Imitating Christ’s Obedience

Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021

“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Philippians 2:8

You are probably familiar with context of this verse. The apostle Paul is encouraging the Philippians to be like-minded by having the mind of Christ (v. 1). The chief quality he wants them to imitate is humility. But Christ’s humility cannot be divorced from His obedience, for because of His humility, the son of God “became obedient unto death” (v. 8). It is clear, therefore, that we must also imitate Christ’s obedience if we are to be likeminded with Him. Indeed, after reminding his readers of Christ’s obedience, he urges them to keep obeying to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (v. 12).

What Is Obedience?

It is interesting to note that the adjective translated obedience (ὑπήκοος, hupēkoos) occurs only three times in the New Testament (cf. Acts 7:39; 2 Cor 2:9). The verb from which it is derived (ὑπακούω, hupakouō), however, occurs 21 times including that in verse 12. The word itself is a cognate of two words, “under” and “hear.” To obey is to “hear under” or, in other words, to listen attentively to a command, and then do what is required.

To obey is not only to hear but to do. One cannot be said to be obedient if he did not hear or is aware of any instruction from an authoritative source. One is disobedient if he hears or is aware of the instruction, but refuses to do what is required.

In other words, the more a person knows what he should do but does not, the more disobedient he is. Thus, the Lord Jesus reminds us that the servant who knows his master’s will but does not act on it is worthy of more stripes than one who does not know. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Lk 12:48).

How Did Christ Obey?

Our Lord was “obedient unto death.” He was perfectly obedient. He came to do His Father’s will. He knew His Father’s will perfectly, and He did His Father’s will perfectly, even to the point of dying for our sins.

His obedience was comprehensive. He kept God’s commandments, every one of them, from the moment He could keep them.

Our Lord’s obedience was also wholehearted. Never did He obey at any point with reluctance or half-heartedness. He obeyed thoroughly even though He feared the consequences of obedience. He did say unto His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “if it be possible, take this cup from me.” But He adds, “yet not my will, but thine be done.”

Our Lord’s obedience was also timely. He understood that obedience did not always require Him to do God’s will immediately. That is why when His brothers urged him to go up to Jerusalem for the feast, He replied, “My time is not yet come” (Jn 7:6). He knew it was His Father’s will for Him to die in Jerusalem, but it was not yet time for Him to go. And when it was time, our Lord delayed not a moment at all to obey God’s will.

His obedience was whole-hearted, comprehensive, and timely.

How Must We Be Obedient?

To fulfil the covenant of grace, our Lord must be perfectly obedient to the will of the Father. The covenant of grace of which we are members also requires us to be obedient. But we are not called to be obedient for our salvation. We are called, instead, to be obedient because we are saved. We are to be obedient out of love and gratitude to God. We are to be obedient in imitation of Christ.

Therefore, first, let us seek to be comprehensive in our obedience as Christ was comprehensive in His obedience. Let us learn the commandments and do them. Let us learn God’s will through the principles in God’s word, and seek to fulfil those principles in our life.

Think of Proverbs. Some of the principles taught therein do not translate intuitively to the commandments. For example, we are taught to seek wisdom; to be swift to hear, slow to speak; to be slow to anger; to be discerning when it comes to friendship; to avoid all appearances of evil; to be hardworking. To be obedient, we must conform to these principles.

Secondly, let us seek to be wholehearted in our obedience, even as Christ was wholehearted in His obedience. Let none of us avoid obedience because it is too costly to obey, or because it will set us back in the world.

Thirdly, let us be timely in our obedience as Christ was timely in His obedience. Let us eschew procrastination when we can do it now. No, no; obedience does not always require us to do all we are required to do at every instant. But it requires us not to delay doing God’s will.

Do you have a besetting sin? You must resolve right now to confess and repent of it. Is there something you know God wants you to do but have delayed doing? You must begin as soon as possible to take the step to start doing it. Remember, Christ-like obedience is timely.

But finally, let us also seek to be obedient to pastoral instruction and counsel as Paul counsels his hearers. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” he says (v. 12). This means making use of the means of grace even when no one is checking.

It is a rather interesting phenomenon of our day that pastors either dare not be too specific with what obedience looks like on the pulpit, or have meagre expectations that anyone will heed what is said. I’ll be surprised, for example, if I preach in the morning that all who can attend the evening service should attend it, and then find the hall pack in the evening. Whose fault is it that I should be surprised?

I am reminded of a story told by Spurgeon of how one of his students came to him to complain that his ministry bore no fruit. Spurgeon asked him: “You don’t expect good fruit from every sermon you preach, do you?” The man said: “Of course not!” Spurgeon replied: “There, you have the answer you need.”

Of course, things are not as straightforward. Ministers should always expect great things from the Lord. But the reality is that the word they preach often falls by the way, where the devil will pluck away before they take root.

But beloved, there is a remedy against that. The remedy is on your part and the minister’s part. It is prayer. But more than that, we must obey. Obey? Yes, we are to be obedient as Christ was obedient. Who are we to obey? We are to obey God and faithful ministers appointed by the Lord for the care of our souls. Isn’t that only for Roman Catholics? No, not at all.

The apostle to the Hebrews makes it clear:

“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

Heb 13:17


May the Lord, by His Spirit, make you an obedient, Christ-like person that glorifies His name! Amen.

—JJ Lim