An Unfamiliar & Unpopular Word Changes Everything

Keith KettenringAncient Paths, Bible Insights, Christian Living11 Comments

Now that your Lenten journey for 2022 is finished, one reflection remains before you move on to other posts about your experience of being God’s humility project.

Through your experience at Holy Cross Monastery and transitioning into the pandemic-riddled Lenten season of 2020, you entered a deepening experience of transformation guided by the Apostle Paul from the book of Philippians. Little did you know how all this would impact your life. In fact, since you’d studied Philippians many times, preached it, and memorized portions of it, you thought you “knew” what St. Paul was talking about. But, as you were to discover, knowing about is not the same as true knowledge. Real knowledge is experiential. It is a fully holistic experience of whatever you’re being taught.

You found yourself flustered by the challenges brought about by delays, financial challenges, the pandemic, and the disruption of normality. Initially, you tried to make sense of these difficulties, an intellectual endeavor causing stress and anxiety, instead of simply living into them allowing the Holy Spirit to use them to transform you. In situations like this, logic only produces undue frustration since you control nothing and are also blind to God’s providential “bigger picture.” However, you think you know what’s going on, deluded by your own unexplored predispositions. This obstacle prevents you from experiencing the divine purpose of these hardships.

For you, there was an unexplored reality – a hinge – upon which the door of frustration opened into a room of intensifying transformation. Moving you from confusion and frustration into transformation hinged on OBEDIENCE.

Down deep you know your need to learn obedience. You have a propensity for independence, rebellion, challenging the status quo, and dismissing authority. You’re quiet about it. Yet, you don’t conform easily and question much. In many ways, this can be a good thing since you need discernment as you live among opinionated people, completely unaware of their own blindness. However, if you add to this reality your own very limited perspective, then you’ve got an alarming formula for self-reliance and self-deception.

So, how can you learn obedience when you so readily question authority while trusting your own judgments? First, you must understand and experience these foundational truths…

St. Paul’s Guidance

Obedience is Learned

Does it surprise you that Jesus also learned obedience? That insight comes from Hebrews 5:8 – “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Though not rebellious like you, Jesus learned how to obey as he endured suffering. You might say, He became Obedience. To be like Jesus, you are to do the same. In the midst of every hardship, adversity, discomfort, and sorrow, dwells the opportunity to learn what it means to accept reality in the light of God’s goodness and mercy, being transformed by grace as you suffer. You are to become a person marked by obedience.

It’s amazing to hear Jesus say:

My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (John 4.34)

I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.  (John 5.30)

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6.38-39)

Astonishing! Not that Jesus did the Father’s will (you expect that), but that He did nothing by His own will.

This is totally different than trying to fix a problem or make sense of what is happening. Analyzing or fixing puts you and your will in control. A spirit of obedience allows God to control the process while you learn to embrace the difficulties, struggling with the transformational ways of God’s providential will.

Obedience is a Component of Humility

The reality of Jesus learning obedience fits well with St. Paul’s teaching on humility in Philippians 2:5-8, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross.” Christ’s obedience to the cross is not surprising since he had been learning obedience throughout his whole life. As the “man of sorrows,” he experientially knew the reality of suffering even before the cross. Of course, the cross was the ultimate suffering for which he was prepared. He was ready in mind and body in his humility.

As you learn from this passage, humility and obedience are directly related. The proud rarely obey and if they obey it has little to do with “learning.” The humble are very well acquainted with obedience. With years of training, they are able to manage their will rather than have their will control them.

It looks like the path to developing a mindset of humility includes learning obedience – not just learning “to obey” (all the while questioning, complaining, or in blind subservience, see Phil. 2.14) but becoming one who lives obediently from a humble heart, consistently able to do God’s will.

Obedience Can Be Experienced in Christ

Now, you can explore the depth of St. Paul’s understanding of obedience shared in 2 Corinthians 10.5: “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

Most modern translations imply that St. Paul is explaining his aim to bring every thought into captivity in order to obey Christ. It seems the older translations explain Paul’s objective to bring every thought captive so that believers experience the obedience of Christ. Is it “obedience to Christ” or “the obedience of Christ?” The pronoun can be translated either way. However, the reality of bringing every thought into captivity only seems possible when you are in union with Christ whose obedience then becomes your obedience and your obedience becomes His obedience in you.

Life in Christ opens the possibility of possessing His mindset of obedience. You enter into His obedience by participating in His life.

This was Paul’s desire for the Corinthians (and us): let Christ’s obedience so penetrate you that your thoughts, purposes, or designs (Gr. noema) are towards obedience in every area of your life.

So, learn obedience related to

  • good and proper authority, government, and ideas
  • the Church (thankfully you’re in a good situation here to learn obedience)
  • your body (be attentive to its good and destructive tendencies or urges)
  • truth/reality (e.g. laws of nature – gravity, etc – weather, biology, moral laws)
  • situations that challenge your will

Of course, wise discernment is greatly needed to navigate this learning process.

When you visit Holy Cross Monastery, you hear the monks refer to their particular work “assignment” as their “obedience.” One monk’s “obedience” is to care for the beehives. Another’s “obedience” is to work in the candle shop. They are to do what they are assigned to do by the abbot, like it or not, skilled or not. The point is to learn obedience and BEcome obedient.

What is your “obedience?”

Every indication from the scriptures above is that life in Christ is a life of struggling with obedience. Immerse yourself in Jesus Christ – participate in the life of Christ – and obedience will become a significant undertaking for you.

On your journey of humility in Jesus, be open to ways of learning obedience as Jesus did.

11 Comments on “An Unfamiliar & Unpopular Word Changes Everything”

  1. To be yielded and still, capturing every feeling, every thought an examining it under the “light of Christ” is my heart’s desire. To know Him is to love, to obey Him is to love Him, to trust Him is to love Him!!
    Thank you for your words of wisdom – stay the course, dear brother in Christ! – Angie and Bob Green

  2. obedience.
    Not will will, but thine. Seeing sin as standing with satan, rather than standing with Jesus Christ… wow!!! That, is life changing! Ray Ortlund poses that in his book, The Death of Porn, about sexual sin… but it holds as truth with all sin… standing with satan rather than standing with Jesus… obedience.
    Keith, you mention ‘wanting your own way’ or ‘our own way’ or ‘my own way’ this is the heart of addiction.. and sin, is addictive, meaning easily repetitive.
    Obedience.
    the challenge, is to bring every thought captive in Christ Jesus. every anxious, lustful, envying, lying, hateful thought into subjection; bring it into the light, exposed to the truth of Christ.
    Not my will, but thine.
    Thank you brother.

    1. Hi John. Thanks for reading and for your thoughts. I wonder if it is actually possible – of our own will – to bring every thought captive in Christ Jesus. Our will, it seems, is not designed for such a lofty endeavor. Rather, as we live in union with Christ, we become a different person who is able to obey. No doubt, the evil one seeks to destroy this relationship by any means at his disposal. Our role is to persevere in love and grace towards Jesus Christ, the Founder and Perfector of our faithfulness. Blessings to you, brother! Keith

  3. Thank you for hearing the voice and sharing it with us.
    I preached from Philippians 2 last Sunday. I have been meditating a lot on the word “human”. It comes from the Latin root meaning dirt or ground “Humus”; it is the root of humility or low. To be human is to be dirt (from the earth), one thing to remember in our relationship with God.

    1. Hey Greg. Interesting insight. I wonder how your thoughts relate to Jesus being the singular measure of what it is to be truly human – “who we really are.” (borrowed from Fr. Stephen Freeman) Significance rises out of insignificance, life from death, exaltation out of humiliation. I don’t know about you but I’ve got to open myself more and more to humility/”groundedness” and leave everything else to God. Phil. 2 will mess with you big time! Thanks for reading and responding. Keith

  4. This must be on the heart of the LORD, as I heard two other sermons on it. Michael Todd’s Cuffing Season sermons are loooong but OH so good!!! And OH may we delight in Kingdom living… It was great to catch up with you today.

    1. Thanks, Sandi. Obedience is in the core of God’s heart for the Son was obedient in every way. Let’s live in Him – and He in us – that we too might be obedient. Keith

  5. Thank you for these wise words and for your humility in sharing your heart.

    I, too, felt my will rise up during the lockdown, and it wasn’t pretty. My will got me in trouble with family, friends, but mostly troubled my relationship with my Lord. Even my time in His Word was affected, muddling my brain and heart. I found peace in reading the Psalms over and over. And over again. Healing has come, but that willful side was revealed, and I now know repentance must be swift in order to allow obedience.
    Praise Him for His mercy and grace and loving patience with me!

    1. Hi Jeanette. Your words resonate deeply with me. I appreciate your honesty in sharing the willfulness of your own heart. The Psalms – raw in their dealings with self and God – often provide a healing salve to our brokenness. Indeed, God’s mercy, grace, and patience see us through our stubborn willfulness. Thanks be to God. Keith

  6. Never pondered before the depth of Jesus’ will being completely in conformance to the Father’s, but it tells me how important obedience is. I love the stories from the Desert Fathers, like one about watering the dry stick or another about dying before eating the food meant for another, absurdity or heroism performed completely out of obedience, subjecting one’s will to a higher will as a way to humility. This is a hard road for me, particularly in my professional leadership role, which is a burden to me. I’m grateful that I do not aspire to any more leadership than is necessary. Also, although I know full well that obedience means accepting the crosses that come my way, I fight them every time, which reveals my destructive preference for controlling my own destiny over obedience to God’s will and trust in His lighter yoke. I’ve still got a long way to go, brother!

    1. Learning to obey is so difficult but necessary. Thanks for journeying with me on this path. Blessings to you, brother! Keith

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