Among the many notable things about the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt, are the massive foundational stones that were carefully crafted and precisely positioned. The foundation for the Great Pyramid had to be formidable to support the weight that was to come.
Foundations are key to the success or failure of a structure.
As elders and church staff, it is critical we understand that the foundation for our leadership is our personal, growing relationship with Jesus. Our personal spiritual development forms the foundation for our service. This foundation is made up of several key “stones.” Paul mentions many of them in his listings of qualifications for elders. Qualities like abiding faith, personal integrity, honesty, dependability, competence, morality, and personal purity. Cultivating each of these is important.
The discipline of obedience is another key aspect of a leader who is growing spiritually and leading by example. Obedience is one of the bedrock aspects of leadership in the body of Christ. Without it, it is impossible to lead effectively. Credibility is the by-product of obedience. Credibility to lead comes from a leader’s life, witness, and example. It isn’t that we try to create credibility with others. It must be part of the life and discipline of every church leader.
Christian author Martha Thatcher provided an excellent definition. She wrote, “Obedience is the prompt, personal response of an available life to God and His Word, always characterized by a focus on God and a commitment to action.” Her use of the words prompt, personal, and available bring us to the heart of obedience.
Our Obedience Grows as Our Love for Jesus Grows
When a believer arranges their schedule and priorities to allow for more quality time with Jesus, and for studying Scripture and praying, we begin to see obedience grow. We get to know Jesus better, and we begin to love him more. We experience his presence and power. We want to please him. We truly receive Jesus’ saving grace and complete acceptance. We become astounded at the height and depth of his love. As our relationship matures, we want to obey him in more and better ways.
It is critical to understand that our obedience must originate and grow from our love for Jesus. Authentic, ongoing obedience comes from our heartfelt love and affection for him.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands. . . . Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:15, 21). Jesus repeatedly said the acid test of our love for him is our obedience to him.
As elders and church staff, obedience is easy when we are at church and with church people. But I think the Lord is also interested in seeing our obedience when we are away from church people, in the trenches of daily life, out in the world at work or play. How do we handle serious temptation then? Our obedience is where the rubber meets the road in the nitty-gritty of our daily lives.
If Jesus addressed the issue of personal obedience with a group of leaders today, I believe he would say something like this:
I love your praise songs. They are a blessing to me. But I really want to know one thing. When you are in the daily heat of your work, family, or social life . . . and you happen to be struggling . . . and an incredibly strong temptation comes along—in that moment, can I depend on you to come through for me? Praise is important, but talk is cheap. Will you follow me in obedience as I have asked you to do? Even when the temptations are fierce? This is how I will know if you really love me—if you follow me and do what I ask you to do.
Here is the key question: Can Jesus count on me when the temptation to sin is most intense?
Leaders, our obedience truly is part of the foundation for our leadership.
Personal Submission Is the Heart of Obedience
Surrender is key when we are seeking to grow in obedience. Surrender is acknowledgment that someone else is in charge. Who reigns as king of your life, Jesus or your ego? Perfect obedience is surrendering everything I am and everything I have to Jesus daily. We need to remember that, at baptism, we gave up the right to say no to Jesus about anything.
Hupakoe is the New Testament word for obedience; it is comprised of two Greek words, hupo (meaning “under”), and akouo (meaning “to hear”). So to obey is “to hear under.” Obedience involves listening attentively with a heart of compliant submission and obeying God’s Word.
Admittedly, we grow into this part of our relationship with Jesus. But growing to complete surrender is imperative for a leader in the church. Our obedience must grow to the place where it becomes radical. Church leader Bob Sorge said it well: “By ‘radical obedience,’ I mean immediate obedience that fulfills the commandment to its fullest measure. Radical obedience does not seek to comply to the minimal standards but pursues extravagant, lavish fulfillment. If Jesus says, ‘Sell all,’ then we sell all! Immediately.”
Honest leaders will admit it is hard to submit. It is an ongoing struggle and growth point for all of us. Submission necessitates we die to ourselves daily and allow the Lord to guide our lives. It means we replace our own cravings, desires, and will with the will of Jesus. We grow to realize that obeying Jesus is more important than meeting our own needs or desires. This is submission. One servant of Christ wrote, “There is no demand so unreasonable that God cannot make it of my life.”
Submission is an intellectual decision; it is an act of our will. We mentally and spiritually commit to the lordship of Jesus. We work to see that our attitudes, emotions, actions, and heart follow.
It comes down to this: What place does Jesus truly hold in our hearts? Sincerely we say, “Jesus, I am coming to your blood-stained cross, kneeling down and inviting you to come into my interior world, my inner person. I am laying all of my desires, ambitions, habits, thoughts, motives, and priorities at your feet. You now own me lock, stock, and barrel. I am submitting to your lordship in my life; I am yours. Take me and use me as you wish.” Short of this, we individually go our own way, living our own life with a veneer of religion, with an acceptable superficial piety when, in reality, we do not submit to Christ’s lordship. In our hearts, we know where we stand with surrender and discipleship.
A final thought: God always blesses obedience. When we follow Jesus in obedience, he is pleased with our hearts and abundant blessing always follows.
Fellow soldiers, leaders bearing the cross, let’s be very aware and focused on the place of obedience in our daily walk with Jesus. He is counting on us to keep our word and obey him in all things. Work hard to cultivate this important discipline.