By Dr. Richard Ing
September 1, 2005
(This is a reprint of an older newsletter)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.