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There’s just something about the word that sets our teeth on edge — obedience. When we’re in charge (or think we are), we want it from others and can’t understand why they can’t just cooperate. But when we’re being asked for our obedience, it is usually a different story — it limits our “freedom”, cramps our style, and is the key duty of slaves and servants. Since the day we all learned the word and the power of “no”, we have been attempting to shrug off obedience. And that has brought trouble for us all in our families, in our relationships, in our work lives, and most importantly in our spiritual lives — which effects everything else.

Obedience was the central issue, when God decided to replace King Saul with the shepherd boy, David. David was “the man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14 and 1 Sam. 15 & 16), while Saul found following God inconvenient, insecure, and unpopular. Disobedience toppled Saul’s potential dynasty, while obedience established David’s. But if you were to have asked Saul, if he thought he was disobedient, he would have given you a surprising answer, “No, of course not!” (see 1 Sam. 15:13). It is for this reason and from this story, then, that we can learn two important things about obedience.

First, although humans tend to elevate the importance of worship over daily obedience (morality; fruit bearing; fulfilling our Christian obligations to our families, employer, country, and church), God doesn’t prioritize them that way. Saul thought that offering a sacrifice of the best of the animals from Amalek would trump any “minor” noncompliance to God’s specific command, but he was clearly wrong: "Samuel said, "Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams." 1 Samuel 15:22, NAS95. Get that? To obey is better than sacrifice (worship)! And it is easy to think (wish) that worship will cover up deliberate disobedience, because worship is easier than saying no to my own will.

We’ve all seen things like this before, maybe you’ve been in this situation before, a child misbehaving and deliberately disobeying a parent, until the parent has had enough and scoops the child up to exercise a bit of discipline. But as the parent is walking to a more private venue (so other adults won’t be subjected to the child’s date with “justice”), the child, knowing what’s about to happen, begins hugging and kissing the parent — in a vain attempt to trump the earlier disobedience with a little bit of “worship”. It doesn’t work with a good parent, and it doesn’t work with God either. Both parent and God would view earlier obedience as preferable to a last second kiss to avert discipline.

Second, Saul’s disobedience teaches us that obedience is not really obedience unless it is complete. Although Saul followed God some of the way, he didn’t follow Him all the way. It was this partial disobedience that cost Saul and his family the kingship. What a shame, following God most of the way, but as the saying goes, “close but no cigar.” The lesson we should gather here is that partial obedience to God is also partial disobedience to God, and this is unacceptable.

How many times do we make the same mistake as Saul, justifying ourselves in the same way — that we indeed were obedient to God, until the going got tough or unpopular, then we disobeyed? Real obedience is complete obedience. How many religious folks stumble over this one? They believe in Jesus, repent of sin, live good moral lives, teach others about Jesus’ and His teachings; but they fall short of baptism in both their own obedience and in their teachings to others. Like Saul, many might even approach the judgment seat of the Lord saying something like, “…Blessed are you of the LORD! I have carried out the command of the LORD.” 1 Samuel 15:13, NAS95. But Jesus tells of a moment in the judgment in which He will tragically say to some, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” Matthew 7:22, 23, NAS95. This is where partial obedience will bring us.

Thankfully, our sins are forgivable, when we repent; and God’s grace is generous. But obedience is critical for discipleship to Jesus. Let’s not fool ourselves like Saul did and lose our throne (as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ) through our disobedience and willfulness.

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