Several years ago I drove my good friend William Woodson to a luncheon at Freed-Hardeman University. Brother Woodson had been called to speak on the topic of the Restoration Movement. He spoke without notes and I remember being fascinated by his knowledge of the subject. On the drive over we talked about many spiritual and Biblical ideas. But there is one part of that conversation in particular that I will never forget.
He referred to an article written by David Lipscomb in the Gospel Advocate entitled, “Serving God, not Obeying Him.” This article was published on November 11, 1897. Originally the question in the article Lipscomb was addressing had to do with the issue of fellowship. But the underlying principle he wanted to convey was that he had discovered an attitude among believers at that time that there were many individuals who wanted to offer God service but few who actually wanted to obey His will.
Over the years I have thought about this remarkable insight from Lipscomb. How correct he was! As a person who spends the majority of his time trying to interact with people on a spiritual level, I have found that what Lipscomb understood about human nature was right on target. And I have gathered that this truth he found is probably replete in every generation of people who have ever recognized God and attempted to approach His throne.
You see it is not enough to offer service to God. God is not some community project. He is not sitting around waiting for us to perform what we would consider to be good deeds. The Apostle Paul said God doesn’t “dwell in temples made with hands nor is He worshiped with men’s hands as though He needed anything, since He gives life and breath to all things” (Acts 17:24-25).
Yet many people treat God as if He is subject to our whims or wishes concerning how we might define love and devotion. Many sincerely believe that whatever we offer to God with our hearts God is ready and willing to accept. Many believe that acts of service are enough for God to think that we are inherently good and therefore worthy of a place in the heavenly kingdom. But in reality, we are all unworthy. And no deed we do will ever be good enough.
Jesus defined love this way, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15) To the Lord, service and obedience are the same thing. The reason why confusion exists within the Christian system is because some people love serving more than obeying. Somehow subconsciously they have made a distinction. Lack of obedience begins with a lack of knowledge, but it is enhanced by an attitude that says as long as I bring some kind of gift to the altar then God is going to be pleased.
God doesn’t need our service. But He does want our love. He has defined our love to Him as obedience. In the end, it will be the ones who obeyed God who truly served as Jesus served. It will be the ones who obeyed God who truly loved as Jesus loved.
“Behold, to obey God is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22
AUTHOR: Jeremiah Tatum