264. PARTIAL OBEDIENCE = COMPLETE DISOBEDIENCE
(The Information & Edification Series – Batch 7)
It is easy to think, when reading an Article that someone has written on biblical matters, that that person is talking to you, lecturing at you and that his or her life in that arena is perfect. In my case though, much of what I write is what I feel led by the Lord to write about and much of it, he uses to speak to my own soul. I have not graduated therefore. I have not attained or apprehended.
In fact, I am often humbled by much of what I write because after being empowered by the Lord to write it and I write it, I realize that I fail in so many of the problem areas identified, myself. Many a time, God has convicted me through my own Articles and on many an occasion, I have been reduced to tears and have had cause to weep before God over my own sin, realizing where I have gone wrong and my own need for repentance.
In this regard, I am reminded that I am merely an instrument that God has chosen to use to write the Articles. When I spend time in his Word the Bible or meditate upon his truths, he sees it fit to place topics upon my heart to write what he wants me to write about his Word, not just for the benefit of others but also for my own admonition. When I write on a topic therefore, it does not necessarily mean that he has given me a pass grade on the subject. Sometimes, I too fail miserably.
It is a reminder that the truth that I hold is not my own. It did not come from me but from God’s Word and God’s Word has the power to pierce any heart, even the one to whom it is entrusted, as steward.
Having said all that, this next topic is one that I admit, I don’t ever feel comfortable writing about. For, it is an area that I have been guilty of and that I to this day, struggle with.
I am a Christian but this flesh is still within me and every now and then, it screams petulantly to the Lord, “I will not have you to rule over me!” See, this flesh wants its own way. It wants to do its own thing. It hates anything that is godly and wholesome and pleasing to God. Hence the reason that Paul stated in Romans 7:18, in talking about his own struggle, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”
My spirit is indeed willing but this flesh within me is weak (Matthew 26:41). Every day therefore and some days more than others, is a battle for me. I am always fighting within, the spirit by which I am indwelled seeking to pursue the will of God, which I love and know is perfect and my rogue flesh, fighting to do the opposite.
1 Samuel 15 is the topic for today’s Article and it is one that has always made me tremble. Whenever I hear it preached from the pulpit (and I did about a week ago) or read it in my own devotions (and it just so happened that it is what I read this morning), I feel uncomfortable, guilty, afraid, all of the emotions that a Christian feels when he or she knows that the topic is an area of personal challenge and therefore, one in which the Holy Spirit brings conviction.
Irrespective of how I feel though, I can’t just write Articles on topics that I am comfortable with or for which I believe I have passed with flying colours. I must write, as the Lord’s servant, whatever I believe he has laid on my heart to write about and today, I feel led to write on this topic.
In 1 Samuel 15, Saul, having previously failed to completely follow the prophet Samuel’s instruction in 1 Samuel 13, he was again given another instruction from the Lord and was therefore again put to the test.
The instruction was clear. Through the prophet Samuel, God told him:
“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (vs. 3)
The instruction was therefore to “utterly destroy”, meaning leave nothing alive, not man, woman, child or animal of any kind.
Saul then proceeded to prepare to carry out the instruction, which was good. The Word of God states: “And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.”
He then proceeded to smite the Amalekites, verse 7 telling us, “And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah untol thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.”
Saul seemed to have done well therefore. He seemed to be pursuing the path of obedience. He did not say, “No, I am too afraid” or “I don’t think that we would be victorious” or “I don’t want to go.” Instead, in keeping with God’s will, he courageously gathered the Israelites together, numbered them for the battle, in faith, went to the city of Amalek, laid wait in the valley and then struck, smiting the Amalekites.
Undoubtedly therefore, he exerted a lot of effort and no doubt, he smote many of the Amalekites that day. However, although God had told him to “utterly destroy” them, Saul chose to keep the king of the Amalekites Agag alive and through his leadership, he and the people under him, did not kill what they considered to be the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings and the lambs.
The Word of God states:
- “But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.”
In language and grammar, the word “But” signals a change in events, a coming contrast or juxtaposition with what went before. Verse 7 previously told us that Saul smote the Amalekites, which suggested that he was on the path of obedience but verse 8 begins with the word “But“, letting us know that Saul came off the path of obedience and due to self-will, began to take the path of disobedience.
For, although he was commanded to get rid of everyone and everything, he decided to do as he pleased, to keep the king of Amalek alive and then to create a demarcation according to his own opinion and what seemed right in his own eyes, as to what was good and what was bad, keeping what he saw as good, alive and killing the rest.
He partially obeyed the commands of the Lord therefore, going part way toward fulfilling them but stopping short of complete obedience. As a result, the Bible states: “Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is TURNED BACK from following me, and hath not performed my commandments.”
This contains a chilling lesson for us all as Christians. To our mind, it and according to human thinking, it may have seemed that Saul had done well, although not excellently, as he had done so much in keeping with the will of God. After all, he had obeyed the call to go and had undoubtedly killed many Amalekites. In fact, he had killed all of them, men, women and children, just as God had directed but had only kept one person, just one person, the king of Amalek, alive.
According to our reasoning, this, while not a good thing was a minor thing, in light of all that Saul had done. And yes he kept some animals alive but only the ones that looked too good to just waste through killing. After all, they could be offered to the Lord instead! Saul therefore seemed to have a noble and selfless reason for why he kept some of the animals alive. Surely God would understand this? Surely God would be pleased because undoubtedly he did so much right!
Yet, God was not pleased. In Isaiah 55:8-9, he stated through his prophet Isaiah, of how human thinking differs from his thinking: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.“
Even if Saul had done 8 things out of 10 right, God’s conclusion on the whole matter was not that Saul had partially obeyed but that he had not performed his commandments. In other words, partial obedience was non-performance.
This brings to mind some important lessons or reminders for us as Christians, as follows:
ONE – When God gives a command, he EXPECTS US TO OBEY.
There are no ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ or ‘maybes’. There are no exceptions to the rule and there is no circumstance that could require a different direction. On the whole, no matter what the situation is, there is absolutely no room for human reasoning or for us to do things according to our own opinion, based on how we see things. It is to be God’s way, all the way or the highway.
TWO – PARTIAL OBEDIENCE is complete DISOBEDIENCE.
We don’t like to hear this. I don’t like to hear this but it is the truth.
Saul did a whole lot right but because he failed to complete ALL the commands and did not follow what he was told to the “T”, God considered him to have wholly failed. Notably, God did not say to Samuel that Saul had done some things right but some things wrong or that he was pleased that Saul had obeyed part of the instruction but sad that he had not completed all of it. No. God gave him a fail grade. He told Samuel, “…he is TURNED BACK from following me, and hath NOT performed my commandments.”
This tells us that God considers partial obedience to be wholly unsatisfactory and equivalent to complete disobedience. He puts them on the same level. If someone had wholly disobeyed his command therefore and did, let’s say, 0 out of 10 things that he had commanded and another person had obeyed most of it, as he did 9 out of 10, God gives both of them the same fail grade of 0, as he considers both of them to have done the same bad thing, which is to disobey. None gets more kudos or points than the other.
THREE – There is no way that we can JUSTIFY or SANCTIFY disobedience.
Unwilling to accept that he had sinned by not carrying out the whole command of the Lord, Saul sought to provide an excuse that he hoped that God would accept. He told Samuel that he had performed the command of the Lord and had utterly destroyed what God had said to destroy but that the people (over whom he was responsible for leading), had spared some of the sheep and oxen alive, to sacrifice unto the Lord.
He therefore sought to sanctify his wrong doing by saying that he had done it for the Lord. Yet, this was still not acceptable to the Lord. For, once God gives a command, it is not for us to devise ways to honour him through disobedience.
People do much of this today in Churches. The Word of God is clear as to what the Lord has commanded on various issues, yet they decide to disobey or to do part of the command but not part, under the deceitful argument that they are doing it for the Lord. For example, God says let the women be silent in the Churches (1 Corinthians 14:34) but people decide to do their own thing, justifying their disobedience with the useless excuse, that they are doing it for the Lord. They apply their own reasoning, as Saul did and do as they please, expecting the Lord to accept their offering and brazenly claiming, even as Saul did in his disobedience (which was really wilful defiance), “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”
This brings me to my fourth point.
FOUR – God values OBEDIENCE MORE THAN ANYTHING else we do or claim to do for him.
In 1 Samuel 15, after Saul had given his excuse as to why he had disobeyed the command, stating that he had kept some animals alive to sacrifice them unto the Lord, Samuel responded in verse 22:
- “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”
This reminds us that no matter how we try to nice up our sin, claiming that what we do, when we blatantly go against the Word of God is for his own benefit (as if God had need of anything from anyone of us), the fact remains that God values obedience to his Word, more than anything else. He would much prefer that we obey him, than anything else, so much so, that he would prefer we don’t do what we claim we are doing for him, if to do it, means to veer off the path of obedience and to go against his Word.
Wisdom crieth in the streets, the Word of God says and wisdom tells us, that if we want to do something good for the Lord (which is commendable) but to achieve it, it requires us to circumvent or go against God’s Word, then that something that we want to do for God, is not of God. For, God would not endorse us doing something that undermines his Word, that which he has placed above his own name (Psalm 138:2).
It is good to remember that God is not a God of contradiction nor of confusion. If he has given us commands in his Word, he will not support us in ventures, activities or so-called ‘ministries’, that require us to disregard his Word to achieve them. This should be a red flag that God is not in the so-called ‘noble’ cause that we are pursuing.
We cannot set ourselves on the path of disobedience or mix disobedience with some obedience and then claim that we saw it best to do so, in order to do his work or to be of benefit to his Kingdom. When we do that, like Saul, we delude ourselves. In our pride, stubbornness and self-will (because deep down, we just want to have our own way and do not want the Lord to rule over us or on some aspect of our lives), we convince ourselves or hope to hoodwink the Lord into believing, that our disobedience was for the best, that we had his best interest at heart and that it was for a good cause or outcome.
FIFTH – All disobedience to God’s commands is a REJECTION of God’s Word.
There are no two ways about it. If we decide to take the path of disobedience, whether completely or partially and on any matter, we are saying to the Lord, that we have rejected what he has told us to do. We are turning our backs to him and not our faces, even as the Israelites did in Jeremiah 32 and we are saying, Lord, I hear what you are saying, I know what you have declared in your Word but on this matter, I have decided to do my own thing because I believe that it is necessary. I have therefore rejected your counsel and in my pride, put confidence in my own.
Of Saul, God told Samuel, “…he is TURNED BACK from following me…” (vs. 11) and although Saul fished for excuses to justify his disobedience, Samuel called a spade a spade, telling Saul exactly what he had done. Despite all of Saul’s excuses, which on the surface seemed noble, Samuel, speaking the mind of God, told him, “…thou hast rejected the word of the Lord.” (vs. 23)
In Jeremiah 32:23, the prophet Jeremiah stated of the Israelites, who, like Saul, had chosen to disobey God, although he had caused them to be brought out of Egypt and possess the land of promise:
- “And they came in, and possessed it; but they obeyed not thy voice, neither walked in thy law; they have done nothing of all that thou commandedst them to do: therefore thou hast caused all this evil to come upon them…”
In verse 33, God, speaking through the same prophet Jeremiah, stated of them: “And they have TURNED UNTO ME THE BACK, AND NOT THE FACE: though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction.”
This reminds me of many of us today, as Christians. Through God’s mercy and faithfulness, he has brought us out of the world (which Egypt symbolises) and placed us into his divine family, causing us to possess salvation and the promise of an eternal inheritance in Jesus Christ. However, despite all of his goodness toward us, there are times when, although we hear his voice as his sheep (John 10:27), we decide to do our own thing. We decide to not obey and so wilfully turn unto him the back and not the face. He gives us instructions from his Word but at times we scoff at it because our hearts are set on doing our own thing and so we do not hearken to receive instruction.
As a result, we reap evil and that which is self-detrimental, even as the Israelites experienced and Saul, who God took the kingdom from. While we cannot lose our salvation once we have been adopted into God’s divine family (which is irreversible), we lose out on many blessings, that we could have had, had we chosen to obey.
Of wisdom, which always calls upon us to completely obey God’s commands and tells us of what we can hope to reap when we do not and instead turn our backs in rejection of his Word, Proverbs 1:20-33 states:
- “Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? TURN YOU at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
- Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. THEREFORE shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the TURNING AWAY of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.”
SIXTH – Disobedience, including partial obedience is NO LIGHT SIN.
It is a major thing to go against the Word of God, any part of it, even if it seems to us to be a small matter. Saul didn’t think much of keeping king Agag alive or sparing the lives of some of the animals, given that he had done so much of what the Lord had commanded. He thought that God would say that it was okay, that he understood and that he was pleased that Saul had spared some animals to sacrifice unto him. Yet, Samuel, acting on behalf of God, told him: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”
Samuel was basically saying that Saul had disobeyed because he was rebellious and stubborn and this, in the sight of God was the same as indulging in witchcraft, engaging in iniquity and being guilty of idolatry.
This is sobering. It is a chilling reminder, that disobedience, including partial obedience (which is still disobedience), is considered by God to be rebellion (no matter how we seek to justify it). Rebellion in turn is considered by him to be tantamount to witchcraft which is diabolical in origin and when we refuse to submit our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit but instead, assert our own will, doing as we please going where we please and saying as we please, this is stubbornness and stubbornness is on the same level as iniquity and idolatry. To my mind, it is idolatry because we are more devoted to our selves, pleasing our selves, fulfilling the desire of our flesh or pleasing someone else, over and above God. When called to obey the voice of our flesh or that of others versus the voice of God therefore, we refuse to deny ourselves or to displease whoever we want to please (because we consider this too painful a thing to do) and so decide to not listen to what God is telling us to do.
In conclusion, it is good to be reminded that even today, the God of the Bible is still upon his throne. He is unchanging and he still gives us counsel and commands from his Word. He still expects us to obey what he has instructed to the “T”, not try to outsmart or hoodwink him by trying to change up his commands to suit ourselves because we find them too archaic or because deep down, we want to have our own way.
When we try to change up God’s commands, pretend we don’t hear him on a matter or that we don’t understand or that what he has said is ambiguous (when it is not) and therefore, we can do whatever we want to do according to our own interpretation (which, ironically, is always an interpretation that suits ourselves and our rebellious agenda), when we turn the back to him and not our face, say no to what he has told us to do and therefore, like Saul, decide to REJECT his Word, we are being rebellious and stubborn. We have embraced a sin that is as bad as witchcraft and idolatry and we will undoubtedly reap what we have sown.
(Written on 22nd November, 2022)
Dear Reader, if you found the above Article to be interesting, informative, beneficial or edifying, you may also be interested in reading the following:
- Note 133 – ‘Were You Deceived Or Disobedient?’
- Note 152 – ‘Symptoms Of A Person Outside The Favour of God’
- Note 186 – ‘There Is Beautiful Provision In Obedience’
- Note 199 – ‘Dear Christian, Disobedience Does Not Pay’
- Note 263 – ‘Can Disobedience Ever Be Justified?’