Cultivating Obedience

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Sun. Jun 25th
This sermon summarizes all the instructions given by Moses to the Israelites in the thirty-four chapters of Deuteronomy down to a single word.

One of the greatest stories in the Old Testament is the story of Exodus. The entire nation of Israel leaving Egypt and living in the desert for 40 years. Millions of people surviving the heat of the desert, the threat of attack from other nations, internal rebellion, discontent. They were often discouraged and disciplined by the Lord, but finally they were told that their journey was over and they were ready to enter the land promised to them and their forefathers so long before.

In the book of Deuteronomy, we have Moses's final words of warning and encouragement to these people as they are poised to enter into their reward. Moses, who was soon to die, gave them many instructions and cautions in the 34 chapters of this book. But all of these things can be brought down to a single word, and that is the word obey. You shall obey.

What Moses emphasizes most, in his final instructions, is that, in order to maintain and cultivate the blessings that God was intending to give them, they had to maintain and cultivate their obedience to Him. This was true for them and, believe it or not, it is true for us today, in exactly the same way. So I'd like to review chapter four in Deuteronomy, where Moses actually provides the way that the people were to cultivate and practice obedience to the Lord; because we are not born naturally obedient. We are born, we can see, and that's natural, we can hear, and that's natural, and eventually we can walk and talk and make noise, and all the bodily functions, those are natural; but to obey, that's something you've got to learn. That's something that must be cultivated.

1. Do Not Compromise God's Word

1 "Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. 3 Your eyes have seen what the Lord has done in the case of Baal-peor, for all the men who followed Baal-peor, the Lord your God has destroyed them from among you. 4 But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, every one of you.

Obedience requires that a person obey God's word and not add or subtract or change it, to suit their purpose or to permit them sinfulness without guilt. People. some justify their disobedience by changing the word or omitting the word. The best modern example of this, of course, we see it every day, especially, we've just gone through gay pride - used to be a day, now it's a month. Homosexuals claim that Paul was mistaken, when he condemned this practice in Romans one. What did they do? They, effectively, just eliminated - they took away the command not to do this particular thing. They eliminated from the word, the value of this command. And this is how they are able to justify this lifestyle. They say things like "Paul didn't say that this is an abomination. He was wrong. He was culturally unenlightened, in those in those days."

Moses, here, refers to Baal-peor, where the people ignored God's warning to avoid idol worship and marrying those from pagan tribes around them. When they did this, we read about this in Numbers 25, that portion of the Bible describes an incident where God sent a plague to destroy thousands of Israelites because of what? Their disobedience. The people were responsible for carefully knowing and obeying God's word without changing or deleting or adding to it.

2. Do Not Give in to Peer Pressure

5 "See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. 6 So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? 8 Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

The Word does not exist in a vacuum. There was competing pressure to conform to the mold of the world around them at that time. Moses said that cultivating obedience required a willingness to resist that pressure. They were to expect the pressure from the world to change them, but they were to resist it. He encouraged them to take the word with them into the promised land and allow it to be the standard for their lives and not the pressures of the new world that they were entering into.

3. Do No Stop Teaching the Word

9 "Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, 'Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.' 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice. 13 So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14 The Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.

The Israelites had a powerful witness of God's might and His mercy and His goodness. They were not to let this witness die with their own generation. They were to continually teach each other, as well as the next generation about God. And especially, how important obedience was, in cultivating a relationship with Him, personally. They were to practice this in a formal way, through worship, as well as an informal way, and that was teaching in the home. Because, where else do you teach your children and your grandchildren?

4. Do Not Stray Away from the Lord

Idolatry, in that era, idolatry was very tempting to them, because it's practice was sensual and it was easy, and it was commonly accepted by all the nations. It wasn't an overnight abandonment of God, but rather a slow decline of morals and practice and habit. It involved a lifestyle change that included more and more of the pagan ideas and the objects and practices of the pagans; and less and less of God's word, and less and less of God's life, and less and less of God's practices in their lives. Moses warns of this slow decline into the various stages of idolatry, in these verses. And I summarized, one, he says, don't confuse the creator with the created.

In verses 15, chapter four, he says,

15 "So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, 16 so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth. 19 And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today.

Basically, don't confuse the creator with the created things in your worship. The first step was to put their devotion and their heart into things, rather than the creator of things. Secondly, he says, don't forget, the sure judgment for being unfaithful. We just keep reading down through verse 21, he says,

21 "Now the Lord was angry with me on your account, and swore that I would not cross the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. 22 For I will die in this land, I shall not cross the Jordan, but you shall cross and take possession of this good land. 23 So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

So don't forget, there will be a sure judgment for disobedience. Remember, we're talking about how to cultivate obedience. How do I cultivate obedience? Well, one way, by remembering that there's a judgment against disobedience and unfaithfulness. People sin, not because they don't believe that God is there, they sin because they don't believe that He will punish them for their sins. They know He's there. They can't deny it, but they're like, He's not really going to do that. Really? Hell? I mean, come on. Really? I mean, how many examples, how many warnings do we need? The Jews, especially, had received strict warnings, and they needed to take these seriously, Moses writes here. And then, the third way of straying from the Lord - one way is to confuse the created with the creator; another way, forgetting that there is a judgment for disobedience; the third way is to give up hope. Giving up hope is almost like cutting the cord that, kind of, keeps us attached. When we give up hope, snip, we just begin to drift away.

25 "When you become the father of children and children's children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you. 28 There you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. 31 For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.

The other way of cultivating obedience, don't give up hope. God knew that these people were weak sinners and they would eventually fail over and over and over again. So he reminds them that there is a way to deal with disobedience. And the way to deal with disobedience is not more disobedience or rebellion, not discouragement and despair, not pride or trying to justify or blame other people, that's not the way to deal with sin. The way to deal with disobedience is humble repentance, because God is merciful, as Moses writes. He will forgive, He will restore, because of His promise.

Now in verses 32 to 41 in this passage, Moses reminds them of two reasons why they should never give up Hope: one, they are special. Don't give up hope because in God's eyes you are special, he says. God has done things for them that He has not done for others. And secondly, their God is special. No other deity has or can do the things that He has and will do for them, because there is no other deity. And so, Moses makes his plea for the people he has led for so long. Obedience to the Lord will keep them long after he is gone. They are to cultivate this by maintaining the purity of God's word and maintaining their obedience to His word and they're teaching of it and their continued hope in the mercy of God, who has given them His word. Four ways, he tells them, on how to cultivate that obedience that will maintain for them the blessings.

Now, the time and the place has changed, but we as Christians are the modern equivalent to the Israelites who come from Egypt to the promised land. Their story was lived and recorded to provide an enduring model for the generations of Christians that God knew were to come after them. For example, as Christians, we have been saved from the slavery of sin and the furnace of hell, by the miraculous hand of God raising Jesus from the dead, Romans 1:3-4. And as God's people in the modern age, we also are poised to enter the eternal promised land of Heaven in a short time. They spent 40 years wandering in the desert, worshipping in a makeshift temple; and we spend several decades on this earth wandering and worshiping God from the earthly temples of our bodies. In the same way, we also must cultivate obedience so that we might cross over into the promised land of heaven when our earthly journey is finally over. As a servant of the Lord I share with you the same approach to cultivating obedience today, as it was given by Moses then.

Cultivating Obedience in the Modern Age

In the modern age many things have changed, but cultivating obedience to God's word remains exactly the same as it was 3,500 years ago when Moses spoke to the Jews on this particular matter in the book of Deuteronomy. To cultivate obedience today our approach should be the same:

1. Do Not Change the Word

You must preserve God's word without addition or deletions or changes. Paul the apostle reemphasizes this principle in Galatians 1:6-8, versus six to eight, when he says the following, he says,

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

So the apostle is quite emphatic that those who do so will be cursed by God. Let's not be fooled by shiny new temples and large religious groups or new prophets who want to lead in another way. Anyone, any group any leader or teacher who strays from the gospel message, and the gospel Savior, Jesus Christ, stands cursed before God. We need to be careful to cultivate and practice obedience to the word and not tolerate any who would add or change or take away from it. Same thing today.

We're not responsible for the whole world, right? We're not responsible for the Bible for the whole world, but we are responsible for Choctaw, for us, our family of three to four hundred people. We're responsible to make sure that the next generation going forward has the pure gospel and the word and the training to maintain it, as it is, into the next generation. That's our job. I won't be held responsible for the apostasy that may be taking place in Chile or in Argentina or in China, but I might have to answer something for a third generation member here, a grandson who falls away and begins spouting some other gospel. Yeah, I might have to take a hit of blame for that. We all might. Because we're responsible for this, for here, in the same way. Cultivating obedience number two today, don't give in to peer pressure. Same thing.

They, back then, were surrounded by pagan nations who wanted to draw them into their culture, into their practices, into their beliefs. Of course, in those days the pagan nations wanted to do this to minimize the military threat that such a large nation, suddenly in their midst, presented them. You've got several million people that are, all of a sudden, they're on your border, your little nervous. How do we take care of them? Well, we might not be able to beat them militarily, but maybe we can draw them into our culture. Maybe they'll marry our women and our men will marry their women. Maybe we'll do that. We'll assimilate them. They'll take on our customs They'll take on our religion. Maybe we'll just absorb them. The essence of the temptation is still there today. Same thing. We are continually pressured to conform. We're continually pressured to keep quiet, to look the other way, to accept the unbelievers lifestyle and sinful ways as normal, even as our own. Today, Christians are not a military threat, but we're a moral threat.

Our Christian lives and works are a constant witness to the evil and selfish and corrupt world that is around us. Paul exhorts us to practice not being molded by the world as a way of cultivating obedience to God. And thus showing that His ways and His commands are the best. He says, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." How do I do that? Verse 2, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

How do people know what God's good and acceptable and perfect thing is? They watch your life. They watch what you do. They watch what you say. Every time you resist being like the world, in one way or another, you strengthen God's kingdom in the world and you solidify your position in the next world.

2. Do Not Neglect Teaching of the Word

Cultivating obedience demands also, that we do not neglect the teaching of the word. Same thing. Everyone is concerned about the welfare of children. Ever notice that? Whether they be here in America or in poor, war-torn nations abroad. Everything - the argument is always, the children, the children. We have to take care of the children. Politicians always promise that if elected they will lead the country in such a way that will benefit the future generations. This is good, and this is proper, because we want all children everywhere to have hope and a bright future. But we must remember as Christians that regardless of the condition of our nation and economy, we are charged with the responsibility of teaching others, especially the children, that they must obey God's word.

In Matthew 28, what does Jesus say? Sends them out, the great commission to preach the gospel to all nations. What did He say after? "Teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you." This is necessary, because without teaching there is no obedience and without obedience our children will have no spiritual inheritance. I do want my children to be happy, but I want more that they be saved. I want more that they be saved. I try to do everything I can to make sure that they're happy: a good home life, hopefully provide some education, and all the things to make our kids happy, but I want them to be saved even more than I want them to be happy. What good is it if we leave our children all our earthly goods, and we make them wealthy, but we neglect to give them Christ. What good is that? It is necessary, of course, to educate, to train, to help our children grow and to marry well, but without christ they will not have the one element to give meaning and direction to everything that they possess.

God bless those parents who have modeled faithful attendance and worship and have taught their children to obey the Lord, because in doing so, they are influencing all the generations who will come after them. If you teach them the word, if you model the word, they will know the way that they should go when their turn comes to make that choice on their own. If you want to see your children in heaven, make sure you teach them to obey God's word here on Earth; because it'll be too late then. And then finally cultivating obedience in this day and age means that you must not stray from the Lord. The big word today is compartmentalize, from the word compartment or box. People see their lives as a series of compartments, containing parts of their lives.

For example, they have a compartment for work, and one for family, one for friends. This is how some people justify seeming contradictions in their lives. I knew a Christian man who was a preacher, a teacher, and author, and elder, a husband, a father, and also a practicing pedophile. He was all those things. When he was caught and asked how he could practice such sinful sexual behavior secretly, and still get up and preach and write Christian books and lead his family - how do you do that? His response was, that his sinful sexual practice was only one compartment of his life that didn't affect the others. Isn't that amazing? President Clinton, Ex-President Clinton, Former President Clinton, I think we should say, he used the very same rationale when defending his competency to govern after his sexual scandal was revealed. He said, well, that's just over here. That's in the sex box. It didn't have anything to do with the diplomacy box or military box or leadership box, that's the sex box. There's no effect on me as a president. Now, I give these examples to highlight the fact that many of us have this approach to life, and Christian life especially. Jesus is in one compartment, one box of their lives. And they take Him out on Sundays and Wednesdays and a few seconds before meals, and then put Him back in that box.

They don't recognize that this approach is simply the flesh's way of controlling God, so He will not be able to control us. It's a popular way of making us fall away from the Lord, by making Him king over just one little box. Yeah, the Lord is the Lord. He's the Lord. He's the king of that box While they retain authority to rule and permit themselves what they want to do in the other boxes of their lives.

3. Follow Christ and Remain Close to Him

Cultivating obedience requires us to follow Christ and remain close to Him, when and how, we do everything. He is the Lord of how we deal with our friends, how we drive our cars, our attitude at work, the way we conduct ourselves with our spouses and our children and our parents and our teachers and those over us and those under us. Not following the Lord's will, in any area of our lives, is to fall away from Jesus altogether, (Matthew 7:21).

You see, anytime we follow the will of Christ in any area of life, we are cultivating our obedience to God and we are demonstrating the faith which saves us. So at the beginning of this lesson I told you that if I were to summarize the book of Deuteronomy in one single word, that word would be, obey. Obey. At the risk of oversimplifying things, I would make the same comment about the entire Bible. The message from beginning to end, obey. From Adam to Abraham it was about obedience. From Noah to Moses, it was about obedience. From Solomon to John the Baptist, obedience. From Peter to John's revelation, obedience. The key word from God to man has always been obey. Not love. Love is who He is. Love is what He wants us to be. But obey is what He wants us to do. Obedience.

  • Faith finds its expression in obedience - James 4:18
  • Love receives it's reward through obedience - Matthew 7:21
  • Hope is not disappointed if it is built on the solid rock of obedience - Mark 16:16

This is why we begin children, we begin teaching children to obey their parents. So that they will reap the benefits that come from knowing how to obey, not just parents, but how to obey teachers, and coaches, and leaders, and trainers, and systems, and laws, and ultimately, God, Himself, who gives all of these things their place and their authority. Like anything else, obedience is a learned thing. This evening I've tried to coach you in a way and how to practice the virtue of obedience in the spiritual realm. One more time, practice following God's word to the letter. That's not legalism.

Practicing to follow God's word to the letter is love. It is respect. It is wisdom. Do not compromise that. Practice resisting the pressure to be, to think, to serve the pattern of this world, rather than the pattern of Christ. and practice teaching others the word. It will bring it alive in you and point others in the right direction, especially your children. You may not be responsible for leading your neighbor to Christ, maybe there's not an opportunity for that, but all of us are responsible for leading our children to Christ.

And then finally, practice your discipleship every day; realizing that wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you are doing, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, first and foremost. Do these things and more and more you will glimpse with your spiritual eyes the place that God has prepared for you. Faith set you on the journey, but obedience gets you there. If you're among us this evening, and you believe that Jesus is the son of God, but you have not yet confessed Him publicly and repented of your sins and have been baptized, I now encourage you to obey this very first command from God's word, Acts 2:38, in order to take your first step on the journey to be with God in heaven. All those who have a heart and a mind to obey Jesus, this evening, for whatever reason, if you feel you need to obey, I encourage you, if we can minister to you, come forward now as we stand and as we sing our song of encouragement.

"Excellent resources for Bible class teachers, preachers and students."


Chris Hill
Minister, Luther Church of Christ