By Greg Grotewold
When it came to disciplining their kids, my parents were old school – my mother in particular. As there was no appeal process, rule offenses were first met with the prompt and judicial use of the yard stick, the extra sturdy type handed out at the state fair. I was then grounded and sent to my room. Proverbs 13:24 was not a theological stumbling block, for she had little interest in sparing the rod.
When compared with today’s confused methods, hers might seem a bit harsh. They weren’t. First and foremost, I deserved every correction. I was, euphemistically speaking, a “slow learner” – one whose poor behavior was in a perpetual state of exhibition. But more importantly, my parents deeply loved me and wanted to preclude this prepubescent hellion from ushering into my teenage years such deficient judgment. I can only imagine what I might have pursued absent such intervention.
Perhaps not surprisingly, mine was not a glad obedience. I complied because of the stick. It was consistently applied and thus a looming threat for future use. Even for the less self-aware, there does come a point when such punishment begins to deter future nefarious activity, at least some of it.
What a rotten way to live life, though. Rather than simply obey and enjoy the benefits of blessing my parents, I made it a chore. Rather than gladly adhere because I loved them, I did so begrudgingly. The fact that I wasn’t alone – some of my buddies were as foolish – was the only consolation.
Unfortunately, I carried some of this foolishness into adulthood, where my reluctance to obey my parents’ commands transitioned to a reluctance to obey God’s. I do love the Lord and have a genuine desire to please Him. There are times where I happily keep His commandments. But, if I’m to be honest, such joyful adherence is too sporadic, too intermittent. It need not be this way.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:1-3, ESV).
In the verse above, John gives us the path by which a more glad-filled obedience can be enjoyed. But first, a clarification is needed. The passage appears to suggest that there are two types of love being exchanged: a version directed at God and another towards His children. While there are two targets, there is only one true love. The key to unleashing it is the sequence in which such affection is exercised amongst the targets. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments” (v 2). We know that we’re truly loving others when we first love Jesus. The former is a distinguishing mark of the latter and one evidence of a redeemed faith. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7, ESV).
That’s good theology, but what does it have to do with glad obedience? It all comes back to sequencing. Loving others as we ought is contingent upon loving Jesus as we ought. Gladly obeying God is a function of being glad in God. Avoiding the Lord’s equivalent of my mother’s stick can’t be the motivation. That’s nothing more than onerous law-keeping. No, we adhere because we adore Jesus and have a deep desire to please Him. Such adoration produces a level of affection towards our Savior that can’t help but impact the level of affection carried towards others. What we feel towards God is what we will feel towards others. What He gets is what others get and obeying becomes a delight.
Yet, there are times where we don’t delight in loving others. We become indifferent towards them, perhaps even callous. We are callous towards them because we are callous towards Jesus. What we feel towards God is what we will feel towards others. What He gets is what others get, and obeying becomes a law-keeping chore.
The direction of our sequencing shifts daily, perhaps hourly. Keeping us on the more affectionate side of the spectrum is one of the chief aims of Scripture. We know the Bible is replete with the glories of Christ, but reminders are required. We need to be in God’s Word daily (perhaps hourly) so as to enjoy fresh encounters with His sovereign goodness. We need to taste anew the Lord’s incomparable grace and mercy. It’s what staves off indifference and callousness. Jesus will meet us where we are at and bless us with an intimacy that grows our affection for Him and thus others.
May we be diligent in pursuing our gladness in Christ. And may those affections produce their intended aim – a glad obedience.
Greg Grotewold lives in Oakdale, Minn. with his wife, Sandi, and their two sons, Luke and Eli. He is a deacon in his local church and greatly enjoys serving in this capacity.