In the Bible we find generic as well as specific commands. Generic commands are general in nature and do not specify any particular method for obeying them. For example, the Great Commission features a general command to “go into all the world,” but is not specific as to how to go, that is, the manner of going is not specified. We can find examples of various ways by which the early disciples went, including walking, going by boat, or even by letters. All of these methods were used in the first century, and so we conclude that the method of going is a matter of expediency in the generic command to “go.”
Specific commands not only impose an obligation, but they specify a particular method or other component for discharging it. Thus, the component becomes a part of the command, and even if it were possible to do what God said in some other way, such would be a violation of the command, because the command includes the specified method. For example, the Great Commission features a specific command as to the content of what is to be preached, namely the gospel. The command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” specifies that which is to be preached. Therefore, if we were to go into all the world and preach anything else, we would be in violation of the command. Going into all the world and preaching Denominationalism, Americanism, Capitalism, or 21st century Culturalism, is not obeying the Great Commission.
This principle is sometimes stated as follows: when God specifies a particular method or type of activity, all other options are excluded. This is called “God’s law of exclusion.” It is a common principle in giving instructions, which each of us understands and recognizes in daily life. For example, if a parent tells a child to go to a particular store and buy bread, going into any other store is unauthorized because a particular store has been specified in the instructions. All other options have been ruled out by the “law of exclusion.”
When God told Noah to build an ark using gopher wood (Gen. 6:14), all other types of wood were excluded. If Noah had decided to use wood from some other wood family, even if his intentions were good and he felt that he had good reasons for his choice, he would have been in disobedience of God’s command, which excluded all types of wood except gopher. Further, God specified the length, breadth and height of the ark, which ruled out or excluded all other possible dimensions. Suppose Noah would have honestly believed that the ark should be longer than 300 cubits, and so adjusted the measurements according to his best judgment. Would he have been in obedience to God? He would have been in violation of God’s command because the specific dimensions were specified. Because Noah respected God’s law of exclusion, it could be truly said of him, “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he,” (Gen. 6:22).
Obeying God means following what he said to do, but also recognizing and respecting what he left out. It means carefully implementing what he has specified, and omitting everything else. It involves understanding that God knows best, and there is a good reason he has specified this particular way—even if we don’t understand or agree with the reason.
The real test of obedience is not whether we obey God when we agree with everything he has said. The real test is when we come to things with which we disagree, or which seem to go against our own reasoning. When God specifies a particular method or manner of action, are we willing to lay aside all others? Are we willing to let God exclude all these other choices, even though some of them may seem very attractive to us? That is difficult to do, especially when everyone around us seems to be going ahead and including such choices.
If God had listed every wrong choice, every false way, the Bible would be a massive list of prohibitions. But he doesn’t work that way. He tells us the one right way, which excludes every other. He evidently does not feel compelled to explain every conceivable error. He sets forth the truth, and he does it clearly and decisively. In doing so, he excludes every alternative, whether itemized or not. As the Psalmist said long ago, “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way,” (Ps. 119:104).
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.