By Gene Stockton
Recently, the men of Heartland began a study on Thursday nights called “Every Man’s Battle.” Stephen Arterburn is the author of the book as well as the main speaker in the video series. As I was listening to session 2 in the series, Stephen asked a question that settled deep in my heart. He asked, “are you settling for excellence or pursuing obedience?” You might ask, what is the difference? Excellence is pursuing a man-made standard that is comparative, one person with another or others. For instance, Pete Rose is considered the greatest hitter in all of Major League Baseball (MLB) history. Why is he the greatest? His career batting average was above 300 and he accumulated more hits than any other player who ever played MLB. A remarkable accomplishment and one to be admired. However, the best hitter in the history of baseball failed 7 out of 10 times at the plate and yet exceeded the standard of excellence. On the other hand, pursuing obedience isn’t simply exceeding the average as compared to others, but following Jesus at any cost. The standard isn’t sinning less but striving for holiness through the power of God.
God impressed the concept of obedience deep into my heart years ago. In case you haven’t noticed, I attempt to lead our church based on the pursuit of obedience. I speak and write on the subject as often as I can possibly mix it into the topic at hand. Why? Many Christians, churches and denominations are settling for excellence. How do I know? We measure excellence typically by counting. And not just counting, but counting the less important things at the expense of overlooking obedience. You could say we settle for excellence. For example, you might hear a friend say, “I attended church twice this month and read my Bible once this week.” I guess that is excellence because it is about average. Sigh! In the case of the local church, we count money and people mostly. We feel good as long as we’re doing better than the church down the street. But what is better? Is it more butts in seats and dollars collected on Sunday morning or what? Instead of measuring, what about pursuing? Instead of settling for excellence, pursuing obedience.
Please take a real close look at the Great Commission and what Jesus says about obedience. I highlighted it for you but go ahead and read all three verses. Matthew 28:18-20 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I heard several sermons on this text. I read and studied the text numerous times. I even taught the text to others and then one day a few years ago it hit me. I thought to myself, what is significant about “teaching” compared to “teaching them to obey?” Teaching to obey is more than sharing facts or teaching history. It is far more than filling heads with knowledge. As well, and I admonish you, that is more than getting together to discuss your opinions. This is especially the case if you call that discussion a Bible study. Instead, “teaching them to obey,” is instructing and demonstrating in such a way as to guide another person toward putting the commands of Jesus into action. It is saying, “now that we know what to do let’s go do it.” More than that, the teacher goes so far as to engage the student in opportunities to obey alongside them. By doing so, the teacher encourages and exhorts the student to put the words into practice. Moreover, when we “teach to obey” we don’t stop at persuading the student to simply know the information, but to live the words of Jesus.
One more thing. Did you notice the completeness of obedience that Jesus demands? Let’s read this again. He said, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” If you were pursuing excellence you might feel good about doing what Jesus tells you to do some of the time. You may even be proud of yourself if you do what Jesus says more than your friends. That makes you a good Christian right? No, my friends, the standard is obedience. It is “obeying everything” Jesus says to do. Let me magnify the significance of pursuing obedience with a practical example. As you train a child, would you be satisfied if the child made their bed 3 times a week? What about doing their homework fifty percent of the time? Hint: Those are rhetorical questions. And so then, why would any of us who consider ourselves a Christian settle for anything less than following Jesus all the way? Why would we settle for excellence instead of pursuing obedience?
Pastor Gene Stockton
Gene Stockton is the Pastor of Heartland Community Church in Sioux City.