OBEDIENCE (part 3)

In the summer of 1972, my family and I returned from Africa for "leave time." Our two basic responsibilities were (a) reporting to supporting congregations and (b) raising support for our next work tour.

The congregation providing our salary and oversight was located in Sheffield, Alabama, across a river from Florence, Alabama. On return, we flew from Europe to Sheffield. We had not seen our parents for two years. We planned to leave Sheffield in a couple of days after arrival and visit families. But there was a problem. While we were in Africa, Joyce and my driver's licenses expired.

At that time, the Sheffield Highway Patrol Office did not issue driver's licenses every day of the week. The Florence office did, but they did not issue a license unless you lived in that county. Sheffield was not in that county. The river was a county line.

Our elders encouraged us to go to the Florence office, explain our situation, and ask that office to make an exception. We did. We were told, "I am sorry. We understand your situation, but we cannot help you." In other words, "No exceptions."

I asked if anyone could help us. The officer said, "Only the director of the highway patrol in Montgomery, Alabama." I thanked him, and promptly called the head of the highway patrol. He was very kind, understood the situation, and asked us to wait in the Florence office. He called the Florence office, and we received our licenses.

The officer in the Florence office was following the law. The law said, "No exceptions." Only the head of the Alabama Highway Patrol could authorize an exception.

A driver's license was a driver's license. It did not read, "Given as an exception." The difference was not in the license. The difference did not destroy the law. The difference affected only how a valid driver's license was received.

  1. In my perspective, we have oversimplified the concept of obedience.
    1. Commonly many Christians think any law, command, or teaching from God must be accepted in this way: "This is what God expects; no exceptions!"
      1. When that conclusion is a primary part of our definition of obedience, it is too easy to change the basic focus of spiritual commitment.
        1. The shift: "faithfulness" is expressed by passing "blanket judgment" on people who fail to keep the law, the command, or the teaching.
        2. The result: "faithfulness" moves further and further away from sharing the "good news" of God's accomplishments in Jesus Christ.
      2. It is easy to put so much emphasis on the necessity of obedience that we lose awareness of the purpose of obedience.
        1. God's objective in Christian obedience is not proving "who is in control."
        2. Apart from love, God's purpose in Christian obedience cannot be achieved.
    2. If we are not careful, we use obedience to attack God's sovereignty.
      1. Typically, as individuals, we do not make much effort to increase our understanding about God.
      2. We realize that God is far beyond our ability to comprehend.
        1. We do not spend much time thinking about things beyond our comprehension.
        2. It is easier to live by our assumptions.
      3. In our assumptions, it is easy to limit God.
      4. When we limit God, we attack God's sovereignty.
      5. God's sovereignty means God is free to do what He chooses to do.

  2. This evening I call your attention to an incident during the rule of King Hezekiah over Judah (2 Chronicles 30).
    1. Hezekiah was the 14th king of Judah.
      1. He made serious efforts to restore devotion to and worship of the God of Israel who rescued them from Egypt.
        1. He made a serious effort to reduce significantly the idolatrous practices of Judah by destroying many of the sites of idolatrous worship.
        2. He made a serious effort to restore the God of Israel as the God to worship.
      2. Hezekiah's positive initiatives included:
        1. The purification and renovation of the Temple.
        2. The reaffirmation of Israel's covenant with God.
        3. Reinstitution of the national observance of the Passover.
    2. I ask you to particularly consider the reinstitution of the Passover as a national occasion for worship.
      1. Hezekiah sent a message to all Israelites in all twelve tribes inviting all men to return to Jerusalem and observe the Passover.
        1. Remember that the ten tribes known as Israel had not been to Jerusalem, worshipped at the temple, or observed a national day of Passover since Jereboam led them into idolatry two hundred years earlier.
        2. Passover could not be observed on the fourteenth day of the first month as commanded in Exodus 12:14,18 and Leviticus 23:4,5 because too many priests were not pure and the people were not assembled in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:3).
        3. King Hezekiah and the princes decided to hold the national observance of the Passover on the 14th day in the second month as Numbers 9:6-11 permitted (30:2).
        4. In his message, Hezekiah urged the ten northern tribes known as Israel not to be unfaithful like their ancestors; if they came, God would surely accept them (30:5-9).
        5. Most of the men of the ten northern tribes laughed at, ridiculed, and mocked the couriers who brought Hezekiah's invitation (30:10).
        6. Some men from the tribes of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came (30:11).
      2. 2 Chronicles 30:12 states God's hand was on Judah in giving the people one heart to do what Hezekiah and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.
      3. 2 Chronicles 30:18,19 makes this interesting statement:
        For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good Lord pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary."
        1. Whatever these verses mean, it is clear to me that many people ate the Passover meal when they were not qualified by law to do so.
        2. Their act did not offend God; Hezekiah prayed for God to accept everyone who had prepared his heart to seek God.
    3. Lest you be tempted to conclude that it was not important to observe the Passover in the correct manner, may I call your attention to some things.
      1. The feast of the Passover was the most important day of worship in Israel.
        1. It was the annual remembrance that God Himself delivered them from slavery and made them a nation.
        2. It was to forever remind Israel that "we owe our existence to God."
      2. God stressed the importance of the Passover feast when God released Israel from Egyptian slavery.
        Exodus 12:14 Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.
      3. How was the Passover to be correctly observed? Listen.
        Exodus 12:43-49 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; but every man's slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this. But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you."
        1. No male who is uncircumcised may eat the Passover.
        2. The Passover is a memorial to the fact that God did not kill first born Israelites in Egypt.
    4. Some people who ate the Passover on that occasion had not observed the Passover in their families for over 200 years.
      1. Since their families had not worshipped God or visited the temple in 200 years, were they circumcised? I do not know; it does not say.
      2. It just says that they were not properly purified to eat the Passover.
      3. Yet, they ate it, and God accepted their worship because their heart sought the Lord.
      4. Not only could God do that; God did it.

  3. Let me try to be clear in the point I want you to see.
    1. "In your understanding, is it important to obey God?"
      1. Absolutely!
      2. There cannot be any question about the importance of obedience.
    2. "Should obedience be concerned about doing exactly what God wants us to do?"
      1. Absolutely!
      2. The soul of obedience is concern about God's wishes and directions.
    3. "Is obedience only an issue of physical behavior, of physically doing the act of obedience?"
      1. No, obedience involves more than physical acts.
      2. If the act is correct and the heart is not involved, what occurs is not obedience.
      3. The act cannot set aside the importance of the heart.
    4. Can the heart make the physical act unnecessary?
      1. No.
      2. When a person's heart belongs to God, that person wants his or her behavior to reflect his or her heart.
    5. If my acts are less than perfect, and my heart is sincerely directed toward God, can God accept me?
      1. First, how can acts be less than perfect?
        1. Acts can be less than perfect because I rebel; I consciously refuse to yield to God.
        2. Acts can be less than perfect because my knowledge is limited; I do what I know to do, but I do not have perfect knowledge and understanding.
        3. Acts can be less than perfect because I am mistaken; my understanding and conclusions are flawed.
        4. Acts can be less than perfect because I am weak; I sincerely want to do the correct thing, but there are times that the combination of my weakness and Satan's temptation defeat my resolve.
      2. My understandings:
        1. The person who knowingly defies God excludes himself or herself from God.
        2. We all are limited in knowledge. We all "obey" in good conscience, but have inadequate understanding. Every person who lives in God's grace is in that situation.
        3. We all have flawed understandings and conclusions. Every person who lives in God's grace is in that situation.
        4. We all have weakness and fall to temptation. Every person who lives in God's grace is in that situation.
      3. In Christ, God accepts imperfect people whose hearts seek God.
    6. Then what are my responsibilities in obeying God?
      1. Responsibility # 1: do not defy God.
      2. Responsibility # 2: grow in knowledge and be guided to better understandings and to better obedience.
      3. Responsibility # 3: grow in awareness of flaws and misunderstandings; never justify them; be guided to better obedience.
      4. Responsibility # 4: refuse to allow weakness and temptation to defeat you; always allow Christ to help you up; always accept God's forgiveness; always depend on God for strength.
      5. But always understand that God accepts imperfection, or none of us could belong to God.

Our greatest challenges in understanding obedience: (1) include your heart; (2) leave the "accepting and rejecting" to our sovereign God; (3) learn God's priorities instead of using our own.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 4 March 2001
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