Obedience. The word doesn’t exactly inspire joy in us, does it? As adults, we may tend to consider “obedience” as something for children. In fact, we would prefer to be obeyed than to obey. But the reality is we all have authorities over us whom we are required to obey. Obedience is for all us. And, I would submit, that obedience is for our good and could bring us joy.
A few years ago, I was sitting at lunch with some coworkers who were discussing their experiences using the invisible fence training their dogs to stay in the yard. When an invisible fence is installed, flags are put up around the yard where the fence is as a visual cue for the dog. If the dog tries to venture past the flag, they get a shock from their collar. Eventually the flags are removed and the dog learns their boundaries. The purpose of the invisible fence is to give their dog freedom in the yard while preventing him from going into the street where he could get harmed or lost. It’s a boundary that allows for an appropriate amount of freedom while protecting from dangers.
One of my friends told how her dog did not like the restriction of the invisible fence and would always run through it, getting shocked along the way, and get outside the perimeter of the yard. It always caused pain, but he persisted. Eventually, he was hit by a car and injured. My other friend had the opposite response from her dog. Her dog was so alarmed by the shock he could get at the perimeter, he stayed right by the house, too terrified to venture out into the yard.
As I listened to my friends’ dog stories, I though how much like them we are. God has given us commands to obey. He has given them to teach us right from wrong so that we can live a life that honors Him. His commands give us both freedom and protection. If we obey, He promises blessing and if we disobey, He warns of consequences. Leviticus 25:18 says, “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land.” Isn’t that sort of like the invisible fence? Obedience to God brings safety. Some of us, like the first dog, feel restricted by the law and choose disobedience, but it leads to pain, injury, and even death. Others of us are like the second dog. We are so fearful of disobeying that, like the Pharisees, we create rules of our own, more restrictive than God’s rules, to be sure we don’t disobey God. By doing so we miss the freedom that is ours!
Many of us choose to restrict ourselves from some things that we have the freedom to enjoy in moderation. Sometimes our choice morphs into “law”. Some Christians view drinking any wine or alcoholic beverage “sinful” and prohibit its use entirely, judging any believer who may responsibly drink wine on occasion. Of course there are good reasons for many to avoid it entirely, especially if they or their loved ones struggle with alcoholism. That is simply wisdom; a wise choice in light of loving our weaker brother. While this is a wise choice for many, avoiding alcohol entirely is not required by God. It is a man-made rule for a particular person or circumstance. The complete prohibition of anything with alcohol is an extreme to avoid excess which leads to drunkenness, which is sin. Like the Pharisees, we sometimes try to put our man-made rules equal with or above God’s. When I diet, I may try to avoid sweets entirely, and set a rule for myself to not eat cake. But if I decide to eat cake one day, I am not sinning. I am only breaking my own rule and possibly sabotaging my efforts to lose weight.
When we are afraid that we might “accidentally” sin, we sometimes set up our own fence much closer to the house so we don’t get zapped. But in doing so, we also miss the freedom of the yard. 1 John 5:3 says, “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” His commands are not burdensome! They provide boundaries of safety inside which we have tremendous freedom. Jesus says that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)
In my neighborhood, there is a dog that has been trained by his invisible fence. He romps and plays all around the yard and when I walk by, he goes right to the edge of the boundary and barks at me to his heart’s content, but is a safe distance from me, protecting both him and me. I think when we understand that God’s commands are good for us and protect us from dangers, we can have the same joy in obedience. I think this is why David spends so much time in Psalm 119 rejoicing in God’s law.
“I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” Psalm 119:44-45