Reverence & Obedience

by | Nov 20, 2021 | Features, Times of Restoration

person holding gray metal tool

As I’ve thought about the Word of God, I’ve found the term, “The Hammer,” a challenging one. While thinking about it, I had my attention drawn not to where to begin on the subject, but where we should end. In other words, what is the ultimate goal of studying and applying the Word of God? It’s not head knowledge, self-help, or best-practice techniques. No, it is unity with God, who is Himself united in Three Persons, perfectly whole and perfectly holy. Further, He is united with His own Word, also perfectly whole and perfectly holy. To attempt to write about and understand the Word of God is to attempt to write about and understand God Himself. My prayer is that we, too, will be encouraged to reflect God and His Word rightly in our own lives.

Now that I have attempted to begin with the ending, let me back up just a bit.

In Jeremiah 23:29, God describes His Word as a hammer. I’d heard this terminology before but wasn’t really sure of the context, so I went digging. I was surprised to learn how the hammer was applied, and to whom. Often, when I think of a hammer being wielded in some sort of powerful sense, I picture a superhero swinging a mallet, smashing whatever is in the way. If you’ve ever watched cinematic depictions of this, it’s usually a display of force, and it usually creates a mess, even as the character may be trying to do good. 

My husband and I were chatting about this one time: after a superhero saves a city, there is never a sequel about the insurance agents processing thousands of claims for toppled buildings and stepped-on cars. God, though, isn’t like this, as I found, once again, in this chapter. Instead, God’s Word, the hammer, judges those who should have led His people truthfully, but came up with their own words and their own faulty visions, and who say, “to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘no disaster shall come upon you’” (Jeremiah 23:17). These prophets and priests hurt those they were to shepherd by lying. They did “not profit” the people (Jeremiah 23:32). God’s Word, the truth, measures their lack of faithful-ness with God’s own faithfulness, and in this display of power, there is nothing haphazard or clumsy about God’s use of His hammer. His res-ponse is characteristic of His just and kind nature, with no collateral damage. Damage comes from people, not God.

Although these Old Testament leaders failed those they were to shepherd and did not speak God’s Word, we have a beautiful example of the opposite in the Good Shepherd, one who walked among us to show us the way, and who is the way. Near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we see this in the chapters preceding His arrest and cruci-fixion (John 14-17). These words were spoken to those closest to Him, as Judas Iscariot had already left the room, and we are invited to share in this conversation.

As I read this section of Scripture, I felt almost startled by Jesus’ attitude of reverence for the Father. As He is God, it’s easy to assume the Son wouldn’t really be characterized by reverence. Not that He ever exemplified irreverence, but it seems that it would be a non-issue, perhaps something that wouldn’t really matter. Yet this is not the case at all. In Hebrews 5:7, just as we find in Christ’s own words in the book of John, we’re told that Christ’s prayers were answered by the Father because of the Son’s reverence. We find this concept earlier in the Bible, too. In Isaiah 66:2, God looks for those who are humble, contrite, and tremble at His Word, and the Psalmist under-stands this, as well, and prays that his heart will be united “to fear your name” (Psalms 86:11). Just as Jesus demonstrated reverence to the Father and was heard, this heart attitude in us is something God still searches the Earth to find. 

If you’ve ever tried to teach someone some-thing, you’ll probably understand one reason why this issue of our attitude toward God and His Word is important. Certainly, God deserves honor simply for Who He is. In the end, everyone will bow before Him, but not everyone will be in unity with Him. This reverence is a part of that unity. In my own past experience as a teacher, I found that students with very quick brains but not very good attitudes could easily miss the point of what I was trying to pass on. Instead, it was often the students with a receptive demeanor, even if their DNA might not have classified them as Einsteins, who could make the most profound connections in learning and were the most fun to teach. 

Just as Isaiah and David understood, Christ uses His own example to teach His disciples how to approach God in the right way, with a heart that does not revere their own thoughts, or other people’s thoughts, over His. As the leaders in Jeremiah found, that only produces human sorrow. Christ’s reverence teaches us to have a correct heart disposition, one that can be taught, and this is then coupled with His teaching on the Word of God.

In John 17, Jesus prays one of the most beau-tiful prayers I have ever heard, and it seems especially precious since we are included in the latter part. For His disciples, He asks the Father to keep them “from the evil one” and “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15-17). Unlike the treacherous lies of the priests and prophets in Jeremiah, the Father protects us and transforms us in the truth of His Word. Not only this, but Jesus, when speaking to the disciples, explains that keeping the commandments is a sign of love and friendship with God, enabled by the Holy Spirit, and resulting in joy (John 14:15-17, 15:11, 14). Jesus Himself kept these commands; He embodied the Word of God so perfectly that it is one of His names. Every aspect of Jesus and every word spoken by God are in complete unity, for Jesus spoke nothing that was not given to Him from the Father (John 14:10, 24). His reverence was reflected in the Father-directed use of God’s Word, and His obedience to that Word is an example of what unity with God looks like.

Jesus shows us that if we’re reading the Bible but are not in unity with God, we’re missing the point. If we’re praying, even using Scripture in our prayer, but do not truly understand what it means to pray in Christ’s name, we’re also missing the point. Oswald Chambers puts it this way: our prayers should be “perfect and complete oneness with God” (My Utmost For His Highest). If we’re going about our days, but not measuring them by the Word of God and walking in His commands, we are, again, missing the point. 

All these aspects of living in the light of the Word of God are certainly integral parts of the Christian life, yet the most important thing to remember is not what to do, but what to be—and that is in unity with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Besides all this, though, is a truth that I’ve only noticed just recently. Not only does our unity with God matter, but this unity is also effective in warfare: if we are in unity with the Father, we have accepted His Son, Jesus Christ. The spirit of Antichrist, though, rejects the deity of the Son, something that many people still refuse to accept (1 John 2:22-24). We may not feel like we’re the best at using the Scriptures, or knowing how to respond to the world and its very dark system, but if we stay close to Jesus in simple reverence and obedience to His Word, we participate in resisting lies and can actually bear much fruit, which would otherwise be impossible without clinging to the Lord (John 15:4). 

Maybe in the back of our mind we may be thinking that all this unity and Word of God talk sounds very nice, but other voices are injecting doubts—doubts that make us unsure whether the previous paragraphs are actually something that we even want. Maybe we’re thinking, “God will never not be mad at me,” or perhaps, “How can I be one with God when I’ve misrepresented the Word of God in my own life?” or, “How can I fear God when I am not sure that that I can actually trust Him?” 

For the first and second objections, we are told that he who confesses and forsakes sin “will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). And, as I was told as a young girl by an elderly pastor, in 1 John 2:1 we are reminded that “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This made a lasting impression on me, and I hope it will bring hope to all our hearts, as well. To answer the third objection, I will mention Jackie Hill Perry’s book, Holier Than Thou. As she notes, we often distrust God because we think of Him as a slightly better version of ourselves or of people who knowingly or unknowingly hurt others. Not at all! She makes the case that this is an inaccurate view of God’s holiness, and because of His holiness, His trust-worthiness. I encourage you to read the book to learn more.

As the leaders in Jeremiah’s day found out, God is not like us. He always tells the truth. And as Jesus taught, we can learn how to rightly relate to and use the truth of His Word, through reverence and through obedience. In this way our lives bear fruit as we hold tightly to the Lord Jesus the Son of God, with access to the Father by faith in His Son, and through the power of His Spirit, the Spirit of truth. ∎

—Elizabeth and Jon are recent transplants to northern Colorado, where Jon works at a local hospital and serves in the military, and where Elizabeth will spend the rest of her life painting their house!

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