Summary: Obedience, with a big “O” isn’t how we behave. Behavior is like obedience with a little “o”.
Obedience, with a big “O” isn’t how we behave. We talked about behavior a few weeks ago (Purpose Issue 16). Behavior is like obedience with a little “o”. It’s acting how we know we’re supposed to act everyday. It’s what most of us think the two greatest commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” are all about.
We believe those two commandments mean, “go to church,” “don’t lie,” “don’t cheat,” “don’t think bad thoughts,” “pay your taxes,” “don’t kick your neighbor’s cat,” etc. etc. Kind of an American Ten Commandments. Too many of us believe that’s what the Christian life consists of. Follow the rules (obedience, little “o”) and you’ll go to Heaven when you die.
That list of stuff, whatever your list is, is great and it’s right and it should be part of your behavior. And it is part of what the two greatest commandments mean. But only part. You’re responsible for little “o”; and it’s not little “o” because it isn’t important. It’s important enough that Jesus taught it to the crowds every day. When He preached to the masses He preached little “o”. He preached it to the masses because it was required of the masses. Little “o” is required of you and me … it’s required of everyone. In the words of Paul, it’s our “reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
What we’re talking about this week is Obedience with a big “O”. It’s not big “O” because it supersedes how we are to behave toward our God and others, it’s big “O” because it’s personal and specific.
Jesus required big “O” when he spoke one-on-one with those individuals who followed Him … or wanted to. Remember the rich young man who asked Jesus what was required of him to get eternal life? Jesus gave him little “o” first; “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 19:18b-19).
Little “o” requires something. It requires that we change our behavior, our actions and our thoughts to conform to righteousness and turn away from sin. Little “o” is required of everyone; it’s a starting place.
This young man was a pro at little “o”. He had the rules down; he knew how to behave. He answered Jesus, “All these I have kept … What do I still lack?”
Jesus had his attention now. The conversation was turning personal. Jesus was no longer speaking for the benefit of those in the crowd. This was now an intimate, one-on-one interaction with the Master. “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
Big “O” requires everything. Big “O” is personal. Big “O” is complete surrender of everything you consider “yours.” It’s obedience in spite of tradition, safety, common sense, security, even family. It’s obedience when it doesn’t make any sense, in the natural, to obey. It’s obedience in spite of your personality, your talents and your plans for the future. It’s obedience in the face of danger.
Peter was a guy who wasn’t that great at little “o”. In his short time as a disciple of Jesus he screwed up a lot. He was the only disciple Jesus referred to as “Satan” for trying to push his own agenda. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut during Christ’s transfiguration and started babbling about erecting shrines to Jesus, Elijah and Moses. God the Father Himself had to interrupt him saying essentially, “This is my son, would you please shut up and listen to what he has to say?” Peter was the one Jesus scolded for falling asleep in the garden of Gethsemane as the eternal fate of all mankind hung in the balance. Of course, only a few minutes later, Peter was also the one who jumped up and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. That same night he denied three times that he even knew Jesus. Peter screwed up little “o” a lot.
But one thing Peter got right was the big “O”. When confronted with an offer from God, no matter how dangerous or seemingly senseless, Peter jumped … literally.
Out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee late one night a storm was blowing; the wind and waves were beginning to cause some real consternation among those inside. Jesus came to them in the midst of the storm, walking on the water. And Jesus beckoned Peter to jump out of the boat and meet him on the water. With the wind and waves the disciples had a pretty good chance of dying that night just by staying inside the boat. Now Jesus was asking Peter to jump out of the boat, defy nature and the laws of physics by coming to meet Him on, not in, the water. It was an insane request; nothing about it made any sense. Peter jumped out of the boat that night. And we’re still talking about it today.