To put love first is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength while also striving to love your neighbor as yourself.
This means that Love First is a word about obedience.
Obedience is definitely not a popular word these days; frankly, I’m not sure it’s ever been very popular. But as we discussed in the last post, Love First is a word about discipleship and our commitment to follow Jesus as our Lord. That means that Love First is also a word about obedience.
Jesus says in John 14:23, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. He goes on to say: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:9-10).
Jesus demonstrates that He himself abides in the love of the Father through obedience and He calls His followers to accordant obedience. To follow behind Jesus as Lord is to live in obedience to His teaching. Remember, Jesus is God-in-the-flesh. So in order to love God from out of my entire heart / soul / mind / strength, I must be striving to live in obedience to Jesus, God-in-the-flesh.
Now, we have to be very careful here. None of this is intended to negate our need for the grace of God. Some would preach this as a legalistic approach to the faith. That’s not what I’m saying. The power of sin is great, as is our need for the grace of God. No matter how hard we strive to live in obedience, we’re going to fall short. That’s the nature of our existence on this side of The Fall.
But at the same time, Jesus seems to put stock in the striving. Look at the disciples: they’re an imperfect bunch, needing God’s grace just as much as we do. But their need for grace doesn’t negate Jesus’ expectation of them: if you love me, you will obey my teaching.
Our increasingly secularized culture says life is best lived on your own terms. “Make your own rules, go your own way, be your own person.” You need only obey your own will in order to find personal fulfillment. But by preaching Love First, we are confronting our culture by saying, “The best life is lived in obedience to God.” That flies in the face of the badge of individualism we wear in this country. When you say the words “Jesus is Lord,” you’re also saying, “I am not.” That means you and I have made a choice to live in submission to the Lord Jesus. We have placed ourselves under His authority, which is a subversive word. The best life is the surrendered life.
One key Greek root word for obey is hupakouo, which means “to hear under” or “to listen underneath.” To obey is to give a proper hearing. Remember the greatest command begins with a word about hearing: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart / soul / mind / strength.” This teaching is a matter of hearing and obeying in love.
Paul uses this word in Rom. 6:17, But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed…(ESV) Paul’s point is that we were all slaves to sin at one time. Formerly we would “hear under” the call of sin and lawlessness. But now we hear differently, we “listen under” His lordship. To obey is to listen from the heart.
In 2008, a writer by the name of Robyn Okrant made a radical decision to live her life completely according to the advice of Oprah Winfrey for one year. She meticulously followed Oprah’s lifestyle suggestions in pursuit of Oprah’s mantra, “Live Your Best Life.” So if Okrant needed some fashion advice, she consulted Oprah’s magazine; if she and her husband had an argument, she consulted the “conflict management” tab on Oprah’s website. Okrant estimated that she spent up to 40 hours each week engaged in research, watching old episodes of the show and looking for every bit of advice Oprah has ever dispensed. This project, of course, led to a book deal and you can read all about Okrant’s yearlong quest to live out Oprah’s teachings in the book, Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk. In an interview about the book, a friend of Okrant’s said, “It’s about what it really feels like to take Oprah’s word as gospel, and about what Robyn learns from this.”
To take God’s Word as gospel is to surrender one’s self in obedience. Okrant made a pretty radical decision to “hear under” the lordship of Oprah. What area of your life do you need to “hear under” the call of Jesus today? What would my life look like if I lived in radical obedience to the teaching of Jesus?