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.
- In my perspective, we have oversimplified the concept of obedience.
- Commonly many Christians think any law, command, or teaching from God
must be accepted in this way: "This is what God expects; no exceptions!"
If we are not careful, we use obedience to attack God's sovereignty.
- When that conclusion is a primary part of our definition of obedience, it is too
easy to change the basic focus of spiritual commitment.
- The shift: "faithfulness" is expressed by passing "blanket judgment" on
people who fail to keep the law, the command, or the teaching.
- The result: "faithfulness" moves further and further away from sharing the
"good news" of God's accomplishments in Jesus Christ.
- It is easy to put so much emphasis on the necessity of obedience that we lose
awareness of the purpose of obedience.
- God's objective in Christian obedience is not proving "who is in control."
- Apart from love, God's purpose in Christian obedience cannot be achieved.
- Typically, as individuals, we do not make much effort to increase our
understanding about God.
- We realize that God is far beyond our ability to comprehend.
- We do not spend much time thinking about things beyond our
- It is easier to live by our assumptions.
- In our assumptions, it is easy to limit God.
- When we limit God, we attack God's sovereignty.
- God's sovereignty means God is free to do what He chooses to do.
This evening I call your attention to an incident during the rule of King
Hezekiah over Judah (2 Chronicles 30).
- Hezekiah was the 14th king of Judah.
I ask you to particularly consider the reinstitution of the Passover as a
national occasion for worship.
- He made serious efforts to restore devotion to and worship of the God of Israel
who rescued them from Egypt.
- He made a serious effort to reduce significantly the idolatrous practices of
Judah by destroying many of the sites of idolatrous worship.
- He made a serious effort to restore the God of Israel as the God to worship.
- Hezekiah's positive initiatives included:
- The purification and renovation of the Temple.
- The reaffirmation of Israel's covenant with God.
- Reinstitution of the national observance of the Passover.
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.
- Hezekiah sent a message to all Israelites in all twelve tribes inviting all men to
return to Jerusalem and observe the Passover.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Most of the men of the ten northern tribes laughed at, ridiculed, and
mocked the couriers who brought Hezekiah's invitation (30:10).
- Some men from the tribes of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled
themselves and came (30:11).
- 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
- 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."
- 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.
- Their act did not offend God; Hezekiah prayed for God to accept everyone
who had prepared his heart to seek God.
Some people who ate the Passover on that occasion had not observed the
Passover in their families for over 200 years.
- The feast of the Passover was the most important day of worship in Israel.
- It was the annual remembrance that God Himself delivered them from
slavery and made them a nation.
- It was to forever remind Israel that "we owe our existence to God."
- 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
- 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."
- No male who is uncircumcised may eat the Passover.
- The Passover is a memorial to the fact that God did not kill first born
Israelites in Egypt.
- 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.
- It just says that they were not properly purified to eat the Passover.
- Yet, they ate it, and God accepted their worship because their heart sought the
- Not only could God do that; God did it.
Let me try to be clear in the point I want you to see.
- "In your understanding, is it important to obey God?"
"Should obedience be concerned about doing exactly what God wants us to
- There cannot be any question about the importance of obedience.
"Is obedience only an issue of physical behavior, of physically doing the act
- The soul of obedience is concern about God's wishes and directions.
Can the heart make the physical act unnecessary?
- No, obedience involves more than physical acts.
- If the act is correct and the heart is not involved, what occurs is not obedience.
- The act cannot set aside the importance of the heart.
If my acts are less than perfect, and my heart is sincerely directed toward
God, can God accept me?
- When a person's heart belongs to God, that person wants his or her behavior
to reflect his or her heart.
Then what are my responsibilities in obeying God?
- First, how can acts be less than perfect?
- Acts can be less than perfect because I rebel; I consciously refuse to yield
- 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.
- Acts can be less than perfect because I am mistaken; my understanding
and conclusions are flawed.
- 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.
- My understandings:
- The person who knowingly defies God excludes himself or herself from
- 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.
- We all have flawed understandings and conclusions. Every person who
lives in God's grace is in that situation.
- We all have weakness and fall to temptation. Every person who lives in
God's grace is in that situation.
- In Christ, God accepts imperfect people whose hearts seek God.
- Responsibility # 1: do not defy God.
- Responsibility # 2: grow in knowledge and be guided to better understandings
and to better obedience.
- Responsibility # 3: grow in awareness of flaws and misunderstandings; never
justify them; be guided to better obedience.
- 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.
- 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.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
previous next in series
Evening Sermon, 4 March 2001
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