Affection or Obedience

It was a tearful conversation. Betty called to ask for counsel regarding her husband. I was surprised to hear from her because my family and I had moved across the state some time before.

I met Bob and Betty Waller while serving in a church near their home. They were shut-ins and were unable to attend church services. I visited them regularly and enjoyed sharing a verse of scripture and praying with them. Betty was a Christian but Bob had not received Christ as his savior. However, he always welcomed my visit.

More than a year passed since I last saw them and in that time Bob became so ill that he required care in a managed-care facility. The home was miles away and Betty had to take a bus to get there. She visited everyday, spending long hours talking with Bob and caring for his needs. As his health deteriorated, he became abusive in his speech. Yet Betty continued her visits.

Finally, because her health was threatened, the doctor ordered Betty to stop going to see Bob so often and to limit her visits to one or two hours. If she did not do this, the doctor threatened to put her into a nursing home.

As Betty shared this with me over the phone, it was clear that her heart was breaking. She prayed for Bob's salvation for years and God gave her a genuine love for him. Her present despair was out of fear that if she was not with Bob, he might die without becoming a Christian. She called to ask me what she should do.

Betty's appeal reminded me of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, who approached Jesus on behalf of their brother. They cried out to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." (John 11:3) Like Betty, the basis of their appeal was the affection they knew Jesus shared with them for Lazarus. This is seen from the Greek term, phileo, used in their appeal. On the other hand, the apostle John reminded his readers, "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days." (John 11:5-6) In his editorial comment, John used the term, agapao, to describe the love of Jesus for Lazarus and his sisters.

As I listened to Betty pour out her heart regarding her love for her husband and the orders from her doctor, it was apparent she was caught between two types of love as Jesus was: one, phileo, which tugged at her heart strings and the other, agapao, which appealed to her need to obey her doctor.

Phileo refers to a love between individuals which begins with a desire to share one's self with another person and grows into a strong attraction between them. Agapao is a love of the will expressed as obedience.

Jesus spoke of both the self-disclosure of friendship and the obedience of love in the upper room when he said:

Just as the Father has loved (agape) Me, I have also loved (agape) you; abide in My love (agape). If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love (agape); just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love (agape). These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love (agape) one another, just as I have loved (agape) you. Greater love (agape) has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (philia). You are My friends (philia), if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends (philia), for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:9-15)

When Martha and Mary appealed to Jesus to do something to save Lazarus, they appealed to his affection. However, John reminds us that Jesus also needed to obey His heavenly Father. At times the things we want to do out of affection may interfere with what we know is God's will. In these situations, we must allow our obedience to God to overrule our affection for the other person.

The distinction between obedience and affection may not always be clear. It need not be contradictory. Only by a thorough knowledge of the Bible and the control of the Holy Spirit can we be sure we are doing what is right.

As Betty and I talked, I shared these thoughts about Jesus and Lazarus. I asked her what she thought God wanted her to do. With a strong voice she replied, "I should obey my doctor."

Following our conversation, I called a pastor I knew in the area and told him about Bob and Betty and asked him to visit Bob. He agreed. A short time later I received a joyful call from Betty. The pastor called on Bob one day when she was not there. They talked at length and Bob prayed to receive Christ. God used Betty's absence to soften Bob's heart and show him his need.

Names have been changed