Those of you who have children understand quite well the idea of partial obedience. You tell your children to clean their room and five minutes later that come tell you they are all done. But when you go to check on what they have done, all they did was move their mess from one spot to another. If they’re really clever that other spot is under the bed where it won’t be visible with only a cursory look.
Now that example of partial obedience is probably not going to have a drastic impact on either the life of your child on yours. But it very clearly reveals that there is something of a rebel in all of us. Which is why when God gives a direct command, we often just smile at God, do some or even most of what He told us to do and then run back to God and tell Him we’re all done.
But as we’re going to learn this morning…
In God’s kingdom
partial obedience is disobedience
Our partial obedience can take a number of different forms:
• Sometimes we pick and choose the commands that we obey. We obey the ones we like and we ignore the ones that we think are unreasonable, difficult, expensive or unpopular. So perhaps we’ll attend church regularly, but we won’t give God our first and our best when it comes to our offerings.
• Sometimes we obey most of what God commands, but we justify our lack of complete obedience by “interpreting” God’s Word in a way that we can justify or excuse the part of His command that we’ve chosen to disobey. So when someone offends us, we might obey God’s command to forgive them, but then we’ll add on our own condition – I’ll do that when they apologize to me. Or maybe we’ll say we forgive them but we still hold a grudge.
• Sometimes we obey the command fully, but only part of the time. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people who call themselves Christians do this. They put on a good façade and live for Jesus really well for a couple hours on Sunday morning, but then they live for self the rest of the week.
As I think about these different types of partial disobedience, I’m remind of the pastor Charles Stanley’s definition of obedience:
Obedience is doing what God says, how He says it, and when He says to do it.
So any time I don’t do what God says fully, or I don’t do it how He tells me to do it or I don’t do it when He says to do it, that kind of partial obedience is actually disobedience in God’s eyes.
Now if you’ve never engaged in any of the kinds of partial obedience that I just talked about, then you’re excused from listening to the rest of this message. But if, like me, you’ve ever had a problem fully obeying God, then I am confident that you’ll learn some things this morning that will help you grow in your obedience.
Like we did a couple weeks ago when we learned what not to do by looking at the story of Naomi, today we’re going to try and learn about obedience from looking at someone else’s mistakes, so hopefully we won’t have to make those same mistakes ourselves.
Last week, we looked at God’s call of Samuel when he was probably around 12 years old. Because of his obedience to God then, God continued to speak to the people of Israel through Samuel and Samuel served as Israel’s judge who led the nation of Israel by speaking the word of God to them.
As Samuel got older, his sons failed to follow in his footsteps and they took bribes and perverted justice (1 Samuel 8:3). So the elders of Israel came to Samuel and demanded that Samuel appoint a king to rule over them, just like all the other nations around them. In 1 Samuel 8, we see that was not at all what God desired and through Samuel He warned them about what would happen if they insisted on having a king. But the people refused to listen and still insisted on having a king so God did what He often does when man insists on his own way – He let them have what they wanted so that they would suffer the consequences of their choice. There is a whole other sermon there that will have to wait for another time.
So God revealed to Samuel that he was to anoint Saul as king. And Samuel calls the people together to present Saul as their king, warning them once again that their choice to ask for a king was a rejection of God. Saul became a very effective military leader and led the Israelites to victory over the Ammonites and the Philistines. But during that time, we begin to see why Samuel had warned Israel about their desire for a king. In chapter 13, we see that Saul gets impatient and instead of waiting on Samuel to come make the sacrifice, he does it himself. And then in chapter 14, we read about the rash vow that Saul makes that would have resulted in the death of his son, Jonathan, had the people not intervened.
That brings us to chapter 15, where once again, Saul is going to illustrate that…
In God’s kingdom
partial obedience is disobedience
[Read 1 Samuel 15:1-3]
No doubt the command that God gives here offends our sensibilities, right? Why would God command Saul and the Israelites to do such a thing – especially to kill women and children?
The Amalekites dwelled in the southern part of Canaan. When the Israelites left Egypt and set out toward Canaan, they were one of the first nations encountered by the Israelites. They immediately attacked the Israelites when they were at their most vulnerable. So God had given some very specific instructions about what the Israelites were to do once they entered the Promised Land:
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.
(Deuteronomy 25:17-19 ESV)
Since the Israelites had never fully carried out God’s commands, God is merely commanding them to finish what they should have done hundreds of years earlier.
[Read 1 Samuel 15:4-9]
Saul gathers up an army consisting of 200,000 men form the northern tribes and only 10,000 men from Judah, an indication that Saul probably wasn’t all that popular in that southern region.
First, Saul warns the Kenites to leave. Perhaps you remember a Kenite woman named Jael who we talked about several weeks ago. Even though the Kenites lived among the Amalekites, they had treated the Israelites favorably, so Saul spared them. Then Saul led Israel to victory over the Amalekites. But he didn’t exactly follow God’s command, did he?
First, he took King Agag alive, instead of killing him as God had commanded. I have to believe that was a very self-serving move on Saul’s part. Every time that the people would see the imprisoned Agag, it would serve as a trophy of Saul’s military prowess and power, much like a hunter might display the head of his prey over the fireplace in his home.
Second, he did not kill all the livestock, as God had commanded. From what we learn in the rest of the passage, this appears to also be a self-serving move that would have endeared Saul to the people, who would have benefitted in two ways. First, they sacrificed these animals to God, but the rules for the sacrifices provided that they got to eat much of the meat that was sacrificed so they would have been able to enjoy a nice big juicy steak at no expense to them. That also meant that they wouldn’t have to use their own animals for the sacrifice so they got to keep them for future sacrifices.
Not surprisingly God isn’t happy at all with Saul.
[Read 1 Samuel 15:10-31]
Although we’re primarily focusing on Saul this morning, let me just make one brief comment about another important issue that arises in this passage. In both verse 11 and in verse 29, the text deals with God’s “regret”. On the surface, these two verses seem to contradict each other. In verse 11 God says that He “regrets” making Saul king and then in verse 29, Samuel says that God does not have “regret”. So which is it?
Some English translations, even those that are normally very reliable, try to solve the apparent contradiction by translating that word differently in both verses, even though the underlying Hebrew word is exactly the same. Usually they do that by translating verse 29 to read that God “does not change His mind”. Personally I don’t think it’s necessary to resort to doing that in order to reconcile the two verses. So we’re going to use the Bible Roundtable time today to explore that in some more detail. But let me just say this before we move on. The fact that God regrets something that He does, does not mean that He is in any way ignorant of future consequences or that He did not see what was coming.
Now Saul is so proud of what he has done that he sets up a monument to himself in Carmel, before returning to Gilgal, where he had been installed as king. And when Samuel shows up to rebuke him, Saul brags about how he had done what God commanded.
When Samuel reminds Saul that he was instructed to kill all the livestock, Saul claims that they spared the best of the flock in order to make an offering to God. I’ve already suggested that this was a lot more self-serving than it might appear on the surface.
Saul continues with his rebuke, but Saul continues to insist that he had obeyed God and that it was only the people who had disobeyed. But Samuel will have none of that and reminds Saul that obedience is better than sacrifice. It is the condition of the heart that determines the value of the sacrifice.
Saul finally admits he has sinned, but he is still far from true repentance. He makes excuses for his disobedience, blaming it on his fear of the people. In verse 30, Saul once again admits his sin, but then he immediately turns to Samuel and asks Samuel to go worship with him so that he can save face before the people. It’s almost as if Saul is saying “Let’s just put this sin business behind us and go call a press conference and get a good photo op.”
In God’s kingdom
partial obedience is disobedience
So the obvious question we want to answer this morning is this: What are some things I can do in my life in order to make sure I fully obey God? Let’s see what we can learn from Saul’s example about some things we should and shouldn’t do if we want to fully obey God. I am going to begin with the overall principle and then we’ll look at some components of that principle.
HOW TO FULLY OBEY GOD
Mold my life to what God says;
Don’t mold what God says to my life
This is not the first time where we’ve seen Saul try and manipulate what God has said and try to make it fit what he has decided he wants to do. Nor will it be the last. And there are some serious repercussions both for Saul personally and for the nation of Israel that result from that.
So let’s look at five things that Saul did that led to him trying to mold God’s Word to his life rather than the other way around and see how we can combat those thought patterns and actions in our lives.
1. Fear God, not men
Throughout this passage we that Saul is more afraid of what the people think about him than what God thinks about him. As a result, he is constantly thinking about how he can twist what God said just enough to make the people like him more. So even though God had commanded that all the livestock be killed, he figured what harm could there be in saving some of the best so the people could have a good meal and save their own animals so they could offer them to God in the future.
Right now I’m dealing with a couple who is making some really important decisions in their lives based to a large degree on the pressure they are getting from some family members. And my heart breaks for them because it’s not hard to see the long-term harm those decisions are likely to bring to their lives.
While all of the things I’m going to share here are potential road blacks to conforming my life to God’s Word, this may very well be the one that we struggle with the most and the one that is the most dangerous. That means I must decide ahead of time that I am going to let the fear of God and not the fear of man guide my decisions.
2. Follow God’s desires, not mine
As I alluded to earlier, from our human perspective, God’s command to completely wipe out the Amalekites seems pretty harsh. So what if Saul just held back a little because he wanted to show some compassion? That would be understandable, wouldn’t it? But the fact is that he had no qualms at all about doing what God said when it came to killing the women and children. So that excuse just won’t fly.
As I pointed out earlier, he spared king Agag because he could parade him around to impress the people. And he spared the best of the livestock because it would also earn him great favor among the people. So everything that Saul did that stopped sort of total obedience to what God had commanded was to serve his own self-interests without any concern whatsoever with what God wanted.
There are some commands in the Scriptures that just don’t make sense to us. It isn’t natural to return a blessing when someone insults you or to forgive another person who hurts you over and over again or to pray for your enemies. And in those situations, we just have to trust that God has given us those commands because there is something he wants to do in our lives through our obedience to those commands. We have to put His desires ahead of our own by being obedient even when we don’t understand the reason behind the command.
3. Pursue God’s glory, not mine
After the great victory over the Amalekites, Saul erects a monument to himself, not to the God who made the Israelites victorious. Apparently Saul was more interested in making a name for himself than making a name for God. That is why Samuel has to remind Saul in verse 17 that the only reason that he was king in the first place was because God had appointed him.
One of the areas where I regularly see this play out in the church today is the notion that somehow local churches are in competition with each other. Even the regional association of churches that we belong to serve to foster that competition by asking churches to submit data on things like attendance, number of baptisms, etc. and then publishing all that information so that churches can compare themselves to each other. And in my experience, that rarely leads to God getting any glory.
We ought to be celebrating when other churches are faithfully preaching the Word of God, leading people into a relationship with Jesus and discipling them – not lamenting the fact that those people didn’t come to church here. We need to be about making sure that God, and not any man or organization or institution gets all the glory.
4. Listen to God’s voice, not mine
Remember last week, we talked about the fact that there are basically three voices that I can listen to – God’s, mine and Satan’s.
I want you to look again at verses 22 and 23 again. In verse 22 we see that God delights in obeying His voice more than in religious activities like making sacrifices. Then in verse 23, Samuel compares disobedience to divination and to idolatry. Since those terms might not be real familiar to all of us, let’s take a moment to see if we can understand why Samuel would make that comparison.
The Bible repeatedly condemns divination, which could broadly be defined as seeking to know what to do in a way that ignores the word of God. In today’s culture that would include things like horoscopes, psychics, or using a Ouija board – occultic practices that essentially listen to the voice of Satan. But it also includes consulting another source of wisdom – namely that of self – listening to my own voice.
And when we choose to consult ourselves rather than consult God, we not only become guilty of divination, we go beyond that and become idolaters by making an idol of self.
Since the entire message last week was about listening to God, I’m not going to belabor this point, but if you missed it for any reason I encourage you to go back and listen to that message.
5. Engage in repentance, not religion
Saul was a very religious guy. He actually seems to delight in engaging in religious activities like making sacrifices or going to a worship service because he thinks that he can just do whatever he wants and those religious acts will make things OK with God. We’ve already seen that Samuel makes it really clear to Saul that is not at all what God wants.
But what God does desire when we sin – repentance – is something we never see from Saul. Although He admits his sin, he never exhibits any kind of real sorrow over that sin or takes any action to genuinely repent.
Obviously we can’t delve into the idea of repentance in great detail this morning, but in both the Old and New Testament, repentance is the idea of “turning from evil and returning to God”. That involves our mind, but as Paul reminds us in his address to King Agrippa, it also involves our actions:
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
(Acts 26:19-20 ESV)
There is no evidence here that Saul changed either his mind or his behavior as indicated by the fact that he only wants to worship with Samuel to put on a show for the people and by the fact that he is still not willing to do what God had commanded and kill King Agag. So in the last part of the chapter we read that Samuel has to do that.
My fear is that today we have churches who are full of a lot of people who live just like that. They figure they can pretty well live their lives the way they want all week and as long as they come to church on a regular basis and even put a little something in the offering plate every week, they’ll be OK with God. Others think that all they have to do is to repeat some rote prayer or say some magic phrase.
I doubt that many of you here this morning live like that. But even something the Bible commands, like confessing our sins to God, can become nothing more than a religious act. On more than one occasion, I have encountered people who intentionally do something they know is sin and they say something like this. “I know it’s sin, but God has promised that if I’ll confess it, He will forgive me. So just as long as I confess it to God after I commit that sin, everything will be OK.”
From cover to cover, the Bible is clear that God is a lot more interested in our heart than in any religious acts. That is why…
In God’s kingdom
partial obedience is disobedience
Since that is the way God’s kingdom operates, it is not surprising that our relationship with God also depends on total obedience. God could have chosen any method He wanted for our sins to be forgiven so that we can enter into a relationship with Him. But in His infinite wisdom and for His glory, He has chosen to do that through His Son, Jesus. He sent Him to this earth to take on a body of flesh and die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. And then Jesus rose from the grave to prove that He is the way, the truth and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through Him.
So if you’ve been trying to approach God in any other way rather than through faith in Jesus, then that is at best partial obedience. Even if you throw in faith in Jesus along with trying to please God with your own good deeds or with some kind of religious act, that is still disobedience and it’s not going to be acceptable to God as a means for a relationship with Him. So this morning if you’ve never been obedient to God by placing you faith in Jesus alone, we invite you to do that this morning and we’ll give you a chance to do that in just a moment.
Since partial obedience is disobedience, that means I need to be constantly molding my life to what God says rather than molding what God says to my life by applying the principles we’ve learned together this morning. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that is an easy thing to do. But what I can tell you, based on the Word of God, is that the blessings that come from living like that are well worth the effort.
This morning, you might need to respond to God in one or more ways:
• Some of you might need to move beyond just partial obedience when it comes to your relationship with God and put your faith in Jesus alone for the very first time.
• I’m convinced that for some of you, this morning God is bringing to mind some area of your life where you’ve only been partially obedient to Him. I can’t even begin to list all the ways that we could be doing that. I’m just going to trust that the Holy Spirit will reveal that to you, Maybe He has already done that this morning as I’ve been speaking or praying or maybe He’ll do that this week as you spend time with God. And as God does that, I want to encourage you to employ the principles that we’ve learned this morning to get your life back on track where you’re living in full obedience to God the very best you know how.
• Next Sunday morning, we’re going to be observing the Lord’s Supper together and in preparation for that time, we all need to take time to prepare our hearts this week by asking God to revel any unconfessed sin in our lives and then confessing that and repenting.
Discussion Questions for Bible Roundtable
• Twice the Bible says that God repented, regretted or was sorry (all the same Hebrew root word) for something he had done in the past: Genesis 6:6-7, 1 Samuel 15:11
• At least 11 times in the Bible we read that God would relent of something He was about to do: Exodus 32:12-14; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Psalm 106:45; Jeremiah 4:28; 18:8; 26:3, 13, 19; 442:10; Joel 2:13-14; Amos 7:3,6; Jonah 3:9-10; 4:2
• And yet the Bible also says that God will not repent/change His mind/have regret: Psalm 110:4, Ezekiel 24:14, Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29
1. Does that mean that the Bible contradicts itself? If not, then how do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory ideas?
There are some ways that God does repent and some ways that He does not. His repentance is not a compelling argument against His foreknowledge. God is far more complex than humans and His mind is capable of complex thought, so He might very well be capable of lamenting over something He chose to bring about.
A human illustration may be helpful here. Let’s suppose one of my kinds disobeyed me and so I grounded him or her. And as a result, that child ran away from home. I would feel sorrow over the fact that he or she ran away from home, but that doesn’t mean I would be sorry for what I had done. In fact, if the same situation arose again I would take exactly the same action.
2. In what ways does God repent? In what ways does He not repent?
He does not repent in the same way that man does.
• He isn’t taken off guard by unexpected turns of event because He knows the future.
• He doesn’t sin, so His repentance is not due to a lack of foresight or folly.
His repentance is more His expression of a different attitude about some events that is more fitting at the current time than it was previously.
3. How does this help us understand how verses 11 and 29 relate to each other in 1 Samuel 15?
In verse 11, God regrets that He made Saul king because He is sorry that Saul has failed to be obedient to His commands. But God knew that ahead of time. Earlier in 1 Samuel He had warned the people that no king would lead them completely in a godly manner.
Earlier in 1 Samuel 13, God had told Saul that because of his disobedience, his kingdom would be taken from him and give it to another. IN 1 Samuel 15:29, God is just reaffirming the idea that it is too late for Saul to do anything to change God’s mind and that God would do exactly as he said earlier – He would not change his mind.