Meeting the Divine Requirement of Obedience
“Obey my voice, and I will become your God, and you yourselves will become my people; and you must walk in all the way that I shall command you, in order that it may go well with you.”—Jer. 7:23.
1. (a) What situation exists today regarding obedience? (b) With what result?
LIKE a rare jewel, obedience is hard to find in this twentieth-century world. Governments have tried many things to bring this desirable quality to the fore in their subjects. Law-enforcing agencies find that fear and force do not produce obedient citizens. Religious organizations find much disobedience in their flocks. Regardless of geographic location, financial standing, or social status, the home proves to be a place where strained relations are found, where tensions reach the breaking point, where the young flaunt the older, and where love slowly fades into the background. At the bottom of this grave situation is found the matter of obedience. Subjection to husbands has caused women to fret, because it meant being obedient wives. Obedience to God has been pushed aside with man-made theories, so much so that the majority of humankind do not know what God requires of them.
2, 3. What has resulted to disobedient men from the start until now, and where are we now?
2 Disobedience is not a new thing. It has been here on earth almost as long as man. We can read the pointed description of its arrival at Romans 5:19: “Through the disobedience of the one man many were constituted sinners.” From the time of Adam’s disobedience down through the stream of time disobedience has been growing among mankind at such a rate that obedient men of God have stood out as different and as worthy of note. The Bible mentions some of these at Hebrews chapter eleven. Of one of these, Abraham, Heb 11 verse eight says: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed.” Another outstanding obedient man, Jesus, said that the time would come when, “because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.” (Matt. 24:12) It looks as if we have reached far into that time.
3 So for nearly six thousand years disobedience has increased, growing to such a point that it can be compared to the polluted water and air of the earth. Careless men continuously dump undesirable waste into their water and air supply, and yet they may complain about the poor quality of these life-sustaining essentials. From man’s early rebellion to this date he has neglected pure worship and contributed to disobedience both by inherited sinful traits and also by his willful desire to go his own independent way.
4. (a) Define obedience. (b) How does fear enter into our obedience to God?
4 The dictionary defines obedience in this way: “Act or fact of obeying, or state of being obedient.” To obey is “to be ruled or controlled by; to follow the guidance, operation, etc. of; as, to obey reason; to obey the law of gravitation.” The Bible has a way of putting it: “The conclusion of the matter, everything having been heard, is: Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.” (Eccl. 12:13) Some object to this matter of obeying God out of fear. Still we obey the laws concerning gravity, and every day of our short life we have a fearful respect for this force. We do it as a part of living, accepting it, and rarely do you hear anyone complain; yet it is rigid and exacting. If we would understand God’s requirements as well as we do gravity’s operation, we would find Psalm 112:1 describing our attitude: “Happy is the man in fear of Jehovah, in whose commandments he has taken very much delight.”
5. How did Judge Samuel emphasize obedience?
5 Jehovah God requires obedience of his people. He had Judge Samuel tell disobedient King Saul: “To obey is better than a sacrifice, to pay attention than the fat of rams; for rebelliousness is the same as the sin of divination, and pushing ahead presumptuously the same as using uncanny power and teraphim. Since you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he accordingly rejects you from being king.” (1 Sam. 15:22, 23) The Israelites were required to be obedient. (Deut. 10:12, 13) Jesus was. (Heb. 5:8) The apostles obeyed. (Acts 5:29) Thousands of faithful servants of God under all kinds of conditions have been obedient to God.
6. What questions arise regarding obedience?
6 From where does obedience spring? Is it the same for a Christian as with a child, doing things because he is told to do so by a superior? Is obedience an attitude that only Christians have? Since all men are born in sin, can one actually practice obedience in this present ‘lawless’ generation? (Matt. 24:12) God’s Word brings the answers to us along with much courage-generating counsel.
7 Turn to Romans chapters five and six. There the apostle Paul is bringing up the matter of obedience. Will obedience be to the Law that had been given to the Israelites and held to by many for a long time, or will it be to the undeserved kindness from God, made available through the provision that helps mankind to become obedient to God, that is, the ransom sacrifice arrangement instituted by Jehovah through Christ Jesus? Today everyone has to decide whether he wants to obey God or go along with the disobedient, lawless crowd of this present system of things. It is not just a matter of choosing between God’s old Law covenant and His new covenant, but it is a matter of obedience to the truth from God. Observe the clear-cut description of this at Romans 2:8-11: “However, for those who are contentious and who disobey the truth but obey unrighteousness there will be wrath and anger, tribulation and distress, upon the soul of every man who works what is injurious, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory and honor and peace for everyone who works what is good, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” But what is it that motivates a person to be obedient to Jehovah and to do so willingly? Romans 6:17 starts us in the direction of understanding: “But thanks to God that you were the slaves of sin but you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were handed over.”
OBEDIENCE FROM THE HEART
8. Why is obedience to God not a course to be dreaded?
8 So obedience comes from the heart. With a Christian it is not viewed in the light of one’s being forced into adherence to rules or regulations. Psalm 112:1 points out: “Happy is the man in fear of Jehovah, in whose commandments he has taken very much delight.” Further, Psalm 119:33, 34 reveals: “Instruct me, O Jehovah, in the way of your regulations, that I may observe it down to the last. Make me understand, that I may observe your law and that I may keep it with the whole heart.” If we fill the heart with the wisdom that is now available in Jehovah’s Word and keep on taking it in as food, then growth must come. Such knowledge fills the right kind of heart with appreciation and results in willing obedience.
9. (a) Describe some of the physical laws that we observe in operation. (b) What do they mean to us?
9 In the chemical fields certain laws operate in a balanced and dependable way to produce changes, and mankind appreciates these. Oxygen produces rust on iron and causes decay of the fallen tree. It is also important in breathing. Plant life releases oxygen, which men and animals breathe in. They get their oxygen from the air; fish take in oxygen that water has absorbed from the air or that has been liberated by green plants growing in water. Oxygen breathed in is taken up by the hemoglobin of the blood and carried throughout the body. Tissues slowly oxidize and heat is produced and keeps the body warm. These processes have been there since Jehovah set them in operation, but it takes investigation to find them and to acquaint ourselves with their effect on us before we can cooperate fully. Full use of these things in our lives produces greater contentment and happiness. These rules are not changed to suit man. Perchance he is too lazy or stubborn to comply. Rather, man changes to comply with the fixed principles of creation’s operation. Obedience to these set rules of operation actually means life to the receiver as well as to the giver. Obedience cannot be bad, then, but means good to those recognizing their purposeful operation.
10. What reasonably precedes a course of obedience to God, and where can the needed proof be found?
10 It is readily seen that obedience to God requires investigation proving beyond doubt that God exists and is interested in those wanting to serve him. Examination of visible creation around us in detail soon establishes that fact. Only an extraordinary intelligent person with a variety of qualities could produce the countless items on display in earth’s shelves of knowledge. Bible prophecy, history written in advance, also proves God’s existence. More evidence than is really needed is found everywhere in creation to prove the existence of God.—Isa. 45:18; Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1-4; Isa. 40:26.
11. What responsibility does the individual have concerning the Bible?
11 Since the Bible is Jehovah’s word, it is an individual’s responsibility to prove this the authentic inspired communication of God. In spite of the unfounded gossip that it contradicts itself, the Bible continues to be unified and presents a clear picture of God’s purposes and what he expects of man. Continued comparison of our Bible with discoveries of manuscripts, land features of Bible lands, archaeological finds, and artifacts brought to light, all verify the truthfulness of the Bible accounts. (See “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” page 331.)
12, 13. How does Ezra point up obedience to God? Describe the outcome.
12 There are examples in the Bible of obedience to Jehovah’s desires. The book of Ezra highlights obedience more than once in its record of the return of the exiles to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and repair the city. Of Ezra, chapter seven verse ten reads: “For Ezra himself had prepared his heart to consult the law of Jehovah and to do it and to teach in Israel regulation and justice.” Here was a man who refused to depend on man’s wisdom or strength but, rather, faithfully obeyed Jehovah’s word, looking to him for protection. Ezra said when he was ready to start the long trip to Jerusalem: “I felt ashamed to ask a military force and horsemen from the king to help us against the enemy in the way, because we had said to the king: ‘The hand of our God is over all those seeking him for good, but his strength and his anger are against all those leaving him.’”—Ezra 8:22.
13 Well, Jehovah did protect Ezra and his small group carrying a rich treasure back to Jerusalem. “The very hand of our God proved to be over us, so that he delivered us out of the palm of the enemy and the ambush by the way.” (Ezra 8:31) On arriving at Jerusalem Ezra delivered the gold, silver and the temple utensils to the priest there and the king’s laws to his satraps.
14, 15. What do we learn from Ezra’s handling of matters in Jerusalem on his return there?
14 Then Ezra learns that those exiles, including their leaders that had returned previously, now living in Jerusalem about sixty-nine years, had not obeyed Jehovah’s commandments. They had married into five of the seven nations that Jehovah commanded them to avoid. (Deut. 7:1-4; Ezra 9:1, 2) Ezra in a most contrite spirit says: “O my God, I do feel ashamed and embarrassed to raise my face to you, O my God, for our errors themselves have multiplied over our head and our guiltiness has grown great even to the heavens.”—Ezra 9:6.
15 This same humble man had hoped for blessings from Jehovah now that things were going so well, as he said: “And now for a little moment favor from Jehovah our God has come by leaving over for us those who escape and by giving us a peg in his holy place, to make our eyes shine, O our God, and to give us a little reviving in our servitude. And now what shall we say, O our God, after this? For we have left your commandments.” (Ezra 9:8, 10) Ezra acted promptly and proceeded to clear up the matter, putting this matter first in his life until obedience to God’s law was accomplished.
16. (a) Describe Jesus’ view on obedience. (b) How did the apostles respond to Jesus’ teaching in this regard?
16 Jesus Christ was a most mild-tempered and lowly hearted man. (Matt. 11:29) He continually offered encouragement to be obedient. He did so both by word and actions. In fact the scripture at Hebrews 5:8, 9 reads: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered; and after he had been made perfect he became responsible for everlasting salvation to all those obeying him.” Some years later Paul explains how energetic the apostles were in teaching obedience: “For we are overturning reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God; and we are bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ; and we are holding ourselves in readiness to inflict punishment for every disobedience, as soon as your own obedience has been fully carried out.”—2 Cor. 10:5, 6.
17. Should we feel that obedience to God is burdensome?
17 Was it to be a hard thing? Does it sound like entering a prison term when one decides to serve God? Man would have it that way with his many rules and regulations. With man’s tendencies toward making rules for everything, coupled with the increased modern means of analysis by records, many have departed from the plain, simple teachings of God’s Word and obedience from the heart. (Ps. 119:11, 12; Rom. 6:17) 1 John 5:2-4 points the way, and yet it recognizes the problems and gives the solution, saying: “By this we gain the knowledge that we are loving the children of God, when we are loving God and doing his commandments. For this is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome, because everything that has been born from God conquers the world. And this is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith.”
18, 19. What is the most important thing in our life, and what wrong viewpoints could get in the way?
18 The big thing in our life then in serving our God Jehovah is this loving devotion, in building and maintaining faith forever. We are not serving because this old system has a short time to live, or because another imperfect sinful creature is watching us. (Titus 3:3-6) If we are obedient to God because we love him then we are going to derive pleasure from working together with our Christian brothers and will enjoy them to the full.
19 Ponder a little: If you are hurriedly serving God because you have suddenly looked at the time clock, what will you do when this old system is gone and thousands of years lie ahead? If you are observing God’s commandments because another human creature keeps urging you to go to meetings, or to study, or to preach the Word, what are you going to do when that person stops urging you or when it is time to act from the heart? If you are zealously spending much time in the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom, being constantly concerned about getting in your hours, what would your actions be if you were not to turn in reports? Many brothers have survived years of persecution, working in an underground way with chief concern on maintaining faith, not reports, and Jehovah surely blessed them. If there be any other reason than loving devotion in your worship, put that reason under the exposing power of God’s Word and examine it closely.
20. (a) Where can we find examples and counsel that will guide us in a balanced way? (b) As shown by Jesus, is serving God complicated?
20 Look back to the early Christians, to the apostles. These faithful brothers were trained by Jesus Christ. Time was precious then too. There were many reasons for urgency in their work, and they were urgent. But they were never too busy to practice love toward one another. Theirs was a simple manner of worship, not complicated by modern methods of transportation or communication. Why allow pressure from the frenzied system of today to change things? We use the same Bible, worship the same God and follow the same leader, Christ Jesus. Just because fast, efficient and available mechanical gadgets are popular in the world today, backed up by specifications of all kinds, exacting obedience from millions, this does not mean we have to become business Christians. Christ Jesus is our perfect example and he set the course, he himself stating: “For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.”—Matt. 11:30.
21. What should be our main concern, then, and how can we cultivate this in others?
21 If our concern, then, is serving Jehovah with loving devotion we will be anxious to keep our faith strong by regular feeding on spiritual food. In teaching others we will support all the ideas we bring to these new ones with Scriptural evidences. As progress is made and as obedience to God is made stronger, it will be from the heart. (Heb. 4:11, 12) Notice how Paul shows the need for one to be motivated by loving devotion, saying: “And he will render to each one according to his works: everlasting life to those who are seeking glory and honor and incorruptibleness by endurance in work that is good; however, for those who are contentious and who disobey the truth but obey unrighteousness there will be wrath and anger . . . For there is no partiality with God.” (Rom. 2:6-11) Mechanical equipment should be a servant to man if it is going to help him. So Christians should view it as such and not wake up to find themselves tied down to filling the needs of a machine and its associated regulations.
MOTIVATED BY LOVE
22, 23. What is the proper motivation for obedience?
22 Illustrate it this way. A wagon is a means of transportation, but it is not self-propelled or self-powered. To get somewhere the horse, ox or other means of power must be used to pull or push it. Without power the wagon is a piece of worthless equipment. As Christians we need to be motivated by loving devotion to Jehovah, which is readily recognized by the desire to do God’s will. We may need some loving pulls or pushes to get us started on the way of obedience, but it does not seem reasonable that a Christian minister would have to be pulled or pushed to every Bible meeting or feature of the Christian ministry. We need to be motivated by an inside desire; our wish is to serve Jehovah; it becomes our life. Instead of fretting when obedience is required, appreciation for guidance will draw us closer to our heavenly Father.
23 Remember Psalm 112:1: “Happy is the man in fear of Jehovah, in whose commandments he has taken very much delight.” Such a one will be not an inactive or indifferent individual, but one that has decided he wants to serve Jehovah forever in any circumstances. This motivation does not come from man, regardless of the pressure he may bring to bear or the enticement offered, but rather it comes from Jehovah, through his Word and as applied by his spirit.
24, 25. What benefits are there in a Christian’s being obedient to God and free from rules of man?
24 The benefits of such a course are beyond numbering. It allows people to be themselves, not distorting their true, Scripturally trained personality by conforming to their fellowman’s shortsighted likes or dislikes. This fills the congregations with such a colorful variety, people with the refreshing quality of being unafraid to be their natural, uninhibited selves. One of the enjoyments of young children is their lack of fear of what others think of them. Jesus loved children and their ways. Reports Matthew 19:13, 14: “Then young children were brought to him, for him to put his hands upon them and offer prayer; but the disciples reprimanded them. Jesus, however, said: ‘Let the young children alone, and stop hindering them from coming to me, for the kingdom of the heavens belongs to suchlike ones.’”
25 Examine the variety of people in the earth’s various parts today. They are different from one another. They vary in their habits and customs; they do things in different ways, at various speeds. Yet they are permitted by Jehovah to learn the truth and to serve him. Why smother some variety in your brother with a man-made measuring rule? Another evidence of this compliance with man is the mass following of some fad that sweeps the world, only to be pushed out of the picture by another one. Commercial elements of this system make fortunes by relying on their ability to stifle individual personality by having the people act as a mass.
26, 27. (a) Do Christians have consistency in their manner of worship, and does obedience allow colorful variety in God’s congregation? (b) What more is there to this subject?
26 Obedience to God eliminates this danger. True, there is a similarity in the way these ministers carry out their work, but the individual expression, the depth of devotion, the degree of progress toward maturity, the ability of the creature, the colorful background of the person, and the purpose behind that individual’s work make for a wide variety and an enjoyable association.
27 Examine in detail the faithful men mentioned at Hebrews chapter eleven. One thing they had in common: their faith in Jehovah. But the individuals had so many different things in themselves and their life. Look at the men used to write the Bible. Faithful and obedient, yes, but in so many other ways different. If Jehovah does not just allow such men to serve him but invites them to do so, why should we try to make robots out of people desiring to serve God today? Peter said: “Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom, not as a blind for badness, but as slaves of God.” (1 Pet. 2:16) Now, how do these truths work out in our life as a minister learning obedience to God? How do they affect parents teaching children? Where does the congregation fit into the picture? Does it have any bearing on a wife’s relation to her husband? Will it make a difference in working under the various governments of this system of things? We should have these questions in mind as we study the next article, “Obedience the Desired Course.”
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“To obey is better than a sacrifice,” Judge Samuel told King Saul, who failed to meet God’s requirement of obedience
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One who truly loves Jehovah does not need constant urging from others to keep active in the service of God