So whose words do you listen to? Whose words do you obey without thinking? And whose words do you consider, jiggle about in your head and negotiate a response?
When you’re very young it would be your parents, I guess, who command compliance. Though it is interesting that, statistically, most toddlers learn to say “No” before they learn to say “Yes”!
School life seem a development of that principle. The teachers -sort of- take the parental role, demanding obedience; but as time goes on, a healthy child is encouraged to think for itself, consider, ponder and make a decision based on the facts before it.
And, of course, it’s the mark of an adult to think things through. “How do I vote?” “What is the right course of action here and now?” It’s our business to not just take someone else’s word for something, right? You may ask for advice, but you have to make the decision.
But, even as an adult, there are still situations when you cannot say, “Nobody tells me what to do.” You can’t negotiate about whether or not you pay tax. You may appeal against one judge’s ruling, but eventually a higher judge will make a decision with which you are forced to comply. And if a traffic warden says “Don’t park there!” – it’s in your interests to obey instantly!
That’s because the Tax Official, the Judge and the Traffic Warden speak with authority and you’d be a fool not to recognise it.
It was one of the unique things about Jesus that when he spoke, people experienced that same recognition.“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22) The “teachers of the law” offered learned opinions, suggestions and points of view to ponder, but Jesus cut to the chase. He spoke with authority.
I recognise the power of the Traffic Warden because his words are backed up with decisive action! It was the same with Jesus. In Mark 1, the passage continues:
“In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are?the Holy One of God!”Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.””
It’s a teaching -with authority to back it up. Jesus spoke words of power again and again. He spoke and it was done. He commanded demons, storms, figtrees, sicknesses, corpses… and his words were like activation codes on a bank vault, releasing the treasure within.
And if you’re a Christian, then you take the words of Christ very seriously. The verse in Revelation 3:20 is so familiar simply because it enshrines that truth: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Compliance,that is to say, is the doorway to intimacy and the pleasure of fellowship.
“My sheep hear my voicea nd I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). “If you love Me, keep My commandments “(John 14:15). “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him”(John 14:21). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10-15) .
Do you notice how obedience and intimacy flow together? In fact, there is no form of love that does not shape itself into obedience. But the oft-repeated word “commandments” here reminds us of that call to obedience.It’s no wonder Corrie Ten Boom said “Don’t bother to give God instructions; just report for duty.”
But we still have to decide.
Even with the Taxman and the Traffic Warden, and acknowledging their authority, we still have to decide to comply. And Jesus noted that fact.The story of the Sower and the Seeds (Mark 4) is all about how people respond to the words of Jesus. Some reject it, some are distracted with other things but “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop …”
In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?” It’s powerful question because it addresses the issue of those who seem to acknowledge the authority of Christ, but that acknowledgement has not initiated response.
There’s a way of reading the Bible as if you’re a child at a Pick and Mix sweetie counter, deciding which ones you like…
But here’s Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the closing section in Luke 6 from v47. The point is, if Jesus is truly Lord, then he is not offering wise words of take-it-or-leave-it counsel for tough times, but calling you to “report for duty.”
“These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on. If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.” (Luke 6:47-49 MSG)