Jesus said, “among you it should be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
History tells us that when World War I broke out in Europe, the Prime Minister of Australia offered the Australian Commonwealth to do all they could to back Great Britain. He asked what was the most useful thing Australia could do. The reply came-“Build us ships: we need ships.” The Australians did not build ships.
Instead, they did what Australians do best. They began to till the fields, sow seed, and reap harvests to send food to England. Grain was gathered, put into sacks, and brought down to the water’s edge to wait for the ships. But the ships never came. And as the grain rotted on the docs Australia prepared to go to war.
All the same, Great Britain cried out for, “Ships! ships! ships!” With all due respect to our Commonwealth, Australia only had to “obey the call.”
But it seems that ever since the rebellion of Adam and Eve, “obedience” has become less and less important in the minds of people. And obedience is a lost art today. We see it all around us. Kids don’t seem to obey their parents. Employees don’t like to listen to their bosses. Patients often won’t follow their doctors. People even seem to struggle with simple obedience to the laws of our neighbourhoods.
The word ‘obey’ is probably considered worse than most other four-letter words today. It seems that society associates obeying someone with slavery. However, in our Christian experience, “obey” is far from a dirty word. It does not mean inferiority. It is something that God encourages. And yet, of the 2340 references I found in the Bible to obedience, only about 10% of those are in the New Testament. And even then, it is an invitation to follow Christ Jesus, and listen to our conscience, trained by the Holy Spirit, using the double edge sword of the Scriptures.
In Christ Jesus, we have freedom. Freedom to disagree with society and become obedient servants of our Saviour. Freedom to care for our neighbour, our family, and our friends. Recognising ‘political correctness’ as another failure to obey Christ Jesus.
For Christians, it is a blessing to hear the words of Jesus saying, ‘among you it should be different.’ And to discover the words of Hebrews, ‘even though Jesus is God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.’ When Jesus encourages us to take up our crosses and follow him, he is calling us to see every discouragement, every challenge, every suffering as an opportunity to be obedient servants.
So what does it mean to be an obedient servant? When I look at the fruit of the Holy Spirit blossoming in our lives, I find the job description of an obedient servant. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As Paul tells us in Romans, ‘We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself.’ (Romans 15:2-3)
And also in Ephesians, ‘I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ (Ephesians 4:1-3)
As we allow the Holy Spirit to dominate our attitudes toward God and toward each other, the servant-heart of obedience grows stronger in us every day.
But we will never get it perfect. We will still make mistakes along the way. We will find ourselves repenting over and over for our short-comings.
As Martin Luther indicated, ‘The old Adam was drowned in our baptism, but “the old Adam is a mighty good swimmer,” and keeps popping up.’ That doesn’t mean that we should just give up. That we should stop listening to our conscience. But we should let our lives be the battlefield of our obedience to our Lord and Saviour. So when we meet him, we will hear the words, ‘good and faithful servant.’
After all, we have the armour of God to prepare us for the confrontation with our temptations and confusions. And we have the valiant warrior of the Holy Spirit to guide us along the pathways of obedience.
We can hold onto the example of Job. When he became the object of the devil’s wrath, he remained obedient to God. When he became the object of ridicule of his friends and his wife, he remained obedient to God. When he entered a dialogue with God asking “why”, he still remained obedient. And God responded, “Where were you” when God created the universe and set his plan into motion. In all his suffering, Job was reminded that we can never fully know God’s reasons or his plan. But God has revealed enough to us in his precious Word, to allow us to keep faith in Jesus Christ, and remain obedient to God’s will for each of us.
We live every day, counted among the righteous, because of the gift of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Lord who has made the way for us to be counted among those with a right relationship with our Lord.
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has earned our honour our praise, and our obedience. We have a purpose in living, and it isn’t just about us. Our Saviour calls us to the obedience of servant-hood as children of God, and Disciples of our Saviour. Through Jesus we have real significance. Through him we are sons and daughters of the creator of all. Through Him we have the freedom to be servants.
We come here, in the very presence of the King of Creation, to be blessed by the High Priest, who offers us forgiveness and life eternal. Jesus Christ himself.
He comes to us in the Word. He comes to us in the Sacraments. Here Jesus puts His own life and strength and Spirit in each of us. Here the Great Servant King provides us with the strength that we need to be obedient servants. The humility to give ourselves over to the power and authority of God. The courage to let the Holy Spirit grow us to be the best people we can be.
It is in our response to Jesus Christ that we honour God in all the ways he reaches out to us. As one example goes, ‘Sir Leonard J. Wood once visited the king of France and the king was so pleased with him he was invited for dinner the next day.
Sir Leonard went to the palace. But the king, meeting him in one of the halls, said, “Why Sir Leonard, I did not expect to see you. How is it you are here?” The astonished guest responded with humility, “Did not your majesty invite me to dine with you?”
“Yes,” replied the king, “but you did not answer my invitation.” Then it was that Sir Leonard Wood uttered one of the choicest sentences of his life. He replied, “A king’s invitation is never to be answered, but to be obeyed.” ’ (Emphasis, Vol. 24, No. 3, September-October 1994 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), pp. 48-49)
As one of our beloved hymns says,
When we walk with the Lord,
In the Light of his word,
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way,
to be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.
And it ends with the words:
Then in fellowship sweet, we will sit at his feet,
Or we’ll walk by his side in the way;
What he says, we will do; Where he sends we will go,
Never fear, only trust and obey.
The grace and peace of our Triune God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen
Rev. David Thompson