same fish. Now the kind of power that is behind that miracle is behind obeying Him. Peter learnt, when we obey beyond obligation, and beyond ability, Christ supplies us with all we need.
In 1835, George Mueller had a burning desire to take care of the orphans of England. He wrote: “I was struck in reading the Scriptures with these words, ‘Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.’ I was led to apply this scripture to the orphan house, and ask the Lord for premises, one thousand pounds and suitable individuals to take care of the children”. Mueller never made any public appeals for money, and never went into debt. In reviewing that year’s work, he found that God had given him his first orphanage house on Wilson Street, and seven months after the opening of the first house, he obtained another one located at No. 1 Wilson Street. A review of his financial returns showed gifts for the orphanages of seven hundred and seventy pounds, and he himself had received for his personal needs two hundred and thirty two pounds – coming to one thousand and two pounds.
Minimalist obedience does only what it thinks it can manage. It makes the whole thing very measurable, very controllable – and basically, very human. If your obedience is limited to what you think you can do, what you think you can afford, what you think you are capable of doing, you will always remain on the periphery of serving God.
Obeying God is not about doing what you can in your strength, for your benefit. It is often doing what you otherwise could not do, in the power of God for His glory. It is about seeing what would please God – beyond the letter, and stepping out in faith to please God and seeing what He will do in response.
What have you done lately that was impossible without the Spirit of God? What have you done this week that could not be done without the Lord? What act of obedience so scared you that you shook your head and said, ‘I can’t’. When you go beyond obligation, you will find it. You will see God calling you to do more than greet your neighbour, but witness to them. You will see God calling you to do more than attend a church, but to serve in it. You will see God
calling you to do more than bring your family to church, but to sometimes inconvenience your family. You will see God calling on you to give up something which is dear to you, to start doing something which is new and strange to you. You will see God calling on you to read the Word and pray in a way that you don’t have the strength for – but He does. You will see God calling on you to so live that it will affect your work and job and home and entire life.
This is why faith and obedience are so tied together. True obedience comes from faith because it is seeking to please a Person, not a set of impersonal rules. True obedience comes from faith because, to please God, you must do more than you are capable of doing, and so you have to rely on Him? Without faith, it is impossible to please Him. Living on mere obligation and personal capability is what the Pharisees did.
Is this what is governing your Christian life? Merely what I have to do and what you are capable of doing. Then God will seem far away, because your obedience is devoid of faith. The obedience of Jesus is our example. We obey the way He did, beyond obligation, and beyond ability – by faith. That’s what it means to be under grace. I don’t have to, but I want to. If I have to, I’m glad to. Even when I have to – what more can I do – by grace? May this mind be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa