When we think of obedience, what things go through our minds? In what areas do we feel responsible to obey? We may answer quickly "all things," but are we sure we mean that? Perhaps we think of general areas such as "Love one another." Certainly that is included, but is obedience limited to general instructions? Most men, Christian or not, would agree that one should "love his neighbor." But general instruction of this nature, even though it is right, is not sufficient by itself to bring an increase in our lives. It must be made more specific so that we can respond.
It may be helpful at this point to consider the example of parents and children. General instruction is given to children in various areas such as the importance of treating their brothers and sisters with respect. But the children do not know how to do this. They must be given specific instruction in the real situations of life. Instruction and correction on the spot are given by the parents, which implements what was given in general terms. As children obey their parents, they learn what it means to show respect. They learn what conduct is acceptable and what is unacceptable. As they learn, their capacity for having better judgment on their own increases. If done properly, it will bring an increase of maturity and character because of what the parents see and because of the obedience that they require from the children. Now this is all natural and can be worked in any child by parents who know what they are doing. But the point we are making here is that maturity in the child comes only as there are very specific instructions or commands given, with obedience required in a proper attitude.
In the spiritual we do not have an earthly father; we have a heavenly Father, and we are His children. When we are born of the Spirit into His family, we are brought into a relationship with Him in which we are under His authority and can hear His commands. If we are not under His authority, or we are not listening to His instruction to us, how can we say that we are part of His family? "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). In the natural, if a son is disobedient, his father takes steps immediately to correct the wrong attitude. Our heavenly Father is a perfect father, and always moves to correct the relationship. If we are to continue to be a part of His family, we must respond to His loving correction and see every hindrance to our relationship with Him dealt with. If we do not respond, no training or maturity can take place, and sooner or later, we will find ourselves on the outside.
The instruction that God brings to our lives is very similar to the instruction that an earthly father brings. He gives us some understanding, some light on our pathway, and it has meaning to us, but we do not see all of the implications at once. Then as we are in real-life situations, He brings very specific commands to our hearts. As a certain situation arises we "know" what to do. It is obvious, because the Holy Spirit has quickened God's word to our hearts and we see the application of what God has shown us. Here is where we must obey. If we let the situation pass by and do not obey, we grieve the Holy Spirit (who is God) and miss the opportunity to learn something more of the Lord. Not only do we miss the opportunity to grow in God ourselves, it is likely that others are also affected in a negative way. God has involved us in a very real way in the lives of other people.
The obedience that we are speaking of is always unto the Lord, and the Holy Spirit is the One who communicates this to our heart. He makes it plain that it is God, and no matter how the command comes to us, our response is to God. This is true even if the specific command comes through another member that God has chosen. The word through another member may come in various forms such as "Have you considered this?" or "Don't you think it would be good if you did that?" But the Holy Spirit takes that word, lifts it out of the natural, and speaks it directly to our hearts. We know in an instant that God is speaking to us, giving us a command to obey. The question is, do we see the importance of obeying that word when it comes to our hearts? Can we recognize the authority of God coming to us in this way?
Sometimes, the instruction or commands may come in a very specific way. This will be more likely when the word is coming to us through mature ministry and we have given that ministry a place in our lives. God gives the ministry, but for it to benefit us we must recognize the ministry and open our lives to the grace that is coming to us. Paul was a minister chosen by God, but he told the Corinthian church that they had restricted themselves by looking wrongly at things, and they needed to be reconciled to God and open up their hearts so they could receive what God had for them. (See II Cor. 5:18-20.)
God never forces Himself on us, and God-given ministry never forces or drives. God always extends a place to us, but we must open ourselves to receive. Have we given ministry a place in our lives? Have we desired help? When instruction comes to us, do we obey? Our growth in God would be much greater if we would come to grips with this area, and give ministry the place in our lives that God has intended. May I strongly encourage us to look at this area again and see God's plan in fresh light? We will benefit greatly, and God will be glorified.