A basic principle in life is that if you follow the rules, you will benefit in some way. If you follow the rules at your job, doing what’s expected of you, then you will continue to get a paycheck. If you follow the rules at school, diligently studying and doing all the assignments, then you’ll get good grades. If you follow the rules within society, obeying the civil laws, than you can enjoy some level of freedom, protection and rights. If you follow the rules in your relationships, being kind and considerate to others, than family, friends and co-workers will be kind and considerate to you. If you follow the rules of whatever religion you choose, then you will gain whatever benefits that religion advertises.
Of course all these examples first require that we believe in the rules and be willing to follow them. We need to first trust that following the rules will provide the expected benefit. If I don’t trust my employer, if I believe they might not actually pay me, then I’m outta there.
So the means to life’s benefits is to first trust, then follow and obey, and then collect the prize; whether it’s a paycheck, or continued civil freedoms, or whatever. Trust, obey, then benefits; always in that order. Your “obedience” comes from a desire to gain the “benefits.”
Now please allow me to put you into a story that mixes up this three-step process…
Imagine you have lost your job and the bank is foreclosing on your mortgage – for some of you, this may come far too easily. As you sit in front of your TV, trying to find a moment’s distraction from your worries, there’s a knock at the door. You get up to find a man in a three-piece suit standing on your front step. What now? Someone from the bank perhaps, with more bad news. How much worse can it get?
Upon reluctantly opening the door, you discover he’s not from the bank, but he is a businessman and he claims to have a proposition for you. But first he’d just like to chat so you can get to know each other. What the heck; you have nothing else to do.
As the minutes slip by, you find yourself becoming more amazed with this stranger sitting across from you. For someone who at first appeared very intimidating in his clothing and manner, you find his personality quite enchanting. You cannot help but like him.
After chatting for an hour or so, he re-directs the subject back to his original purpose; the proposition. Without any fanfare, he states that he wishes to give you the money to pay off your mortgage.
“What? Why?” you ask (these are the only words you can muster, being a bit in shock as it were). His only response, “Do you believe that I would do this for you?” You don’t quite understand why; maybe it’s because of the sincerity, honesty, integrity, and even love that he conveyed while chatting to you, but after thinking for just a moment you say yes, you do believe. He immediately responds, “That’s why. That’s the reason I’m giving you this money. Just because you believe I will.”
Without a pause for effect, he pulls out of his inside coat pocket a certified cashier’s check, already made out in your name and for the exact amount of the balance on your mortgage. The state of shock intensifies as you stare at the check in your hands.
As the man now gets up to leave, you ask him, “What can I possibly do to thank you for this?” He smiles and quietly reaches into the same inside coat pocket and this time pulls out a business card. Handing the card to you he says, “I would like to give you a job. If you want it, be at my office next Monday, at 8:00. And by the way, your salary will be double what you got at your last job.”
When you look up from staring at the card, you find he is gone, but the personality that he exuded seems to remain.
Trust, benefits, and then obedience. In this story, obedience comes from gratitude for benefits already received, rather than a promise of benefits yet to be collected.
Most religions adhere to the more typical path; first trust and have faith, then obey the laws and rules, and then you will find the peace, joy, happiness, eternal life in heaven, 40 virgins in heaven, or whatever else the religion is offering to you. But Christianity, with the exception of some notorious denominations, follows the upside down path. To illustrate, here’s another story for you, this time not made up by me…
“‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” (Mark 10:51-52)
In Jesus’ day, people believed that someone was blind as punishment for sins they had committed. Jesus didn’t first ask for obedience. He didn’t even ask for a commitment to obey. He just looked for faith in the blind man, and finding it in the certainty of the man’s desire to see, Jesus gave him sight. Having received the “benefit,” the man out of joyous gratitude, followed (i.e., obeyed) Jesus.
The truth of Christianity is contrary to the ways of our world. Jesus has turned the world upside down. All you need do is believe. And as your love for God grows, so will your obedience; obedience out of love and gratitude…
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)
And during this time of Christmas celebrations, when the distractions reach a peak, please remember that God gives first, and God loves first.
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
…and Jesus died for us first…
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
…and Jesus was born FOR us…
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
May this Christmas find you surrounded by the love of Jesus, the man who turned the world upside down. And more than surrounded; filled with His love, to where the love is spilling over and splashing onto others in your life.