Proverbs 15:5 ESV
A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
Man does not have the right to ignore true authority. God’s authority over man is without exception and absolute (1 Sam. 2:10). It should be to our joy, then, that His authority is not only perfect but, to the righteous, life-giving. When God commands, He commands to our good. Nevertheless, if the reprobate chooses to spurn His commands, smirches the image of God which every man bears by his actions against the character of He whose image it is, then he bears the consequences. These two are not in contradiction.
That God’s law is for the good of those who follow it is a constant theme in Scripture, but perhaps nowhere is it more emphasized than in Psalm 119. Let’s look at just a few instances of David’s proclamations and pleas. “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!” (Verse 1). “Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good,” (Verse 39). “You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word,” (Verse 65). “Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight,” (Verse 77). In face of testimony such as this, and many other verses in that Psalm alone, how can we but recognize that His law is for our good?
Mankind, however, denies His law. We despise His authority. It is an ancient impulse, the core desire of fallen man: rebellion. Adam ate the fruit God denied him, and Adam fell. We, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, are therefore cursed and desire at the root of our being to supplant God, to make our own standards the authority and our own word the law. Therefore we sin. In the grace of God, some of us who once were lost are now found. He has chosen His people, elected before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), and He has without obligation or desert on our part granted we who are His people everlasting life.
Yet some are not so. God does not extend the grace of salvation to all men. Some, instead, He leaves, to be examples of horror to His people and examples of justice in His cosmos (Isaiah 66:24). These men who do not and will not know God, whose wills remain in bondage to sin (Rom. 8:21), these men are damned by the law. The law is a blessing, you see, and they spurn it. From him to whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48), and the law is a great gift indeed. To man to whom it was given, then, it was a great gift. In refusing it, then, he damns himself all the more. Even the merest law of conscience, the flickering, instinctive knowledge of sin which all men possess in some form, even that merest glimpse of the law damns man eternally, for it shows him his sin (Rom. 1:20; 5:13).
The law of the Lord is good to His people, but it is not a passive good. We are not permitted to follow the way of the antinomians, denying the law’s instruction (Rom. 6:1-2). We must heed the law, heed its instruction and heed its reproof. Proverbs 15:5, today’s verse, commends the prudence of the man who heeds reproof, and we must therefore heed the reproof of His law.
God’s law, though, is not the only form of authority over us, though it is, being God’s directly, pre-eminent and the origin of all other authority (we obey authority because and insofar as God’s law commands us to obey that authority). The commands of men can have authority, when they are in accordance with His commands. Thus, we must act as men under authority when that authority is valid. Children must heed their parents, with greater submission prior to their marriage but with perpetual respect (even if that respect does not include obedience, as sometimes it should not). Christians should heed the elders of their church, though never more closely than they should heed their Bibles (Acts 17:11). Citizens should heed the rulers of their countries, the government which God has set in place in history.
All these authorities, though, have limits. Once an authority transgresses its limits, once an authority presumes to command something contrary to the law of God, its authority is lost. It has the name and the form of authority but not the substance. To disobey God in order to obey man is a grave sin, as surely as to disobey God in order to obey self. This is the basis of the doctrine of the lesser magistrate which undergirded the worthy portions of the American War for Independence and a foundational assumption too of the various republican (law-based) forms of government instituted in different governments, whether church government (particularly the Presbyterian model) or state government (however eroded the American and British forms have become), a recognition that authority has limits and must be restrained.
God’s law is good, and we must treat it as such. To Him we must give the glory; to Him we must attribute the justice which He wreaks upon the wicked. To Him also ultimate obedience must be given in answer to ultimate authority, to sovereignty. No hand of man may supersede His hand; no command of man may surpass His command. ‘No king but King Jesus’ may not be literally true. Israel lived under a monarchy, though not without shame in its origin (1 Sam. 8:4-9), and a monarchy is a legitimate form of government. The battle-cry must be true in spirit, though. King Jesus must rule all other kings in our heart, including the king which we would make out of ourselves.
Written by Colson Potter.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.