Distraction and Disobedience

Second in a Series on 1 Samuel 15,
Delivered November 7, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
1 Samuel 15:17-19
17 Samuel said, “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.
18 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.’
19 Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder
and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?”

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who wanted to buy his mom a birthday present. He went to the department store and asked the sales clerk to show him the cookie jars. She showed him a vast assortment of jars. Very carefully and methodically that little boy went to each jar, carefully lifting the lid and putting it back on. He went through all of them, and then his face fell as he got to the last jar, removed the lid and replaced it. He looked at the sales clerk and said, “Aren’t there any jars with lids that don’t make any noise?”

Last week we saw King Saul of Israel get caught with his royal hand in the cookie jar. Commanded by God to wipe out the Amalekites and all of their livestock, Saul didn’t quite obey the Lord’s command. He partially obeyed. But we saw last week that when it comes to God, partial obedience equals disobedience.

In the text before us this morning, Saul is confronted by the prophet Samuel in a very gracious way. Samuel reminds Saul of two gifts that he has been given by God. In fact, they are gifts that the Lord gives to anyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ. And he is going to show Saul how his partial obedience has skewed the beauty and the effectiveness of those gifts.

I would invite you this morning to turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Samuel chapter 15, and let’s take a look this morning at verses 17-19. I would encourage you to keep your Bibles open during this sermon, as we will be referring back to the text. 1 Samuel, chapter 15, beginning to read at verse 17. This is the Word of God:

Samuel said to Saul, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribe of Israel? The Lord appointed you king over all of 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?”

Join me as we pray: And now Father as my words are true to your word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your word, may they be quickly forgotten . Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Obedience is the over-arching theme for the whole fifteenth chapter of 1 Samuel. But that is an idea that is not at all popular in our culture today. In fact, I typed the word “obedience” into a search engine in my computer, and the first thirty-five responses all had to do with dog obedience. Number thirty-seven had to do with human obedience. It was entitled, Human Obedience Training for Dogs.

We don’t like the whole concept of obedience. We would rather be obeyed than obey. It is just not a popular thing today. Obedience is always hard. It is always difficult. It always has to do with sacrifice, which has to do with giving up something, losing something. Not at all popular in our culture of winning. Obedience is always difficult because sometimes, especially when it comes to God, obedience seems to be rather unreasonable.

‘What do you mean wipe out the Amalekites? Couldn’t we just whip them? We don’t have to slaughter them do we? Come on God, let’s get real. You have got to be kidding.’ Obedience is difficult because often times it goes against the grain of our surrounding peer culture. ‘Hey Lord, I want to do my thing like everybody else is doing. Why do you want me to do your thing?’ And so we shy away from obedience.

But do you think when God asks us to obey, He has anything other on his mind than our good? Well He does. He has his best on his mind for us. Donald Gray Barnhouse, the late pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia once told a story of a young son of a missionary couple in Zaire. One day the little boy was out playing in his front yard, and suddenly his father appeared on the porch, and very sternly said, “Phillip, obey me immediately. Drop to your stomach.” And the little boy did.

And then the father said, “Now, start crawling toward me.” And the little boy began to crawl, not understanding what was going on. And then his father said, “Now, jump up and run to me as fast as you can.” With tears in his eyes, the little boy ran toward his father, and his father scooped him up, hugged him, and kissed him, and then slowly turned the little boy around and then pointed him to the deadly snake that was hanging over the branch directly above where that little boy was playing.

Now what if Phillip had argued with his father? What if he said, ‘Wait a minute dad, I’m busy.” What if he flat out said, “No.’ Immediate obedience to his loving father, literally saved that little boy’s life. Do you and I really think that God desires your obedience and mine for any other reason than that he wants his best for our lives?

In verses 17 and 18 of our text, Saul in the wake of having blown it, having usurped God’s commandment and partially obeyed, having done his own thing ,is now confronted by the prophet Samuel. But Samuel does not chew him out as much as Samuel reminds him of two gracious wonderful gifts that God has given him. And by the way, if you are here this morning and you believe in Jesus Christ, then these same two gifts are the Lord’s free gift to you and to me. Let’s take a look at what they are.

Look at verse 17. Here the prophet Samuel reminds Saul that Saul has been given the gift by God of stature. That is not the way it always was with Saul. Samuel reminds Saul that back in his younger days, Saul did not think very highly of himself. He says, “You were small in your own eyes.” But God has given Saul the gift of stature. He has taken him from the mail room literally to the throne room. He has made him king over all of Israel.

Now if we jump back to chapters 9 and 10 of 1 Samuel, we see that Saul really didn’t think very highly of himself. When God first called Saul out to be king of Israel, Israel’s first king, what is Saul’s reaction? Basically, I am going to paraphrase Scripture here. Basically he says, ‘You have got to be kidding! Me? I’m a nobody. I’m from the smallest of the tribes of Israel. My family are unknowns. You must have the wrong person.’

Friends, God never gets the wrong person. You might be here this morning, and maybe you don’t think very highly of yourself. Maybe you don’t think that you are very gifted or important to God. Maybe you think that your life doesn’t count much at all for the kingdom. I am here to tell you that self esteem or so-called self esteem, has nothing to do with how you think of yourself. It has nothing to do with how our peers think of us. It has everything to do with how God, Almighty God sees you.

God takes Saul, a nobody, and he makes him a somebody. Your work, your stature is in Christ. As Saint Augustine said, “If you were the only person that ever lived. Christ would have still come and died just for you.” Don’t you ever put yourself down. Don’t you ever denigrate yourself. Don’t ever tear down what God has gone to hell and back to elevate.

Oh you and I may not rule nations like King Saul did, but our stature in Christ is every bit as royal. You, the Bible says, are an ambassador of Christ. You are an heir of the King. You are a royal priesthood. Don’t ever forget that.

In verse 18, the prophet Samuel reminds Saul of the second gift that God has given him. It is the gift of a mission. Your life, my life, really does not have a whole heck of a lot of meaning if it doesn’t have any purpose, does it? What is the purpose for your life? What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? What is it that lights your fire? What are you passionate about? Do you have a mission statement for your life? If you don’t, I would encourage you to sit down this afternoon and write out what your mission in life is.

‘I’ve got a mission statement for my life. It’s kind of you know, to go through life rocking along, just cruising.’ ‘My mission is to excel at being a nominal Christian. I am determined that my life will in no way impact any person or situation in this world for Jesus Christ. In fact, I’m just here for the ride, and then I guess I’ll die.’ Yuck! What a mission statement! The sad thing is, that pretty much matches up with the mission statements of a lot of folks in the world. Even a lot of folks who call themselves Christians.

Do you know your stature in Christ? Do you know what your mission in life is? If you don’t then you are an unguided missile. You are a nonproductive pew potato, and that is what you and I will remain unless we grab a hold of who we are, and what God has called us to do in Christ.

What happened to Saul is that he had these wonderful gifts, but then he became distracted from the reality of what those gifts meant for his life. I believe that that is what verse 19 is all about when it says that Saul pounces on the plunder. I really believe that King Saul had every intention of carrying out God’s command to wipe out the Amalekites and all of their livestock. But when he gets to the livestock part, suddenly he becomes tantalized, tempted, distracted, seduced by the sheer immensity and the quality of these sheep and cattle. ‘Certainly it would be just a total waste to wipe out these animals.’ Saul gets distracted from who he is, and from what his mission is. And that leads to partial obedience, which gets him unhooked from God.

Early in his life, Saul didn’t think very highly of himself. But now elevated to kingly status, he has gone way beyond what God ever wanted Saul to think of himself, and he has arrived at the point, where he is now confusing himself with being God.

Success and power can distract you and me from understanding who we really are. Listen to actress/model Cybil Shepherd, raised in the church, as she describes her present-day spirituality. “The main thing that has made it possible for me to break through the glass ceiling in show business is my cultivation of the feminine in the divine. If you make God a man, you make man a god. It is one of the most basic ways to heal ourselves to say, ‘Yes we as women are divine.’ I think of myself as a goddess worshiping Christian.” Basically, Cybil worships herself. And that is a temptation for all of us when we don’t realize who we are in Christ.

When we lose that gift of stature, at least the reality of what that gift ought to mean in our lives, we get distracted from it. It is easy to get distracted from it. Satan comes up to us, and whispers in our ears all kinds of negative self image stuff, which keeps you and me from rising to our stature in Christ.

Or at the other end of the spectrum, we go on believing our own press clippings, and like King Saul we start setting up monuments to ourselves and confuse ourselves with being deity. And as Saul comes across these wonderful cattle and sheep, he is confused as to who he is. He has a knee-jerk response. He pounces on the plunder. He overrides God’s command with his own desires. He has been distracted. Distracted from his stature. Distracted from his mission.

That can happen to you and me real easy. There is an infinite amount of things out there in the world that want to distract you and me from what God wants us to be and do for the kingdom. That pulls you and me away from Christ, and who we are in Christ. That sends you and me down blind alleys of chasing after the spoils, rather than on road of mission.

I know Christians that God has blessed with affluence. He has blessed them with affluence in order that they might be able to run with echelons of people that I could never reach for Christ. And he has blessed them with affluence, so that they can have the privilege of helping underwrite the kingdom as it moves across the globe. But I have known godly Christ-centered Christian men and women, who have run in those circles and been distracted by the spoils. Suddenly cars, and gated neighborhoods, and power, and influence distract them from who they are in Christ and what their original mission was.

I have known Christian college students that God has called to go and be ambassadors for Christ on secular campuses. And they have gone onto those campuses on fire for Christ, and they discovered what the spoils are. And pretty soon, they become unhooked from the Lord and cave in to the secular culture.

You have done it haven’t you? I’ve done it. It is real easy to be distracted. So how might you and I guard against being distracted from our stature in Christ and God’s call to mission in our lives? A good place to begin is right here at this table. This sacrament is so crucial to believers in terms of continuing to understand who you are , and what God has called you to do. Here Jesus presents you and me with the gracious opportunity to renew our covenant of obedience to God. Here we are reminded who God is. Here we are reminded what he has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here you and I are reminded who we are in Christ, and where we are to go in terms of serving him.

So this morning as you receive the elements of bread and wine, this is sacrament. That means mystery. That means that the Holy Spirit works through these common elements of bread and wine, to do a number on your life and mine in ways that we might not be able to realize as it is happening to us. I would invite you to open yourself to the Holy Spirit. And I would invite you as I invite myself, as I exhort myself to recommit myself to a covenant of obedience with God in two ways.

As you receive the elements first say, ” I will rise to my stature in Christ, but not go beyond that. I will remember that God is God, and I am not.” And secondly, “I will seek after and then claim and pursue the mission that God has called me to, no matter how demanding, no matter how daunting it might be, as an ambassador for Jesus Christ.”

Join me as we pray:
Lord God, you are so gracious ,and loving ,and merciful; and sometimes you act crazy because you put the kingdom in our hands, and you allow us to do things that you could do much better; but Lord, help us to understand that whatever it is that you have called us to do in Christ is something that no other human being can do in the way that you want it to be done other than us. Help us not to shrink back Lord, but to step up and claim our stature in Christ as a part of your royal priesthood. Help us not to listen to Satan, but listen to what you say to us, who we are in Christ. And Lord, give us a clear understanding of what you are calling us to do as ambassadors for Christ. Give us the courage to do it Lord. And we ask this in the precious name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Amen.