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Grace Notes

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A PERSON WHO OBEYS GOD RATHER THAN MEN
by Philip Owen

 

            The world at large, of course, cares nothing for biblical godliness. Unfortunately, my sense is that much of the real church gives very little thought and not much devotion to acquiring or maintaining a godly life either. Not so, Thomas Watson. It would seem that he believed that godliness is every believer’s true vocation and that we should be devoted to living godly lives. Watson observed that a salient characteristic of a godly person is that he obeys God rather than men.
 
            A characteristic of the godly person is that his vote is not up for sale; his time, energy, and devotion do not go to the highest bidder. The Apostles Peter and John remained adamant in this regard. Having preached Christ to residents of Jerusalem, they were arrested and hauled before the council who “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:19). Undeterred by this unscriptural demand, Peter replied, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (vv. 19, 20). For Peter, the choice between obeying God and obeying men was a “no-brainer.” So he and the other apostles continued to obey God by preaching. And once again they were taken before the Sanhedrin. When rebuked for not obeying the commands of the council, “Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men” (5:29). For that effrontery, they suffered beatings and more threatenings. And the next thing that we read of them is that “they departed . . . rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (5:41, 42). Was this petty misbehavior or juvenile rebellion? Neither, Peter and the other apostles were simply obeying God rather than men.
 
            For the most part in this country, the consequences of choosing God rather than men are not so dire. Because that is true, the contrast between obedience to God or to men sometimes may be more subtle, but obeying men is no less ungodly. Scripture warns us against many of the possible temptations to obey men rather than God, including three we will mention briefly. 
 
Fear. Fear is among the most powerful of motivators. Saul, when he disobeyed God by sacrificing in a manner forbidden to all but priests tried to excuse his sin by pleading that he had disobeyed God because he “feared the people, and obeyed their voice” (I Sam. 15:24). God was not impressed. This act of disobedience cost Saul the loss of God’s voice through the prophet Samuel and, ultimately, his kingdom and his life.
 
Gain. Greed, gain, avarice, advantage, advancement—the obtaining of power, possessions, and prestige are powerful motivators also. But when the choice lies between obeying men or God, the godly person chooses the latter. Let no one be deceived into thinking that such a choice is insignificant. The reality is stark: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).
 
Man-pleasing. Paul laid out the truth in a simple, stark statement: “for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). Doing what pleases another human being, regardless of the circumstances, is not an acceptable substitute for obeying God. There is no substitute for obeying God.
 
Perhaps these things should be obvious. But in the event that they are not, the Word of God takes great pains to explain that godliness is not some ethereal platitude. It is a practical choosing of God’s will and way rather than man’s. The godly person will recognize and submit to that distinction.

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