Teaching Obedience

Parable of the Tame Geese

There was a land where only geese live. But these were no ordinary geese. They could speak and were in the habit of waddling to church every Sunday. One day, the presiding gander honked about God's generous gift to them ... wings. With the help of these feathery propellers, they could fly away to the regions beyond where they would reign with God. The geese were excited and flap their wings sending feathers flying in the sanctuary. But a strange thing happened after the worship service ... after listening to a message of the possibility and reality of flight. Every one of them waddles home!

This parable by the 19th century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard poked fun at the Christians. However, this parable is a challenge for teachers/preachers ... that intellectual and emotional assent is not enough and this must be completed by obedience

Many (if not all) Christian educators would agree with the importance of obedience.

"... as we know, mere knowledge is not enough. There comes a time for action ... Indeed, knowledge unapplied to living can become a stumbling-stone to further truth."
Robert Coleman in Master Plan of Evangelism, p.81

"From the wilderness wanderings, through the time of the Psalms and Proverbs, through the Prophets, through the earthly ministry of Christ, to the teachings of Paul in the Epistles, the clear stress is on consistent obedience to the truth. A disciplined practice of holy living is what God intends for the Christian desiring to be a true disciple."
Gary Kuhne in The Dynamics of Discipleship Training, p.61

Teaching to Obey

In the Great Commission, Jesus said,
18 "... All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Matt 28:18-20
The content of the teaching is all of Christ's commands and the aim is obedience to these commands. I know how to teach Christ's commands but how do I teach obedience?

Dale's Cone of Experience

Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience classifies and ranks learning experiences in a hierarchy from concrete to abstract. It suggests that people generally remember 20% of what they hear; 50% of what they hear and see and 90% of what they see, hear and do. Therefore, educators should use concrete experiences to engage learners to promote retention.
People Generally Remember ...
20% of what they
50% of what they
hear and see
90% of what they
hear, see and do

There is a bit of irony as we consider these statistics in the light of the history of Israel - the exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, their wilderness experience, the idolatry of the golden calf ...

Israel's Multisensory Learning Experience
  1. The Hebrews saw and smelled the dead fish which died when the water turned into blood (Exo 7:20-21).

  2. They heard and saw the frogs which invaded the land (Exo 8:5-6).

  3. They smeared blood on their doorposts and heard the cries of the Egyptians over the death of their first-born (Exo 12:21-22,28-30).

  4. They saw the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night as the Lord led them out of Egypt (Exo 13:21-22).

  5. They saw the sea divided and they walked across the seabed with the waters piled up like walls on their right and left (Exo 14:21-22).

  6. They saw and heard the waters came crushing down upon the Egyptians, horses and chariots (Exo 14:27-28).

  7. They saw the dead Egyptians on the seashore (Exo 14:30).
The Israelites not only heard and saw but they were actively involved in their redemption from Egypt - they smeared blood on their doorposts and crossed the Red Sea. In the wilderness, God provided water and manna for them ... they saw miracle after miracle (Psa 78:12-16) and you would expect them to remember ... and obey. How then could the idolatry of the golden calf ever be justified?

The Inexcusable Idolatry
7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, "Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.

8 "They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!'"
Exo 32:7-8
God did miracle after miracle in their sight. Yet they did not keep the covenant of God and refuse to walk in His law. Why didn't the Israelites keep God's commandments?
8 ... A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation that did not prepare its heart
And whose spirit was not faithful to God.

37 For their heart was not steadfast toward Him,
Nor were they faithful in His covenant.
Psa 78:8,37 (cf Exo 32:7-9)
What action was finally necessary to break this rebellious heart?
31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,

32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.

33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people..."
Jer 31:31-33

Implications for Teaching / Disciplemaking
  1. There is nothing that we teachers can do to bring about obedience (cf 1 Cor 3:5-7). There is no formula to condition or control the heart. This realization should throw us to rely on God.

  2. The starting point for obedience is a heart set toward God; and only God can bring about this change through the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:2,3 cf Phil 2:13).
The work of the Holy Spirit does not negate the need for us to pray for our disciples/students and prepare our lessons to teach creatively and effectively.

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Alan's Gleanings | Copyright © August 2007 by Alan S.L. Wong