“If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15)
In Isaiah 1:1-11, we hear the first words in the Bible attributed to the prophet Isaiah. He starts off his book with a chastisement of the people of Israel from God. Isaiah received a vision from God in which he saw a great many things. Isaiah saw the future, saw what the people of Israel would become and how they would get there.
Isaiah was what we would call today an intellectual. He was not royalty, but he held favor with several kings, until the time he started making everyone uncomfortable with his prophecies and forewarnings about the coming of God and the nation of lsrael.
The Lord chose lsaiah to give accounts of his visions. Isaiah was a faithful servant of the word of God. For whatever God told Isaiah, it was immediately recounted to whom the visions were directed at. Not only was Isaiah faithful to God’s word, but he was obedient as well.
In this set of scriptures, we have God’s words to Isaiah. God is lamenting over the condition of Israel. He says He’s done so much for Israel, how He has brought them up out of slavery and out of oppression, but still they turn away from Him.
Then Isaiah chimes in, commenting on what a sinful nation the people of Israel are, how they do evil. Isaiah speaks of how the Israelites have forsaken God and turned away from their God, their Lord. Isaiah asks them why they allow themselves to be abused and mistreated in the manner in which has befallen them, and why they continue to rebel against the word of God.
Then Isaiah challenges them to hear his words, to listen closely so that they will not be like the people of Gomorrah. God tells the people what good are their sacrifices of burnt offerings and fat animals. What good is a sacrifice if you do not obey the word of God?
The same God who counseled the prophets and priests through visions and dreams is the same God who plants the seeds in the minds of today’s people to walk closer to God, to follow the commandments of God, to obey God in order that we might receive the blessings that God has to give us.
Oft times we are likened to the Israelites of yesterday, in that we receive a blessing from God and take that blessing and go right on our way. We think that just because one particular blessing is over that we can do whatever we wish. We think we are justified in our actions because we give up certain things for God. Just because we make one or two sacrifices for God, we somehow think that those sacrifices atone for our other misdeeds. But God tells us in these verses, what good are sacrifices to Him? When you make a sacrifice to God, you are just returning to Him what was His in the first place. Not to say that sacrifices are not important, because they are. However, sacrifices only represent that you acknowledge God, not that you are necessarily following what God is telling you to do.
Obedience is another thing all together. According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, the definition of obey is as follows: 1. To give ear to; to execute the commands of; to yield submission to; to comply with the orders of; 2. To submit to the authority of; to be ruled by; 3. To yield to the impulse, power, or operation of; as, a ship obeys her helm.
Sometimes we are willing to follow the word of God, as long as it does not upset our comfort level. But the word of God is the word of God, and we must be consistent in that. The act of submission is not something we can get away from. So the question becomes, why do we, like the Israelites, have such a problem obeying God.
God, throughout the Bible, gives us very direct things that we are to follow; things we are to obey; things called commandments. Now, while we are have the free will to follow them or not to follow them, we are nevertheless commanded by God to obey and keep these commandments. When God places something in our hearts, we are honor bound by scripture to obey what He tells us to do. We are bound by the promise of salvation to obey that which God has placed on our hearts.
When it comes to giving support to the church, while it is an option, we are told on many occasions that we are to be about the work of God and build His kingdom here on earth. But in order to do that, we must obey Him when He tells us to be faithful to His cause. We are to work and pray unceasingly in order that we might do the things that will further His kingdom. But yet, somehow we continue to skip over certain things. We are to be committed to the church, to be committed to God, to be commited to the word of God. We are to be committed to preaching, teaching, learning, understanding and internalizing the word of God. We are to be committed to giving a tenth of our time, talents, and yes, our treasure to God. These are not things that are optional. These are not things that are debatable. These are things that God has commanded us to obey.
Working for the church, preaching the word, teaching the word, understanding the word, giving of our time, talent, and treasure, are not sacrifices; often we view them as a means to get something in return. And while following the word of God and obeying them will bring something in return, sometimes in material form, we do not do these things for that reason. We obey God, we invest ourselves in God, we obey God through our tithes, we obey God through our time and commitment because they are spiritual building blocks. They are a means for us to be totally obedient to God and thereby, receive spiritual grace as a result. God can give us all the money in the world, but it will mean nothing if we are not obedient when it comes to following His word. For as quick as He can give it to us, that is how quick He can take it away.
The people of Israel did not fully comprehend this lesson. They thought that by going around and doing what the only felt they had to do, giving their sacrifices but not being truly obedient to the word of God, that somehow they would gain favor with God. They thought that by doing what was prescribed by the minimum of the law, if that much, that somehow they were being holy and righteous.
We should have learned by now that just doing the minimum is not sufficient. Just getting by does not make it. Instead, by being fully obedient to God, doing what He tells us and when He tells us, that is how we find favor with God. That is how we honor God and keep His commandments. It is not enough to just sacrifice, because after Jesus, what sacrifice can we make to please God. The ultimate sacrifice has already been made. There is nothing we can do which can equal or surpass that sacrifice. Therefore, it is better to obey. Indeed, obedience is better than sacrifice. It’s not an easy lesson to learn. It’s taken thousands of years to even get to the point where we can see the benefits of such obedience. But we see the fruits of it.
The true test of a Christian is to be obedient to the One who gave you life, the One who gave you breath, to the One who woke you in the morning and the One who put you to sleep at night. To be obedient to the One who knows what level your commitment is, who knows how to make things right and how to correct the wrong. To be obedient when you are working in His vineyard and for His kingdom. To know that when the Lord tells you to give of your time, your talent, and your possessions, that it is not just so you will have to make a sacrifice. By giving of those things, and being obedient, your spirit will grow, your walk with God comes closer because you are submitting to the ultimate power and the ultimate authority, that you acknowledge your creator in all your ways and that you do everything for the glory and honor of God.
“If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Ray Long, Apostolic Lighthouse