Studies in Mark: Obedience the Test of Relationship

Mark 3:31‑35  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Doing God's Will the Basis of Relationship
The religious trust of the Jews was in their pedigree. They boasted that they were lineal descendants of Abraham (John 8:33, 3933They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? (John 8:33)
39They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. (John 8:39)
)—an idol that John the Baptist sought to hew to pieces with fierce invective, “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt. 3:99And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. (Matthew 3:9)). The Lord here declared that in the kingdom of God vital relationship with the King was demonstrated not by nationality, but by personal obedience and individual fealty. The mass were obdurate and irresponsive to the Lord's teaching, but whoever separated himself from the disobedient nation proclaimed himself thereby on the Lord's side.
It will be remembered that Israel as a nation placed themselves at the beginning upon the ground of obedience, and it was because they proved themselves in this relationship to be a disobedient and gainsaying people that they were set aside. Jehovah said to them through Moses, “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” In their self-ignorance and self-satisfaction they readily accepted this condition: “All the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:5-8; 24:35Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. 7And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. 8And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. (Exodus 19:5‑8)
3And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do. (Exodus 24:3)
). Thus it came about that at the people's desire the law was imposed with its defined responsibilities of unqualified love to God and man, its conditions being summed up in the phrase, “This do, and thou shalt live.”
But the recorded history of Israel under the law is one of dismal failure. Like sheep they all went astray and turned every one to his own way. They were the sons of disobedience. In the concluding words of the Book of Judges, every man did what was right in his own eyes. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Lord by turning the hearts of the “disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” For Messiah's kingdom, as the Lord here intimated, is characterized by doing the will of God.
For this consummation the Lord taught His disciples to pray to their Father in heaven—a new title of God evidently contrasted with that of Abraham their father on earth as to the flesh. The Lord had come to set up the promised kingdom, and He instructed His followers to pray to Him whose it was ("Thine is the kingdom") for its due establishment, so that the will of the Father might be done on earth even as in heaven (Matt. 6:9-139After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9‑13)). On high there is the harmony of perfect desire among the angelic hosts to do the divine pleasure, as it is written in a psalm of praise, “Bless the LORD, ye his angels that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his that do his pleasure” (Psa. 103:20, 2120Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. 21Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. (Psalm 103:20‑21)). And in Messiah's kingdom this spirit of obedience to the divine will shall also be seen below. When it comes about that Jehovah's anointed rules in the midst of His enemies His people “shall be willing” in that day of power (Psa. 110:33Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. (Psalm 110:3)).
Enough has now been written to show what a far-reaching principle obedience to the will of God is. And it is as essential in the present as in the past and in the future. Relationship to God is inseparable from subjection to His will. “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” And the Lord said, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.” Recipients as we are of His illimitable grace, we may not ignore His authority, but are called to do the will of God from the heart [soul] (Eph. 6:66Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; (Ephesians 6:6)). And to quote again the Master's words, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:2121Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)). This is the divine purpose with regard to us, who are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience” (1 Peter 1:22Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:2)). And the impulse of the new nature begotten of God within us is to cry with the psalmist, “Teach me to thy will, O God” (Psa. 143:1010Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. (Psalm 143:10)). So Saul of Tarsus, convicted in the dust, exclaimed, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” nor was he disobedient to the “heavenly vision.”
It may be asked, How can I ascertain the will of God? First of all there must in such a case be the willing mind. This the Lord Himself declared — “If any one willeth to do his will he shall know of the teaching whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 6:1717And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them. (John 6:17)). Coming to the scriptures with the prayer, already quoted, of the psalmist, “Teach me to do thy will, O God” (Psa. 143:1010Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. (Psalm 143:10)), the docile spirit is instructed, so that he may stand perfect and fully assured in all that will (Col. 4:1212Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12)). The apostle Paul desired on behalf of the saints at Colosse that they might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (Col. 1:99For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; (Colossians 1:9)). There is first the hearing and then the doing. In the Lord's words, “My mother and my brethren are those which hear the word of God, and do it” (Luke 8:2121And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it. (Luke 8:21)).
But while to understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5:1717Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:17)) is obviously essential, it is required further in order to prove that good, acceptable and perfect will, that we present our bodies a living sacrifice, not fashioning ourselves according to this present evil age (Rom. 12:1, 21I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1‑2)). Self-denial and suffering are mostly involved in doing the will of God, as Peter reminds us (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; 2:1517For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. (1 Peter 3:17)
19Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:19)
15For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: (1 Peter 2:15)
). The obedience of Christ was of this nature, and we also are to have that “mind,” as is exhorted in the verses which speak of His Great Renunciation unto the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-85Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5‑8)).
It is important to mark this, since the Incarnation is an insoluble enigma apart from the fact that the Son was here in human guise to do the Father's will. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:88Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (Hebrews 5:8)). As God He was essentially exempt from the responsibilities of the creature. These He assumed that as the Second man He might become the federal Head of a new creation which should be characterized by obedience, even as the first creation was by disobedience (see Rom. 5:12-1912Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 15But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. (Romans 5:12‑19)).
Until the Father's kingdom is fully established, and a spirit of unvarying obedience to His will pervades the whole earth, obedience to His word by the minority must be attended by the renunciation of selfish interests and by the persecuting opposition of the disobedient ones. But the faithful Christ will publicly confess as akin to Himself, who came to “do and suffer” the will of God. His obedience had a double character—an active and a passive side—the doing and the suffering. In our case the will of God involves, on the one hand, the active and diligent performance of assigned tasks, and on the other hand, the patient endurance of privation and suffering for the sake of righteousness and the name of Christ. Thus we do (ποιέω) the will of God from the heart, and we also say in the spirit of the Lord Himself, “Thy will be done” (γίνομαι), (Matt. 26:39, 4239And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39)
42He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matthew 26:42)
; Acts 21:1414And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done. (Acts 21:14)).
However, in spite of the world's fierce enmity and powerful antagonism, the obedient believer is the only stable person in the world. “The world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:1717And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:17)). The Lord taught this same truth by a parable concerning the obedient disciple: “Whosoever heareth these words of mine and doeth them shall be likened unto a wise man, which built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the wind blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof” (Matt. 7:24-2724Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24‑27)). Though there may be temporary defeat, there will be eternal victory for the obedient. Whoso suffers with Christ shall also reign with Him.
The Lord then, in these weighty words, indicated what was before Israel after the flesh, who boasted in the possession of the law but forgot that not the hearers of the law are just before God, but that the doers of the law shall be justified (Rom. 2:1313(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. (Romans 2:13)). As the Servant of Jehovah He acknowledges as His associates those who follow Him in the pathway of obedience to the will (θέλημα) of God, which is “that which God decides to have done because it is pleasing to Him.” “God's good pleasure is everywhere [in scripture] regarded as the law whereby all things, human and divine, are ordered. Christ is regarded as its embodiment and manifestation; and the Christian, being—by profession at least—one with Christ, is supposed to be conformed to that will in all things.”
And regarding this incident in its connection with what precedes it, we believe that in the words He used we have not so much His absolute renunciation of natural relationship as His enunciation of obedience to the will of God as the only valid basis of spiritual relationship with Him. Thus we take the yoke of Christ upon us, and learn to love, to do, and to suffer the will of God.
“O Will, that wiliest good alone,
Lead Thou the way, Thou guidest best;
A silent child, I follow on
And trusting, lean upon Thy breast.”
[W. J. H.]
(To be continued)