1 Samuel 15:9
Sermon preached on February 22, 2009 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to speak at a worship service that students hold at SUNY Canton. During the service they had a testimony time and one of the students told how he had finally given up using some bad words in his speech. He said he was on his second week of not doing it. When I heard it I was both surprised and happy. I was surprised because he said it had been a part of his life for so such a long time—long after he became a Christian. But I was very happy that he was getting his speech under control, that he was concerned about obeying God in this aspect of his life.
Old habits die hard. Unfortunately this is true after we become Christians. We don't become perfect when we become Christians. Bringing our lives into conformity to Christ's commands takes effort and time. But we must work at it. The great truth that our text shows you is that
you must not be content obey God's commands partially, but you must seek to obey them with all our heart—completely and thoroughly.
God told King Saul to fight against the Amalekites and to totally destroy them. But Saul spared their king and the best of the sheep, cattle and lambs—everything that was good. Saul and the Israelites were unwilling to destroy the things that were good—but they did destroy everything that was weak and despised. As a result God said to Samuel, (verse 11)
"I am grieved that I have made Saul king,
because he has turned away from me
and has not carried out my instructions."
God was displeased with King Saul. Because of that He determined to take the kingdom away from him.
What we should understand from this is that
Partial obedience is disobedience.
Partial obedience is not good enough. God didn't say to King Saul,
"Saul, I see that you've obeyed 80% of what I've told you to do. You destroyed all the Amalekites except for King Agag. That's a 99.99%. That's excellent. You destroyed 60% of their animals. That's not really that good. But it's a passing grade. Overall I'm going to give you a B+."
No. Samuel said to Saul. (verses 17-19)
"Although you were once small in your own eyes,
did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel?
The LORD anointed you king over Israel.
And he sent you on a mission, saying,
'Go and completely destroy those wicked people,
the Amalekites; make war on them
until you have wiped them out.'
Why did you not obey the LORD?
Why did you pounce on the plunder
and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?"
Samuel described Saul's partial obedience as 'evil'. Then in verse 22 Samuel said,
"Does the LORD delight in
burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams."
Samuel is saying that Saul did not obey. He is saying that partial obedience is disobedience. He is saying that Saul did not obey, that he did not heed the Lord.
Saul argued about this. When Samuel first came, Saul greeted him and said, (verse 13)
"The LORD bless you!
I have carried out the LORD'S instructions."
There's a striking contrast between Saul's words there and the Lord's words in verse 11. The English translation reflects the original Hebrew. God said that he was grieved that He had made Saul king,
"because he has not carried out my instructions."
Saul uses the same phraseology except he leaves out the 'not'. He said,
"I have carried out the Lord's instructions."
Saul thought he had done well. But Samuel liked Saul's actions to 'rebellion' and 'idolatry', a rejection of God's Word. In verse 23 Samuel said,
"For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king."
This is not the only place in Scripture where partial obedience is likened to rejection of God's Word.
In 1 Kings 13 we have the story of the man of God from Judah who was sent by God to curse the altar that wicked King Jeroboam had set up at Bethel. God told the man of God not to eat or drink while he was there and not to return home the same way. The man of God went and cursed Jeroboam's altar as he was told. He refused the king's invitation to eat and drink there. He started home on another road.
But a prophet from Bethel chased after him and deceived him. He told the man of God that an angel appeared to him and instructed him to take him back to his house and feed him. So the man of God went with him and ate in his house. While they were sitting at the table, the Word of the Lord came to the prophet from Bethel and he said to the man of God, (1 Kings 13:21-22)
"You have defied the word of the LORD
and have not kept the command
the LORD your God gave you.
You came back and ate bread
and drank water in the place
where he told you not to eat or drink.
Therefore your body will not be buried
in the tomb of your fathers."
He was killed by a lion on his way home. Notice how he said that the man of God's partial obedience was equivalent to 'defying the word of the Lord'. Partial obedience is likened to, 'not keeping' the command the Lord gave.
When it comes to the Lord and His commands partial obedience is not what He wants.
Let me illustrate. When I was growing up in Nova Scotia my friends and I avoided a certain barbershop. It was the closest barber shop to where I lived but I never went there. It was run by a man who was very eccentric. He was known to sometimes drink too much and was reported to be rude to some of his customers. I don't know if this is an urban legend or not but the story we were told was that one young fellow went to him for a haircut late one afternoon and the barber only cut half of his hair (the way we heard it was that it was just one side of his head) and then he said to the guy,
"It's closing time. Come back tomorrow and I'll finish the rest of it."
He just stopped and showed the guy to the door.
That's the story we heard. I don't know if was true but I did know the barber a little bit and I never doubted that story. It fit him. There are a lot of weird people in the world and he was definitely one of them.
Can you imagine if that story is true how that young guy felt—having a haircut on only one side of his head? It must have been a horrible evening for him. You can be absolutely sure that he wasn't happy with that barber and after the next morning I'm sure he never went back to him again. A partial haircut wasn't any good at all.
Partial obedience to God's commands is like that. It's no good. It doesn't make us look good in God's eyes, it makes us look disgusting.
The reason for this is because partial obedience shows that our heart isn't right with God.
Partial obedience shows that we don't really love God, that we love something else more. It's interesting that in verse 23 Samuel mentions idolatry. Partial obedience shows that we aren't devoted to God, but to ourselves or something else. John Woodhouse writes, (1 Samuel, p. 275)
"disobedience is in the same category as 'the sin of divination' and 'iniquity and idolatry' —the effective rejection of God and the adoption of another religion."
We have an illustration of this in Achan at the time when the Israelites took the city of Jericho. (Joshua 6) God told the people that when the walls fell they were to go straight in and take control of the city. But the Israelites were told that the city and all that was in it was to be devoted to the Lord. Everything in it belonged to the Lord and they were not to take anything for themselves. But Achan only obeyed part of the Lord's command. He want into the city to fight and take control of it but when he say a beautiful robe from Babylon and some silver and gold, he coveted them and took them. His heart wasn't right with God.
So what we should understand is that partial obedience shows that our hearts aren't right with God. John Calvin writes, (Institutes, Vol. 3:VI:5)
"For it is not lawful for you to divide things with God in such a manner that you undertake part of those things which are enjoined upon you by his Word but omit part, according to your own judgment. For in the first place, he everywhere commends integrity as the chief part of worshiping him [Genesis 17:1; Psalm 41:12; etc.]. By this word he means a sincere simplicity of mind, free from guile and feigning, the opposite of a double heart. It is as if it were said that the beginning of right living is spiritual, where the inner feeling of the mind is unfeignedly dedicated to God for the cultivation of holiness and righteousness."
So if you ever find yourself thinking in terms of obeying some of God's commands and neglecting others—your heart is not right with God. You are to, (Luke 10:27)
"Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your strength and with all your mindÖ"
Anything less than that is totally unacceptable. God wants your total obedience. There are many, many places in Scripture where God tells people that they are to do everything he commands. (Deut. 12:32, Exodus 23:13, 2 Kings 21:8, Jeremiah 11:4, 1 Kings 9:4-5; Judges 13:14 to name a few.)
One of the reasons you should obey God totally is because
if you don't—you'll get punished for it.
In Joshua 1:8 God told Joshua to tell the Israelites,
"Do not let this Book of the Law
depart from your mouth;
meditate on it day and night,
so that you may be careful
to do everything written in it.
Then you will be prosperous and successful."
The way to prosperity, success, happiness, glory—is through obedience. Disobedience to God's commands brings misery.
This applies to both Christians and non-Christians. For those who are not Christians, you can look at Saul to see that lack of total obedience brings punishment. God rejected Saul as king. (verse 23) Samuel said to Saul (verse 28)
"The LORD has torn
the kingdom of Israel from you today
and has given it to one of your neighbors
—to one better than you."
The end of the chapter tells us that from that day forward until he died, Samuel,
"did not go to see Saul again"
God withdrew His blessing from Saul. After this Saul's life spiraled downward and he came to a very ignoble end.
So let me tell you that if you're not a Christian, you're going to be punished. Things may be going all right for you now. But let me assure you that that's temporary. The punishment for sin is death—both physical and spiritual. In 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 the apostle Paul wrote,
"This will happen when the Lord Jesus
is revealed from heaven in blazing fire
with his powerful angels.
He will punish those who do not know God
and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
They will be punished with everlasting destruction
and shut out from the presence of the Lord
and from the majesty of his power
on the day he comes to be glorified
in his holy people and to be marveled at
among all those who have believed."
If you don't know Jesus, you need to start obeying God. The way to begin to do that is found in 1 John 3:23,
"And this is his command:
to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,"
For you who are Christians, if you don't obey God totally, you're going to be punished as well. Don't be deceived, sin eventually leads to misery.
You'll remember that when the Israelites came up out of Egypt, God told them to totally drive out the Canaanites and that if they didn't drive them out completely, they would become a snare to them. God said, (Numbers 33:55)
"But if you do not drive out
the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain
will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides.
They will give you trouble in the land
where you will live."
That's exactly what happened. The Israelites didn't totally drive out the Canaanites. They were a snare to them. Much misery resulted.
But we must not forget that God has a purpose in punishing us for our sins. In Hebrews 12:6 we read,
"the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."
Jesus is the Good Shepherd in every sense of the word. If you're not living as you should be He will do something to change it. Maybe the change will be much more than you're expecting. When the Corinthian Christians were abusing the Lord's Supper God actually struck some of them dead and others he afflicted with sickness. (1 Corinthians 11:30)
He could do that to you as well. His goal in that is not to hurt us, but to improve us. Hebrews 12 continues,
"Endure hardship as discipline;
God is treating you as sons.
For what son is not disciplined by his father? …
Our fathers disciplined us
for a little while as they thought best;
but God disciplines us for our good,
that we may share in his holiness.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time,
Later on, however, it produces a harvest
of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it."
You who are Christians are to be seeking to obey the Lord totally, completely. Not to do so is the utmost foolishness.
So Christians, I ask you:
Are there areas of your life where you're not obeying God?
How does your obedience measure up? Are there certain aspects of your life that you haven't given over totally to God? True obedience seeks to be total.
Make sure you're not deluding yourself in this. Saul was in denial about his sin. He told Samuel he had kept the Lord's commands when he had not. (verse 13)
Are you deluding yourself? Are you like Saul thinking that you are obeying God's commands when you're not?
I remember being shocked one time when a woman who had just been living with a man who was not her husband was very disparaging about a man who was involved in a sexual sin. She really looked down on him. Now don't misunderstand me. She was better than him. Her sin was less. But the point is that they were both involved in sexual sins. Neither one was close to being obedient to God with regard to their sex life. I think she was like Saul—she deluded herself.
So Christians, don't delude yourself. Examine yourself to see if you're in the faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5) Do you obey God completely in your thoughts? Are you taking every thought and making it captive to Jesus Christ? What about your speech? Are you seeking to fulfill Ephesians 4:29?
"Do not let any unwholesome talk
come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful
for building others up according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen."
Are you honest and truthful? What about your love for other Christians? Do you love them deeply, from the heart? (1 Peter 1:22) What about esteeming others better than yourself? (Philippians 2:3) What about loving those who are lost who have harmed you? (Romans 12:20) What about forgiving those who have wronged you? What about not being bitter? Or about not letting the sun go down on your anger? What about treating your wife with consideration and respect? (1 Peter 3:7) Or what about loving her as Christ loved the church. (Ephesians 5:25) Or wives, what about being submissive to your husbands? (Ephesians 5:22) What about not exasperating your children? (Ephesians 6:4) Those of you who are younger—what about obeying and honoring your parents?
Christians, don't delude yourselves. When you stand before the great white throne you're not going to be able to make excuses or talk yourself out of it like Saul tried to do here. How ineffective Saul's talk was. He greeted Samuel with the words, "The Lord bless you. I have carried out the Lord's command."
So many people today are like Saul. They think that reality is what they say it is. Many church reject God's Word and they don't carry out God's instructions. They say they are—but weighed against God's Word—they fail miserably.
We must not be like them. Seek to obey God in all things. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:48,
"Be perfect, therefore,
as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Lastly, for Christians,
how thankful you should be that Jesus our King obeyed totally.
Jesus wasn't like King Saul. He was not content with partial obedience.
Our sins required certain actions on the part of Jesus. How wonderful for us His attitude was, (Hebrews 10:7)
"Here I am—
it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God."
How wonderful that He said, (John 4:34)
"My food is to do
the will of him who sent me and to finish his work."
He was obedient in all things. He obeyed completely. He kept obeying right up to and through when He cried from the cross, (John 19:30)
"It is finished."
Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation. His work was complete, perfect. (Hebrews 7:25)
"Therefore he is able to save completely
those who come to God through him,"
Hebrews 10:12-14 says,
"But when this priest had offered
for all time one sacrifice for sins,
he sat down at the right hand of God.
Since that time he waits for his enemies
to be made his footstool,
because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever
those who are being made holy."
Who is like Jesus? What a wonderful Savior you have. Trust Him. Praise Him. Rejoice in Him.