Over the past week I have seen many internet postings in regard to comments made during a church service by Victoria Osteen. Her husband Joel has been portrayed as the poster-boy for the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ and for many years the criticisms have been heaped upon him and his ministry. He’s not the first pastor to be publicly bashed online and certainly won’t be the last. I am not writing this post to add one more shovelful of dirt onto the heap but because Victoria’s comments highlight an invaluable lesson I have learned in the past year or so in regard to obedience. It’s a lesson taught by Jesus to his disciples in the book of John.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” John 14:23-24
Jesus roots our obedience of him and his teaching in our love for him. It is impossible to obey Jesus without the precondition of loving him. Those who don’t love Jesus simply won’t live the sort of life that Jesus commands of his disciples. And the sort of things that Jesus commands don’t originate with him but with his Father. In chapter 15 Jesus is very clear about his commands.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”—John 15:12-14
And for the sake of reinforcement:
“This is my command: Love each other.”—John 15:17
My life lesson has been that if I want to be more obedient as a disciple of Jesus Christ then the path I need to go down is the path of loving Jesus. The more I love Jesus the more I will obey him. The more I love him the more I will love those he has commanded me to love. As I draw closer to him the further I find myself from living the life of disobedience I know all too well. We are disobedient to Jesus and the life he commands when we love other things more than Jesus.
This is where Victoria’s comments got off base. She attempts to motivate an obedience rooted in something other than the love of Jesus. In essence, she says that we should be obedient because there’s happiness in store for you if you do. Obedience is a smart decision because of the end result. What she fails to recognize is the root cause of obedience in the first place, namely Jesus and our love of him. Obedience is the natural response of those who love Jesus and not the vessel by which we gain the things that make us happy. It is the love of Jesus that motivates our obedience! No other motivation is necessary, nor will it work. The things that Victoria suspect will make us happy, whatever those things are, will never provide the amount of motivation or energy necessary to follow the radical commands of Jesus. Loving your enemies will not seem like the path to happiness apart from love at work in your life. Those who persecute you will not be a part of your prayer life because you weigh it out to be a smart decision with beneficial results. Obeying Jesus’ commands will only occur as you love him more and more.
What are your areas of disobedience? Maybe you’ve done like I’ve done many times before and prayed for the strength to stand up to temptation. You’ve asked for forgiveness because of your disobedience/trespasses/transgressions/whatever and then go out into life gritting your teeth trying to be more successful and obedient because you’ve got a better plan, more accountability partners, or a new source of motivation. I’m sorry to say this, but those efforts can only go so far before they fail. The plan, the partners, or the new motivational gimmick may be helpful for a time but unless your heart is rooted in the love of Jesus you will fail to be obedient to Jesus. Instead, try praying as I have been praying. “Lord, help me to love you more.” Or, as Matt Chandler says time and again, “Stir my affections for you.” At the heart of obedience is a heart that loves Jesus.