Have you ever known someone who liked to brag about their accomplishments? (If so, pray for them today, since we know that pride can lead to a lot of heartache.) For some of these people, we might wonder if they have ever even tried the skills that they claim to excel at. In fact, if we ask them for more details about their accomplishments, we might even discover that they only think that they have certain abilities, but haven’t ever actually used them. They are “sure” that they could wrestle a bear, or that they would jump in front of another person to save them from harm, but they’ve never actually been in either situation.
Reality has a way of separating out theoretical expectations from actual capabilities. I know that I’ve been in situations where I’ve “locked up”, and not been able to respond intelligently right away, despite my hope that I’d always be ready to do the heroic thing.
In a similar vein, can you imagine someone who said that they could play guitar really well, but had never picked one up? What if a person said that they knew that they could do the same stunts that the BMX bikers do on TV, but hadn’t ever sat on a bike? That would just be ridiculous.
I’d like to take a second look at a passage from Hebrews that was included in the previous article:
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 NIV
What verse 8 says might seem strange to us, at first. How could Jesus “learn obedience”? He was perfect, after all, and never sinned (see Hebrews 4:14-15). If He didn’t know how to obey from the start, how could He obey perfectly?
Here’s what I wonder: Might this be because obedience isn’t necessarily an abstract concept or skill, but rather something that we live out? If we don’t have opportunities to obey, especially when it is difficult, are we really being obedient? Can someone be obedient if they don’t actually obey anyone? Are we really obedient if we are told to do things that we wanted to do, anyway? Or, is that just being “theoretically willing to be obedient”? Like the examples at the beginning of this article, maybe it’s just talk until we actually do something that we were instructed to.
Jesus was clearly obedient, because He obeyed God the Father even when it involved suffering and death. Maybe that’s what Philippians 2:8 means, when it refers to “becoming obedient to death”. Jesus didn’t just claim that He was able to make a perfect sacrifice (of Himself) for the sins of humankind, He proved it. He didn’t just know obedience as a concept, He lived it out. He wasn’t just willing to obey, He actually obeyed (and not only when it was convenient to Him).
Jesus was “made perfect”, and – as I hope you know personally – “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. In fact, a commentator [see Girdwood, referenced below] points out that this obedience (i.e., us obeying Him) is the same obedience that Jesus learned through suffering. We do not demonstrate obedience to Jesus merely by claiming that we will obey Him. I don’t think that we “learn obedience” by merely proclaiming Jesus as our Lord (although we must do so – see Romans 10:9-11, Philippians 2:9-11, 2 Corinthians 4:5, and elsewhere in the Bible). Instead, we learn obedience – what it means to obey, how to obey, and the cost of obedience – when we actually obey.
Jesus was rewarded for His obedience, and those who accept His gift of salvation (obeying Him out of gratitude and love, and because He deserves our obedience) receive the blessings of obedience to Jesus. May we seek to be like Him, learning obedience by actually practicing it.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for October 10, 2021
- The Lookout, October 10, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Hebrews, by Jim Girdwood and Peter Verkruyse. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997.
1 thought on “Learning Obedience”
Yes: Jesus, in order to be the fully/perfect man to be the perfect sacrifice for us that God could accept, needed to experience obedience. And, there are other references to experiential obedience that come to mind, like Abraham: Genesis 15:6 “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Then God asked him to sacrifice Isaac, and he actually essentially did so in obedience to God’s command. It says in James 2:26 “faith without deeds is dead.” I don’t think it is out of line to paraphrase this as “claiming faith/trust without experiential obedience is just words.”
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