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Is obedience a good thing? (Part 1)

Updated on January 25, 2011

What is obedience?

Simply, “doing what you are told to do.”

Some people would add “without hesitation or delay.” I think I would put myself into that group as well.

Obedience is a very common and natural occurrence in the lives of human beings. Obedience is that tendency to follow the instructions or orders of an authority. Thusly, it can be assumed that there is a “relationship” between two entities or persons. Moreover this could be described as a vertical relationship, since there is a dominance or superiority of one over the other.

Some may say that the authority does not have to be a person or persons, but in essence the authority has to lie with some being. Some examples of these suggested exceptions would be “social standards” or “laws,” but these are actually only edicts – commands or instructions that come from the authority. The authority is the “author” or “issuer” of the commands or instructions.

One traditional view of authority defines authority more in terms of force or capacity to exercise dominance or control over someone or a group. But I tend to view authority as a relationship. The power to “call the shots” must be allowed or sanctioned by those under the authority.

(There is also the concept that “authority” is merely the power or capacity to influence or command.)

If authority is in essence granted, then what causes a person to make this commitment or submission to another, thus establishing this authority relationship? It is normally some form of trust or fear. Trust and fear are both related to an anticipation of or belief in expected outcomes for obedience or for disobedience (with obedience the best expectations, with disobedience the worst). The recognition of authority also can be voluntary or coerced through force or domination. But eventually the authority must be recognized and authenticated by the subject or follower.

There could be a stipulation that there is a difference between the trust-induced authority and the fear-induced version. The fear version might be called simply “power,” and would be the ability to force someone to do something that they don’t want to do normally. That would leave the trust version as “authority” and would be a characterized by the acceptance of its legitimacy for the ability to control and influence.

However an authority comes into existence, whether by compulsion or persuasion, the compliance with the commands, wishes, directions, advice, opinions, or laws is called obedience. The obedience has to be given. Every person decides at some point how to act or which direction to go. The reasons eventually boil down to either fear or trust.

But there is a third reason for obedience, and it is tied to both fear and trust!

That reason is LOVE.

In horizontal relationships (relationships that do not involve superior/inferior beings but rather are between persons of equal standing), love is expressed in many ways. It normally involves actions such as giving, defending, and caring – doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you. (Matt 7:12) Other characteristics of love are found in 1 Cor. 13:4-8a (known as the “Love Chapter”)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Love in a vertical relationship (one that involves an authority and subject) cannot be expressed in the same way. The characteristics are similar because this ability to love is part of our creation (in the image of God). The expression is different, just like the relationship is different.

In Matthew 22:36-40, we are told to love God with all our heart, soul and mind.

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

How is this done? How do we demonstrate our love for Him?

We are told in John 3:16 and Romans 5:8, that God demonstrated his love by giving up His Son to die for our sins and to make it possible for us to be reconciled with Him. But how are we to show our love to Him. God wants a relationship with us. That is why he took this extraordinary measure to make it possible for us to be rejoined with him. But what do we do, to love Him back. That is what He wants us to do—love Him back (remember the greatest commandment).

As you might have guessed, the answer is Obedience.

John 14:15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. (NAS)

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      anon 5 years ago

      discounting the second half of your article (since I am not Christian I have no comment), I'd like to know your opinion on something. As you mentioned and are likely aware of, vertical relationships in our society do exist. An example would be teachers to students, police to pedestrians, bosses to employees and I'd even go as far as to say upper class to lower class. So my question is, shouldn't the only vertical relationship in our lives consist of the one we share with God? Isn't giving into your bosses, teachers, the police's, or a wealthy persons demands for whatever reason (money, education, safety, etc.), the same as saying they are above you? I am not challenging your article I am actually just very curious. I've always had issues with authority and people telling me what to do. Recently I've been trying to be less aggressive to authority