1 Sam 15:13-15 And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord." And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?" Saul said, "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."
Saul gave all the right “religious” sounding reasons for sparing the king and the best of the livestock, saying, basically, “It’s for a sacrifice to the Lord.” The problem in Saul’s situation is that God didn’t ask him for that sacrifice—He had told him to devote it ALL to destruction! (How often, I wonder, do we justify our own plans and desires that God never led us to by saying that it’s for the Lord, or that we will glorify Him in it, or that it will enable us to do more for Him? Instead of letting God lead us, we set out on our own and try and drag Him and His blessing behind us.)
Samuel countered Saul with a piercing commentary for us all to take note of (a passage later quoted from in Hebrews). In 1 Sam 15:22-23 Samuel says, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king."
How easy it can be to consciously, or subconsciously, excuse, or move past, or minimize in our mind, our disobedience (doing wrong things, or not doing right things) because we are doing “religious” things that make us feel it is OK, or balanced, or better—or that even convince us we are pleasing God? We may go to church, or a Bible study, or tithe, or write blogs, or pastor churches, or serve on church boards, or ???, but if we are doing things that are in disobedience to God, then our “sacrifices” are missing the point.
God asks for obedience. Jesus said that if we love Him we will obey Him. Obedience is a mark of a surrendered heart to God and a love for God. It is much easier for us, often, to put the check in the offering box, or to go to church, or to do some religious “thing” than it is to obey God—and yet we can fool ourselves, and even others, by doing the religious and missing the obedience.
James 4:17 tells us: So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. This is a powerful verse! Obedience to God is not just not doing bad things, it is also doing the right things. We can be disobeying God by doing that which is wrong, or by not doing that which is right (this could be as simple as not visiting someone when the Spirit nudges us to!). We fool ourselves into thinking we are good Christians (or at least neutral) because we aren’t doing anything bad (and maybe we are even doing church things), but we might be disobeying Him by not doing the service, the loving, the forgiving, the laying down of ourselves, the giving, the seeking His plans and not our own, etc., that He has asked of us. God, it would seem through Saul’s example, is saying, “Yeah, I see that tithe check and that church attendance . . . but what about what I asked you to do?”
We must be careful, I believe, to not let our religious “stuff” numb us or fool us into thinking we are doing that which pleases God. I believe all of that pleases Him, but if it isn’t on top of basic obedience, then it would seem we’ve missed that which He calls us to, and that which is greater in His heart. The words of Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23 come to mind, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
Praise God we are forgiven! Praise God for His love and mercy! Praise God that He lives in us and through us and works out His plan for us through surrendered lives! But, let’s be careful to never use that as a safety zone to sin or seeking our own ways and pleasures and plans—and to never fool ourselves that God is joyous about our religious “stuff” if we’ve missed the basic heart of God and the obedience that comes from love.
God bless you all. Thanks for reading and being a part of my life. —Erick