Obedience and love. Now there’s a pair of uncomfortable bedfellows. So to speak. We struggle with notions of obedience and authority these days. Especially from the church.
Obedience and love. What comes to mind? Misogyny, abuse, and the many other forms of enforced obedience that litter our past?
Obedience and love. As a man and a priest, I know I am on dangerous ground. But let’s take a step back. As I have said before, we are all obedient to something. Better we know what it is. If we are obedient simply to our emotions, our love will have no deep roots and will be blown around with the wind. We will love, and then not love, which is not really love. Or we are obedient to common sense, or economic sense, or society’s prejudice, or a dominant personality, or to whatever we read on Twitter today.
Obedience and love means first and foremost obedience to Jesus. Before we love anyone or anything else, we love him. All our love is framed by him and seen through the lens of his love. Therefore, we cannot be obedient to our inner desires for control or domination; we cannot arrange those we love around our need to be the centre of their world. Instead we practice selfless devotion to others, we sacrifice our own needs for the needs of others.
Obedience and love then becomes a wholeheartedly positive way of thinking. Obedience to the way of Jesus, and a love that is patient, kind, not self-seeking; that is not a slave to jealousy or anger or boastfulness or pride. This can only come from deep places, from deep roots. It can be uncomfortable, and there will be strong winds trying to blow us back to selfishness. But it is possible.
One of my favourite stories in the Bible is that of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. This is a story of different types of love – familial, cross-cultural, community and romantic – which places deep love at the centre of the story, and mixed-race marriage into Jesus’ genealogy. Both Ruth and Boaz are described with the same Hebrew phrase ‘eshet hayil’, which means ‘of noble character, good standing’.
Noble character is not something we publicly prize at the moment, yet deep down we know its value. Just look at the tributes to the late Terry Wogan, and the emphasis placed on his character. When we are of noble character – truly, madly, deeply, not just our facade – then obedience and love is not something to be feared, but something to be desired.
We are called to obedience in love, but not to subservience. To be noble in character, people of deep love. And a particular note to men: we are called to love as Christ loved the church, which is by self-giving, self-sacrifice, and deep deep devotion. Will we accept that countercultural challenge?
This is part of a series at our church through Lent called Enduring Obedience.