No one likes the word “obedience.” I think it’s safe to say most people give that word lip service, particularly in a country like the United States where we value independence and individuality. Yet obedience is a deep spiritual virtue that can help us become more profoundly spiritual and transformed. In a little book written by a saintly man called “The Rule of St. Benedict” once can find profound advice on being obedient. First, Benedict establishes who we obey because it’s quite easy to trap ourselves in obedience to the wrong source of authority. That’s one reason obedience isn’t so popular, because we’ve seen how people become abused at the hands of poor leadership and illegitimate authority. The paradox of the situation is by only being obedient to ourselves we become subject to a tyrant just as bad as the twisted preacher using people’s faith to get what he or she wants. When we make ourselves an authority of its own we place ourselves under the rule of someone who can’t view themselves objectively and is not accountable to the truths and realities of a world outside themselves. Much of the work I do as a therapist is helping people realize they’re their own worst enemy. They set up rules and demands for themselves only to discover they can’t live up to them (and quite frankly no one in the world could either). Benedict reminds his readers they are to be obedient to one source of authority and that authority is God revealed through Jesus Christ. In the prologue of the book he says we are choosing to do battle (Spiritual battle) for the Lord Christ, the true king. This is the source of legitimate authority we must obey. Anything else only leads to sorrow, spiritual decay, and death.
The next question most people, ask is “How can I know when it’s Christ I’m following and not some preacher twisting Christ’s words around to suite his or her purposes?” That’s a great question! This is why it’s so important to dwell within the scriptures. Read your bibles with a desire to know Christ. If you seek him with sincere desire in the pages of the bible you will find him there. The first place to start in the bible is within the gospels. Read them and take note of what Christ actually says. His direct teachings are found there and are an important source for knowing him. Once you saturate yourself with the gospels read the epistles written by Paul and the other apostles. These are letters written to communities trying to actualize the teachings of Jesus within their local context. Use these as examples of how to live what Jesus taught in your life today and in our present time. Lastly, read the old testament. These help you understand what led up to the coming of Christ and how humanity was being prepared to receive him. All of these writings bring you into the presence of God who is the ultimate authority in your life.
Now that we know who to obey, Benedict reminds us that obedience is hard work. It takes effort to be obedient. In the prologue of the rule he reminds us “By the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you have departed by the sloth of disobedience.” This is another reason we dislike obedience, it takes effort. Like all the other virtues, to obey God means we have to counter our natural inclination to do what our sin nature tells us and participate in the life of grace. While nothing we do earns grace, or can save us, the one thing required of us is the most difficult for us to do. That one thing is to give ourselves over to the work of God. We must surrender ourselves into the hands of God and allow him to take the clay that we are and form us into what he desires. Benedict writes in his prologue “To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will….” This is the work; this is the difficult task of obedience, to surrender ourselves to the rule of Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts.
Are you ready to be transformed? Do you desire a life different than you live now? Will you trust God and give yourself over to him? Follow the advice of this sage man from the 6th century and willingly give up your will to follow Christ. Obedience is a virtue acquired by the hard work of surrendering yourself to the legitimate authority of God. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can just live as you want and be happy, that’s falling under the rule of a whole different type of tyrant. Trust Christ, know him in his word and the breaking of bread, and follow him wherever he takes you. Obedience to God is the first step in living a transformed life.