I SAMUEL 15:22-23: “But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” NLT
OBSERVATION: Does anyone else struggle with obedience? The story of Saul’s disobedience is imprinted on my heart and mind. I remember hearing this story as a child as my Sunday School Teacher laid it out on flannel-graph. And, I have preached on this text multiple times.
Yet – I still struggle with obedience!
Why do I struggle? It is the same reason that everyone struggles with obedience. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. There are two things that we are all born with. The first is a sinful nature. The second is a Ph.D. in rationalization. When these two things get together the struggle with obedience becomes an all-out battle!
When I read God’s Word my spirit rejoices. Yet, my old man is ready to begin making his case for adjusting God’s command to fit the situation. This is what happened to Saul. God had commanded Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites for their refusal to help the children of Israel. Saul was also commanded to destroy all the plunder, including all the livestock and wealth they uncovered.
I don’t know about you, but this seems rather harsh. This type of judgment is alien to our New Testament concept of ethics and conduct. Yet, in the Old Testament God used the sword of Israel as His instrument of judgment against ungodly nations. His command to Saul and the army of Israel was not to be adjusted to their preference. God’s command was to be obeyed!
We know how the story goes. God tells Samuel about Saul’s disobedience. When Samuel approaches Saul he hears the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle. Samuel then confronts Saul about his disobedience and Saul defends his actions. In fact, Saul boasted of his obedience to Samuel.
- “When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!… It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.” 1 Samuel 15:13, 15 NLT
Saul began to justify his disobedience to Samuel. After all, he was going to use the sheep, goats, and cattle to worship the Lord. It did not make any sense to destroy these valuable resources. Saul convinced himself that he had obeyed the Lord. Self-justification is a powerful tool that can easily lead us astray. When Samuel pressed Saul further he then blamed his soldiers for his disobedience.
Self-justification always leads to finger-pointing.
- “Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?” “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” 1 Samuel 15:19-21 NLT
Here is what I need to understand about obedience. Obedience is what the Lord desires from my life. Obedience is a natural response of my spirit but an unnatural response to my old nature. There will always be a struggle when I am faced with obedience. The temptation I will face is to justify bending God’s commands to fit my personal preferences and pointing the finger at others when I fail.
Obedience is a call that I am incapable of fulfilling in my own strength!
Paul recognized this and wrote about this struggle in his epistles
- “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. Galatians 5:16-17 NLT.
When Saul failed to obey the Lord, when I fail to obey the Lord, it is for this very same reason. If I walk after the desires of my sinful nature I will fail. If I let the Holy Spirit empower me and guide me I will experience victory. What I lack in my personal strength and good intentions God supplies with the power of His Spirit within me!
- “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:12-13 NLT
My struggle with obedience will always be a struggle until I acknowledge the struggle and receive God’s provision. Peter denied Jesus three times as he struggled to obey. Yet, the same Peter stood before thousands to give testimony of the risen Christ. What was the difference? It was the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through Peter.
The power of God working within us to obey His commands is the Holy Spirit!
Suddenly obedience becomes a simple choice. Walk in the light of my own wisdom and reasoning – failure. Walk in the wisdom that is from above in the power of the Holy Spirit – success. One is a struggle, the other is a gift. I can struggle my way through life and leave a path of broken promises and disappointment or I can be lifted up and empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in newness of life on the pathway of obedience.
The choice is simple and the choice is mine!
- “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4 NLT
- “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” Galatians 5:22-25 NLT
Lord, this morning, help me to lay down my struggle with obedience and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in every part of my life.
- “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”
In Jesus Name!