Is Obedience Always Proper?
“DID you hear me?” mother shouts to little Johnnie as he goes out the door. No, she is not checking Johnnie’s hearing. She is making sure that he will obey her and be home at the proper time.
Indeed, hearing and obeying are closely related. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the original languages of the Bible, the words denoting obedience are related to hearing. But to whom should we give our listening ear? Should we render obedience to everyone who demands it? And is obedience always proper?
When Obedience Is Proper
Obedience to our Creator, Jehovah God, is always proper. As our Maker and the Source of life, he has the first claim to the obedience of his creatures. (Psalm 95:6, 7) As the Supreme Sovereign, Jehovah also delegates his authority to others who meet his standards, and this makes our obedience to them appropriate. Foremost among such persons is Jesus Christ. Since 1914 he has become the God-appointed King of the heavenly Kingdom “that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.” (Daniel 7:13, 14) Furthermore, as Head of the Christian congregation, Jesus has imparted authority to others therein, making our obedience to such undershepherds appropriate.—Hebrews 13:17.
Jehovah has also set down guidelines regarding the matter of obedience within the family circle. Children are admonished to ‘be obedient to their parents in union with the Lord,’ and wives are told to be in “subjection to their husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:21–6:3) Christians are even reminded “to be in subjection and be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers.” (Titus 3:1) In all of this, however, is our obedience to be absolute? Is it always proper?
When Obedience Is Not Proper
Of course, listening to those who have not been entrusted with authority from Jehovah can result in disaster. The first man, Adam, “listened” to the voice of Eve and joined her in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. (Genesis 3:17) What was the outcome? “Through the disobedience of the one man many were constituted sinners.” (Romans 5:19) What a disastrous result from listening to the wrong person.
Is it always proper, however, to listen to those who have been entrusted with positions of authority? Not if they attempt to use their authority in an ungodly way. For example, in line with the principle of obeying “masters in a fleshly sense,” we would be obedient to our employers. But what if such ones order us to do something in conflict with the laws of the almighty God? What Paul said next indicates the proper course: “Not by way of eye-service as men pleasers, but as Christ’s slaves, doing the will of God whole-souled.” (Ephesians 6:5, 6) On another occasion, Peter and the other apostles said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
The same principle applies within the family. Not appreciating divine requirements, a husband may disapprove of his wife’s desire to attend Christian meetings regularly. Suppose he puts pressure on her, even resorting to violence, as sometimes has been the case, to stop her from going to Christian meetings. What should she do? If she were to acquiesce, she might endanger her own spirituality, as well as that of her family, and lose out on the hope of everlasting life. Would it not be better to obey Jehovah, realizing that no human, not even her husband, has been vested with the authority to override the command ‘not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together’?—Hebrews 10:25.
Miyoko’s husband objected that his earnings were being “wasted” by her attending meetings that he did not approve. Eventually, he stopped handing over housekeeping money, and Miyoko had to walk the hour’s distance to the Kingdom Hall.
Did she give up? No. She approached Jehovah in prayer and analyzed her situation. Realizing the reason for her husband’s opposition, Miyoko decided to take a job delivering newspapers. Her husband agreed, provided she would give him half of her wages.
Again, she prayed that if it be Jehovah’s will, she would have a nearby route. Usually, it takes a year or so to get what one wants. But, surprisingly, within six weeks Miyoko was offered a route right near her home. Encouraged by the thought that Jehovah heard her prayers, she worked from 4:30 to 6:00 every morning. Seeing this, her husband’s attitude gradually changed, and he became cooperative. Just as Miyoko, who regularly serves as an auxiliary pioneer, thought out and analyzed her situation, prayed about it and then acted positively, you too will find that this will result in Jehovah’s blessing.
Of course, there may be special reasons for which an unbelieving husband may ask his wife to miss a Christian meeting. He may do so without any intention of undermining her worship and service to Jehovah God. Understanding the principles involved will help a Christian woman to decide correctly according to her particular circumstance.
Taking matters one step further, what if her husband tells her not to take their children to Christian meetings? She knows, of course, that even though her husband does not accept the headship of Christ, he is still the head of the family. (1 Corinthians 11:3) And yet, she also has at heart the spiritual well-being of the children, as well as her own desire to be obedient to Jehovah. It is certainly a test of her faith to live up to her obligations in all these areas. Praying to Jehovah for wisdom and discernment surely would help. (James 1:5; Philippians 4:6, 7) Tactfully reasoning with her husband and speaking graciously, displaying a quiet and mild spirit, may also help in resolving the dilemma.—Colossians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:1-5.
A Christian woman in Yamato, Japan, faced such a situation when her husband forbade her to take their three children to the meetings. What could she do? She diligently taught her children at home, and when they were old enough to make their own decisions, each took a stand for Jehovah and started to attend meetings. Outraged, the husband threw all of them out of his house.
The wife found a job and settled temporarily in a sister’s apartment. But she did not leave matters at that. She went back to clean her husband’s house and fix his meals. Finally, after a month or so, the husband took them back and stopped opposing them. What a reward for her faithful course!
“Test the Inspired Expressions”
What about the authority in the Christian congregation? Since those in responsible positions are appointed by the operation of the holy spirit and they base their counsel and admonition on the Word of God, we can be sure that obeying duly appointed authority in the Christian congregation is appropriate. (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17) But it does not mean that we obey such authority without giving due consideration to what is being said. Why?
The apostle John offered this counsel: “Do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” (1 John 4:1) This does not mean that we should be suspicious of everything others tell us. Rather, we bear in mind Paul’s words at Galatians 1:8: “Even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed.”
Is the information before us different from what we have been taught through “the faithful and discreet slave”? Is the person spreading that message speaking to honor the name of Jehovah, or is he trying to exalt himself? Is the information in harmony with the overall teachings of the Bible? These are questions that will help us in ‘testing’ anything that may sound questionable. We are admonished to “make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.”—Matthew 24:45; 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
An interesting case in point is that of Judge Gideon. To be sure that Jehovah was going to be with him, Gideon proposed a test: “Here I am keeping a fleece of wool exposed on the threshing floor,” he said to Jehovah. “If dew comes to be on the fleece alone but on all the earth there is dryness, then I must know that you will save Israel by means of me.” When Jehovah caused it to happen just as requested, Gideon wanted more assurance: “Let, please, dryness occur to the fleece alone, and upon all the earth let there come to be dew.”—Judges 6:37-39.
Was Gideon being overly cautious or suspicious? Apparently not, because Jehovah accepted his request both times and did just as he asked. Gideon wanted to make certain of the rightness of his position. Not having God’s written Word as we do, that was a most effective way for Gideon to “make sure.” However, once he received the assurance, he gave strict obedience to the orders from Jehovah even though pitting 300 men against an enemy force of 135,000 would seem suicidal from a human point of view. (Judges 7:7; 8:10) Do we show the same attitude by searching in the Word of God for what Jehovah’s will really is and then sticking to it?
The Wisest Choice
Jehovah does not expect us to show blind credulity. He does not want from us the kind of obedience that a trainer gets from a beast with a bridle or a whip. That is why he told David: “Do not make yourselves like a horse or mule without understanding, whose spiritedness is to be curbed even by bridle or halter.” (Psalm 32:9) Rather, Jehovah has endowed us with thinking ability and discernment so that, based on understanding, we can choose to obey him.
In Japanese, the word kiku (to hear) includes the meaning not only of listening and obeying but also of judging whether a thing is good or bad. When someone speaks to us, it is good to listen in this sense so that when obeying, we do so not by mere credulity but by choice. When our heavenly Father, Jehovah God, speaks, whether through his Word, the Bible, or through his earthly organization, it is all the more important for us to listen and obey, thus proving that we are obedient worshipers who do not ignore the loving reminder: “Did you hear me?”
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To whom should I listen?
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Gideon searched out Jehovah’s will and obeyed him