Obedience or Excellence?

Samuel Appearing to King Saul before the Battle of Gilboa
Samuel Appearing to King Saul before the Battle of Gilboa

Would you rather be obedient or be excellent?  Which one between the two of obedience and excellence are more highly esteemed in our society?  I have asked friends this question before and it never fails that they respond by saying that excellence is the preferred standard.  Excellence is a 4 out of 5 score on a job review, outdone only by the score of Outstanding.  Excellence is the standard that we see in play in today’s society.  Companies aim for excellence in their products, their delivery method, their marketing.  Employees aim for excellence in their job performance, valuing a performance that ensures themselves a spot in the upper echelon of their respective companies.

Obedience is a far cry from excellence in our eyes.  Obedience is simply following orders.  Obedience means when someone tells you to empty the trash, the trash gets emptied.  Obedience is simply being willful to do the bidding and commands of another.  Obedience does not come with a competition level.  You either are or obedient or you aren’t.  There’s no competition against other people.  Obedience is purely the measure of whether or not you listen to the commands of your superiors.

By the world’s standards, obedience is nothing more than following orders.  Obedience is a 3 out of 5 rating on a job evaluation.  My question, though, is this:  Does God judge our lives by our excellence or by our obedience?  Which pleases God more, to see us excel when compared to other human beings, or does it please God more to see us obedient to His eternal will?  Why not look at a person like Saul to see the difference and discern the will of the LORD?

Saul was, by all standards, excellent.  Physically, he was excellent.  He was used by God in a variety of ways.  He had all the marks of excellence.  By our earthly standards, Saul was by far an excellent person.  Let us read what Samuel says about Saul:

“There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.” (1 Samuel 9:1-2)

However, Saul tempered that excellence with utter disobedience.  Here are two examples of Saul’s disobedience:

1)  Saul offered a sacrifice at Gilgal after Samuel had told him to wait seven days for Samuel to come and do it.

This may seem like  a ridiculous affront, but consider this:  Samuel was  a prophet of God, who was a mouthpiece of the Lord to Israel at this time.  Therefore, while Saul held civil authority, in the manners of religion and worship, the priest/prophet was the one in authority.  Also, consider that Saul’s disobedience then was not just disobedience to Samuel, but to God as well.

2) Saul didn’t kill all the Amalekites as God asked, but left King Agag and all the livestock.

Saul had been told to kill all of the Amalekites because they were evil and were a stench in the nostrils of the LORD.  Rather than follow orders, Saul kept King Agag as a prisoner of war, did not eliminate the entire population, and even went so far as to keep the livestock for himself and his army.  This was the final disobedience for the LORD.  The kingdom was taken from Saul and given to David.

Saul was excellent.  But he failed in the area of obedience.  Therefore, he did not stay king for very long, and when he did in shame in the Battle of Gilboa, his kingdom passed into the hands

David Playing for King Saul
David Playing for King Saul

of David.  Many of us feel that our excellence is pleasing to God.  We feel that we are doing well in some areas, not so much in others, and therefore, as long as we balance our bad with our good and are better than most people, we will be safe.  We compare other people to ourselves and allow our standards to be fixed by earthly standards.  The standard we need to aim for is the standard of 100% obedience to God.  God’s only standard by which to measure us is whether or not we obey Him.  Jesus said  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). He also said “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). To reemphasize, He said “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).  It should be obvious where God’s standard is.  God’s standard is obedience, precisely because it does

not measure itself against other people.  You either are obedient, or you are not.  There are no varying standards of obedience.  It’s not a curve.  It’s either there or it’s not.

Is there somewhere in your life where you are trading the obedience to the LORD for excellence in comparison to others?  Do you ever catch yourself saying “Well, at least I’m better than that guy!”  If you do, you are trading obedience for excellence.    I won’t print it here, but Psalm 119 is a praise of all that is holy in God’s law.  It is a great way to get yourself in touch with the love of God’s laws and to realize that obedience to His statutes is where it is at.

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