The Best Thing You Can Do Today
The king & the Kings: A Study in 1 Samuel
By Todd Stiles
Bible Text: 1 Samuel 15
Preached on: Sunday, March 12, 2017
First Family Church
317 SE Magazine Road
Ankeny, IA 50021
I have a question for you and the answers will be varied but try to answer in your mind. We’ll be glad a little later that you did. What’s the best thing you could do today? Don’t answer out loud, just personally be thinking: what’s the best thing you could do today? Now, like I said, the answers will vary. They’ll be personal. They’ll be individual and specific, but I would venture to say they’ll all fall under a large umbrella that’s a four letter word. That’s right, the best thing you could do today is actually a four letter word. I’ll spell it for you: o-b-e-y. Say it with me: obey. Without a doubt we’ll see in our text today that the best thing any of us could do today would be to obey.
Now, often you hear that and you think, “Well, that’s what you’re telling us to do,” but actually that “us” is not only the sheep but the Shepherd. It’s all of us: those on the platform, those in the pews, the chairs, those who lead, those who follow. No one is exempt from this best thing that we should do today. We should all obey, your church leaders included.
Now, I’m going to ask Aaron and Brad to come, two of our church elders, and share with you one of the things that the elders are kind of really, I wouldn’t say wrestling with like we don’t want to, but we’re just trying to figure out what’s our next step in this area of obedience for us, to kind of give you maybe some concrete understanding of what it looks like to obey from an elder’s point of view. Here is some information you’ll want to know as a church about how we are making sure that we’re doing the best thing we could do which is to obey.
Aaron: My name is Aaron Crabb and this is Brad Miller. We serve as elders here at First Family Church and we wanted to share some information with you so that you can partner with us in praying about how we as a church can do exactly what Todd said, is continue to obey the direction of the Lord. So it seems to us as an elder group, that over the past, I’d say, six months or year, there has been an ongoing theme that we’ve been bumping up against and it’s us running into people who are really interested in planting churches. We’ve had several folks come to us who want to plant a church maybe in central Iowa or maybe a little further removed and maybe right in the Des Moines area, and it’s kind of happening over and over and it’s making us start to think about maybe the Lord is doing something here. The crossing point continues to be First Family Church and Todd and Chris and folks connecting with us, and to be honest with you, that’s been something that’s been in the DNA of First Family Church for a long time. We’ve wanted to replicate and be assisting in planting churches but, to be honest, we also don’t always know how that works. It could look a lot of different ways and we haven’t really nailed down a specific strategy on how to do that.
So this continues to happen and over the next couple of months, the elder group is going to continue to wrestle with this and we’re looking at getting more specific about what that strategy might be. So we have some folks that have been with us and will continue to be with us in the future. Brad’s going to talk about that. We’ve also been contacted by an individual from the Baptist Convention of Iowa who would like to explore, maybe, a partnership with First Family Church. We don’t know exactly what that is yet but the reason that we want to communicate this today is so that we all as a body can be aware of what we’re wrestling through and that you can join with us in praying about this, okay? We’re praying fervently that the Lord would reveal his will because what we do know for sure is that the number one thing we want to do is be obedient to whatever it is that he calls us to. We’re just not exactly sure what that looks like.
The second reason that we wanted to communicate this today is that so you can join in the conversation with us. So if you have ideas or questions or thoughts about how this might look, we want to open up the conversation and start talking about that as we kind of wrestle through this in the months ahead.
Brad: Thanks, Aaron. So, yeah, questions, comments are welcome. Don’t be surprised, though, if your questions don’t get an answer because we’re in the initial stages of this. But we do value your input and, really, it’s just an attempt to be transparent with you guys. We want you to know what we think and sense God doing in the elders and at First Family Church. So as he mentioned or just along with that, Steve Christiansen and a group of people are already here. Lord willing, they’ll plant later this year. There is another gentleman, his name is Nick Reed, his wife Heather. He’s a pastor that desires to do the same thing. He wants to plant a church and so they have tentatively landed at First Family Church and there’s a group of people, a handful of people with him as well. So if you see different faces, if you see a group off praying somewhere, don’t be alarmed. Ask them what they’re doing. Ask them, hey, join in with them. But that’s exciting. We’re actually really excited about what God may be doing here. We just don’t know exactly fully what that is. So just, again, we want you to know. We want you to pray with us, ask questions, or if you have feedback, we are willing to listen.
Thank you, Aaron. Thank you, Brad. I hope you heard the heartbeat of that, didn’t you? It’s a four letter word, isn’t it? I’ll spell it again for you: o-b-e-y. What does it say? Obey. So our heart is just to say, “God, what are you doing here? How can we obey?” And that’s the heart that we’re looking for in sheep as well, a heart of obedience. And we’re going to see this morning that this really is the best thing you could do today. In fact, the key verse of the chapter we’re going to look at, here’s the key verse. I’ll show it to you. We’ll read just the part in large print. Can we do that? Read with me, ready? “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” We’re going to hear more about that verse, kind of unpack what’s around it, but it just kind of leans into the very thing we’re saying. The best thing you could do today is what? Obey. Let’s find out more about that.
1 Samuel 15. We’re continuing in our series called “The Kings and the King.” Here’s the story of Israel’s first king and his rejection. As you know, he has been kind of brought into the loop that his kingdom would not last forever. Here’s another story that kind of highlights why and another encounter in which Samuel reveals this to Saul.
We’re going to look just at 1 Samuel 15. It’ll take place in about three different phases. I’ll spend very little time on phase I and phase III, I want to concentrate on phase II because it’s in phase II this middle portion of the chapter that we find out the real core or the heart behind disobedience. And I think what we’re going to do this morning is we’re going to learn a lot about obedience by analyzing Saul’s disobedience, alright?
Let’s jump into the first phase, that’s verses 1 through 9. It’s what I have termed the act of disobedience. Let’s just kind of understand what’s happening here. I’ll read some verses to you, unpack them, but I’m just going to kind of focus on verse 9 eventually.
Verse 1 says, “And Samuel said to Saul, ‘The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD.'” Circle the word “listen” there. It’s going to show up again, especially in verse 22. So Samuel is encouraged to listen to the Lord through the words of Samuel and this is what the Lord of hosts says in verse 2,
“I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt.” That’s an important verse to understanding 3, 4 and 5, okay? Some folks will see the subsequent verses as like a barbaric act from some supreme deity but it’s not that at all. It’s actually righteous and just punishment from God on the enemies of Israel. So as you read the following, keep that in mind. God is simply fulfilling a promise he made in Exodus 17:14, that he would utterly destroy this tribe from the face of the earth.
Here’s when and how he chose to do that and because he’s God and he’s just and he’s holy, this is a fulfillment of that promise and as such is just and righteous. He says, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.” Now, when it says devote to destruction, that’s a level of judgment in the Old Testament that was reserved only for select cities and tribes and people. People who opposed God’s people in ways that they brought upon themselves, the most severe type of judgment such as Sodom and Gomorrah, such as Jericho, and in this case, the Amalekites. That’s the phrase “to devote to destruction.” In other words, if you were a soldier, you were not allowed to take anything from there, you weren’t allowed to raid the city and bring spoils back, you weren’t allowed to build up the king’s treasury or build up your own finances or collection with their things, it was all to be destroyed or the phrase here, “devoted to destruction.”
God says to Saul, “You lead the Israelites into doing this to the Amalekites, all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” This was their just retribution for their opposition to Israel earlier.
“So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. Then Saul said to the Kenites, ‘Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.'” Here’s the opposite of what the Amalekites did.
So the Kenites received mercy and they departed but Saul then in verse 7, “And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt.” It was a tremendous victory but suddenly in verse 8 he begins to kind of make his own decisions and deviate from the Lord’s command. All things were to be devoted to destruction. Notice all things but instead Saul “took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword.” There is a slight deviation there. Do you see it? I think it is best encapsulated in verse 9 with these two words, “But Saul.” It’s the first time in this chapter we see the word “but,” and it shows Saul’s contrast to the Lord’s command.
“But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them.” Even though that’s exactly what God said to do as just retribution for their opposition to Israel’s exodus. “All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.” And the hint of this verse 9 is: all that they thought was good for them, they kept. They disobeyed God at their own personal discretion.
So what is the act of disobedience here? In a simple phrase, it’s basically a rejection of what God said and a redirection of their efforts to do the opposite. Did you catch that? It’s a rejection and redirection and that’s easy to spot in Saul’s life, it’s easy to spot in the nation of Israel. Yeah, we see what he did. God was clear. He said, “Well, I’ll do part of it, not all of it. I’ll change it.” And we can see how Saul rejected and redirected but can we just be really frank and say to ourselves that’s really what all disobedience is? All disobedience is actually a rejection of what God has said and a redirection of our efforts to do the opposite or something different. It’s actually just doing the wrong thing. We see ourselves as the authority and we see ourselves as the decision makers and so we reject God and sinfully redirect ourselves. Does that make sense? It’s what happened in the text, it’s really what happens to us.
This is the act of disobedience but I think beneath this is something far deeper and I think of greater concern. What drives the act of disobedience? In other words, why is it that we willfully reject and sinfully redirect? What causes that? That unfolds for us in the following verses, what I would say is the core of disobedience.
Beginning in verse 10, follow with me, would you? “The word of the LORD came to Samuel.” Here’s God saying, “I regret that I have made Saul king.” You’ll see that word in verse 29 as well as verse 35. We’ll explain what it means later but God here is expressing divine sorrow over Saul’s actions as a king.
Here’s how he describes him, “for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” In other words, he’s willfully rejected and sinfully redirected. That’s what he’s done here.
“And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night.” You’ve got to love Samuel’s heart here. He’s angry, he’s emotional, he’s tearful.
“And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, ‘Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.'” So even after this victory and his disobedience, he considers himself kind of a champion. He makes a monument. He keeps going on to Gilgal.
Samuel there intercepts him and what is Saul’s first sentence? Verse 13, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” That’s an incredible level of self-deception. I mean, we’re newly into Saul’s reign and here he is thinking he’s obeyed the Lord’s command, actually stating that he has when it’s clear he hasn’t.
And it’s clear to Samuel for Samuel then responds, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” I mean, every parent can relate to this. I’m not trying to say that cleaning your room is on the level of this situation here, okay, but I thought about how many times I’ve come home and we’ve asked the kids, “Hey, did you do your chores? Did you clean your room? Unload the dishwasher?” “Sure did.” You look around and you’re like, “You did? What’s with all the mess, then?” You kind of get the sense here like it’s quite clear you’re saying one thing but I am seeing another. I’m hearing another.
Saul’s self-deception is followed by his rationalization. Look what he says in answer to the questions. Notice the third word of verse 15 in the ESV, “Saul said, ‘They,'” circle the word “they” because here he blames the people. Now, if you look back in verse 9, it’s actually Saul and the people who did this, right? His name is mentioned first so Saul is guilty but here in this verse, he ascribes the guilt only to the people and says,
“They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” I think this is incredibly, I would hate to use the word humorous, in one sense, but you can just see Saul, he’s making sure he’s in on the good part. Like, “If there’s credit, count me in. I’ll use the word ‘we.’ Like we devoted to destruction.” But when there is bad stuff, “They did it, Samuel. Can’t you see this?” Now, he builds a monument for himself on the way down to Gilgal, like, “Man, I’m a really great warring king,” but when he’s called on the carpet for his disobedience, he throws the people under the bus. Unless it’s something good, then he jumps on the credit train. You can just see Saul’s insecurity just surfacing over and over.
Samuel is frustrated with this and he says, “Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night.” And Saul says, “Speak.” And so Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.'” Then he asks some more questions, “Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?”
And Saul said to Samuel, here he repeats now deception and rationalization. “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.” In other words, “Samuel, the issue is not with me, dude. It’s the people’s fault. Can’t you see that I’ve really obeyed?” Church, are you grasping what’s happening here? The level of self-deception and rationalization, it’s high. He doesn’t even see his own disobedience.
Now, a couple of things about rationalizing I want you to see, first of all. There are two of them in this chapter. Verse 15 and then, of course, around verse 21. But it’s not the first time Saul is engaged in this activity. If you were to go back to chapter 13 about verse 11 and 12, he blames the people there for him trying to grab the role of the priest and offer the sacrifice when Samuel was apparently late. Do you remember that? And he says, “Well, the Philistines were gathering to attack us, the people were scattering,” and so he kind of blames him for his disobedience there. You can see that Saul is a persistent rationalizer which I’m not sure if it’s fed by his self-deception or if it leads to self-deception. Either way they work hand-in-hand. He apparently can’t see correctly and so he reasons incorrectly. He rationalizes consistently.
This is why I think at the end of verse 21 you can see that Samuel is beyond frustrated. He kind of explains in poetic form how terrible his disobedience actually is, even though Saul thinks it’s actually somewhat obedient. He looks at his actions and he’s like, “Well, I’ve done pretty good. I’ve obeyed. I’ve done this. It’s the people who are the problem.” He says, “No. Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,” and I think that’s a direct reference to the previous chapter in 13. And when he grabbed the role of priest and appeared to the people to be able to do something that was never his call to do, does the Lord delight in that appearance of worship, “as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold,” say it with me, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”
Here’s what I think Samuel is saying. I want you to listen very carefully because we may not always catch quite the textual and historical connection here. What did Saul just come away from doing? Grabbing a role that wasn’t his. Refusing to wait on God. And pretending in front of the people to be something he wasn’t. Here, the same thing. He’s going to build a monument to himself, make sure his image is intact. He’s actually throwing the people under the bus so he makes sure that Samuel thinks he’s this valiant king. It seems that Saul was more concerned with making sure that he appeared to obey than actually obeying. Are you watching that? I think that’s really the point of the word “sacrifice”; it’s the point of the word “the fat of rams.” You see, when a Jew would go to the altar, it was not necessarily a private event. When they would go to make their daily or annual sacrifice, others were aware. They knew. Here is Saul is performing things that make him appear to have obeyed. He’s worshiping, he’s even giving the best part of the ram, the fatty portion. “Yeah, man, Saul, you must really love the Lord. You’re doing a good job it appears.” But when no one is watching, what is Saul doing? Saul is actually disobeying and I think the real driving thing with this verse is, and I don’t want to paraphrase it in an incorrect way so hear me out on this, but I think what Samuel is getting to is this: what does the Lord value? He values authentic, personal, private obedience that actually has substance than the appearance of obedience just for the sake of people thinking you’re obedient.
When I was kind of thinking that through and just studying this and meditating, I mean, is this not the American church? Is this not Iowa? Is this not the city in which we live? Hear me kindly: is this not the room of people today? That we’ll do all we can to make sure we look like we obey in this room between 10:30 and noon, but we’ll leave these doors and disobey God Monday through Saturday. I’m not angry at you. I’m not mad at me or you. I’m convicted at times that we think we can hold both things. God does not delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices when those are simply to make people think we’re obeying. But what does God value? What is the best thing you could do today? It’s quit pretending to obey and hear and actually obey out there. Quit rationalizing. Quit being self-deceived. Quit blaming others. And realize, “Wow, what I’m involved in is actually disobedience and though I’m trying to make folks think I’m not, I actually am.” And what does God value? God doesn’t value appearances. He’s not into your image. He doesn’t care a lot about your brand, okay? What God cares about is your heart and you’ll find this contrast throughout 1 Samuel because what kind of king did God choose? You’ll see this next week. What kind of king did God choose to replace Saul? A man after God’s own, what? Heart.
Church, something’s wrong and just permit me to pastor you from the platform for a minute, but something’s wrong when we can work hard to pretend that we obey and hear and not think twice about disobedience out there. Something’s wrong with that picture. And when someone brings it to your attention and then immediately you rationalize that away, there’s a problem. Houston, we’ve got a problem. And so I just kind of want to rope you into some of this conviction that I’ve been under, some of the boat that I have been rowing here. Man, Samuel really confronts Saul with some core issues. If you’re more worried about what people think you’re doing, about having the appearance of obedience than you are actually obeying the Lord, but what does God value? What is the best thing you could do, Saul? To obey is better than sacrifice. In other words, obeying the Lord is better than making the appearance of obeying the Lord. That’s what’s happening.
I was thinking about some of the ways we rationalize our sins, some of the things that we do to, you know, give the appearance of that but then I’m really not going to do it. I was thinking about how often we show up at church – and some of these will probably step on your toes a bit, so just permit me to kind of walk in the aisles metaphorically, can I do that? We sometimes will appear to really be connected at church but really we just show up. We kind of sit in a corner, sit somewhere where we don’t have to engage many people, and we really avoid honest, biblical, authentic community, and much of the reason is because we have a past hurt. But can I say to you that avoiding community, biblical Acts-like community, authentic, disciple making kind of community just because you’re only going to stay in the hurt because the actual method by which God will get you out of the hurt and more towards help is through community, the very thing you’re avoiding. But we rationalize by saying this, “But they don’t know how bad I’ve been hurt.” Actually, I would disagree with you. I guarantee you some of those in this church know how deeply you’ve been hurt because most people have a deep hurt in their life. Did you know that? I’ve got them. My wife’s got them. Our kids have them. You’ve got them. It’s the devil’s lie to make you think, “I don’t want to get in a small group. I don’t want to share with people. I’ve been hurt and so that gives me a pass.” Ah, can I just say to you it doesn’t. That’s a rationalization, that you’re avoiding the very avenue of help.
I would actually encourage you, I would nudge you to find a small group, a place of biblical community, authentic Acts-like spiritual community where you can begin to kind of unpack the hurt. If you hear the devil’s lies and stay there, you’ll never deal with it. We tell people a lot, my wife and I we counsel with them, that no one’s without their set of luggage. Can somebody say amen to that? The key is just to make sure it’s packed well because you don’t want to walk around with your luggage always hanging open and your underwear falling out and like, “Man, what’s up with your clothes, dude?” But sometimes we think we have no luggage. I’ve got a set of luggage. I’ve got some suitcases, my wife does, you do. And community, you learn how to pack it well and carry it appropriately and the reason some of you cannot deal with your luggage is because you’re avoiding the very thing that will help you pack it and deal with it well.
So consider this a call to biblical community within the small groups of First Family. Quit rationalizing yourself out of the very thing that God could use to help you. By the way, James echoes this. It’s not really our idea. James says, “confess your faults one to another that you may be healed.” Amen? There is no bigger fan of small groups in this church than me probably and I want to continuously urge you, find a smaller group. Even with all of your hurt and bitterness, some of it which you probably didn’t cause and aren’t responsible for, yes, but find a place where you can say, “Hey, can you help me kind of unpack some of this that I’m bearing and wearing? I need to carry this better. I’m tired of avoiding people and living in isolation and loneliness.”
Sometimes pastors will say this and I’ve heard former pastors say this. This is how we rationalize, “Well, I gave 40 years to the ministry so I’m taking a break for a while.” I know pastors today who don’t actually attend and aren’t involved in a local body of believers because they feel like they’ve been involved for X amount of years so they’ve got some time off. I disagree completely with that. Our responsibility as a Christian doesn’t end just because our job as a pastor may be over. But sometimes in my profession we rationalize away our responsibility by looking at things like that, “Well, you know, I gave them way more hours and time.” Come on, let’s be honest. You’re running from something.
I know men who have said to me, “You don’t know my wife and if you did, you’d know why I look at pornography.” No. I don’t know your wife but that’s beside the point. You should not look at pornography. A picture is not a replacement for your wife. It’s a bad place to be. It’s a place of unhealthy living. Does that make sense? But men I’ve heard rationalize away.
I’ve heard couples rationalize away their stinginess because they say, “Well, it’s a tight month.” I’ve discovered that typically those who aren’t generous when it’s tight really aren’t generous when it’s loose. That generosity is not a bottom line issue. It’s not a financial amount, it’s a heart matter. Amen? I’ve discovered that those who can figure out, “Man, we’re going to give something to the Lord even when it’s tight,” find it able to give when it’s not tight.
Here’s my point: those are just some of the ways that we’ve got to figure out how do we rationalize. Those are just some of the ways that we excuse our sin and disobedience and we actually begin to believe those things are true, and I think it’s all centered around the core problem is this: I think we fear the wrong person. I draw this from the next verse. After Samuel explains to Saul that God’s value system rests in authentic obedience in front of him, it’s not really, God is not concerned about how you look in front of people, he wants you to obey him authentically, honestly. Saul seems to be gripped by this so he says in verse 24, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because,” what does it say next? “I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” Here’s the root, I believe, of all disobedience. We fear the wrong person and so because we fear the wrong person, we rationalize, we engage in self-deception, we do whatever we can to maneuver and manipulate to make sure that somebody on a horizontal level is not upset with us, that we’ve got their thumbs up, their approval, when really that’s not the person we should be most concerned about. Amen, church? It’s God’s approval that really matters. It’s God word that matters and when we willfully reject and sinfully redirect our efforts against God to disobey, all driven by this fear of the wrong person, we will rationalize away our disobedience.
I feel like sometimes we do this and this may be a terrible analogy. I feel like sometimes we hold obedience in one hand, something that, you know, tastes good and goes down well, something that does it. This is lemonade. I know a lot of you like lemonade but watch this: they don’t go together well. Are you with me? And don’t press this analogy, it will fall apart, but my point is to show you that sometimes we do this, “Man, a little obedience. That’s awesome. That’s good.” Then right on the heels of that, “Yeah, a little gossip. That’s okay.” And trust me, these don’t mix. I’m not saying that gossip without obedience is good. I’m not trying to say that. I’m trying to show you that sometimes in the American church, yeah, we come here, give the appearance that, “Man, this is good!” All week long we’re actually just a little bit of gossip, a little bit of criticism, a little bit of porn, a little bit of backbiting, a little bit of stinginess. Yeah, a little time with the Lord, sweet devotion. “That’s a good verse I read today.” Oh man, the wrong kind of tv. “Oh yeah, that movie, shouldn’t have watched that probably. Yeah, good small group tonight. That’s great. Yeah, but I really criticized that person for 20 minutes. It wasn’t good, I shouldn’t have done that.” And it seems like sometimes we just are content with this mixture that, trust me, doesn’t taste good. Are you with me? Like there is something wrong with that and there’s something wrong when we think we can have the appearance that we’re obeying and then we rationalize like crazy and make sure everyone believes us but the truth is when everyone’s gone, we don’t think twice about this obedience.
I don’t know if this makes our church grow or it shrinks it, I don’t know if this drives away millennials or if it attracts. I really don’t care. I’m just telling you something, church, that kind of behavior is of no attraction to a lost world. There is no depth or solid sense of values in that. How do we expect to embrace the lostness of our city and witness in a way that has merit and value when all we’re concerned about at times is just appearing to have obeyed. What God values is legitimate, authentic, personal obedience. That’s legit. Is that what you’re doing because that is the best thing you could do today.
The last part of this section, what I call phase II, is Saul somewhat owning things. Do you see this, he says, “I’ve sinned because I feared.” By the way, verse 24, the first time we see the word “I” and the word “sin” together in this chapter. Prior to this verse, it’s been “they did it, but I was a good guy.” Finally Saul says, “I have sinned. I feared the people.” But I want you to notice something in verse 25, he seems now though still to kind of be hanging onto this idea that, “I can still look good.”
“Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the LORD.” This idea of public worship. I mean, even in this, I would say, beginning point of repentance, he’s got this incredible chain of insecurity around him and he is just going to make sure other people think he’s something that he’s really not.
You go down, Samuel says, “No, I won’t do this.” Saul is even more angry. He ceases Samuel’s skirt, verse 28. It tears and Samuel uses this as an illustration of how the Lord has torn the kingdom from his hands and given it to someone better than him, and how God is not going to change this and have regret over this. Saul says again, “I have sinned,” but look what he says in verse 30, “yet honor me now before the elders of my people.” It seems like even though Saul kind of grasped, “I fear the wrong person,” he cannot shake the fact that he’s most concerned with the image that he has in front of other people. He consistently and persistently rationalizes all of his actions and as a result, if I can just say this to you, church, he never makes progress in dealing with his sin. He lives the rest of his life in fear and insecurity and dies a suicide death on the battlefield.
I was thinking this and I want to kind of walk you through what should be your response when you discover disobedience, okay? Like I said, I’m going to spend most of my time here. How should we respond because all of us at times are awakened to like, “Wow, I’ve been rationalizing my sin. I’m actually self-deceived. I’ve got some things that I’ve got to deal with. I’ve been drinking out of both fountains. I’ve got this terrible taste in my mouth. I’ve got the appearance of obeying. I’m really not. God, what do I do?” Some of you may be there right now this morning, the finger of God is pressing on you. What do you do? I kind of charted this out this week. I just want to kind of show you this briefly. I think this is a good biblical response when disobedience is discovered. Watch me for a few moments and see how God might use this. I think this is seen in this chapter if you were to compare this to David, the next king. I think Saul would be the guy on the left, I think David’s the guy on the right. Psalm 51. We’re not there yet, okay? But if you were to take the two characters, this is why one was a man after God’s heart, was a success as Israel’s king, and why one was a failure, because when they realized their disobedience, when they realized, “Who do I actually fear?” one’s response was to continue in haughty rationalization and it became his enemy. We think it’s our ally, don’t we? We think, “Well, if I can get out from under this weight, they’ll think I’m pretty good.” But it’s actually the opposite. What you try to run from will chase you down and strangle you.
We’ve taught our kids this for years and they’ll verify this. They’re all here. If you try to run from responsibility, people will Velcro it to you like crazy. You can’t escape it. They’ll stick it to you. But when something goes wrong, own your part and you’ll find that people will help unstrap the Velcro from you. You know, that’s true in life. You’ve been around someone who is slow to confess, what do you do? You kind of keep trying to hone in, find out why they’re slow to confess. You’re trying to make sure that it sticks to them. Come on, be honest, you do. But when someone is willing to own it, man, you’ll do all you can, you’ll move heaven and earth to try to help them get clean of that.
This is what this is, it’s Saul just continually rationalizing. He opposes any sense of responsibility and he becomes a victim. “The people did it. It wasn’t me. It was their fault.” It soon became Jonathan’s fault, we’ll see. Then it became David’s fault. It was always someone else’s fault in Saul’s life. He was king victim. But when you discover disobedience, the best response is humble responsibility to own it because that’s the pathway to victory.
One, the left side, is a very horizontally directed perspective. It’s all about you and other people. The column on the right, though, is a very vertically directed perspective. It’s about you and God and that’s the way to make progress when disobedience is discovered because that’s – watch this, church – that’s really who you should be afraid of. Did you know that? It’s God. What does he think? What will he do? What does he say? This has really helped me a lot. I don’t want to be someone who fears man, who tracks after Saul. I’d rather be one who fears God, tracks after David. And we all at times discover, “Oh, I’ve been disobedient. What now?” Here’s the answer to that: be humbly responsible and own it. Confess and you’ll find that that’s the best pathway to victory. Do the next right thing.
That’s why I’ve been telling you today, what’s the best thing you could do today? Say it with me: obey. Don’t rationalize. Don’t engage in self-deception. Look at it, hear God’s word and own it, and say, “Okay, I’ll do the next right thing,” and obey the voice of the Lord.
Let’s close out the chapter by seeing the result of this disobedience. Saul never responded, at least in my opinion, never responded well. He appeared to at times but it was always kind of sabotaged by his insecurity and fear of the wrong people. 32 through 35 show us what happens. Samuel actually completes the word of the Lord. You can read that in 32 and 33.
He says in 33, “hacked Agag to pieces before the LORD.” So the Lord’s punishment is now complete. “Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul.” So they parted ways and here’s a very sad verse, “And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death.” Do you see the separation caused here by Saul’s disobedience. That’s sad, isn’t it? These men were friends, but more importantly they were working together for Israel’s best interest. But they never saw each other again until the death. And it says here, “Samuel grieved over Saul,” but more importantly, “the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”
So what’s going on here with the Lord’s regret? This is, I think, insight into one of the results of disobedience is that we grieve the heart of God. The word “regret” here, there is a lot to it. It is a difficult word to grasp. Let must just try to give you kind of a third grade understanding of it, okay? It’s hard for me to grasp as well, and you too. But it doesn’t mean that God wished he hadn’t of done something, okay? Because God actually ordained these events and used human events and even human sinful situations to further his eternal purposes, to bring Israel to their real king eventually. Those were all things that God used so he doesn’t regret doing them, what he grieves over is the sin that the people chose in the midst of that. This is hard to grasp, I know, but it’s really a way the writers have used, a word they’ve used to help us see inside the heart of God, his divine sorrow. It doesn’t mean that God made a mistake or that he wished he had done it differently, it shows God’s divine sorrow in the effects of sin. In separation between Saul and Samuel, in the consequences to Israel, we see into the heart of God that here’s God grieving over sin yet strong enough and holy enough and sovereign enough not to be strapped by it.
What do I draw from this? That what should most deeply disturb you about your disobedience is not that it has affected perhaps a Samuel in your life or other people, but that you have grieved the three-in-one. Holy God is grieved by your sin and though he’s not strapped by it, cornered with it, and he’s not responsible for it, he is so loving and gracious that he is sorrowful for you. In fact, later in the New Testament we read that we’re not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. And by the way, I used the phrase three-in-one for this reason: we know that God the Father is grieved here, we know the Holy Spirit is grieved, and when we sin, we know that Jesus Christ, the head of the church, is grieved as well as his body. Can I say to you in all textual accuracy, heaven and earth feel the weight of your disobedience. The Trinity, the body of Christ, her leaders, when we rationalize and disobey, it’s not a minor incident. Heaven and earth feel the weight of it. And I’ve been pressed upon this just to relay to you the real thing that should disturb us. It’s not that we’ve got some amends to make with people, even though I think that is disturbing and should happen. Yes, I’m not minimizing the horizontal aspect, but do you realize that’s not the end of the story. There is a holy God but our sin, our sin has offended and violated. He grieves over our disobedience. That should cause us, I think that first and foremost should cause us to react and then to deal with things horizontally, yes.
When you read this chapter, there is a hole and you kind of walk through it again, you begin to see why we say today that the best thing you could do today is to obey, to humbly hear God’s word and to simply do what it says. Period. Just do the next right thing. It may not solve everything in the past, it may not mend every relationship, but it’s at least the next right step because to obey is better than sacrifice. Amen? And to listen is better than even the best portion of your offering. That’s why the best thing you could do today is to obey. Not to appear to obey but to actually obey the voice of the Lord.
Now, I’m out of time for questions so I can’t take any this morning. I’ll try to answer them offline. But I want to give you one last nudge towards obedience before I take you to prayer, okay? Here’s some ways to develop a do-the-next-right-thing lifestyle. I won’t spend much time here. I just want to show them all to you at one time. As you read through them, be aware these will help you go down to the right side of that chart. It will help you choose humble responsibility, not haughty rationalization because all of us know that there is something today that we need to do and the best thing you could do is to obey. So will you today obey the Lord? Will you tomorrow obey the Lord? When no one is watching will you say, “Lord, you value authentic, legitimate obedience, not partial obedience, you don’t mean to reject your word and redirect my efforts. You value simple, faithful, trusting obedience even when nobody is looking. I’m just going to do what you said. Period.”
Here’s how you can develop that lifestyle, just pay attention to conviction. And I’d say on the heels of that, the conviction that may be happening in this very moment. And I can sense the Spirit of God working, moving in and out of these aisles. He’s stopping at some of those occupied seats. He’s talking to you guys. He’s putting a finger on your heart. He’s peeling back your chest cavity. He’s poking where it hurts. It’s tender there. Why? Because you’ve been rationalizing away some disobedience and in God’s goodness and lovingkindness, he’s trying to call you out of that. So hear conviction well, okay? Just pay attention. It may be the voice of someone else. If you’re married, it’s probably the voice of your spouse. Hear it. It could be the lifeline you’re looking for.
Let God’s word stand without adjustment. Don’t you grow weary of folks who actually say, “Well, this is what the verse really means.” I think it means what it said. Actually we don’t need to re-word it and adjust it, just let it stand. Let it stand for us.
Listen to the input of others. See your sin from God’s perspective and realize that man’s opinion is temporal but God’s judgment is eternal and this will help you to fear the right person and not the wrong one.
There is so much more we could say and I’m over time. Let me just finish up by asking you this morning to do something with me. Can we bow our heads for a few moments and can we just ask the Lord for the power to obey? Can we do that? To do the next right thing. To actually do the best thing we could do today, obey. Let’s do that, can we? Let’s bow our heads and right there in the sanctuary of your seat, let me bring you some really good news that with all the soberness of this message, and I admit it’s kind of been a reality shaker for us hopefully, with all the calling out that’s happened, here’s some incredibly good news: Jesus dealt with every bit of your disobedience at the cross, alright? And you don’t need to sit in your seat and try to muster up some white-knuckled strength to try to overcome it. Jesus has already overcome it. He has forgiven it at the cross. The key is for you to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let his power work through you. Let his forgiveness flood over you. And then we begin to take steps of humble responsibility in the power of Jesus Christ, in the power of God’s Spirit. I don’t want any single person walking out of here clenching their fist thinking, “I’m going to do better.” I do want all of us walking out of here, though, with our heads bowed in submission to the one who did it perfectly, Jesus Christ, and in his sacrificed body and shed blood – church, listen to me, sheep, listen – Jesus dealt with every single act of your disobedience. He dealt with every root issue of your fear and all he asks now is to believe and to trust and to follow him. Just to obey him. Do the next right thing and you can in the power of God’s Spirit.
So, Lord, I love these guys in front of me this morning. I do. These are great sheep and together, Lord, we are under your authority and we want to be good sheep, God, but I know that disobedience trips so many of us and so many of us rationalize it away just like Saul and we find ourselves continuously trapped in this cycle on the left side of the column and we can never seem to get through our disobedience. Lord, would you bring us to a humble responsible ownership of our sin and then what we do with it at that point is to give it to Jesus who has taken care of it. Lord, help us not to blame others. Keep us from being victims. Help us to pursue victory through owning it, owning it enough to cast all of our cares upon you, to see that though there are many acts of disobedience, it was one man’s obedience that brought life, it was the man Christ Jesus. So God, even on the heels of 35 verses of some sobering, stark truth, gladden our hearts with the good news of the Gospel, that you have come to overcome the works of the devil. That’s sin. That’s disobedience. And so we want to now take some time to remember that moment, that apex of history when the Gospel was personified, visualized, and Jesus died on the cross and shed his blood for us. Lord, teach us to run there, to trust in Jesus, to lean on you, to find our refuge and shelter there. As we do, the best thing we could do today, obey.