Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Obeying Out of Fear or Love?

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"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Many children learn quickly how to test the people around them especially, their parents, and they use many methods. The most famous one is "No" followed by the screaming, the crying, and the many excuses such as "You were mean to me, not fair, you do not listen to me, etc".

Some parents will use the method of forcing obedience in order to have control over their children instead of giving them choices and consequences. As a result, they cannot always detect if the children’s obedience is out of fear or out of love.

At the same time, children can learn to listen or can act as they are listening and agreeing on the outside but inside of them, their hearts are full of resentment. And sooner or later, they will show their true colors.

Can you imagine if you can be able to see others' hearts what would you feel? That would be a very hard test because you could end up being sad, disappointed, angry, depressed, etc. or you could be happy.

God is looking into the heart of everyone, trying to find a pleasing heart that can make Him smile. God can detect if the person is obeying Him out of fear or out of love.

Some people will pretend to know God and have a relationship with Him but all they do is follow the rituals and demand that others practice them too. Without realizing it, God never demands that everyone must have the same personality, the same feelings, and the same ability to follow all rituals.

God is the only one who can search the heart and know who is in love with Him and eager to have relationship with Him, and who do only what others want to see in him and have absolutely no connection with God.

First example that comes to mind is the story of Balaam. It is evident to what we are discovering. Balaam was considered a godly man and a prophet for the children of Israel.

"Then God came to Balaam and said, 'Who are these men with you?' So Balaam said to God, 'Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overpower them and drive them out.’' And God said to Balaam, 'You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.' So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, 'Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you.'" (Numbers 22:9-13).

Balak had sent messengers to Balaam in order to bring him and persuade him to curse the people of Israel. In return, Balak would give him all that pleases him. In reading the first part of the book of Numbers chapter 22, we realize how Godly Balaam is! He discussed everything with God and followed His direction. But soon we will realize that Balaam’s heart was far from being in love with God or his own people. All he cared about is how to gain wealth out of the gift that God had given him in order to lead the people of Israel in knowing God’s will.

"And when the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam’s anger was aroused, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?'" (Numbers 22:27-28).

We try to imagine how the donkey can see the Angel of the Lord and yet the prophet that God chose and consecrated him to serve Him cannot. The donkey’s heart was purer than Balaam’s heart. And despite that the Angel had come and warned Balaam that his way is perverse before Him and He was about to kill him. He went to the city of Moab to see Balak. Balaam kept blessing the people of Israel as God commanded. Until he made Balak very angry at him, but in the book of Numbers chapter 31 we get to discover Balaam’s true color:

"And Moses, Eleazer the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation, went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was angry with the officers of the army, with the captains over thousands and captains over hundreds, who had come from the battle. And Moses said to them, 'Have you kept all the women alive? Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Poer, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.'" (Numbers 31:13-16).

Another example we see in the book of 1 Samuel, when Saul ignored God’s way and decided to do his own in order to please the people and become popular among them.

"Then Saul said to Samuel, 'I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.' But Samuel said to Saul, 'I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.'" (1 Samuel 15:24-26).

Therefore do not underestimate God and think highly of your ability, for God searches the heart, measures everything we do, and knows who loves Him and who pretends to care. May God give all of us a pure heart that loves and does what is right in the sight of God.

Written by
Nagwa Abdou

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