This morning I was reading in 2 Chronicles 24. The chapter begins by praising the life and obedience of Joash, king of Judah. Well, sort of. The commendation heaped upon him comes with a hint of foreshadowing. It said that Joash "did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoida the priest." That last part is suggestive of a future decline, which in fact occurs toward the end of the chapter. Sometimes our godliness is only the product of our company, not the result of true grace.
But the words from the chapter that caught my eye today were the words concerning the priests whom Joash commanded to gather a collection and repair the house of the Lord. He told them what to do, concluding with this express direction to "see that you do it quickly."
The very next verse begins, "however the Levites did not do it quickly."
Why not? The text actually doesn't say. It simply goes on to say that Joash brought the Levites in, reprimanded them, and sent them back to do the work which they then proceeded to do.
But I wonder about their initial delay. I wonder because I see in my own heart that sinful inclination to be sinfully slow in response to the Lord's command. Why is this? What is at the heart of delayed-obedience? We tell our kids "to delay, is to disobey." That is true. But why is it that we are often so terribly slow to make the changes in our lives that the Lord clearly sets forth in His Word?
Here, I think, are 5 reasons:
1) The fear of man.The Bible says that the "fear of man brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25)." Maybe the Levites were afraid that the people would reject or revolt against their request for an offering to repair the house of God. Maybe you and I are afraid what radical obedience will mean in terms of our relationships with friends or family. We worry what others might think. We worry what they might say. And so, in spite of Christ's clear call upon us to do this or that, we delay. We "do not do it quickly."
2) The love of sin.
We delay because we are loathe to give up the very sin that God commands us to kill. We know it is sin. We know it displeases the Lord. But it provides a certain amount of pleasure in our life that we are unwilling to utterly forsake. So we are slow. We don't hate sin as we should. The Psalmist says "All you who love the Lord, hate evil (Psalm 97:10)." But because we refuse to view sin from the Lord's perspective, we "do not do it quickly."
Another reason for our delayed obedience is that we excuse or justify our delay on the basis of our circumstances or situation. We may think "yes, this thing is wrong, and does not belong in my life....BUT right now my situation is unique and therefore I cannot do it just yet." This, I believe, is our most subtle weapon against obedience to Christ. We are masters of "exceptions." Like the Pharisees we can see the splinter in the eye of another, but we ignore and excuse the plank in our own. It is helpful to remember that no excuse will stand on judgment day when "every mouth will be stopped."
Our imagination is a wonderful gift. It has produced creative solutions to countless problems. Einstein called imagination the "preview of life's coming attractions." But imagination can work against us too. Let me explain. We can easily be tempted to imagine a "tomorrow" in which we are being obedient to the Lord. We can see clearly to that day in which our life and God's Word align. All the pieces have fallen into place. The situation is perfect. And we are happily doing what God requires. Some day. Just not yet. Not today at least. The problem with this is that God doesn't want our imagined obedience He wants our immediate obedience. The author of Hebrews, quoting the Psalms, says "TODAY if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts...(Heb 3:15)."
5) An insufficient love of Christ.
Here is the root of all delays in dealing with our sins. We do not love Jesus Christ enough. To quote Jesus Himself, "the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12)." We have not spent sufficient time contemplating His great love for us. We have not stirred up our affections with the thoughts of His beauty and grace. We have filled our hearts with worthless and temporary things, rather than the immeasurable glory and majesty of the King of Kings. We need to hear the words of Christ to Peter, "do you love Me?" And with weeping and repentant tears we need to confess our lack of love to Him "who loved us, and gave Himself for us."
These, I believe, are the reasons we delay and are slow to obey the Lord. The good news is that NONE of them needs to continue a moment longer. Not one. Nothing but our own sin stands between us and immediate obedience to Jesus Christ. The Levites "did not do it quickly." But upon hearing the rebuke of Joash, they made a change. So can you. The result, in their case, was to "restore the house of God to its original condition and reinforced it (2 Chronicles 24:13)." That is precisely what God is up to in the Christian's life. He is restoring us into HIS image, and the image of His Son. By His grace it can be done and will be done. For He "who has begun a good work in you will complete until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)."