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(Part 94)


January 18, 2016

Today’s readings:
1 Samuel 15:16-23
Psalm 50:8-23
Mark 2:18-22

Many Christians have turned away from God. Many others are still there but not really living lives in Christ. Still others try to live Christ and even serve him, but do so on their own terms. They quit or lie low or withhold their resources:

  • if they do not get their way;
  • if they are no longer enjoying their life or service;
  • if they do not get the recognition or service assignments that they think they deserve;
  • if they do not like, or think they are better than, the leaders placed other them;
  • if they have their own ideas and preferences and these are not being adopted;
  • if the work becomes difficult and they begin to suffer.

But authentic service to God engages as in spiritual warfare. We are warriors! And for an army to move forward as one and to become an effective fighting force, there has to be discipline and obedience. Can you imagine officers in an army not obeying other officers over them (unless of course the orders are illegal or totally contrary to the mission)?

Such was the case with Saul and his army. God’s orders, given through the prophet Samuel, were clear. Samuel told Saul that God “sent you on a mission, saying: Go and put the sinful Amalekites under a ban of destruction.” (1 Sm 15:18a). They were to destroy everything and not take any prisoner nor plunder. But instead they took the best of the fat sheep, oxen and lambs, aside from sparing the life of the Amalekite king Agag. Why? Saul tried to justify what he did. He said the spoils of war were “to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” (1 Sm 15:21b).

Saul knew what he was doing and did not think that he was doing anything displeasing to God. In fact, he thought he was obeying God. “I did indeed obey the Lord and fulfill the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought back Agag, the king of Amalek, and, carrying out the ban, I have destroyed the Amalekites.” (1 Sm 15:20). In other words, “I accomplished the mission; the victory was won.”

Are not some servant leaders that way sometimes?

  • When they do something not according to instructions but, by the mercy of God, are still able to do something good, they say: “What’s the problem? We accomplished the goal.”
  • When they do things on their own apart from the directions of the overall leadership because they prefer to do things their way, they say: “What’s the problem? We are still serving God.”

But when we disobey the Lord, that is wrong. And what we see as the good we do might be considered as bad, even evil, by God. “Why then have you disobeyed the Lord? You have pounced on the spoil, thus doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight.” (1 Sm 15:19). What is important is not how we see things, but how God sees them. What is important is not just to serve, but to serve according to how God calls us to serve.

God has His ways, and oftentimes God accomplishes good things through us despite our disobedience, as we insist on our own ways. But stop to imagine what God could do through us if only we were totally obedient to Him. Obviously our wisdom is nothing compared to God’s. Obviously our human vision is far short of God’s eternal vision. Obviously how we do things is often so pathetic compared to how God could act in and through us, including signs and wonders.

Yes we might have our good intentions, but what God wants is obedience. “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to the Lord’s command? Obedience is better than sacrifice, to listen, better than the fat of rams.” (1 Sm 15:22).

Again, God is about a mighty and urgently critical work in the world today. In this he raises up His saints, martyrs and warriors. He has His plan and His ways forward. He, not we, decides on what we are to do. We might be good people, trying to live Christ and to share Christ, and desiring to do what we believe is pleasing to Him, but at the end of the day, the servant has to obey the Master, the army needs to obey the Commander-in-Chief (Jesus) and the whole people of God need to obey their King. “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, your burnt offerings are always before me.” (Ps 50:8). What does God want? “Offer praise as your sacrifice to God; fulfill your vows to the Most High.” (Ps 50:14). In other words, be holy and obedient.

And as to being an army, there must be discipline, for unity and good order. This is not just token nods to community ways and structures but actual obedience. Otherwise, even as we think we are doing good and accomplishing the task, as Saul did think, we might be accomplishing evil and are considered wicked and not holy. “But to the wicked God says: ‘Why do you recite my commandments and profess my covenant with your mouth? You hate discipline; you cast my words behind you!” (Ps 50:16).

Now we might think that has to do with really bad things such as thievery and adultery (Ps 50:18). Yes of course. But how about speaking against our brethren or even leaders, maligning them, telling lies, spreading misinformation, distorting truth, judging, gossiping, and so on? “You give your mouth free rein for evil; you yoke your tongue to deceit. You sit and speak against your brother, slandering your mother’s son.” (Ps 50:19-20). You can see how this evokes disunity, dissent, infighting. And when this happens, the army is weakened and can no longer win the victory that God has already prepared.

Those whom God has called to leadership need to be obedient and disciplined, and as servants, act in humility. This is the way God can accomplish His purposes in and through them. It is not about intelligence, secular accomplishments, personal abilities and resources. While God certainly makes use of those, He can use and empower anyone, even those who count for nothing. The scribes and Pharisees were very learned and held positions of honor and prominence, but it made them arrogant, while actually being hypocrites. They disdained the disciples of Jesus for not fasting (Mk 2:18). In their intelligence, they actually showed their ignorance of the ways of God (Mk 2:19-22). Samuel as such referred to “arrogance, the crime of idolatry.” (1 Sm 15:23b).

Looking to ourselves, and in effect not to God, is always fraught with danger. “Now understand this, you who forget God, lest I start ripping apart and there be no rescuer.” (Ps 50:22). Not being totally obedient to God, especially for those called to engage in spiritual warfare, is disastrous. “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord in turn as rejected you as king.” (1 Sm 15:23c). On the other hand, abandoning ourselves to God, in obedience and humility, is always the way to go. “Those who offer praise as a sacrifice honor me; I will let him whose way is steadfast look upon the salvation of God.” (Ps 50:23).

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