A Contrast of Character(s)
The king & the Kings: A Study in 1 Samuel
By Todd Stiles
Bible Text: 1 Samuel 13-15
Preached on: Sunday, March 5, 2017
First Family Church
317 SE Magazine Road
Ankeny, IA 50021
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover this morning, a lot of tracks to make, so let’s do this somewhat quickly, can we? It is our family service so we are going to be involving the kids in a number of ways, we’re going to be involving you in a number of ways. We’re going to be having you talk about things in your seat. We’re going to have some kids up here to help us, some families read Scripture. So a lot is in store so I want to ask you to engage and talk with me and let’s work together through two chapters in 1 Samuel, chapters 13 and 14. Go ahead and turn in your Bibles there, would you? I think you’ll be presently surprised at how this large section of Scripture is actually going to be boiled down to very manageable and simple truth that all of us can get our hands around today, from the oldest adult to the youngest child here. I think this is a very sovereign act of timing on God’s part to put us in this text on this exact family service.
So we’re in 1 Samuel 13 and 14, these two chapters that actually are, if you combined them, it’s 75 verses. Those 75 verses actually tell us four stories that are kind of threaded together. They’re really focused on two main characters but those two characters show us one contrast. So a lot of numbers there. Let’s see if we can review them. How many chapters are we looking at? Two. Together they make up how many verses? Seventy-five. Within those 75 verses, how many stories are told? Four stories. Two main characters but how many contrasts do we see? Just one. We’re going to see this morning this incredible contrast between Jonathan and Saul and let’s just be honest, comparing and contrasting is a good way we learn. Often we figure out things and we learn things by looking at what should be and shouldn’t be. We contrast and compare. That’s what’s happening in these 75 verses, these four stories, these two chapters.
Now, I’m going to have some families help me in a moment and read some select verses from these two chapters or these 75 verses or these four stories, okay? But I want to, first of all, show you the four stories, at least on the screen behind me, so if this week you’d like to read these with your family, maybe your devotions personally, maybe with your wife or husband, or maybe just in some way you want to kind of read more methodically through here, it would be very helpful. There is a lot we can’t cover this morning, okay? But we’re going to see the main thematic emphasis in these two chapters.
Here are the four stories. I’ll show them behind me. Mainly they involve Saul’s unfounded fear in the first seven verses of chapter 13. You’ll notice that when he’s in this fearful place though Jonathan actually wins the battle, he sends word throughout Israel that he won the battle. I mean, we get a glimpse initially and quickly that Saul’s very insecure. He’s fearful a lot. Well, on the heels of that, we see him waiting in Gilgal. Even though he had won the battle, his confidence should be high, instead it’s low and he can’t wait for Saul, excuse me, he can’t wait for Samuel, and so he rationally and disobeys the Lord by offering the sacrifice, accepting a role that’s not his, disobeying God’s command. On the heels of that, Jonathan’s bold faith, though, takes center stage and though Saul was disobedient and though Saul was fearful, Jonathan obeys the Lord and he attacks the Philistines, actually just he and his companion, they actually win the battle. They defeat 20 people. Saul hears about it and he joins the battle after the fact and kind of takes credit, again, in some ways. But he can sense Jonathan’s kind of the military hero in this story, though. He can sense that happening and so he becomes very rash in his behavior. He makes some really stupid rules like no one can eat. Now, the army is famished. They should be celebrating but instead he says, “No one can eat.” So when they finally do get to eat, they actually eat in the way that’s against the law so then they have to offer sacrifice. He’s upset about that and so he makes this other stupid rule that says if anybody were to eat before he allows them to, then he’s going to put them to death. Well, guess who happened to eat, not knowing of Saul’s rule was his son. But fortunately Israel steps in and they save Jonathan from being killed by his dad.
These are the four stories: Saul’s unfounded fear, his last straw of disobedience in which we see God taking the kingdom from him, Jonathan’s bold faith, and then Saul’s rash behavior. Here are some selective verses from these four stories. How many verses? And how many characters? But how many contrasts? I want you to hear the select verses that kind of highlight Saul and Jonathan and the way they are.
So let’s have three families up here. They’re going to read the verses to you. They’ll introduce each section by telling you where to look in your Bible because it is a lot of verses. They’ll just read some select ones. If you have a handout with you, feel free to follow that. The kids got one. Adults, you may have gotten one as well. But let’s follow along in our Bibles. 1 Samuel 13, we’ll start with one family and they’ll read some select verses introducing, of course, the text in the reference, and then we’ll have another family read some from chapter 14, and then another family will conclude us. Let’s have our Bibles ready and we’ll start together hearing these four stories.
This is Grace. She’s going to be reading verses 3 and 4.
3 Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!” 4 So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.
This is Emanuel reading from 8 to 14.
8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. 11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” 13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”
Reading from 1 Samuel 14, we’ll be in 6 and 7 and 20 through 23.
6 Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” 7 And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”
20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle. And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. 21 Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle. 23 So the LORD saved Israel that day. And the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.
We’re going to finish up on chapter 14, verses 43 through 46 and ending on 52.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.” 44 And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” 45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die. 46 Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.
52 There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he attached him to himself.
Thank you, families, very much. Can we thank these families for reading our Scriptures for today? Thanks, kids. I appreciate that so much.
I want to take some time and have you with me analyze the two characters that are front and center in our contrast: they are Saul and Jonathan. Now, basically the Scriptures we read and, by the way, again, there is so much more here than we can cover in this simple service so I’d encourage you to follow the stories even in your homes and later talk about it. But let’s just take some time and from a 30,000 foot view, let’s analyze what is it about these two characters that is so different and let’s contrast them.
So if you have a handout with you, you’ll see on the kids’ handout there’s like a simple T-chart, one side said “Saul,” one side says “Jonathan.” I want to give you about 60 seconds to kind of, again, either on your own based on the Scriptures we read, or you can talk with your kids who are with you, or just as a couple you can talk, take about 60 seconds and start listing the traits, the things that you see about each character on the separate sides. I’ll come back in about 60 seconds and kind of walk you through some of those and we’ll end with kind of a theme we’ll see about these two characters. Okay? Go ahead.
About 30 more seconds. A little Bible study here live in this service with you.
Alright, let me show you some things that I discovered and you probably found some of these as well. We’ll just list these kind of briefly. Let’s contrast and compare Saul and Jonathan from these two chapters. How many verses? Seventy-five. How many stories? How many characters? But just one contrast.
Saul seems and appears to be very impulsive and emotional, doesn’t he? Whereas Jonathan, somewhat patient and discerning. Now, understand something. I want to pause here and say this: often in the circles that I come from or even in maybe some of the ones we currently kind of associate with, there is a sense in which emotion is negative and bad. Now I don’t buy into that. I think emotion is God-made and God-given and very helpful and effective. We are emotional people, amen? So don’t try to eliminate your emotions but you do need to translate them. I’ve heard some folks say, “Well, we only live by our intellect, not our emotions,” but understand something: all of your being is depraved. Your intellect is as depraved as your emotions.
So all of us need all of God’s Spirit to help us process our thoughts and feelings and emotions, the problem with Saul is he didn’t translate what he felt so that it would come to a good decision, he just acted impulsively on his feelings, whereas Jonathan was passionate, was a warrior, and yet when he realized God had said, “Attack the enemy,” that was pretty much of a passionate decision and yet it was rooted in something beside his emotions, it was rooted in God’s command. So I want you to understand Jonathan was patient and discerning. He looked to the root of what’s going on. He didn’t just kind of live on the surface of emotions.
Saul was impulsive. He was also faithless whereas Jonathan was faithful. He kept his word. Saul didn’t keep his word. Some people ask, “Well, it looks like Samuel was late so how was Saul wrong?” I don’t know that the heart of the command was to wait for a certain amount of days, the heart of the command was to wait for the prophet, for the judge. Does that make sense? He should not have accepted a role that wasn’t his no matter how many days he had to wait. That was the heart of the command and that was the real core of his disobedience.
He was faithless. Jonathan proved faithful. By the way, I think there is something you should wrestle with at your home. If you want to know the extent of Jonathan’s faithfulness, look at his response to his dad. When his dad in his ration, it says, “Man, you’re gonna die, Jonathan, and God do it more to me if it’s not you.” I mean, what dad thinks this way, right? What does Jonathan say to him? “So be it. If I die, I die.”
Now, I don’t personally think Jonathan actually believed that his dad would kill him but at least his demeanor was such that he thought, “Do you know what? I’ve got a responsibility. I want to show submission. I want to be faithful and I’ll just, yeah, okay, dad, if that’s what…” I think he probably knew somehow God would rescue this situation. I can’t prove that from the text but I’m more intrigued by Jonathan’s real demeanor of faithfulness in his role.
Again, that phrase is something you ought to wrestle with with your kids at dinner like, “Man, how could a son say that to his dad?” It’s amazing. Wrestle it out. Talk it through. It shows, though, a real difference, doesn’t it? Saul couldn’t wait for anybody, Jonathan was willing to even be under his dad’s authority when it looked like it might cost his life. What a contrast.
Saul was disobedient, Jonathan was obedient. Saul had a very external focus, Jonathan was very internally driven, concerned with doing the right thing. Saul was worried about the right look. Again, it goes back to the idea of image versus substance as we see here. And these are some synonyms. Saul was horizontally kind of focused and driven, Jonathan had a vertical aspect. Saul was foolish, Jonathan wise. Here’s how I would sum it up. Write these down. I think Saul as a way to kind of summarize, was fearfully insecure and I think Jonathan was faithfully obedient. I’m trying to write it as well as I can.
You have an insecure king and because he is insecure and thinks his feelings and his emotions should drive everything, he makes terrible decisions. You have a secure, faithful, obedient son, and because God’s character and God’s commands drive his life, he obeys God in the face of great difficulty not only from the Philistines but even from his own dad at one point. Wow, what a contrast. What a beautiful comparison of one who is fearfully insecure and so does everything to make sure he in the end looks good and is rescued, and yet Jonathan who says what’s more important is the people and God’s word, regardless what happens to me.
You might could say it like this: Saul, I’m going to write this in here. You can’t read it well but these are words I thought of all week. Saul twisted God’s word, twisted his actions, twisted situations, whereas Jonathan trusted. If you took 75 verses and four stories and two characters, you could summarize them in these two words: Saul was a man who would twist whatever he had to to get his way, Jonathan was a man who would trust.
Which word describes you? Are you a twister or are you a truster? This is really what’s happening here. When we trust, by the way, let me connect some dots here. When we trust, the result is that we obey. When we don’t obey, it’s because we don’t trust and we’re trying to twist and so we connive our own plans, figure out of better ideas. The real issue in obedience is to really not be obedient, the real issue in obedience is always trust. Did you hear that? The real issue is always trust.
If you’re a parent, you would agree with this, wouldn’t you? You’re like, “Why didn’t you listen to me?” They probably didn’t trust you on an issue, on a situation about a subject and so they didn’t do what you asked them to do. The real issue isn’t always obedience, it’s what’s underneath that, it’s trust. Trust. Here we see that’s exactly what was true about Saul and Jonathan. Jonathan was a truster of God and it showed in how he trusted throse who were over him like his father. Saul was a twister. He didn’t trust God, didn’t trust those over him, and it showed up in how he consistently tried to maneuver and manipulate things around him to get his way. Again, this is the contrast we’re seeing. The two characters who had totally different character.
Let’s connect the dots and understand something about trust. How does it impact our obedience? I want you to write down three things. You’ll see this on the screen behind me. I’ll say these somewhat briefly. The lead to our take-home truth but just understand that when we trust and when we have an attitude of reliance on the Lord, it results in three types of obedience. I would say it’s prompt obedience, reasoned obedience and submissive obedience and you can find these in Jonathan’s life throughout this story.
You find Jonathan quickly obeying the Lord. Saul is hiding out. The people are hiding with him. Some of the Israelites had even become mercenaries, had kind of changed sides. What does Jonathan do? He hears the Lord’s command, he knows what God has said, and with one guy he goes and he says, “We’ve just got to obey God and we’ve got to obey God now. I love his promptness.
It’s also reasoned obedience. You find both of these character traits kind of symbolically and verbally laid out for us in 1 Samuel 14, what is it, verse 6 and 7, when Jonathan says, “Who knows that the Lord, it may be he will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” That’s a passionate response but it’s also a reasoned response because the Lord could do exactly that. He had reasoned in his mind, “God can do whatever he wants. He can save by many or few. He’s God. He’s given us a command so let’s promptly obey him and let’s submit to what he says and do what he asks us to do.”
So Jonathan’s obedience was prompt, reasoned and submissive. By the way, Saul’s was precisely the opposite. Saul did not obey promptly, he did not reason, he impulsively figured out in his own mind what he thought was best and he was not submissive to Samuel or to the Lord and for that reason God took the kingdom away from Saul. So do you see how trust shows up in our life? Trust shows up in obedience and I would say to you in obedience that’s characterized by promptness, reasonableness and submissiveness. Now listen very carefully: every parent here is saying to their son or daughter, “Look at that screen and listen to the pastor.” But as your pastor, I want every adult to hear this because God, your Father, wants prompt, reasonable, submissive obedience from his kids. Amen, church? He doesn’t want you twisting what he said, wiggling your way out, maneuvering and manipulating to try to make it make sense in your mind. Just trust him and then obey him. God will take care of the rest.
This principle was beautifully portrayed before me about two weeks ago in our own family. Brook, our youngest daughter, had just finished taking the ACT for the fifth time. You say, “Why five times, that’s a lot?” And it was. Well, the first four times she came up one point shy every time of a tuition free scholarship at the University of Iowa. That’s where she plans to go, Lord willing. So after four times, I was like, “Brook, do you know what? Man, God’s got this. Don’t worry. It just means you’ve probably got to work more in college. We’ll do something here but we’re just committed to no debt and so usually no debt is because people are willing to work.” That’s how the Bible lays it out and that’s how it works best. Amen, church? Work equals no debt. I love that. Thanks for being on board that philosophy there. I appreciate that. It’s called a job. That’s how we do this, okay?
So I said, “You’ll probably get a job in college. You’ll do fine. Lots of folks have done it. We did it. We’ll get through it.” And then Julie pipes in. She leans in and she goes, “Brook, you should take it one more time.” This is after four times, okay? Four times she took it. And so I’m kind of like with Brook, I’m like, “You know, honey, four times. I mean, it is what it is. The Lord has spoken.” Some preachy attitude, right? And she goes, “No, no, we’ve got time. Let’s take it once more.” And Brook’s kind of with me, we’re both like, “I don’t know.” It’s not that much money, $50-75, take it, but it’s just a little discouraging to keep taking it and you’re one point short. And I remember the night that Brook said to her mother because Julie kind of kept pressing, “No, Brook, really. Take it.” And Brook went like this, she went, “Okay, mom, I’ll take it.” Now, it was not a heart of rebellion, it wasn’t like this sense of exasperation with her mother but it was more like, “You know, I’ll obey what you say. I’ll do it but, boy, I don’t really want to but, do you know what? You probably know more than me. I know you care about me so, yeah, I’ll do it.” Kind of the whole attitude that kids have sometimes. You know, not trying to fight back but just like, man, “Okay, mom.”
She took the test, came home. “How did you do?” “I don’t know. I didn’t feel great about it but, you know, who knows? This try number five, we’ll see.” A few weeks later, she texts us on this family text thread we have and she says, “I just got a letter from Iowa but I’m afraid to open it.” This is over email. The email said something about congratulations. We want you to be aware of a scholarship we have for you. She thought, “Well, if I had a different scholarship, maybe that means I got a better score.” So she on her phone she opens up the website for the ACT test and sure enough she had gotten three more points than the previous four tries, enough to give her a tuition free scholarship next fall.
Now watch this, this is the preacher in the family so just forgive me, okay? We rejoiced in that but do you know what I was most thankful for was what Brook learned not about the scholarship but about submission. Hearing her mother and saying, “Okay, I’ll do that,” when probably she really didn’t want to. Could somebody say amen to that? “Oh, okay.” But there’s something about parental authority and parental wisdom, especially when it comes from our moms, amen? I mean, I’m so glad Julie leaned in on that. I was kind of like, “Hey, it’s good. It’s what it is. We’ll figure it out.” She’s like, “No, we’re not giving up yet.” Man, she pressed hard in a godly way and Brook heard her mother and said, “Do you know, mom, yeah, if that’s what you want, I’ll do that. I don’t understand why and I’m not sure I think I can even do it but do you know what? I’ll do it for you.” And if you ask Brook what she really learned through that, it’s not ching-ching wallet scholarship, it’s like, “Man, it pays to listen to your parents.” It pays to hear, trust them and obey them.
Could every parent in this room with your kid beside you say amen? You know I’m telling you the truth. Hey kids, look at me. Learning to hear and submit is a key character trait that actually then leads to learning how to obey on the outside. You’ve got to have a submissive spirit inwardly to ever have an obedient posture outwardly. And it’s not just true for our kids, is it? It’s true for adults as we respond to God, as we respond to church leadership, as we respond to each other, husbands to wives, wives to husbands. When there is no real spirit to hear, when there is no real heart of submission and we’re always trying to twist instead of trust, obedience is very difficult, but when we settle the trust issue, I find that obedience follows rather naturally.
That’s why our take-home truth is worded that way it’s worded. Kids, fill the blanks in with me, would you? As you fill them in, parents, everyone else, can we read this together? Trust in God’s character is the key building block in the development of obedient conduct. So learning to trust God, that he has our best interests at heart, that he is perfect and holy, that his word is authoritative, then results in an obedient lifestyle and where there is not an obedient lifestyle, there is somewhere underneath that a trust issue and we’ve been twisting things instead of trusting him.
As we were thinking through this topic and this truth and just these four stories, these 75 verses, these two chapters, this one contrast, these past few weeks as a team of elders who teach this, one song came to mind several times. Some of you will know it, some of you won’t. They said it right down here, “Trust and obey.” How many of you know that song? Would you raise your hand if you know the old song, “Trust and obey,” over 100 years old. Do you know how it came to be, though? This is kind of ironic to me. Our son’s name is Jonathan. That’s his first name. You know him as Brett. His first name is Jonathan. This song was written as a result of D. L. Moody’s preaching. My son went to Moody Bible Institute. But D. L. Moody was preaching in Massachusetts and at the end of the service a man testified, he said, “I don’t know all about what you’re saying in this thing called the Gospel but I will trust it and then I’ll obey it. Thank you, Mr. Moody.”
Well, the man leading the music during that set of meetings, the worship leader was a man named Towner. Towner overheard that and so he jotted down, “I’ll just trust it and then I’ll obey it.” He put it in his pocket. He sent the words to a friend of his named Sammis who when he saw it, he began to jot down additional verses that came to his mind and heart about trusting and obeying. So he sent this back to Towner and said, “Towner, you’ll never believe what I’ve jotted down from this sermon that D. L. Moody preached and this man responded and you sent me this note.” By the way, this doesn’t happen over email, this takes a long time, okay, in those cultures, right? Towner got those three, four, five verses back of this man’s poem about trusting and obeying and he put it to music and that’s the very same music that we use today when we sing the words to this song called “Trust and obey,” that comes from a man who under D. L. Moody’s preaching got saved and said, “I’ll just trust them and then I’ll obey them.”
Have you ever felt like that? Like you don’t have it all figured out, you’re not sure why things are the way they are. This is your response in that moment whether you’re a child or an adult, whether you’re a grandpa, toddler, whether you’re a teenager or parent, this should be our response. “Lord, I’ll trust you and I’ll obey you.” Yeah, something could be late, you may find that you have the urge to maneuver and manipulate, something could be dark, something could be difficult, something could be out of sync, a number of things could say to you, “Hey, something’s not right.” You may have the feeling like you should impulsively try to fix it and that’s what twisters do. I have a better solution for you. Trust God’s character that he’s a good God and a good Shepherd and he’s got you, and no matter how he chooses to, he will take care of you.
I’ll mention this again. This is what we see in Jonathan’s response to his dad. Again, it just boggles my mind but he must have known somewhere, “I don’t know how God’s going to rescue me in this but God will not violate his own character. So, dad, yeah, you do what you’ve got to do.” And there is this sense of trust in Jonathan that God’s got him. That’s what we’re after. That’s the character we’re looking for, faithfully obedient, not fearfully insecure. A truster, not a twister.
Let’s conclude the message this morning by answering a couple of questions and then I’m going to show you a simple visual that I think will maybe kind of settle all this for us as we wrap things up. Were there any questions that came in, first of all? There were two questions? Let’s take those and Travis will be setting some up behind me so don’t let it be distracting but you’ll see where this is going in a minute.
Q. Was Jonathan disobeying Saul in this chapter? How can we know when obeying God requires disobeying earthly authority?
A. I don’t think Saul, I’ll just take the first question there. I don’t think Jonathan was disobeying Saul. In regards to the food, he was not aware of the command not to eat, first of all. Second of all, I don’t know that there was an explicit command not to attack the Philistines. It seems like they were running in fear and so I don’t know if there was any command from the king not to attack so I think Jonathan was just saying, “Man, it’s our job to attack, let’s go after it.” So I don’t think he was disobeying his father or the king, no. It was a brave move, though, and it was a courageous move, it was a bold move, but I don’t think it was a disobedient move.
And the second part says how can we know when obeying God requires disobeying earthly authority? The best way to answer that, that’s a big discussion. Let’s put the engine on that side, can we? If the physical earthly authorities ask you to blatantly disobey God’s word, I think we have freedom to say, “I’ll obey God rather than man,” under this condition. Watch this and we’re getting way off track. Lord help me on this one. That you’re also willing to submit to its consequences and I would take Peter and John as examples because I think an attitude of submission should always characterize God’s people.
Remember Peter and John at the temple? They said, “Do you know what? We’re going to preach no matter what you say but if you want to arrest us, you can go and do that. We’re not going to fight back at you. We’re not going to try to start a protest.” They were willing to submit to the consequences even in their civil disobedience. Does that make sense? What I see with some Christians is, “We want to disobey and then we want make sure we don’t pay for that either.” But I think in God’s economy and even in Paul we see this, and Peter and the disciples, there is a sense in which they were going to obey God rather than man, amen, but then they were willing to submit to those consequences too and I think that’s where maybe a lot of us should wrestle.
So to answer the question: when there is blatant requests of commands to disobey God’s word I think we can obey God’s word instead but make sure you’re willing then to be under those consequences. Okay?
Let’s take one more question.
Q. How did Jonathan develop such great character in spite of his father’s lack of character?
A. Wow, that’s a great question, isn’t it? And we don’t know the answer from the text. So let’s first of all admit that everyone here will give an opinion on that question. We don’t have a specific answer. My opinion is that it was two things. First of all and primarily it was the work of God’s Spirit in him. God’s hand was on Jonathan in the midst of difficult situations. We just have to know that and trust that and believe that. Second of all, it does appear there were people even apart from Saul who leaned into Jonathan who were probably very godly influences, namely we’ll see in the next few chapters, his best friend David. There were probably other adults that leaned in.
Was Saul corrupt? Was his kingdom snatched away? Was he insecure and image based and very fearful? Yes, but that doesn’t mean every single person. There were probably some other people there who helped a lot and were very important in Jonathan’s life that may have helped him with developing such godly character. That’s the best opinion answer I have. If you have some other ones, man, feel free to share them in an email to me. I’d love to hear those, okay?
Now, in light of those two questions, we have to ask ourselves this: how do we become a truster and not a twister? How do we make sure the train of our life doesn’t get off the rails at the end? How can we not be manipulated or maneuvered? How can we instead just trust the Lord and obey him? Well, I want to talk you for the last little bit about how to build your life in the right order so that you become someone who trusts God and obeys God.
So picture your life as a train. Kids, teenagers, parents, adults, picture your life as a train. If the train is going in this direction. Kids question, is this going to work? Okay, let me have someone in the fourth grade. Have we got a fourth grader here? Anyone in the fourth grade? I saw that hand right there. Can you come and put this in the right order? Would you mind? Is that Olivia? Did I get the name right? Lydia, I’m sorry. But can you put this in the right order? Okay, so that’s the engine. Ah, there’s the caboose. That must just be the middle car we call. Is there an official name for the middle cars? I don’t know, train car. Car. Alright. Lydia, way to go. Let’s thank Lydia. Great job. Perfect. Do you want to stay and help me a little more?
So if this is the right order that our life going in this direction needs to be driven by an engine, let’s see if this…this would be how Saul filled his engine. Can you put this word on the engine? It’s not holding, is it? Try this word. Great. You see, if you try to drive the life, the train of your life with feelings, that’s a bad label for the engine. It really won’t hold. Instead, facts, really what you know about God, what you know to be true really drives the train of your life.
So then, where does this go? Can you put this on the caboose? So we’re not getting rid of our emotions or feelings, we’re trying to keep them in the right order and then that sandwich is our confidence so let’s put that in the middle. So watch this and, Lydia, you’ve done a great job of helping me out. Really, a train, your life is going in this direction will stay on the tracks best when facts are followed by faith and those are followed by feeling. Get those out of order and what you have is an incorrect train that will probably derail if it’s even moving at all. Lydia, thank you very much. I appreciate your help in that.
Let’s talk more about this for a minute, can we? Saul tried to make feelings his engine. He was always making bad decisions. If you checked the end of his life, it derailed badly: suicide. Jonathan let the facts drive the train of his life: what he knew about God, what he knew God’s commands were, what he knew he was to do, his role, how he was to react. It doesn’t mean that Jonathan didn’t have feelings but he let his feelings – watch this – be tethered and hinged by what he knew about God and the confidence he had in God. You see, when we get this out of order we start thinking, “Well, I feel a certain way so I have confidence in my feelings,” and then facts are in the rear and that doesn’t work. But when we know what God has said and who God is and then we have confidence in him, then our conduct, how we feel about things, how we act about things, follows. That’s why these are good synonyms. Watch this: God’s character, the core of the Gospel breeds the kind of confidence in God that allow us then to act and feel the right ways.
You say, “Todd, what is it we should know?” This is why I think it’s very important that first of all we understand that we can call it Gospel-centered. We might on this day call it Gospel-driven. Maybe we call it Gospel-powered. Are you with me? Now, watch this, church, and we’ve said this for years, that there is a God, Hebrews 11:6, and whoever comes to him must believe that he is and that he rewards those who diligently seek him. That’s a knowledge issue there. I believe. I know something true about God. He exists and he rewards.” God the Son existed in historical time and space. The question of the Lord Jesus Christ’s existence isn’t really up for debate, the question is: was he God? But his existence is verifiable, historical, it’s evidential. Those are facts.
So because we know that God exists, Jesus Christ existed, he sent the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of those who believe, we have to now say, “Okay, so what is it that we know? What do we put our confidence in?” It’s these Gospel-centered, Gospel-powered, Gospel-driven facts. That’s why Paul would say, “Grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” There are certain things that we just have to be willing to put our arms around and say these are things that we know. They are true. And saying you don’t like them doesn’t change the fact that they’re true. Saying you don’t want to submit to them doesn’t change the fact that they’re true. This is the way a life of character is built, on the fact that God is who he says he is and his character is impeccable and so we rest and build on that. Our confidence then is in God, not us, and that allows us then to have the kind of conduct and feelings and empathy and emotion that’s biblical, right, not impulsive and destructive. Does this make sense?
This is Jonathan. That’s Saul. And it’s not sticking on purpose, by the way. My question is which word drives the engine of your life? Are you Gospel-centered, Gospel-powered? Are you embracing what God has told us is truth, authoritative truth over our life? Do you have ears to hear? Are you submissive? Or is it always about what you think and what you want and you’ll manipulate and twist until you get it that way? That kind of train eventually comes off the tracks but God has promised, Jude 24, I’ll read it later this morning. We’ll read it. But he will bring us all the way safely home, amen? That’s why he has all dominion, power, authority, glory and majesty. This is the way to do it.
Now, one last thought then we’ll discuss this train for about 60 seconds in your family groups or as a couple or just think about it as a person. You say, “Todd, what is one step I can take in regards to building this kind of life? What’s one thing I can do tomorrow that would help me be more like Jonathan and less like Saul? How can I make sure I’m moving toward being a truster and not a twister?” Let me give you one just simple action step, okay? It’ll affect your parenting, it’ll affect your childrening. I was going to say it’ll affect your kidding, but that’s kind of actually a word so I can’t use that, right? It’ll affect your whole life and that’s this, listen very carefully and some of you may balk at this but it’s the best long-term move you can make as far as the first step. Are you ready? Learn everything you can about God. There’s a big word for that. What’s the big word? Theology. I love theology. We hear it and sometimes we think, “Well, that’s not real practical. That’s seminary or that’s classroom.” You see, we’ve been sold a bill of goods on that deal because it is actually what we believe about God, what we know to be true about God that helps us when our feelings want to lie to us.
And I can tell you that just in a few brief years on this earth, just a little over 50, 28 years married, 26 as a parent, there have been times when I’ve looked out the window and I thought, “My, the sun will never come up again.” I thought that at times. There have been times I thought, you know, “I’m going to resign tomorrow. I’m done.” There have been times I thought, “Man, I hope I wake up married tomorrow.” I thought that. There have been times I thought, “Wow, I don’t feel like this is going very well.” And in those very moments, it wasn’t my emotion that kept my nose in the game, it was my theology. So you’re right, I don’t have a ton of time for folks who dismiss theology. I think theology is what keeps our feet grounded when our feelings want to tell us to run. And what is theology? It’s what you know to be true about God.
So what do we do? We have a church that’s high on content, you’re right. We immerse your kids in doctrine early. We give you a lot of resources for your Lighthouses, so much so that, “Man, Todd, Chris, back off.” Well, we’ll just tell you to pick and choose. How does that sound? Longer services. We go verse-by-verse. There are a lot of things we do for this one reason: we feel like, and it’s not that learning itself is like this magic trick, it’s the fact that when we know God, then the train just rolls a lot better. Does that make sense?
So what’s the best thing you can do in light of all this? Just get to know God. Learn as much as you can about God. Read your Bible. Man, I’m coming back to basic things I’ve said for months, years, I’ve said these for decades to kids, to this church for 13 years. Read your Bible regularly. It’s God’s revelation to you. Spend time with God praying. Get involved in a small group where you can talk about your relationship with God. Be done with isolation. Embrace community. Attend regularly. Prioritize your attendance so that you learn about God and how he operates. Learn Psalms that speak of deep truth of who God is and how he operates. If you’re raising kids, man, read the Bible to them. Talk about it at dinner. Ask them hard questions. Listen to their questions. I saw a kid after the first service. He asked some questions and I said, “You know, I love your inquisitive heart.” He said, “Sometimes my parents don’t.” And I know his parents and I said, “Do you know what? Actually your parents do.” And I’ll always support you parents. I said, “Your parents do.” I said, “It’s frustrating at times when you’re in the middle of puberty and you ask a million questions.” Our kids were that way but the truth is we love an inquisitive mind, your curiosity. It’s how you learn. It’s how you grow. I said, “You keep asking.” He laughed and he grinned.
I know it’s difficult sometimes in those moments but, man, let’s just pour into our kids. Let’s spend time with them, talk about tough issues, ask hard questions. Let your kids talk. Do all you can to bring the Bible to bear upon every single situation. Ask your family, “Why do we do that? Why do we give that? Why do we think that? Why do we watch that?” The goal isn’t that you’re suddenly going to shut down and move to Montana. That’s not my point. My point is ask the questions that take you back to why do we do what we do. There are a set of facts, there are a set of biblical beliefs that we hold to. It’s truth. This is why we do it. And as you keep immersing your kids into that, pouring that into them, over time their train begins to be driven by the engine of God’s truth, who he is, how he operates. This is the best way to roll down the tracks of life.
So I don’t know which of these areas God’s pinpointing in your life. I just picked one and gave you one simple action step. Start learning all you can about God. Maybe the Lord has leaned in some other areas for you. Maybe you’re sitting next to your spouse or your kids and you’re like, “Man, we’ve got to kind of arrest this on our family. We’re just way too emotionally impulsive on things.” Or maybe you have no confidence in the Lord. For some reason it really just kind of short circuits your obedience. You kind of know some things but it never seems to go to the next step. Talk about that as a family, as a couple, or even just as a person. Just reflect on which one of these is God kind of pressing on your chest about.
I’ll give you about 60 seconds and then Becky and Travis, they kind of lead most of our family ministries here from birth to college, they’re going to come and they’re going to pray for us and we’ll sing one more song, okay? So 60 seconds. Talk about which of these areas God’s pressing in on you with, maybe how you can adjust your life to his conviction.