Applying the Character Quality of Obedience

Obedience vs. Willfulness

3 min

Obedience is freedom to be creative under the protection of divinely appointed authorities.

The primary Hebrew word for obey is shama. It is a root word meaning “to hear intelligently,” and is also translated as consent, consider, discern, give ear, hear, and understand.

The Greek word hupakouo expands the Hebrew meaning of obey. Hupo means “under, i.e. a place of, beneath, below,” and denotes an inferior position. Akouo means “to hear.” Hupakouo means “to hear (as a subordinate), listen attentively; i.e. to heed or conform to a command or authority.”

A second Greek word for obey is peitharcheo, meaning “to be persuaded by a ruler, i.e. to submit to authority.” The disciples declared to the religious ruler who commanded them not to preach in the name of Jesus, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

A word related to obedience is submission. One Greek word translated submit is hupotasso. It means “to subject one’s self.” It is a voluntary action of one person to become subordinate to another.

The Motive of Obedience

Two words in Deuteronomy 11:1 are foundational to obedience: love and keep. “Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway.”

True obedience must be based on love. Therefore, Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). When we truly love the Lord, “his commandments are not grievous” (I John 5:3).

One way to “keep” God’s commandments is to place them before our eyes with the intent of obeying them. In Deuteronomy 11:1, the Hebrew word translated keep is shamar, which means “to guard, to observe, to preserve.” God’s people were told to write out God’s commandments and keep them before their eyes so that they would not forget them—even writing them on their doorposts so they would see them as they went out and came in.

True obedience must be based on love.

The word keepeth is used in John 14:21: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” The Greek word for keepeth is tereo, meaning “to guard from loss or injury by keeping the eye upon.”

The best way to keep God’s commandments before our eyes is to follow the instruction of Deuteronomy 11:18: “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.”

Ministers of God

All legitimate authority comes from God. He is the One Who sets up rulers and takes them down. (See Psalm 75:7.) Therefore, when we disobey a God-given authority, we experience God’s judgment.

“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. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Romans 13:1–2).

In Romans 13:4–6, God-given authorities are described as “ministers of God” three times. They carry out the will of God through authority entrusted to them.

Defining Jurisdictions for Obedience

When there are conflicting commands between different authorities or when one authority tells us to do that which we know is morally wrong, we must discern if the one who is giving the command is operating within the proper jurisdiction. There are four basic areas of jurisdiction.


Parents are given jurisdiction by God to train up their children to reverence Him and do what is right. Sons and daughters are instructed to obey their parents in all areas. (See Ephesians 6:1–2.) However, if parents command their children to do things that are contrary to the laws of God or the laws of man, they are operating outside their jurisdiction.


God ordained government to carry out His will in matters of justice. Rulers are to praise those who do well and punish those who do evil. (See Romans 13:3–4.) Because civil authorities derive their power from God, they will be judged if they violate the laws of God. Therefore, citizens are to make wise appeals to contest unwise or unjust laws.


The heads of households are to voluntarily submit to the leadership of wise and Godly elders in the church. The elders are not to go beyond their jurisdiction by instructing wives or children to disregard the guidance and wishes of the father, as long as his instruction is consistent with Scripture. (See Galatians 4:1–2.)


Employees are to obey employers with wholehearted service. If an employer requires action that violates the Biblical convictions of an employee, the employee should make a wise appeal and, if the appeal is rejected, he should consider resigning. (See Acts 5:29 and Colossians 3:22–23.)

Personal Application

  • Do you ask for reasons when your request is denied?
  • Do you immediately obey when given instructions?
  • Have you ever had to be reminded to do little tasks?
  • Do you murmur or complain when you don’t understand the reason for a job?
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