Leadership 101: Partial Obedience Is Not Obedience

Several weeks ago, my daughter and I were having a conversation. Earlier in the day, I had asked her to clean her room. She disappeared for a while and when she came back out of her room later on, I asked her if she had cleaned it. She said she had. When I went to her room to check it out, I found that while she picked up a couple of her toys out of the floor, the room was largely still a mess. I expressed my disappointment that she did not obey me.

“But I did obey you Daddy,” she said, “I cleaned most of my room.” It was at this point, I knew that I needed to sit her down and talk more. I kindly explained to her that partial obedience is not obedience. Obedience means that you have to listen and complete every command to the fullest extent. If you only partially obey, that means you are also partially disobeying.

Following God is no different. We cannot partially obey God’s commands. We either obey him or we don’t. There is no middle ground there. God expects our full and complete obedience. This is one of the reasons why we need a savior. We are a disobedient bunch and we need His Spirit to give us the ability to obey fully.

I’m reminded of the story of Saul in the book of 1st Samuel 15. Saul was told by God to destroy the Amalekites because of they had attacked Israel when they came up out of Egypt. He was told not to spare any of them and to even destroy all of their livestock. Saul received the word from the Lord and attacked the Amalekites. He destroyed all of the people, yet he spared their king, Agag and their best livestock (1st Sam 15:9).

The prophet Samuel is then told by God of Saul’s disobedience and that God regretted making Saul king over Israel. Samuel goes to visit Saul and to call him to account. Samuel finds Saul and asks him, why he disobeyed the Lord?

“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

1st Samuel 15:20-21

Saul thought that partial obedience was full obedience. He thought that his ways were better than what God had prescribed. God loves sacrifices, he thought, I’ll just save the best stuff and offer it up to him as a sacrifice. God was not pleased with Saul’s disobedience. God had commanded that all of the livestock be destroyed and no person was to be spared. Saul did not obey, despite the fact that he thought that he did. “I did obey” he protested.

But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

1st Samuel 15:22-23

God expects obedience from his leaders. He doesn’t accept partial obedience. If you are a leader in business or the church, God expects for you to follow his word. To listen to Him. There is no room for negotiation in this. There must be full obedience.

As leaders we may be tempted to partially obey. Sometimes full obedience is hard. Sometimes we may feel like Saul, like we know a better way of doing something. God loves worship, I’ll just add this extra thing over here. God won’t mind. But God does mind. He did ask Saul to sacrifice those animals. There is a time for that, but only when God requires it. Some leaders sacrifice things that God never asked for. We must only sacrifice that which God has asked us to give up.

God puts leaders in charge as an example. The truth is, we will either be an example of obedience or an example of disobedience. The Holy Spirit empowers us to follow Him. And we should follow him in paths of righteousness. We will be tempted to not fully obey throughout our walk and we will try to convince ourselves that what we are doing is the right thing, but we must obey what God has told us. Do not stop before the work is completed. Do not add to what He has commanded, but follow Him closely and feel the release that comes with full obedience to His Word.

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