The highest virtue

Yesterday I had the privilege of  spending some quality time with a good friend and brother in ministry over good coffee and great conversation. As we normally do when we are together we pontificated until we are almost convinced that we had solved the world's problems. Actually, we shared ministry stories with each other, holding each other accountable for the charge that God has given to us and also grieving and rejoicing beside each other over the highs and lows of ministry.

During our conversation, my friend was seeking to make a point when he asked me this question: "If you knew of a man who had been married to his wife for 25 years and had never cheated on her, what word would you use to describe him?" Instantly the word "faithful" came to my mind and that's how I responded. Not denying the truth in my answer, my friend brought up a powerful point to me regarding the example he had just shared - if God ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman and neither the husband nor the wife violates this sacred union, then wouldn't the word "obedient" be a better way to describe their commitment to each other instead of "faithful"?

This may sound like nothing more than semantics to you, but I was rather struck by the truth in that. What is the highest calling - the greatest virtue - of one who chooses to follow Christ? Many words can be bandied around that would most certainly be considered relevant to the question - loyal, true, consistent, holy, etc. - and each one would not be without merit. If patient is the highest virtue then I'm in some serious trouble! Yet in spite of the many noble characteristics that a Christian should display, wouldn't it be fair to say that the foundational virtue of any follower of Christ would have to be obedience? Think about it - without obedience, then every action or words is nothing more than going through the motions.

My point is not to get too theological and have you jumping all over Scripture to try and find examples to prove or disprove this point. Instead, I will point you to one of many passages of Scripture that illustrate the absolute necessity of obedience:
One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" "This is the most important," Jesus answered: "Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other greater commandment than these." (Mark 12:28-31)
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus was asked about obeying the commands. The Jews had hundreds of laws that they tried to keep, and Jesus mentioned many times in His earthly ministry how futile it was to think that by obeying those laws could earn any man favor with God. But in saying those things, Jesus never made light of the importance of obedience. Simply put, Jesus said that if you obey the commands to love God and love people, then everything else that you do will fall in line after that.

You can't be considered faithful unless you first obey the command to love God. Someone might say, "But if you don't trust God first or have faith, then you can't obey either." To that I would say that you can have faith in God without obeying Him, but you can't obey God and claim to not trust him. Obedience is foundational to living out our faith in Christ.

Let me finish with this related thought. We applaud those who are faithful and generous and sacrificial, and we are right in noting those traits. We also tend to put these people on a holy pedestal and shine a spotlight on them as if they are going above and beyond the call of Jesus, but in doing so we make a huge mistake. You see, when you are faithful and generous and sacrificial, you aren't some super-Christian. Rather, you are being obedient to the Lord's commands. Why should we make hyper-spiritual that which is normative to Jesus?

1 comment:

Cameron Von St. James said...

Hi Sterling. Can you shoot me a message when you get a chance? I have a question about your blog. Thanks!


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