John 7.17



1.   “5-year old Handcuffed By Police For Tantrum”   That is the headline of an article describing what you might have seen on the television news broadcast over the last several days, unformed police officers handcuffing a five year old girl.  Let me read the article to you:

April 22, 2005 6:38 p.m. EST


JASEN LEE, All Headline News Staff Writer


St. Petersburg, FL (AHN) – An investigation is underway as to whether police officers over-reacted while controlling a kindergarten student who was throwing a temper tantrum.


A videotape of the March 14th incident at Fairmount Park Elementary School is being reviewed by the school district and law enforcement.


The tape shows the child mis-behaving for several minutes, including ripping papers, standing on desks, and defiantly responding to teachers. She is even seen throwing punches at an assistant principal.


It also shows the girl apparently calming down before three police officers approach her, pinning her arms behind her back and handcuffing her as she screams, “No!”


John Trevena, the attorney for the girl and her family, says he cannot understand why police took such drastic action.


He says, “The police officers’ actions are way over the top. Three police officers having to forcibly handcuff a 5-year-old little girl? I mean, come on. Is there anything more that needs to be said about that?”


Trevena also critizes the actions of school officials who he says did not do enough to defuse the situation.


“I’m concerned that the educators shadowed and hovered around the young girl. It certainly gives credence to the argument that they may have been provoking her to act out more. To me, it didn’t look like a de-escalation. It looked like an escalation, an attempt to get her to act out more. I just don’t understand why they didn’t distance themselves back further and allow things to cool off.”


The tape shows the child appearing to calm down before three officers approach, pin her arms behind her back and put on handcuffs as she screamed, “No!”


Trevena says it’s unbelievable police officers would bend a child over a table to forcibly handcuff her.


The tape cuts off just after the child starts screaming.


No charges are filed against the girl, but Trevena promises legal action against the police department.


Authorities are not commenting, pending a two-week internal investigation.[1]

2.   Of course, I am incensed that the only way a little girl’s temper tantrum in a public school can be controlled is by handcuffing her and taking her into custody.  It is terrible that there is so little understanding of human nature that everyone seems to have lost sight of the fact that the little girl simply needed a good spanking.

3.   But we have reached a point in our society where parents do not spank their children when they rebel against authority, where public school teachers and administrators have completely lost control of most public school class rooms, and where there is no middle ground between trying to reason with an unreasonable child on one hand and taking the child into custody on the other.  What happened to the idea of mom or dad coming to school to spank a disobedient child?  But no, her attorney suggests school officials should have backed off.

4.   It used to be that parents and other adults recognized that rebellion in a child requires a measured response.  You begin with a firm tone of voice.  And your response is both measured and escalated in response to the child’s wrong behavior, even to include a good spanking when it is needed.  But what happens if each of those intermediate responses that might be resorted to, between trying to persuade a child, on one hand, and handcuffing a child, on the other extreme, have been made illegal or impractical because of rules or the threat of law suits? 

5.   In the end you are left to either allowing a little child to completely trash a principal’s office while you stand there and watch, or you send for the cops.  With this little girl they went from virtually no response to a complete overreaction.

6.   Do you realize what most people have lost sight of in our country?  We have lost sight of the fact that no learning takes place in any school’s class rooms in which there is no control of the students.  To put it another way, obedience is the key to learning.  Not only is obedience the key to learning, but obedience is preliminary to learning.  The student has to obey in order to learn.  The student has to obey before there can be any chance of understanding.

7.   I feel so very sorry for that little girl who was handcuffed, because she is surrounded by incompetent adults who have no idea what they are doing.  She has a mother who obviously does not know that her little girl needs to be paddled.  I presume there is no father in the picture.  Further, the poor girl is at the mercy of rather typical public school teachers and administrators who think you can reason with an unreasonable child.  And to top it all off, you have police officers who have no more sense than to handcuff a five year old . . . in front of a video camera . . . when the girl’s mother should have been contacted to deal with her daughter.

8.   What a public relations disaster.  And you realize, of course, that this event took place more than a month ago.  I would bet you that the mother’s attorney is the one who has arranged for the video to be released to the press.  But the question that needs to be asked is, Have they all lost their minds?  You cannot teach a child you cannot control.  But more than that, you cannot teach a child who will not obey, because understanding always follows obedience; it never precedes it.

9.   Focus with me, for the moment, on this concept of obedience being necessary before there is understanding.  Get this into your thinking and you will see the practical reality of what I am saying.  There must be obedience before there will be understanding.  To put it another way, understanding follows obedience.

10. Take the example of a young child who is being potty trained by his mommy.  Mommy has two choices when dealing with the little boy.  She either persuades him to obey her, which results in him being potty trained when he is quite young, or she tries to explain why he needs to stop loading up his diapers and finds herself still explaining the concept to the kid when he is five or six years old.  Clearly, with potty training obedience must come long before there is any real understanding of the benefits of toilet training by the child.  Amen?

11. How about training the child to eat with utensils?  Which comes first, mom, obedience by junior and eating with utensils, or understanding why he should eat with a spoon and then a fork?  The answer, of course, is obvious.  A woman would lose her mind before training a kid to use utensils if she tried explaining the why and wherefore before getting the kid to obey.  Yet another example of obedience preceding understanding.

12. A third example would be teaching addition and subtraction to grade school kids.  Children need to be trained that 2 + 2 = 4 long before they will ever understand why 2 + 2 = 4.  I believe it was Mrs. Carreker who told me some years back that she actually began to grasp the concepts of algebra when she was in college, several years after she had first taken algebra in high school.  So you see, obedience precedes understanding.  Children must comply with the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 long before they understand the conceptual reasoning underlying that truth.

13. A fourth example is the armed forces.  Anyone who has ever been in the military knows that when the Army or the Marine Corps finally gets around to explaining the way of doing things the Army way or the Marine Corps way it is almost always long after they have secured the obedience of their recruits.  Why so?  Because those who train civilians to be soldiers and marines have known for centuries that obedience precedes understanding.  Do what you are told and ask questions later.

14. I know it is exasperating to many people, but it is a fact of life.  Obedience is required before understanding is acquired.  You must obey the laws of nature before you can understand the laws of nature.  You must obey your mother before you will ever be able to understand your mother.  You must obey your father’s instructions before you will ever be able to understand your father’s instructions.  You must obey your drill sergeant or your drill instructor before you will understand your drill sergeant or drill instructor.

15. My friends, this principle of obedience preceding, or coming before, understanding is also a very important, though frequently overlooked, spiritual principle.  If you will turn in your Bible to John 7.17, where the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking to His adversaries, we find our text for today:  “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

16. What is meant by the phrase “If any man will do his will”?  In his Notes on the Bible, John Wesley wrote, “This is a universal rule, with regard to all persons and doctrines.  He that is thoroughly willing to do it, shall certainly know what the will of God is.”[2]  Venerable John Gill wrote on this same phrase these words:  “Meaning, not one that perfectly fulfills the law, which is the good, and perfect, and acceptable will of God; for there is no man that does this, or can do it; nor is it so said here, “if any man do his will” but “if any man will do” it; that is, is desirous of doing it.”[3]

17. There you have it.  Though one was an Arminian and the other a classical Calvinist, they both agreed on the connection between the desire to obey, the willingness to obey, the attempt to obey, and the understanding that follows.  My friend, if you do not obey, or seek to obey, what you know to be God’s will, you will not understand God’s way.  Understanding follows obedience; it does not precede it.

18. Allow me to illustrate with other passages:

a.   In Genesis 18.17-19, in connection with His plans to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, listen to what the LORD said to His two angels about Abraham when He visited Abraham with them:

17        And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;

18        Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?

19     For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.


So you see, from the words spoken by God, we see a connection between Abraham’s commitment to obey God and God’s willingness to reveal truth to Abraham.  Obedience precedes understanding.

b.   In First Corinthians 2.14, the apostle Paul commented to the Corinthians:  “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  This is the generality concerning the unconverted.  You are by nature the children of disobedience, Ephesians 2.2.  Since there is no obedience there can be no understanding.

c.   In Second Timothy 3.7, we read the end result of you who refuse to obey God, of you who refuse to even try to obey God:  “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

19. My friend, you see this principle with successful potty training.  You see this principle with other kinds of child training.  You see this principle employed in the military.  You see this principle at some level everywhere.  And you especially see this principle in action in the spiritual realm.

20. And it makes perfect sense when you realize that the Spirit of God must illuminate a person’s understanding before he can really learn a spiritual truth, yet the sinner who continually refuses and stubbornly insists on understanding before he is willing to comply with God’s will is grieving the Spirit of God.  And when you  grieve the Spirit of God He will not illuminate your mind to understand.

21. This principle being firmly established, what are some implications that you can expect to be faced with?  There are three that I want to focus your attention on this morning:



Have you ever worked with a new hire or a trainee who insists that you explain every single detail of what you want him to do before he will do it?  I am not talking about the occasional question from a fellow who simply wants clarification.  I am talking about a guy who insists that you explain everything to him before he will do what you direct him to do.  Have you ever known someone like that?  If you have, you know that that guy was proud. 

Whether it be a hardheaded child or a stubborn recruit, it is pride that insists on someone understanding before he obeys.  So with so-called secular affairs, and so with spiritual issues.  There are things God commands and demands that you do.  But you do not want to do God’s will because you do not understand the reasoning behind the command.  So, you resist.  And your thinking is, “I will do what God wants me to do when it makes sense to me, when I understand what it’s all about.” 

Consider what is wrong with that kind of reasoning:

1B.      First, that line of thought denies God’s right to demand obedience from His creatures.

1C.         My friend, is God sovereign?  Is God ruler of all?  Is God the creator of all things?  Does God have the absolute right to demand of His creatures what He wills?  Yes. 

2C.         Is God bound to explain anything to His creatures?  Do we have a right to any explanations from God?  Have we any ground for insisting that God explain anything to us?  No.

3C.         Keep in mind that it was God’s idea for Satan to tempt Job.  In Job 1.8, God said to the devil, “Hast thou considered my servant Job”?  Keep also in mind that there is never a hint of a suggestion anywhere in the book of Job that God ever explained any of His actions to Job.  Thus, God demanded obedience from Job, worshipful submission to His will, without ever granting to him any understanding of what was going on.

4C.         So you see, in the case of Job, and with so many things in a Christian’s life, it is not only obedience before there is understanding, it was obedience without any understanding.  This is because God has a right to our obedience whether we understand His doings or not.

2B.      Second, that line of thought denies man’s depraved incapacity to understand spiritual truth apart from the Spirit’s illumination.

1C.         I have already raised this line of thinking, but it bears repeating.  How can someone who is dead in trespasses and sins understand anything on his own about spiritual things?  You cannot.  What capacity does a lost person have to grasp spiritual truths?  You have none.

2C.         With good reason did Paul write First Corinthians 2.14:  “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

3C.         So you see, anyone who is determined to do nothing before he understands what is going on, before he decides that what is demanded of him is a wise course of action, is a person who does not recognize his own depravity.  He simply does not grasp how profoundly his mind has been affected by his own sin.  No sinner can understand anything spiritual on his own.

3B.      Third, that line of thought denies the Holy Spirit’s unwillingness to illuminate those who grieve Him.

1C.         The Bible very clearly shows the Holy Spirit to be most sensitive to being sinned against.  In the New Testament we are warned against grieving the Spirit, against quenching the Spirit, and against blaspheming the Spirit.  As well, we read about resisting the Holy Ghost.

2C.         Study God’s Word on your own and you will see that there are dire consequences for anyone guilty of such sins against the Holy Spirit.  Yet the arrogant sinner dares to presume that the  Spirit of God is obligated to illuminate that same sinner’s mind so that he understands?  Even when He is quenched and grieved by those who will not obey His Word, by those who will not submit to Spirit-filled leaders?

3C.         How very preposterous.  How incredibly delusional.  We know of no one who expects to be rewarded by someone he insults, who expects to receive a benefit from someone he maligns.  Yet the world is filled with arrogant sinners who expect to be made to understand spiritual concepts before they submit to obey.

4C.         This is one real difference between the Christian and the unsaved person.  Things that make such perfect sense to the child of God seem so patently absurd to the unconverted that they think the Christian’s thinking processes are defective.  But it is quite the other way around, because the Spirit of God has given understanding to the Christian that He has not given to the proud lost man.  Insisting on understanding a matter before you will obey is pride in action.



1B.      Returning to our text, Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  What can be said about that person who will not do God’s will?  And keep in mind that we are not talking about perfect obedience, but the desire to do God’s will.  It is quite simple.  He shall not know of the doctrine.  He just will not know.

2B.    I feel so sorry for that little girl.  Because her mother has obviously not forced her to obey, there are certain simple realities in life that little girl will never know.  And if you watched the video of those school people and those police officers dealing with that little girl, then you saw for yourself what will be true of that little girl in twenty years.

3B.      They are utterly clueless about so simple a matter as making a child obey.  They really do not understand.  Why not?  Because they were never required to obey themselves.  The adults in that video are the best illustrations of what I am talking about.  Obedience must come before understanding.  But with respect to spiritual matters, the stakes are so much higher than not knowing how to handle a five year old girl.

4B.      Consider what the Puritans used to call “the means of grace.”  To abbreviate the concept for you, the Puritans recognized that there are certain basic things God wants everyone to do.  God wants you to tithe.  God wants you to faithfully attend church.  God wants you to carefully listen to the preaching.  God wants you to read the Bible daily.  God wants you to pray every day.  God wants you involved in outreach.  The Puritans recognized what unsaved people typically fail to see, that there are obligations and duties that God demands everyone to comply with whether you are saved or lost.

5B.    The reason the Puritans called those various activities “the means of grace” is because they understood that if you will simply do those various things, though you might never understand the benefit you receive from doing those things, God will make sure that you receive some measure of grace by means of that obedience.  The Puritans recognized that it will never hurt you to obey God as best you can, to honor the Lord even in the clumsy fashion of a lost man.

6B.      You know what?  The Puritans were absolutely right.  They grasped a concept taught in the Bible that most people are completely ignorant of these days, the concept that obedience always comes before understanding.  They just believed what the Lord Jesus Christ said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  And to the contrary, if you will not do His will, you will not know.  If you will not obey in these matters of church attendance, giving, reading your Bible, praying, serving in some way . . . you are doomed.

7B.      Listen to how Solomon explained the matter to his son, in Proverbs 16.3:  “Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”  So you see, this is not a new concept.  Some three thousand years ago the wisest man who ever lived showed that right behavior leads to right belief, that obedience is required for real understanding.



If it is pride that always demands an explanation before you are willing to obey, and if refusing to obey scriptural directives dooms you, what is needed to get on the right track?  Humility.

1B.      Scripture clearly shows this to be true.

Let me quickly read several passages that show the benefit of humility:

1C.         Psalm 10.17:  “LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.”  God listens to the humble and prepares their hearts.

2C.         Proverbs 16.19:  “Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”  A humble spirit is better than a proud spirit.

3C.         Isaiah 57.15:  “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”  Those who have a humble spirit end up with God in heaven.

4C.         James 4.6:  “But he giveth more grace.  Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”  So, not only does God not give grace to the proud, but He actively resists those who are so proud that they insist on understanding before they will do what they are told.

5C.         First Peter 5.5:  “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.  Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”  Again, God will resist you if you will not do what you are told, rather than giving you the grace you so desperately need.

2B.      What do these passages show to us?  You must do what scripture directs you to do even if you do not fully understand or agree.

1C.         It takes humility to read the Bible when you do not understand everything you read.  It takes humility to pray to God when you doubt that your prayers are being answered.  It takes humility to attend church services when you’d rather be doing something else.  It takes humility to follow the direction of a pastor when you think he is urging you to do something you think might be unnecessary.

2C.         Ephesians 2.8 tells us, “For by grace are ye saved through faith.”  But we have just seen that humility is the key to unlock the door to God’s grace.  Meaning?  If you are proud, you will be stubborn and will not do what God’s Word tells you to do.  That, in turn, will result in you not receiving grace from God to understand, not receiving grace from God to believe.



1.   The Bible tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered and bled and died on a cruel cross.  He was buried and rose again the third day and ascended to the Father’s right hand in heaven, where He remains until the time of His second coming in power and great glory.

2.   The doing and dying of Jesus Christ was for the purpose of saving sinners from their sins.  And though salvation is by grace and is not the result of any meritorious works on the part of a sinner, the Bible does show man’s responsibility to obey God even before he becomes a Christian, even before he understands what purpose is to be accomplished by his obedience.

3.   All of this goes to show that you need to do what you are told or you will not get saved.  You need to do what you are told or you will not understand.  You need to do what you are told or you will not get it.  This is because, in every area of life, from infancy to the infantry, obedience is required before there can be understanding.  Purpose to obey God’s will.  He will give you the understanding you need when it is needed.

4.   So when you are directed to strive to enter in at the strait gate, Luke 13.24, you must do what the Lord Jesus Christ directed sinners to do.  And if you will not obey you will never truly understand your need of Christ.

 [1] Http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/1114209482   4/22/05

 [2] John Wesley, Notes On The Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

 [3] John Gill, The Collected Writings of John Gill - Version 2.0, (Paris, AK: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2000-2003)

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