Who Should We Obey? (Part 1)

Who Should We Obey?

Obey God

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James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Deuteronomy 27:9 And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of Yahweh thy God.
10 Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of Yahweh thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day.

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

This should be one of the most obvious truths in the whole Bible. As His people, we are instructed to obey God "that it may be well with thee." We also obey to show our love for Him and in appreciation that He "first loved us."

God Delegates Authority

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Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of Yahweh, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

Daniel 4:17 This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.

The principle of obeying God extends to obeying those He has setup as authorities in our lives. God has entrusted people in certain positions with some of His authority and to rebel against that delegated authority is still to rebel against God. The verses specifically mention kings, but it follows that the idea of delegated authority holds true in other areas where God commands us to give submission. There are several types of authority that we are commanded to submit to, among them governors, husbands, parents, brethren and spiritual mentors. Obviously, when God instructs us to obey someone in some matter, to disobey them in that matter is to disobey God's command as well, so it is essential to understand how much authority God has delegated and to whom he has delegated it.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

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2 Corinthians 10:8 For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Master hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed:

2 Corinthians 12:14 Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.

Hebrews 13: 17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

James 3:1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

2 Samuel 12:9 Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of Yahweh, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife [Bathsheba] to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.

Numbers 30:15 But if he [her husband] shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.

When God grants authority it comes with responsibility and misusing that authority to the detriment of those you are responsible for brings a greater condemnation. In fact, in the cases of David killing Uriah and of the husband who makes his wife break her vow, using authority to cause a sin to be committed results in the authority figure being the one charged with the iniquity rather than the underling. Just as Yeshua "bears our iniquities," and leaves us guiltless, so we see that the wife required to break her vow is also free of iniquity since the husband bears it.

Equal or Unequal Authorities?

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Matthew 22:37 Yeshua said unto him, Thou shalt love Yahweh thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Mark 12:31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

The New Testament has the same underlying Greek root word used to command submission to magistrates, to each other, and to laborers in the church, wives to their husbands and slaves to their masters. From that, some would conclude that each of these authorities is due the same type of submission or obedience. Yet in each of the verses above, we are commanded to love someone and the passages all use the same Greek root word for love. That doesn't mean that each love is equal though. We are to love Yahweh, love our wife and love our neighbor, but the modifying words describe the responsibility for each love. Love Yahweh with your heart, soul, mind and strength, love your wife as Christ loved the church and love your neighbor as yourself. In each case love is required, but to different levels.

Pertaining to this article, we see the same concept when it comes to submission. When standing alone, the word holds the idea of honoring, hearkening and complying, yet in some cases, we have more words that describe to what level we should submit. Thus we need to examine each type of authority to determine who we should obey when, since we have been given at least slightly different instructions for each different authority type.

"Servants, Obey in All Things"

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1 Timothy 6:1 Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.
2 And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

Ephesians 6:5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;
7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:

Colossians 3:22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:
23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

Titus 2:9 Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again;
10 Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.

1 Peter 2:18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.
19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.
20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

Directly applied, our society does not have the same type of slaves or indentured servants that this command is addressed to. However, understanding what the Father's commands are for slaves can help us as we look at some of the other authorities and also has some application towards modern situations. For instance, employees basically assume indentured servitude for the hours that they are on the job. Although, unless there is some contract they have entered, they can usually "be made free" at any point by simply quitting.

The underlying root word used really does mean "obey" and is stronger than the one used for "submit" throughout the New Testament. Beyond that, the importance of slaves obeying their masters is driven home by a number of descriptive phrases that are applied. "That the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed," "in singleness of heart," "as unto Christ," "heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men," "shewing all good fidelity," and "obey in all things" all add to the strength of this command. Generally, Christians will agree that this command can be taken at face value, but if you push far enough most will add exceptions and say that obedience to a master is not required in certain cases. One commonly supported claim is that a slave should not obey if his master gives an order to do something that would violate one of God's commands.


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1 Corinthians 7:21 Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
22 For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.
23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

2 Kings 5:17 And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules’ burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto Yahweh.
18 In this thing Yahweh pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, Yahweh pardon thy servant in this thing.
19 And he [Elisha] said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way.

Luke 19:20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:
21 For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.
22 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:
23 Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?

Matthew 25:24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

So, do the passages instruct absolute obedience or do we see evidence for exceptions? To start with, unlike other commands like, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication," (Matthew 5:32) or, "As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men," (Romans 12:18) the command for servants to obey does not have an explicit exception or conditional contained in the text. In fact, the modifier is to "obey in all things!" I don't know of any Christian who honestly thinks that there are exceptions to "Giving thanks always for all things" (Ephesians 5:20) or "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." (Matthew 7:12) or "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:20)

On top of that, we have 1 Corinthians 7:22 that teaches a slave is "the Lord’s freeman" while a freeman is "Christ’s servant." Since a freeman is free from commands that a slave is bound by, it makes sense that a slave, as "the Lord's freeman" and not "Christ's servant," is released from God's other commands in order to obey his earthly master. Conspicuously, this teaching contains the command to get your freedom if possible so that you can be free to be "Christ's servant." We should not hang around in slavery, being required to break God's commands if we have a way out. (So modern employees should most likely appeal to their boss or, if necessary, quit when faced with this scenario.)

We also have a couple stories that support the view that servants are to give absolute obedience. In 1 Kings 5, after being healed from his leprosy, Naaman tells Elisha that he will no longer sacrifice to any God but Yahweh, but he mentions that when he goes with his master to a pagan temple he will have to bow down and requests, "Yahweh pardon thy servant in this thing." Elisha's response, "Go in peace," gives a measure of assurance that he will receive that forgiveness.

In Luke 19:22-23 and the parallel passage in Matthew 25:26-27 we have a parable where a nobleman (representing Yeshua in the final judgement) calls his servants to account. He says, "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?" This implies that had the servant been serving his (perceived) immoral master "with singleness of heart," he should have used even immoral means to serve him (usury is generally equivalent to oppression of the poor in the Bible.) Instead, the servant is punished for NOT performing an immoral action on behalf of his (perceived) immoral master.

Considering 1 Peter 2:18, "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward," we can see that absolute obedience, even to the unrighteous master, is what the scripture intends.

"Children, Obey Your Parents in All Things"

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Colossians 3:20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
2 Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;)
3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Galatians 4:1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

Exodus 20:12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which Yahweh thy God giveth thee.

Exodus 21:15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.

Exodus 21:17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.

2 Timothy 3:2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

We can see from Colossians 3:20 and Ephesians 6:1-4 that children who are not yet grown or "brought up" are commanded to obey their parents "in all things." Once again, "all things" is about as strong as the command can be put and the word for obey is more stringent than what is used for "submit" through the New Testament. I don't think there is much question that a child should outright obey all his parents' commands until he is grown.

As a side note, I believe that the scriptural age of manhood comes at twenty which was the cut off point for those who were not allowed to enter the promised land because of their sins. (Numbers 32:11) It is possible that a man who married younger than twenty (1 Corinthians 11:3) or who has been deemed of age by his father (Galatians 4:1-2) would also qualify as no longer children.

As far as whether absolute obedience is due to parents beyond the age of manhood, the rest of the injunctions regarding parents seem to be more concerned with honor than obedience. There are death penalties in the law for cursing or striking parents and "Honour thy father and thy mother" is one of the ten commandments spoken by the voice of God, so disobeying parents even as a grown man is not to be taken lightly, but looking at the way the underlying Greek and Hebrew words are used throughout the rest of the scripture, it doesn't seem to require obedience. In fact, Galatians 4:1-2 states that a child's status changes from being the same as a slave (who must obey) to something different when he comes of age. This strongly implies that slave-like obedience to parents for adult sons is not an outright commandment.

One passage (also a nearly identical one in Romans 1:30) that might be used to argue for full adult obedience to parents is 2 Timothy 3:2 which lists several sins, one of which is often translated "disobedient to parents." The root Greek word though is used much more often to mean "persuade" or "trust" rather than "obey." Considering that trusting, being persuaded by and honoring are closely related concepts, I'm inclined to think that "dishonoring parents" is the sin that Paul is trying to get across. Still, there are blessings mentioned in the Proverbs as well as in Jeremiah 35 to the Rechabites for adult obedience to parents, so to disobey parents, even as a grown man, should be a last resort and perhaps only done when trying to keep another command.

"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord"

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Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

1 Corinthians 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

Colossians 3:18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Titus 2:3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:
6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

1 Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

Genesis 3:16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Numbers 30:6 And if she had at all an husband, when she vowed, or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul;
7 And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it: then her vows shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand.
8 But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and Yahweh shall forgive her.
9 But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.
10 And if she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound her soul by a bond with an oath;
11 And her husband heard it, and held his peace at her, and disallowed her not: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she bound her soul shall stand.
12 But if her husband hath utterly made them void on the day he heard them; then whatsoever proceeded out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning the bond of her soul, shall not stand: her husband hath made them void; and Yahweh shall forgive her.
13 Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.
14 But if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day; then he establisheth all her vows, or all her bonds, which are upon her: he confirmeth them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them.
15 But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.

Matthew 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

For wives, the main Greek word for "submit" (honoring, hearkening and complying) is what is used in most of the passages. Only once in reference to a wife and her husband do we have the Greek word "obey" that is used repeatedly for children and slaves. That instance is in Peter 3 where holy women's submission is likened to, "Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord." From this we see that wifely submission involves some level of obedience as well. The question is, how much? Putting together the phrases and modifiers that we are given along with the word "submit" in each passage, I think we can get a pretty good idea.

  • Ephesians 5:22 says submit "as unto the Lord." What level of obedience do we owe when submitting to Yeshua? A wife being asked to submit to her husband the same as if he were God implies absolute obedience is owed.
  • Ephesians 5:23 says that "the husband is the head of the wife" and 1 Corinthians 11:3 confirms the concept comparing it to God being the head of Christ and Christ being the head of the husband. We know that the husband owes absolute obedience to Christ, and Christ himself said in John 8:28 "I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me."
  • Ephesians 5:24 says "as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing." There are two intense phrases here. "As the church is subject unto Christ" is again a relationship where we know full obedience is owed; and at the end of the verse, we have the phrase "in every thing" that rebuts any idea of exception.
  • Ephesians 5:33 says let "the wife see that she reverence her husband." The word "reverence" here is usually translated fear, for instance in Mark 4:41, "And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" I think godly fear is intended, like the kind David had when he would not strike even a fallen, disgraced Saul simply because Saul was Yahweh's anointed ruler. (1 Samuel 24:6 and 2 Samuel 1:14)
  • Colossians 3:18 says to submit "as it is fit in the Lord" and Titus 2:5 gives a similar but stronger reason for submission, "that the word of God be not blasphemed." When it comes to obeying authority, the reputation of God's word is at stake if we choose to rebel.
  • 1 Peter 3:1 commands submission so "that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won." Similar to preventing the word of God from being blasphemed, wifely submission is what Peter ties to winning an unrighteous husband. On top of that, the passage tells women to submit to husbands who are not right with God, which almost certainly means she would be asked to do things that are wrong.
  • 1 Peter 3:6 goes on to say that Sarah obeying Abraham was an example of holy submission "whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement." Since fear of a husband is actually instructed, we can know that the "afraid with any amazement" that a wife should avoid relates to outside consequences. The example in the verse, Sarah, would have had plenty of reason to be afraid that obeying Abraham in only admitting she was his sister would bring bad consequences - especially since it was based on the idea that if she was his wife, they would try to kill Abraham to get her, but in only claiming to be his sister, the evil men would just take her! Not unexpectedly, she ended up in a king's harem, (still obedient in saying only that she was Abraham's sister) but she had no need to be "afraid with any amazement" because God ultimately intervened.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:34 says women "are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law." The only passage in the law that directly speaks of obeying a husband that I am aware of is Genesis 3:16 which uses a word for "rule" that is often used to describe kings' or Yahweh's authority as well.

Taken together, the verses we have about wifely submission paint a pretty strict picture. Even so, many try to claim exceptions to the command. Often the exception put forth is that a woman should not obey her husband if he asks her to do something contrary to God's word. On the surface this makes sense; if God is the ultimate authority, we should always obey Him. On the other hand, if we can show that this exception does not actually exist, then all other exceptions must be discarded as well since they pale in comparison.

So, examining the passages carefully, is there reason to believe that a husband will bear the guilt, leaving his wife free if he requires her to do something against God's word? Besides the phrases like "in everything" and "as unto the Lord" in the list above, we have a couple other passages that I believe demonstrate a wife is free from guilt in such cases.

In Numbers 30 the instructions for vows demonstrate this concept. Multiple times it says "Yahweh shall forgive her" about a wife whose husband voids her vow; and in the last case, where a husband at first establishes the vow and later voids it, it says of her husband "he shall bear her iniquity." This means that the wife is breaking a command (keep your vow) because of her husband, and the husband, not the wife is charged with the iniquity. This clearly shows that in this case a wife can obey her husband even to the point of breaking another command.

Similarly, in Matthew 5, a man who wrongfully divorces his wife, "causeth her to commit adultery." The blame for the wife's sin committed after the divorce is not placed on her, but on the man who wrongfully divorced her and put her in a bad situation. (This helps show that a man's sin can cause his wife's sin and the man is the one held guilty on both accounts.)

In reality, it often isn't as simple as a husband telling his wife to break a command; usually there is a difference of opinion on what a command actually means. Applying 1 Corinthians 14:35, we once again come up with a situation where the wife should obey the husband. In the passage, wives are instructed, "if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home." This means that if a husband and wife are debating a question involving the scripture, the wife is told to ask her husband for the answer to the question! In other words, the idea that a wife should disobey her husband when he tells her to break a command has no basis logically, since her husband is the one who teaches her what the command is.

This is not to say that a wife should not make an appeal if she believes her husband is making a bad decision. Moses, Paul, Ezekiel and others appealed the decisions of Yahweh Himself at times. A wife who happily goes along with sin would be in the position of Sapphira who was struck down by the Spirit for "agreeing together" with her husband to lie in Acts 5. (Logically, since Peter denounced Sapphira and held up Sarah as an example, this means that Sarah went into Abimelech's harem for Abraham unwillingly.)

In light of all the above, I believe the teaching that a wife is called to obey her husband, "in everything" is the only one that can fit with all the scriptural evidence.

There are other types of authority, but this is already getting long. At this point I plan to address the obedience owed to civil and religious authorities, in a follow-up article.


Very well done and virtually complete.

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