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Obedience: The Wise And Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24-27)

We send dogs to obedience school. Why can't we send our children? The answer seems to be that we would be better off using the money to buy lottery tickets. People with conscious free will cannot be trained like dogs. People can be lectured on the importance of obedience or taught what they should obey, but people can also choose whether or not they will act in accordance with that teaching. Human obedience is ultimately voluntary--a matter of the will.

The conflict between obedience and disobedience plays a central role in biblical literature. Adam and Eve did not obey the command to abstain from the fruit of one tree. Noah obeyed God's command to build an ark. Abram listened when God told him to go into a far country. Lot's wife ignored the angels command not to look back. Abraham obeyed the order to sacrifice Isaac. Virtually every story involves a critical moment when people must chose either to harken or to harden. Pharaoh asks the archetypal question in Exodus 5:2, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?"

When Moses brought the people into the Promised Land, he left them with two basic admonitions: Love and obey (Deuteronomy 11:1). He set before them a blessing and a curse, a blessing if they obeyed God's commandments and a curse if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). Alternating periods of obedience and disobedience structure the remainder of the Old Testament period. Samuel made the classic statement when he confronted King Saul at Gilgal: "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).

King Saul was a model of superficial obedience. He thought he had obeyed the gist of God's command (1 Samuel 15:20), but in reality his "obedience" amounted only to self-indulgent, self-deluding disobedience. Why do people disobey God? Sometimes, as in Saul's case, because God's commands strike them as illogical or impractical. They simply disagree with God. Sometimes it is because they don't care, or because they have other priorities, or because they, like Milton's Satan, just want to be free to do as they please. Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven (Paradise Lost, I. 263).

In this brief parable at the close of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes the point that talk is cheap. His sermon will mean nothing unless his disciples obey him and put it into practice. A tree is judged by its fruit (Matthew 12:33), so people are judged by their deeds and not merely by their knowledge or good intentions. Jesus sets up a clear contrast: those who obey versus those who disobey. One builds his house on the rock, another on the sand.

This dualism of Jesus is what most separates him from the post-modern thought of contemporary America. Jesus did not see a lot of gray area. He saw mostly either/or. In Matthew 7:13, he says there are two gates, one wide that leads to destruction and one narrow that leads to life. In John 8:42-44, he implies we can have only two spiritual fathers--God or the Devil. You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13) because a person cannot have two masters.

All of this seems quaint at best to modern thought. But Jesus uses dualism to call people to decision and to action. Jesus has no truck with the "paralysis of analysis." You're either in or you're out; which shall it be? He refuses to agonize over complexities and contradictions, but calls his disciples to start building a life on the rock of his teachings.


1.Do you remember a time you deliberately disobeyed your parents? What did you do and why?

2.Not putting into practice the lessons we learn from scripture constitutes one form of disobedience. Can you think of others?

3.One form of labor unrest is "working to rule," whereby an employee does his or her job perfunctorily, "according to the book," but without any creativity, initiative, or enthusiasm. Give an example of someone who "obeys" God externally without doing it from the heart. Is that always bad? Does it matter why one obeys?

4.Are you troubled by the dualism (either/or) of Jesus? Does his teaching seem overly simplistic? What do you think of the charge that Jesus was too inflexible?

5.Can Christians be trained to obey God? What does it take to encourage human obedience? Is disobedience an inevitability for many?

6.To what extent does attitude substitute for action? Despite disobeying God's commands, David was called "a man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). What was it about David that compensated for his disobedience?

Comments (1)


Awesome post.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 8, 2007 8:55 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Mercy: The Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).

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