“To Love, Honor and Obey.” When was the last time you heard that old-fashioned phrase used in a wedding? Anymore, Obey is a true four-letter word. Loving and honoring seem fair and difficult enough, but to pledge obedience? OBEDIENCE? Not in today’s culture! The idea of doing what another tells you to do is enough to have people rummaging for their soapboxes, loudly declaring their freedom to do as they please. I’ve stood on that soapbox. And I didn’t want that phrase in my wedding vows!
My fiancé at the time and I argued long over that. What century were we living in? He patiently pointed me back to Scripture. “Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). I couldn’t argue that, so I flounced away in a huff. We didn’t talk for a week. Spoiler alert: we’ve been married seven years. He was right. If I truly love my husband and trust him, then I can be vulnerable enough, unselfish enough to say, “I’ll follow your lead.” My wedding vows included “To love, honor, and obey till death do us part.” My husband has never given me a reason to regret choosing to include obedience in our marriage.
Fast-Forward Seven Years.
Our church has, for the last several years, promoted the concept of choosing one word each year as the spring-board for spiritual growth—as opposed to New Year’s resolutions, which are easily forgotten and discarded. The idea comes from the book My One Word by Mike Ashcraft. It begins with the question, “What kind of person does God want me to become.” As you consider that question, begin to write down the qualities or characteristics of that person, the characteristics God, through the Holy Spirit, wants to develop in you. After prayer, begin whittling the list down to one word—your word for the year. With that word in mind, go to Scripture and comb through the concordance looking for verses, passages, stories that utilize your word or speak to that characteristic. Look for songs and hymns that highlight your word. As you study over the course of the year, the Holy Spirit begins to cultivate sensitivity in your heart, making you aware of His proddings towards change.
I love this idea.
My husband went to the presentation at church. I was a little ho-hum at first—who needs another item for the to-do list? But when he came home, he was full of such excitement I couldn’t help but get excited too. He shared the materials with me and I began praying about it.
Immediately a word came to mind: “Obey.”
Nope. Not that one, Lord. The word “obey” is still like nails on a chalkboard to my spirit. I thought about a few others: peace, joy, chocolate. Nothing resonated in my heart—chocolate resonated with my taste-buds, but apparently that’s not the same thing. I kept circling back to Obey.
Sigh. “Okay, Lord” I prayed. “The very fact that my earthly, fleshly self does NOT want to focus on this word, the very fact that my inner rebel is cringing from this characteristic confirms that this is, in fact, what you want to develop in me. Obedience. Lord teach me your ways.”
I began looking through the concordance of my Bible and found MANY good verses and passages relating to obedience. It is a mandatory characteristic that affects all people who choose to follow God. The verse I settled on comes out of 1 Samuel. Here’s the story: King Saul has just conquered the Amalekites, as the Lord told him to do through the prophet Samuel. Except Saul didn’t follow all of God’s instructions. In fact he kept the spoils of war for himself and his men, rather than completely destroying everything.To make matters worse, Saul set up a monument in his own honor. And when Samuel confronted him, Saul laid the blame on his own men! “’But I did obey the LORD’ Saul said. ‘I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took the sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.’
“ ‘But’ Samuel replied: ‘Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king…” (1 Samuel 15:20-23).
Oh Saul. You listened to your own council, your own pride, your own logic and rebelled. You disobeyed clear instructions from the Lord, and in your arrogance became convinced of your own brilliance. In that arrogance you set up a monument to yourself. And when you were called out for your disobedience and pride, you added gasoline to the fire by lying. “But I was going to sacrifice…just the way God likes!”
“To obey is better than sacrifice” said Samuel.
I am too often like Saul, full of my own plans and ideas. Giving a head-nod to God while I speed along my own track. “Giving it all to God” while putting my own spin on what “all” means. I am a product of my culture. A culture that prefers to seek out the gray areas and build castles in their shadows, rather than acknowledge black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. It’s easier that way. Easier to live in a land of the philosophical “If Q, then…” Easier to attempt to incorporate the truth of God with Human desires—can’t we all just get along?
Truth is uncomfortable. Truth is unbending and unswayed by my preferences. Truth does not show leniency for good behavior, it does not look the other way. Truth does not wink and give silent approval for falsehood. And in the darkest corners of my spirit, if I am completely honest I don’t really like truth–and I know I’m not alone. I would much rather do as I please, then spin a lovely story to make my plans seem good and wise and unselfish.
“To love, honor and obey” is the hallmark of a committed, loving relationship with God. But neither love nor honor are possible without obedience. “We know that we have come to know him [the Father] if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6).
Living as Jesus did, is a tall order. Philippians 4 tells us the cross was Jesus’ greatest act of obedience, the culmination of His life on earth. He was obedient in this, because He knew the Father. Obedience—for us—begins with learning the unveiled Truth. In this messy world, I don’t think that any of us will ever understand the FULL extent of who God is and His truth, but we have been given His Holy Spirit as a counselor and His Word as a “Lamp to our feet” and THAT is “a very good place to start.”
To learn more about My One Word, go to http://myoneword.org/ .