What Does God Want?
What does God want?
"Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord?" (1 Samuel 15:22)
In our modern society it seems that most people spent the vast majority of their time and effort on seeing that they are doing what they want to do. Even religious groups have been told that in order to grow they need to focus on seeing what people want and "need" and see to it that they are meeting those "needs". The question that never seems to be asked is, "But what does God desire?" Another trend that is sweeping our society and entering into religious circles is the contention that feelings are equivalent to doing, that the desire to do what is right, is the moral equivalent to doing right. In secular circles this has manifested itself in our educational system by saying that "feeling that you are a reader" is just as important as being able to read. Or, estimating and guessing as to what the answer to a math problem might be, is just as important as being able to actually do the problem. In fact, it seems that the feeling among some is that "having a romantic feeling about being a moral person", is far more spiritual than actually being moral (James 1:26).
The term "obedience" has become a very negative term in our society, even among many professed religious people. The term is often linked with legalism, law-keeping, rules, self-righteousness, and being a Pharisee. But 1 Samuel 15:22 is a clear statement that God delights in obedience to His commands. In fact, Jesus and the apostles made it clear that the person who really wants to serve God, who really loves and cherishes God, will naturally obey whatever God says. Notice that Jesus and John said that the person who loves God will keep God’s commandments (plural) (John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-4). If I really love God I won’t downplay or ridicule any command which He has given (1 John 2:5; James 2:10-11; 1:26-27).
1 Samuel 15
- The command given to King Saul was very clear (1 Samuel 15:1-3). And such has always been true. God doesn’t give confusing instructions, when God gives a command it isn’t His intention to keep as many people as possible from fulfilling it. I hear people sometimes saying, "Salvation cannot be conditioned upon our faithfulness to the will of God, because no man or woman can understand everything that God wants us to do, in fact, we are all probably violating or neglecting commands of which we are ignorant". But where is the verse that says such? And why did God repeatedly stress that our salvation is conditioned upon our obedience to His will? (Matthew 7:21-28; James 1:22ff; Hebrews 5:9). To argue that we are all probably missing something, is to me an accusation against God’s wisdom. God chose to give us His will in a written communication, and if it is so complicated that no one can ever really understand all we need to do, then it is God’s fault. God has already told us that His word is clear and understandable (Micah 6:8 "He had told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you"; Psalm 19:7-14; Ephesians 3:3-4; Mark 10:19 "You know the commandments"). In fact, we have a direct command to properly understand the will of God (Ephesians 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:15). Why is it that many times the same people who claim we can’t get it all straight as to what God wants us to do, are the same people who claim that they completely understand the such topics as the grace of God. On the one hand, they claim that we are all probably wrong in our thinking on at least one doctrine, but on the other hand, they are completely confident that God’s grace will just automatically cover such errors—even without any repentance on our part.
- Saul obeyed 75% of what God had commanded (1 Samuel 15:7-9). Did grace automatically cover the part he missed?
- When Saul met Samuel after the battle he enthusiastically claimed that he had obeyed what God commanded (15:13). But thinking or feeling that you have obeyed God, or even feeling good about what you did, doesn’t make up for failing to obey.
- Saul justifies his modification of God’s original commandment by giving a religious justification. The animals that God had commanded to be slaughtered on the battlefield, were saved for a huge sacrifice in God’s honor (15:15). But God isn’t impressed by "spiritual" or "religious feelings" that move a person to alter His word or disobey one of His commandments. God will make it clear in 15:22 that if He had wanted a sacrifice He would have commanded such in the first place. The fact that Saul modified the command is proof that the sacrifice had nothing to do with what God wanted but everything to do what man wanted. Today we hear people saying, "I know that is what the verse says, but I don’t think that God would mind if we…" People forget, if God would have wanted something else, He would have commanded it. God can see into the future, God knows that both time and culture will bring external changes. God knew that eventually people would consider homosexuality something which is normal, but God still condemned the practice (1 Corinthians 6:9). God knew that people would eventually want a no-fault divorce, but God gave only one cause (Matthew 19:9). God knew that people would invent all sorts of nice-sounding musical instruments, but God commanded us to sing (Ephesians 5:19). God knew that some women would want to be elders or bishops, but God made it very specific that the elder must be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:1-2). The bottom line is, God is saying, "If I would have wanted that, that’s what I would have commanded in the first place".
"Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel?" (1 Samuel 15:17). At one time Saul had been a very humble man, but the verse infers that the motivation for Saul’s disobedience was arrogance. Saul could have argued, "Hey, nobody is perfect", "I was just trying to help", "I was just trying to get people involved in worshipping God". God cuts through such excuses. Today, many of the people who are trying to undermine the authority of the Scriptures and convince God’s people to embrace unscriptural beliefs and practices, present themselves as very spiritual people (far more than those who insist on preaching the word).
- "At least they are trying to do something", is often the justification for embracing those who teach error. I am surprised that anyone would fall for the argument that one can be spiritual and yet at the same time violate spiritual commands. How can anyone be in rebellion to God and spiritual at the same time? If Saul was alive today, many people would try to market him as a man very close to God, spiritual, and persecuted and misunderstood by unloving legalists like Samuel. But the truth of the matter is that when a person becomes so bold that they challenge clear passages, they are motivated by self-worship (2 Chronicles 26:16). Keep these verses in mind when people try to argue that religious people who reject clear passages on baptism (and other matters), are more spiritual and loving than obedient members of the Lord’s church. Jesus gave us a very clear passage, for He knew that people who are not spiritual can really look and sound spiritual: "So then, you will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:20); "And why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46). John notes that we can claim to love God and profess to be spiritual, and sound really pious, but if our actions show a hate for God’s people, then we don’t love God (1 John 4:20). Brethren, please keep this passage in mind when you hear "spiritual" people attacking, mocking and ridiculing those who simply are trying to preach sound doctrine.
In 1 Samuel 15 as in many other places, we learn that when God specifies something in a command such rules out all other options. Today people will argue, "But where does the Bible say I can’t do it?" Saul could have made the same argument and he would have been wrong. The specific instruction to kill the animals on the field of battle ruled out all other options, even though no verse said, "Thou shalt not use these animals in a sacrifice".
But The people
"But the people took some of the spoil…"(1 Samuel 15:21). One of the arguments often given to justify departures from the Scriptures is that we must conform to the desires of the masses if we are to grow and keep our members. A common argument is, "If we just stay with the Scriptures, then we will lose our children" (in reality the opposite is true). I am intrigued by the argument that in this generation the church must suddenly conform to the surrounding culture or it will die. Why? The church in the first century wasn’t anything like the culture that surrounded her and she thrived! Haven’t God’s people always been different from the world? (Leviticus 18:3; Psalm 1:1; Matthew 5:13-16; Philippians 2:15-16; 1 John 2:15-16).
Some would tell us that getting wrapped up in the details of a command is being a legalist. Saul violated the "details", and God viewed such a violation as, "For rebellion is as the sin of divination and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord" (1 Samuel 15:23). Am I overstating the case when from this passage I conclude that any departure from a command of God is sin in the eyes of God? That any addition or subtraction from any commandment is to reject the entire commandment? We are being told by religious people that we can basically believe error on just about any bible subject, except the deity of Jesus. But any time we reject any command given by Jesus through the apostles, aren’t we rejecting His deity at the same time? Isn’t this exactly what Jesus was saying in Luke 6:46?
At this point someone might say, but this is one example, and besides this is an example in the Old Testament. We live under the New Testament which is far more lenient when it comes to violating God’s commandments? Is it? (Mark 7:1-13; Acts 5:1ff; Hebrews 2:2-3).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/644-9017