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Importance Of Obedience


By Dr. Richard Ing

September 1, 2005


(This is a reprint of an older newsletter)

            Adam wanted to be independent from God.  He didn’t like being under the command or control of another person.  What he did when he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was allow himself to have knowledge to enable him to make his own decisions apart from God.  He wanted to be free from the necessity of obeying God’s every command and instruction.  Self became God.  In effect, he chose rebellion.

            The descendants of Adam all carry the same trait in their genes - independence and rebellion.  The carnal mind does not like loyalty, humility, submission and obedience.  Those four things imply dependence and control by another person.  As Watchman Nee says, the problem with Adam’s choice of the fruits of the tree of knowledge is that he had no life of God in him.  He could become perfect in his own eyes and by his own standards and efforts, but he could never have the life of God in him.  Adam never ate of the tree of life that stood next to the tree of knowledge.  That is why God had to drive Adam and Eve out of the garden, lest he have the best of two worlds.  It is not possible to have both because the life of God requires total dependence and trust on God.

            Most Christians in America, especially, do not like the idea of having to listen to anyone against their wishes, much less to obey authority when they are not so inclined.  All normal humans will obey another authority when it pleases them or when there is some benefit to them.  People will obey out of fear of physical, social, political, familial or other censure.  Some obey because it is part of their doctrine or religion, but they avoid it otherwise.  Others obey because there is some personal profit in obeying - better reputation, admiration, relationships, camaraderie, etc.  As Watchman Nee and Andrew Murray say, true obedience is where a person loves obeying the will of God.  He loves God’s will.  King David expressed it in Psalm 119.  He loved every law, statute, command, instruction, testimony and will of God.

            The antithesis of obedience is not just disobedience.  It is rebellion and disdain for the authority of another.  Rebellion lies deep within the heart of man.  A person who is obedient in his heart will always seek to obey whenever possible.  On the other hand, a person who is rebellious will disobey whenever possible.  An obedient person will find a reason to obey; a disobedient person will look for an excuse not to obey.  An obedient person will come to a standstill at a stop sign at 3 a.m. with no one in sight.  A disobedient person will disregard the stop sign if he can get away with it, no matter what time of day or night.  It is not his nature to obey unless he is forced to.  We find disobedient hearts on our public streets all the time.

A truly obedient person will obey civil and criminal laws of men as well as God, unless the two conflict, in which case, he will obey God.  Ac. 4:19.  Obedience is an automatic habit with him.  Loyalty, humility, submission and obedience are character traits of the heart of God.  Jesus could not help but obey.  It is said that although love was a factor in our Lord’s voluntarily suffering and dying on the cross, it was His obedience that drove him up the hill to Golgotha.

As would be expected, God desires His sons and daughters to be like Him - loyal, humble, submissive and obedient.  One can tell instantly how mature a Christian is by his loyalty, humility, submission and obedience to spiritual authority.  These character traits are all embodied in one word - Love.  If one has love for authority, he cannot help but be loyal, humble towards that person, submissive and obedient to the one he loves, especially where the object of his love is in a position of spiritual authority.

Watchman Nee’s beliefs on Spiritual Authority are not liked by Christians that do not believe in strict obedience.  This includes many churches that are based on congregational or denominational rule.  Some claim that such obedience can result in religious cults and that history shows that many people have obeyed to their detriment or even death.  These Christians can find scriptures that seem to say that everyone is equal and no one should control others.  These arguments disregard God’s character and teachings.  It is true that David had Uriah placed at the front of the battle when Uriah refused to break his vow of loyalty and obedience by going home to his wife Bathsheba when his commander and fellow soldiers were fighting the enemy.  But Uriah will forever be viewed as obedient and loyal to his code of honor while David’s role in that incident will be forever viewed as dastardly.  Uriah found his reward in heaven as God honored his loyalty and obedience.

In a sense, the same will be true with you and me and all Christians who have an obedient heart.  If the world hated our Lord Jesus because He humbly obeyed, it will hate us too.  To civilians, strict obedience to authority is not as clearly understood as compared to people who have been in the military.

Military systems will always strive to maintain strict obedience to people higher in authority and position.  Obedience is the principle that keeps the military machine together.  Otherwise, a military organization would collapse and cease to exist.  Anarchy and revolution is the end result.  That’s why disobedience and subordination are swiftly punished by every martial heirarchy.  If everyone has a “democratic right” to object and resist any command, instruction or law, there would be utter confusion, disunity and imminent defeat by the enemy.

While governments and the military use fear as its main incentive, God uses love.  God’s army and government demand the same principles of loyalty, humility, submission and obedience that secular governments and military do, although the underlying incentives and objectives differ: fear versus love, and victory over secular enemies versus spiritual maturity.  While victory over the flesh, world and Satan are by-products of obedience in the Christian walk, the ultimate goal is to be conformed unto the image of Jesus Christ.  That is why a thorough understanding of God’s definition of obedience to spiritual authority is needed. 

There are two sides to the coin: obedience to spiritual authority and proper discharge of spiritual authority by leaders.  The fact that some in authority violate the proper discharge of authority, does not mean that the whole principle should be discarded.  In the secular world, abuse of authority is a break-down in the system and these abuses are dealt with by punishing the offending leader.  There is no need to throw out the entire system.  In the infamous Rodney King case, a bunch of police officers abused their authority by viciously beating up Mr. King without justification.  At least two things took place thereafter: Those in authority sought to maintain the system once the incident was exposed, by prosecuting the police officers involved and bringing them to justice; and a segment of the population sought to discard the principle of obedience to civil authority by rioting, killing, stealing, looting and disregarding the property rights of others.  In the end, the system was preserved and those who were caught disobeying the law were brought to punishment.

Every civilization and culture has its hierarchy of leadership and rules.  Leaders and laws are to be obeyed.  Even the French Revolution shows this.  Anarchy overturned the French monarchy, but in its place evolved a new government of leaders, laws and strictly enforced obedience to them.

God’s enforces strictly His principles of obedience to spiritual authority in the Old Testament.  Watchman Nee’s book entitled Spiritual Authority carefully outlines a few such instances.

I will endeavor to summarize Watchman Nee’s book, but before doing so, would like to make a few further comments on the erstwhile subject.  First, God’s principles of love, loyalty, humility, submission and obedience will never diminish or disappear.  All in heaven have those characteristics buried deep in their hearts.  On the other hand, every person and demon in hell is full of hatred, disobedience and rebellion.  Second, while it is true that humans and carnal leaders will abuse authority for selfish reasons and consequently, obedient people will suffer for it, while secular leaders often escape detection and/or punishment, God will never tolerate abuse of His spiritual authority and will deal with those who are guilty. Third, while we may be victimized by some breakdowns in spiritual leadership, God will never allow us to rebel and disobey.  We need to trust God that He will handle the recalcitrant leaders while we go on into spiritual maturity.  There is no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. 

The fact that some pastor or other leader makes mistakes doesn’t mean that God’s principle of obedience is no good.  It lives on through eternity, as does all of His other moral laws.  It is difficult to obey someone who is less than perfect, but isn’t it the way God works?  Loving some charming, beautiful and sweet person is easy, but the way of God is to love everyone -even the cranky, ugly and sour person.  In fact, God will give you more than a few of the latter crabs to let you practice.  Learning how to love the unlovable is more profitable than hanging around and just loving the lovable.

Similarly, obeying someone who is a fantastic leader who never makes mistakes and who is loving and gentle is not the same test as obeying someone who doesn’t know what he is doing and who is demanding but nevertheless has been appointed by God.  A truly obedient heart does not discriminate between the two.

The question is - how can we become loving, loyal, humble, submissive and obedient?

Some saints say, “I obey no man except God.  I only obey God.”  What they are really saying is, “I don’t have to obey anyone except God and I can do anything I want by saying that God told me to do it.”  First of all, God delegates His authority to certain men and His delegated authority represent God’s authority.  By saying that a person only has to obey God, anarchy is created, the Church is not needed, everyone is independent of the Church and the person does not acknowledge any unity and chain of command in the body of Christ.  This flies in the face of many scriptures that say that Jesus is coming back for His Church - a bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish.  Eph. 5:27.

It is also arrogance because it places one above any human authority, into a position higher than any leader of God, including apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Even apostles in the early church were subject to one another.  They never acted independently by claiming that they take orders only from God.  Even in the secular world, there are kings, presidents, governors, mayors, employers, tribal chiefs and all sorts of leaders that must be obeyed by those under them.  It would be paradoxical for a Christian to claim that he is subject to his secular bosses and parents, but not to God’s delegated authority. 

There are no renegades in the kingdom of God.  Every one is subject to the powers above them.  The Church is one body with many members, each subject to those appointed by God above them in spiritual authority.  To say that “I only take orders from and obey only God is tantamount to saying, “I am above everyone except God Himself.”  Of course, I can almost hear the thoughts of some saying, “But how do I know that he was appointed by God?  The answer is - if you don’t know, you would be wise to obey.

Others use 1 Jn. 2:27 which says, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.”   This is a gross misinterpretation of scripture.  That passage is talking about spiritual things and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Only the Holy Spirit can give divine revelation through His anointing.  Man cannot.  It is the anointing presence of the Holy Spirit that provides the teaching.  How many Christians have ever become mature in the Word without any human teacher?  If we are not to be taught by man and only by the Holy Spirit, then why did God give us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers?  I have had members tell me that, and in a few weeks or months, they were completely backslidden -never to attend any church again.  It is a rebellious attitude.

Many Christians need to change their attitudes towards obedience and submission to spiritual authority.  There will be a point in time when God will not longer be patient with wayward sheep.  He wants a true and pure Church, fit to be the Bride of His Son Jesus.  He will prune away those who are rebellious.

There are all kinds of leaders, each with his own particular skills, abilities, level of spiritual maturity and personality.  But no matter how mature or skillful a pastor is, he cannot pass on his teachings and attain what God wants his local church to attain without faithful, loyal and obedient members.  Many saints refuse to make time for prayer, devotions or evangelism.

From time to time, a church with the philosophy that everyone is a leader and no one has to obey a fellow saint unless he agrees, will seemingly prosper.  But, such a church is not a true church of Jesus Christ. 

The church is the training ground for the saints to learn obedience.  If there is no obedience within the church, there will be disunity, gossip, complaining, murmuring and rebellion.

Finally, without learning obedience, a saint will never mature in Jesus Christ.

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