Christians, hearing the phrase “obedience to the Word of God” might be quick to assume that this is a call to obey what the Word of God has to say. They’ll hear the words and think that there is some command, or some passage of the Bible, that is not being obeyed and this is the reason for the call that we need to be obedient to the Word of God. Indeed, there are many passages that highlight the importance of obeying what God has to say: we must submit to what He says. He is the master; we are the servants.
That said I like Paul’s example of how one ministers in obedience and subjection to the Word of God. In Colossians 1:225-28 he sees himself as completely swallowed up in the mission and calling of the church. The church, he knows, is to suffer so he happily rejoices in suffering for her. Christ’s body is to be continually afflicted and, in obedience to the word of God, Paul tries to take on what is lacking in those afflictions. God commissioned him to do the work and he sees himself as a complete servant that is wholly given to that work so as to present the word of God in its fullness.
But the obedience to the word of God is also seen in the future reality of the church. Let me explain.
This mission isn’t an empty one. It’s been kept hidden for ages and now revealed to unveil the mystery of Christ within the Gentiles. In this revelation Paul and all Christians, in obedience to God’s mandate, proclaim to those outside of the assembly, and teach those inside of the assembly, so as to present everyone fully mature in Christ.
The mission is a success! It’s not a goal with an unsure ending.
This is an active obedience to God’s word that cuts two ways. It cuts from the direction of the minister of the Word of God in that they are actively obedient faithfully proclaiming the message. It cuts from the direction of those who are recipients of God’s word: they are to grow in the knowledge and fullness of Christ so that they are indeed presented fully mature in Him.
At this point it’s helpful to see an illustration in the Old Testament of God’s word cutting in two ways.
In Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of Dry Bones, we see this two-fold obedience to the word of God.
On the one hand the prophet is being utterly obedient in that he surveys the land (1-2), rightly realizes the gravity of the work (3), and finally is equipped with what seems the most ridiculous tools: to speak to dry bones and tell them to listen (4-7a).
The servant is emptied of his own power or eloquence but is wholly dependent on God’s action (7-10). He must be utterly obedient to the Word of God by doing it God’s way.
In so doing we also see the bones and their state of “obedience” (2). Their obeying the Word of God is beyond them. They are told to listen but they have no power (5-6). They are told how they will live but they have no eyeballs to see how that will happen. They are utterly and completely subject to the Word of God.
And it is in that utter subjection to the Word of God that those gathered bones find life (10). It is in that situation, as the word is preached to them that they find that he who began the good work in them of giving them life would definitely complete it in the very end (Phil 1:6).
The passage says nothing about being a living sacrifice (which is true: Rom 12:1-2) or about becoming obedient from the heart (also true Rom 6:17) or sanctification being truly part of God’s will (1 Thes 4:3). That is beyond the scope of this passage. What Ezekiel 37 shows is that there is a one-to-one correlation between the proclaimed word of God, via the commitment of the preacher and the gathered location of the dead. The external necessity of the Word of God that impresses itself upon the preacher; the external necessity of God’s message gives life to those are under its proclamation.
The message of the mystery revealed to the Lord’s people is so impactful, so empowering, so transforming, so other-worldly that Paul rejoices in suffering for the church as she grows in maturity. For the church, she is to powerfully grow in the gloriously revealed riches of Christ as she attains to the full stature of Christ her head (Eph. 4:13).
When the people are rightly subject to the word of God, like flowers bending to the shining sun, the people necessarily find spiritual growth. There might not be an increase of numbers. Nor an increase of blessings. Indeed, the church might find greater persecution and suffering. Yet in the end, not necessarily in this life, there is ultimate joy and deep-rooted satisfaction.
Will this look like expository preaching? Yes, possibly. Though it might also look like being committed to what the Scriptures say. Will this look like the Bereans who both studied and bent to the will of God? Surely, but not in a sense of holding judgment over every preacher but rather hungrily desiring to hear what God says. Will we see a growth in love, wisdom, patience, longsuffering, and other fruit of the Spirit? Indeed, but the Spirit’s fruit grow during his time (see note below). Remember, this isn’t about the tools in the shed. It’s not even about the the garden where those tools are employed—both are to be obedient to God, subject to His will. This is utterly about the Lord God and He will give the increase as he deems best.
If anything, obedience to the Word of God will look like foolish faithfulness. The minister and his commitment to the Word of God and the people and their corporate thirst of listening to what God says: both look stupid in the sight of an angry dying world. Mary might have looked silly at Jesus’ feet, but as He spoke, she chose the better part.
Added note: At this point, a person might still want pointers on active obedience to the Word of God. It doesn’t only look like quiet time with devotionals though it might include that. What it will look like is a hungry desire to gather for the preached Word of God. This is where the people gather to hear God speak. This is where the minister of the Word subjects Himself solely to what God has deigned to say in his text. It will looking like a community, growing in a relationship, lovingly embracing the preached word and each other, realizing that they are actively and corporately being brought to life. This cuts against the channel-changing world that we live in and tunes us into corporately hearing God’s Word, right now.