Order – is it a restrictive barrier imposed upon our lives, or could it actually help grow our faith in Christ? The Pharisees were criticised for investing in rules, rather than relationship, and many people have died tragic deaths in cults ruled by overbearing leaders who claimed spiritual privilege. In the face of all this, the world seems to be bending rules, and relaxing its grip on order. Free-thinking, creativity and an illusion of unity attract more and more people, while discipline is seen as restrictive and archaic. Why are we so critical of order, so stubborn to accept authority? Why do we falter to put discipline and order into our lives, and to acknowledge their place in our relationship with God? God is a God of freedom, but He is also a God of order. He gives free will, but He is also has a plan, and His way is the only way.
Interestingly, as I write this, I reflect that I have always been more of a spontaneous person myself. I love doing creative things, I love thinking of new ideas, I love grasping a different angle. At school, I loved exploring the subtleties of the books we read, and when I read the Bible, I would always ask God to show me something new. When I led worship, I sang spontaneous songs and tried to be attentive to the spirit – changing a song in the pre-planned song list didn’t bother me. If I felt the Lord wanted me to speak to the stranger in the street, I did not hesitate. I always veered towards just giving it a go because, I reasoned, I would rather go in faith, than hesitate and miss the opportunity. Now that I am a little older, I have also learnt to recognise the beauty and purpose of order. At heart, I am still a fiery little warrior princess for Jesus, but I have also learnt some control in how I do things, and how I say things. To those who speculate that “Christianity is full of rules”, I remind you of God’s free-flowing love – the way that we live is a product of God’s love in us. Now, I have more understanding to add to this. Yes, Christianity is about relationship, not rules. However, God’s way is the only way and with that, comes boundaries and discipline.
GOD WHO PLANS
Lately, I have been struck by God’s organisation. He knows what is going on, He has a plan, He knows when everything is going to happen, and He is all ready for what is coming next. Right from the beginning, in Genesis, God has had a plan. The way He creates the earth and all life in it is so logical, so beautiful and so full of purpose. The beauty of creation reflects the beauty of God, and the way He looks at it and says that “it [is] good” reflects the love and joy God has in His creation. There is no failed creation, no throw-away rags, and no disappointment mentioned in Genesis. Instead, we see the simplicity of the Creator’s love for His creation. God purposefully makes man in His image, and He makes man with a purpose in mind. Genesis 1:26 says, “…Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” The passage goes on to tell of how God does indeed make man in His image, and how He speaks this purpose to him. The rest of the Bible tells of how God continues to remind man of this purpose and identity, not because something went wrong, but because the loving God who created the earth, never forgets His plan and promise. God created man to rule over the earth, to share in the authority He has, and to be one with Him, created in His very image. God knows that in the end, man will be one with Him, heirs with the Son, Jesus, in the inheritance of the earth and the heavens, and the riches of God’s glory [Romans 8:17, Revelation 20:6].
God also has a plan and purpose for each one of us, for our cities and for our nations. Remember how He guided Israel through their wanderings, their victories and the rebuilding of their cities. He told the prophets of His judgments, and of His coming Salvation. He shared His plans for the redemption of Israel, and the redemption of the nations – His plan that a Messiah would come and set the nations free, to restore man to relationship with God. Consider the following verses, and know that God has perfect plans and promises – all of which will be fulfilled according to His purpose and His will. God knows all things and nothing is hidden from Him.
- [Proverbs 19:21] – “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand.”
- [Jeremiah 29:11] – “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
- [Psalm 139:16] – “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed, and in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.”
- [Proverbs 16:9] –“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.”
- [Hebrews 4:13] – “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
One final passage that reminds us of God’s plan and order is Romans 8:28-30:
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” [Romans 8:28-30]
God does indeed plan, and He has purpose in what He does. There is order in His plan according to His priorities and desires. We are made in the image of God, and as He plans according to His will, so we walk according to His way.
ORDER CULTIVATES LOVE
Paul gives much instruction to the church in regards to administration that honours God. In today’s church, just as in these churches of Biblical times, we have false teachers, dissentions, disorder, pride and many other consequences of sin. Paul gives some practical advice to the church, reminding them of what God desires, and how they can honour Him. The commands given to the church are not aimed at restricting their creativity or freedom, but instead, remind them of their God-given plans and purposes. There are so many examples of this in the Bible, and I have only listed a few below
- Order for edification of the church
- 1 Corinthians speaks about order and self-control when using gifts of the spirit in the midst of a church congregation. The purpose of these gifts, Paul reminds us, is love [1 Corinthians 12:1-3]. Furthermore, what is the point if we give thanks well, but others are not edified [1 Corinthians 14:17]? Gifts of the spirit are for edification of the church. When we learn to have self-control, we can exercise our spiritual gifts in love. Thus, we edify both believers and non-believers, and we edify the church [1 Corinthians 14].
- Leadership and Submission
- Respecting order also promotes love as we learn humility and submission. Authorities of various kinds are mentioned in the Bible, and we are given instruction to respect them, and pray for them. This teaches us to love, and it teaches us selflessness and humility. Romans 13:1-2 tells us that authorities are appointed by God and that “whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God.” 1 Corinthians 12:22-28 speaks about authority in the church; Ephesians 6:1-9 about submission to parents, and to masters; Ephesians 5:22-28 about the leadership and submission of a husband and wife in marriage. Every one of these relationships requires love in order for leadership and submission to occur. There is beauty in the working together of these relationships, built on mutual love, authority and submission.
- Discipline in Devotional Life
- Recently, I felt the Lord nudge me to put order and discipline back into my prayer and devotional life. As a result, I made a little schedule of things to pray for in relation to my inner man/faith, ministry-related topics, and world/church related prayer points. I felt to begin memorising more scripture, and to be more intentional with my prayer. The little schedule book with its prayer point and verses helped remind me to be intentional and practical with my prayer time. As I got used to the schedule, I found that I was indeed beginning to pray more, and I found that my love for God increased more and more. The discipline of this little prayer schedule allowed me to carry out the desire of my heart- that was, to seek after God. It gave me a practical way to carry out all the other responsibilities of my life, yet save a good portion of time daily, to intentionally come before the Lord. Examples of discipline in devotional life are seen all throughout the Bible – David, Daniel, and Abraham are just some men noted to regularly and intentional come before God. They made seeking His face a priority, and I also want God to be first in my life.
Order is God-given, and it is reflected in the image of God. Sin can distort the purpose of order, as it does many other things. Yet, when we understand God’s plans and purposes, we also understand purpose in our lives. God has a plan for our lives, He has a plan for the authorities on earth, and He has a plan for eternity. Order can help grow our love for one another, and for God. It may require persistence and patience, but it builds character, keeps our focus on God, and keeps us walking in His way. There is an order of authority, an order of priority, and an order in disciplined lives. May we learn to recognise God’s order in this world – His plans, His purposes and His way.
“Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way.” [Psalm 119:128]