Drippings from the Honeycomb - Episode 4

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Is Delayed obedience really obedience?

In this episode, we’re going to take a look at Matthew 4:20. That verse says, “At once they left their nets, and followed him.”

This brief, one sentence verse conveys the idea of immediate obedience. There was no delay! Once the disciples received the call of Jesus, they immediately dropped what they were doing, and followed him. When we read this verse in context, what it really begins to do is ask the question, “Is there any option for obedience besides immediate obedience?” or “Is anything other than immediate obedience, disobedience?”


This is important because it speaks to how we respond when the call of God comes on our life. Are we going to react immediately in obedience and do what He says? Or are we going to prioritize other things ahead of obeying God? That’s the real question that we find in this verse.


Obedience in the Scriptures

Now, when we look throughout the Scriptures, we do see some language that indicates immediate obedience. Perhaps the best example of this is found in the Psalms, where the psalmist says, “I hasten and do not delay to keep your commands.” And then of course, there’s the practical side. All of us know that when we were kids, if our parents asked us to do something, we really should do it right away. If we delayed too long, then our parents would be upset because we did not obey them. At that point, it didn’t matter what excuse we offered about how we were going to clean our room, or about how we meant to take out the garbage, we just hadn’t gotten to it yet. None of these really seemed to matter when our parents had identified the fact that we really had put off obeying in order to prioritize other things ahead of obeying their commands.

What we see from this is that it really falls under a question of prioritization. In other words, how much do we prioritize the importance of the commands that we receive from God as being important to obey immediately? Are we willing to put everything else aside? It’s pretty easy to see that how quickly we obey or how much we delay before we obey really stems from what is most important in our hearts.


Now, this is kind of interesting, because there is one major sin to which all sin can be connected. And that sin is idolatry. The idea is that we are putting something else in priority over God. Often times it is ourselves! We are simply putting ourselves on the throne of our hearts instead of God on the throne of our hearts, and this really plays out in this area of immediate obedience or delayed obedience. Now, the question is not whether ultimately if we obeyed or disobeyed. The question is, if the delay itself is disobedience. I’m sure as kids, we all live through the same experience, where our parents told us to do something, for example, say cleaning up our room, and we delayed and delayed until they were strict enough with us where we finally did what they asked, and cleaned up our room.


Ultimately, did we obey them? Sure, of course, you could say that we did obey our parents in that situation, finally, but the question is not whether we ultimately obeyed, it is did we disobey in the time between the original commandment and the time when we finally, at their insistence and pressure, did what they were asking. Here in our verse, we see that the disciples, when Jesus called them, did not delay but immediately followed after Jesus.


The Story of Lot

Now, where else can we look in the Scriptures to see an example of delayed obedience? Remember, we’re not ultimately so much interested in whether or not the party ultimately obeyed, but whether they delayed in their obedience and what the consequences were for that delay. There are two terrific stories that we can look at in the Old Testament that will explain this further and give us a better understanding of this topic. The first one is found in the story of lot. If you don’t know the story of Lot, he was the nephew of Abraham, And he had chosen to settle in these cities that were in the plain of the Canaanite region. These five cities were well known for their wickedness. Two of them, we know specifically, were extremely well known for their wickedness, and they were called Sodom and Gomorrah. This is where lot lived with his family, and God had decided that He was going to destroy the cities in his judgment. However, Abraham made a plea to God that because Lot lived in the cities, God would spare the cities if 10 righteous people could be found within the cities. And God agreed to this bargain that Abraham made, but when the angels came to the city, there were not 10 righteous people living inside the cities, only Lot and his family. So the angels rescue Lot, and because Lot loved the world, because he loved worldliness a lot was reluctant to leave the city.


So he delayed and he delayed against the command of the angels. Finally, by God’s mercy and grace, the angels literally grabbed ahold of Lot and his family and dragged them outside the city to spare their life before God rained down fire on the cities from heaven. Even in the midst of all of this, even in the midst of being dragged away from the cities that were burning, the temptation to remain in them was so great, that despite the instructions of the angels, Lot’s wife delayed and looked back. And when she looked back, she was changed into a pillar of salt; she was judged. In other words, her life was ended because she delayed in obeying God.


It’s easy to see from this example, that delaying ended up being the root of disobedient action. As a result of the delay, there was an opportunity for disobedience, and this is the major problem with delaying when we obey! Delay opens up a door for disobedience, and that is what happened in this story. Ultimately, Lot’s wife died because of her delay and her disobedience.


The Story of Israel

Another great example for this is the Israelites when they were coming out of the land of Egypt. They had gone through this dramatic rescue from Pharaoh, where God has rained down these plagues on the nation of Egypt, and finally, God opened the Red Sea with a mighty hand, and He brought the Israelites through it, and he crushed the army of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, drowning them. So there were the Israelites, they had gone through this journey in the wilderness, they had sinned against God, but they had been restored, and they had gone through these months of listening to the law being given to them. They had seen the pillar of cloud, the pillar of fire, the mountain smoking when Moses went up onto the mountain; they had seen all these great works of God right in front of them.


Now they are about to enter the promised land, and they’re excited because they’re about to go to this place that God is giving to them, and they send these spies in to look at the land. When the spies come back, 10 of them bring a report that is not good. They say the people of the land are too big, they’re too powerful, and we can’t defeat them. In other words, God has lied to us, God has jinxed us. He’s brought us out in the desert to kill us to let us be defeated by these great powerful nations that inhabit this land, this promised land that we were supposed to take.


However, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, they are confident in the Lord, and they say, “Let us not wait to go up and possess it because God is with us.” See, they remembered all of the great things that God had done. They remembered Pharaoh’s army, the most powerful army in that area at that time in history, being overthrown by God in a supernatural way. They’re not afraid to go in. They are seeking to obey God immediately. Since God has given them this promise that he was going to go before them and fight their battles and defeat their enemies. They want to go up! They don’t care that there’s giants in the land, they want to obey immediately, but the people are swayed, the people are unsure, and so they delay, and in their delay, they begin to grumble against Moses and against God. They don’t listen to the faith of Joshua and Caleb.


Instead, in their delay of obedience. They open up an opportunity for sin. And what is that sin? Well, it is cursing God, because He brought them to a place of certain death, or so they think. They forgotten all these miracles. In fact, in the center of their camp is a massive pillar of cloud by day, and a massive pillar of fire by night, and yet that isn’t enough for them. They curse God for bringing them out into the wilderness, rather than seeing the opportunity that lies before them for immediate obedience. They choose to delay and sin against God, and God punishes them by telling them that they will wander in the wilderness for 40 years.


You see, because they did not obey immediately, because they doubted, and because they delayed, they gave opportunity for sin and doubt to grow within their hearts. All they really needed to do was look towards the tabernacle, where the pillar of fire in the pillar of cloud stood. Then they would have remembered what God had done for them, they wouldn’t have been afraid of the giants in the land, they wouldn’t have been afraid of the armies of the land, because they would have known that their God was greater. Howver, because their hearts were prioritized on things that they cared about, not on what God wanted; because they were practicing idolatry within their hearts, God was not the primary king of their heart; they were, and their selfish desires were, and because of that, they delayed obeying God.


See, they did not want to go in and conquer the land the way God had told them to. They did not want to go in and fight for the land the way God had commanded them to. They wanted what they wanted, and they wanted it right then and there, and that attitude of idolatry caused them to delay in obedience, which gave opportunity for sin. And when they sinned against God, He punished them for their sin for their lack of faith, and for their idolatrous hearts.


Scripture Supports this Viewpoint

The Book of Ecclesiastes captures this idea very well, in chapter five, verse four, when it says, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay in paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools, pay what you vow.” And at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, the author summarizes the whole idea of obeying God, when He says in chapter twelve, verse thirteen, “The end of the matter, all has been heard, Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”


As Christians, we should be focused on obeying God with our whole heart. He did not give us the teaching of His Word or give us His Holy Spirit to direct us so that we could delay and mull over what He tells us when He gives us a command for our life, or when the Holy Spirit prompts us. Our job is not to sit back and in our own wisdom and divine whether or not that is really the best course of action, or to question God, or to say, “I don’t know, God, perhaps you don’t really understand the whole situation here. If you really knew what I was actually going through, maybe you wouldn’t give me that command…or maybe you’d understand why I’m going to wait a little while before obeying you.”


However, the reality is that God knows everything He is in total control. So, when He gives us a command as followers of Him, whether it is through His Word, or whether it is a direct prompting from the Holy Spirit, we must obey it immediately. In fact, if we are living lives that are wholly committed to obedience, we will obey immediately. If we are seeking God with all that we are, we must obey Him immediately. However, if our hearts are filled with the idolatry of self, with the idolatry of worshiping the world, or seeking after the world and trying to be filled by the world, then we will delay our obedience because we will not have the things of God on our mind. Instead, we will be so focused on pursuing our own hopes, our dreams, and our desires that we will not have the time or desire to immediately obey God. We will not be willing to drop everything to follow God.


All Delayed Obedience is Disobedience

And that’s really what Matthew 4:20 is all about. These disciples had lives. They had a business. They had work to do every day. Some of them had wives and houses. They were not people who sat around waiting for some Messiah to come by. They were living out busy lives, and yet they recognized that Jesus was worth dropping everything for and they recognize that when the Messiah called them, they needed to obey instantly.


So, they dropped their nets right there, and they left to follow Jesus immediately. They were seeking something greater. They were looking for something more. They were not caught up and preoccupied with self worship, self idolatry, self promotion. As little as they understood at this moment in time, they understood that this man was calling them to be part of something more than they were, something more than they could achieve on their own, something more than they could ever gain even if they reached the highest fulfillment of their greatest dream.


So, what can we say at the end of all this? That delaying to obey is in itself a form of disobedience, because it opens the door for us to contemplate a deeper disobedience. Delaying our obedience does not have an upside. There is no positive thing that can be gained by delaying obedience to God. We can confidently say that “Yes, all delay to obedience is indeed disobedience.” And this should really impact us as believers today. As we read the scriptures, as we study the Scriptures to learn more about God, and our hearts are pricked by the Scriptures, showing us that we need to make a change, that we need to obey something that we have seen from the Scriptures, we need to obey without delay.


As the Holy Spirit, who indwells our hearts, prompts us to acts of obedience, prompts us to follow the specific will of God for our lives, we must obey immediately, without delay, or else we too will be guilty of living with an idolatrous heart that has put ourselves ahead of God, and our priorities ahead of God’s commands.