Obedience – is it always a bad thing?

Joshua 24:15

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

I read a comment on a facebook thread recently which accused someone of posting “Propaganda by the church exploiting peoples’ fear of death to ensure obedience”. This set me thinking about obedience and how we view it. When Wendy married me 32 years ago, even then we had a discussion about whether her vows would a promise to “obey” me! As it happens, she did make that promise, and never once have I abused it – we now seem to live in a society which claims she was wrong to do so.

In our modern society which values the individual’s right above all else, we have developed an understanding that the term obedience implies that a stronger party is imposing its will on to a weaker one, and one where there is no choice. In short, the concept of obedience and especially that of asking for obedience is now generally understood to be a very negative thing!

But … is it a bad thing to obey the rules of the road and stick to speed limits, stop at traffic lights and pedestrian crossings?

Clubs of all sorts have myriad rules and regulations – for dress and conduct for example. Sports of all sorts have rules – and they elect governing bodies to regulate the rules of the game. We have rules in our workplaces – some of which are laid out in a “contract of employment”

We have both written and unwritten rules in society that all are expected to follow – rules of what is and isn’t appropriate conduct in society. Our written rules provide for what happens when these rules are disobeyed.

In all of the above examples, obedience is actually a good and positive thing. It regulates our behaviour, and protects the vulnerable around us. Obedience is not necessarily a bad thing, so why are we so gung-ho about insisting that anything which even hints about “obedience” being wrong and to be criticised and rejected out of hand before we even look at the content?

The Bible talks of obedience in many ways – but right at the heart of man’s relationship with God is free will. We have been given free will by God to choose for Him or against Him. This is the essence of the verse in Joshua 24:15 where Joshua says choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. God never forces obedience. For the Christian, obedience is always a choice, so …

Choose this day whom you will serve … as for me and my household we will serve the Lord.