READ: Psalm 49, Jeremiah 40-42, Matthew 21, Acts 28
TO BE, NOT TO SEEM
Contrary to God’s Word, which is very pure (Psalm 119:140), man’s word is very fickle. When a snake bit Paul on the island of Malta (Acts 28:4-6), the natives of the island determined he was a criminal unworthy of living, only to change their minds, deciding that he was a god when the snake-bit apostle remained unharmed. In Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus tells the parable of two sons, one that vowed obedience and the other who seemed to rebel. It was the one who seemed obedient–“I go sir! But did not”—who incurred the wrath of Jesus. Jesus is not impressed with those who seem obedient; He loves those who are obedient. Jeremiah ran into the same malady: seeming, pledged obedience with no ability or intention to follow through. An afraid contingent approaches the prophet asking him to determine God’s will for them, pledging: “Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey” (Jer. 42:6). Jeremiah takes ten days to seek an answer from the Lord (a lesson in itself) before giving instructions that the people disobey. Jeremiah calls them out: “You were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and according to all that the Lord your God says, so declare to us and we will do it” (v. 20). God wants us to be obedient, not to seem obedient. God is not interested in rubber stamping the decisions we have made, nor blessing what we have already acted upon.
Ministers and missionaries are most prone to the malady of seeming to be obedient. I am not impressed with missionaries–mainly because I am one and I know how much hypocrisy and duplicity I carry around within my own heart. Missionaries seem obedient. We liquidate domestic assets, say goodbye to family and friends, seemingly count the cost, and head to unfamiliar lands to labor in difficult languages. To the outside observer it seems pretty impressive. To the inward witness of the Spirit however, both minister and missionary can be host to a multitude of small disobediences. Jesus is not impressed by fig trees without figs. For the followers of Jesus who project all the outward leaves of obedience but do not actually submit in a thousand daily, trivial ways (and therefore do not produce fruit)–Jesus unleashes His ire: “Let no fruit grow on you ever again” (Matt. 21:19). It is not enough to claim obedience, it is not enough to seem obedient. There must be the inner witness and resulting fruit of our actions saying yes to Jesus all the time.
If obedience is a hundred-meter race, it is over the last few meters that Christians tend to falter. The first steps of our obedience are verbal; the majority of our obedience is small, daily submitted actions; and the most critical portion (and the most painfully difficult) are the last few meters. This is where our obedience is proved.