Yesterday I wrote about how the Christian life is not about commands, and concluded pointing out it is about friendship. Today I want to pick up on that and point out that relationships shifting from commands and obedience to love and respect is a sign of maturity.
In Ephesians 5:22-6:9 and Colossians 3:18-4:1, Paul has instructions for people in three pairs of relationships that men have: wives & husbands, children & fathers, and bondservants & masters. In the latter two, the language of commands makes sense early in the relationship. If a father gives his child instruction to clean his room, the child should clean his room. If a boss instructs his employee to do something, the employee should get it done. That command-obedience mindset, though, is for when the relationship lacks maturity.
Mature children don't just clean their rooms when asked, but learn to have a clean room. Mature employees don't just do what their told, but learn good decision-making in the context of the organization's purpose, principles, parameters, and advice for operating. While God wants us to do what He tells us to do (as his children), He also wants us to get to know Him and his ways, and have a love relationship with Him (as his friends).
About a decade ago, I came to a realization. I had often heard people say, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” I finally thought about what that meant with the relationship part. I began looking at that relationship as I would through a marriage. Although I am single, I can still learn from Scripture about marriage and learn from others who are married. I filter teaching about a mature relationship with God through the question, “Would this make sense in a marriage?”
Even in the early stages of marriage, I don't think of a healthy marriage as being based on commands and obedience. Any man who thinks he's supposed to point out to his wife that she should submit to him may have forgotten that his love for her is supposed to be as one who lays down his life for her. As I understand it, a marriage between individuals should be based on love and respect (in maturity), not commands and obedience (overcoming immaturity).
The instructions God gave Adam and Eve in the first marriage demonstrate this well. He did not say, “I command you to be fruitful and multiply,” He simply said, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth…” If we think about what is necessary to live that out, it's rather obvious that those instructions do not need framing as a command that we must obey. The motivation is already there.
If our only motivation for obeying God is that He is God and we're not, that seems to exclude just about everything else from the mature relationship that He wants to have with us. Human flourishing is not just about us all obeying the same set of commands, but about enjoying the freedom God has given us and exploring the life He wants to have with us.
An example in the Old Testament of the kind of freedom God intends for us can be found in 2 Chronicles 12:8. I find the NIV or NCV draw out the point well: “But the people of Jerusalem will become Shishak's servants so they may learn that serving me is different than serving the kings of other nations.” The rule of God is not like the rule of men. The rule of men is tyranny. The rule of God is freedom.