By Olen Holderby
This is really an article about obedience to God; but, with considerable emphasis on “the man in the pew.” First, let us talk about
Obedience to God
I do not think it necessary to offer a definition of the word “obedience”; rather, I believe it to be more helpful if we understand the attributes of obedience, as given in the scriptures. These attributes ought to be a challenge to every child of God that lives upon the face of God’s earth.
Obedience is a learned process: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Ephesians 6:1-4 clearly shows that this is true even in the rearing of children. Obedience is a lesson which we all must learn; it does not come automatically, nor does it come easily. Have we learned this lesson, and have we learned it well?
Obedience to God must be complete obedience, in every thought, in every word, and in every act if we are to be pleasing to God. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: . . . Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience of Christ when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor. 10:3-6). This passage, alone, fully and plainly establishes the fact that obedience to God must be complete, covering every facet of our lives. Partial obedience, my friend, will not stand the test, neither here nor in the judgment. Each of us must examine himself carefully (2 Cor. 13:5); and, each of us must be honest in his conclusions. Have we really yielded ourselves in compete obedience to God?
Obedience to God must be a willing obedience. Jesus taught this when he spoke of those who honored him with their lips, but their hearts were far from him (Mk. 7:6-8). Willing obedience is the only obedience that will free us from sin, keep us that way, and make us servants of righteousness. “But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). This passage shows that acceptable obedience is an act of the will, coming from the heart. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5 Paul spoke of those who had a form of godliness, but were denying the power thereof. Timothy was urged to “turn away” from such and for good reason: Those whose obedience was just a form would, sooner, or later, end up with one or more of the sins enumerated in these verses. Read them carefully; for, this is exactly where those are headed whose obedience is not a willing obedience, but just in form.
Obedience to God must be understood to be for man’s own good. Since man cannot properly direct himself (Jer. 10:23), and since there is a way that seems right but the end is that of death (Prov. 14:12), God sent his Son Jesus Christ to bless us “in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26). James says, “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (Jas. 1:25). God wants our obedience because it is best for us, and not because it is best for him. God can get along without us, but we cannot get along without him.
Do not forget these attributes of obedience, for they are essential ingredients for our obedience to be acceptable to God. We must earnestly work on these things for the simple reason that the eternal welfare of our souls is at stake.
Obedience In Teaching
Even though God expects all his children, at some point, to be teachers (Heb. 5:12), we shall be concerned in this section with the “man in the pulpit.” Yes, the gospel preacher must examine his own obedience especially in his preaching.
He is plainly told what he shall preach, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). This gospel must be preached to every creature, both before and after his baptism (Matt. 28:19-20). Yes, the gospel is to be preached to both Christian and non-Christian. To the Christians in Rome Paul declared, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also” (Rom. 1:15). Further, he is limited in his preaching to the gospel; and he is condemned if he preached anything else (Gal. 1:8-9). Long before Christ was born, God said, “… he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully” (Jer. 23:28). Concerning the coming of his Son into the world God said, “. . . he shall speak unto them all that I command him” (Deut. 18:18). After he arrived in the world, that Son said, “I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him (the Father)” (Jn. 8:26). In John 12:49-50, that same Son affirms, “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. . . . Whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.” Jesus did not speak more, nor did he speak less than what the Father told him to say.
The apostles followed the example of their Lord. Paul said to the Ephesian elders, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). When it is said that the Apostles preached the gospel, it meant that they preached all of God’s truth on any subject at hand. But, why did they do this? They did it because the people had a right to the truth, the whole truth (Deut. 18:19). The truth, and only the truth, would free their souls of sins and keep them that way (1 Pet. 1:22-23; Jn. 8:32). Anything less than the whole truth would be presumptive disobedience.
In spite of the examples of Christ and the apostles, many preachers have become thieves of God’s Word stealing it from their hearers. Listen to it, of the false prophets God said, they “steal my words every one from his neighbor” (Jer. 23:30). We can easily understand and apply this statement to the denominational preacher who does not preach all of God’s plan of redemption, or all of God’s plan for worship, etc. But, is it not also true of preachers in the Lord’s church who will not preach all of God’s truth (as they perceive it) on the moral issues with which we are confronted? What about those who say that they will not preach on the subject of divorce and remarriage from the pulpit? If we are to believe the excuses used by such fellows, then we must conclude that both Jesus and his apostles must have used terrible judgment, did not want peace, and were real disturbers of God’s people. I think C.R. Nichol said it best and had it right, “The preacher or teacher today who withholds any of God’s truth from the people is as much a thief as were the false teachers of old” (Sound Doctrine I:128). Such preachers or teachers take from their fellows what rightfully belongs to their fellows, they steal God’s words from their neighbor. And, this is true whether it is done publically or privately. Having thus dealt with “Obedience in Teaching,” we now turn to
Obedience to the Teaching
This is where we talk to the “man in the pew.” I am using this term to refer to all those who sit in the pew and listen to preaching. This part of my article is a plea to every “man in the pew” to listen carefully, to consider prayerfully, and to act honestly and consistently. I beg you, therefore, to hear me!
Permit me, first, to describe some scenes with which I am personally acquainted. Scene #1. The people in this congregation sat for years and listened to the truth preached on all subjects at hand. The preacher resigns; and the majority of these people wish to hire a man that believes the very opposite of that to which they have listened for years.
Scene #2. The people of this congregation, after listening to the truth for a number of years, just do not believe it makes much difference what a preacher believes, just so he is well-liked and a good mixer. Scene #3. Here the people have listened to a not-so-well known preacher for years, but he does preach the truth. But, when a better known preacher begins to teach error, they just will not tolerate their preacher calling attention to that fact. Dear reader, do you get the picture of what I am talking about? Other scenes could be used, but these must suffice. Now, back to the “man in the pew.”
What about this man in the pew? What is wrong with him? Is he dishonest, pretending to support the truth until his chances to change things occurs? Has he become a “slop-bucket” permitting the false teacher to fill an empty head with garbage? Can he no longer think for himself? Have human relationships become more important to him than his relationship to God? Has he permitted himself to become just a tool, a pawn in the hands of anyone who tickles his ears? Has he lost his faith in God and his word? Has he really listened to the truth preached? Do these questions arouse any thought? That is what they are meant to do.
Does God have anything to say, especially, to the man in the pew? The man in the pulpit is charged, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). In like manner, the man in the pew is charged, “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1 , NAS). In 1 Timothy 4:12, the man in the pulpit is instructed, “be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” For what reason is the preacher to be an example? Is it not so that others can follow and be right? What kind of an example will the man in the pew follow these days?
When Paul said, “I am set for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17), cannot the man in the pew understand that such is just as important to him as it is to the man in the pulpit? Does the man in the pew understand Jude 3, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints?” Or, was this written only for the man in the pulpit?
The ideal situation is plainly expressed in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” However, this would be true only if the man in the pulpit would do this; and, the man in the pew would obediently follow that doctrine. I would to God that it was completely as this passage suggests; but, we both know, don’t we, that it has not worked as it should. Either the man in the pulpit has not preached the truth, the whole truth; or, the man is the pew has not followed.
The church of the Lord is not composed of only preachers; the vast majority is of the man in the pew variety. The man in the pew must join the battle. He must rise up “in arms” in defense of the truth. He, as others, must put on the whole armour of God (Eph. 6:11 ff); and, he must fight the good fight of faith (2 Tim. 4:7). When it is all over, we shall be able to say, with the Apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). My brethren “in the pew,” I beg of you to do just this!
If elders are present and they are doing well their job of watching for souls (Heb. 13:17), by all means, uphold their hands, submit to them, and let them know of your solid backing (1 Thess. 5:12-13). If elders are lacking, and error is taught, the man in the pew must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). The man in the pew must learn to demand the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in both teaching and practice. The purity of the Lord’s church fully depends upon this (Eph. 5:25-27). Again, my brethren in the pew, I beg you to do this!
The man in the pew pays the salary of the preacher; and if you pay the salary of a purveyor of error, you become partaker of his evil deeds (2 Jn. 9-11). What God does not accept, and he does not accept the false teacher, we dare not accept. On the other hand, what God accepts, we dare not reject. You have every right, and duty, to make sure that the money which you give to the great Cause of the Lord, is used in perfect harmony with God’s truth. And, again, brethren in the pew, I beg you to make this your business!
The man in the pew must find courage to stand fast and behave like men (1 Cor. 16:13,8,9), and he must do this in face of all opposition. The fear mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:7, is a cowardly fear (deiliaos), of one not standing for truth and right. Revelation 21:8, says the fearful have their part in the lake of fire. Brethren in the pew, don’t let this be you; find the courage to say and do as God would have you do in defense of the truth.
The man in the pew might say, “Does it really make any difference?” In reply I ask, Where have you been? Where is your Bible? Have you lost your faith in God’s word? (Rom. 10:17) Are you really willing for the eternal welfare of your soul to rest in the hands of another man, any other man? I beg you to think about this, my brother in the pew!
It would seem that one who preaches God’s truth and only God’s truth, is loved and respected less and less. Paul expressed it like this, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (2 Cor. 12:15). It is heart-breaking to see this repeated over and over. My brethren in the pew, you can change all this by taking a firm stand for the truth and by joining hands with those who stand only for the truth. I beg you to do so!
While you go about to do these things, and more, you must always keep in mind that there never is a time when a Christian can become unchristian and still be accepted by God. You life, too, must be in harmony with the gospel (Phil. 1:27); you must not permit the world to be your pattern of behavior (Rom. 12:2).
Yes, this is a plea, a passionate plea, to every man in the pew, to pay “more earnest heed to the things (truth) which you have heard.” Facts do not cease to be facts because they are ignored; nor, will God’s instructions to us change because we ignore them. We must heed the call, now, before it is too late.
Now, on the personal side. Make no mistake about it, I (along with others) will not quit! We must fight, at all costs, for our souls (and yours) are at stake. However, my years are rapidly winding down. I beg you to join me (and others) in the fight. Let nothing silence us but death! Even then, may it be said of each of us, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13). My brethren in the pew, will you listen? May it ever be so!
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 10, p. 6-8
May 19, 1994