July 5, 2015

Obedient? Or hiding?

1 Samuel 10:1–11:15, James 2:14–18, Psalm 119:65–80

Yesterday I read about a respected pastor who fell into sin and had to resign from his church. Such news hurts my heart and makes me wonder what happened. He started well, but did not end well. Yet this is not a total shock because this does happen in the kingdom of God. It shows the frailty of humanity and the power of sin.

From the beginning with Noah who started well and ended poorly, and on into the present day, God’s people have discovered the hard way that diligence is a rare commodity. Saul, Israel’s first king, started well. The prophet Samuel said to him, “The Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” (1 Samuel 10:6)

This happened, for when Saul turned his back to leave Samuel, God “gave him another heart” (10:9), but his new heart was ignored soon after that while Samuel prepared to make a public announcement of the new king . . .  

“He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot; and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot. But when they sought him, he could not be found. So they inquired again of the Lord, ‘Is there a man still to come?’ and the Lord said, ‘Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.’ Then they ran and took him from there. And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward.” (1 Samuel 10:21–23)

Saul’s appearance wasn’t enough to give him the courage needed to face his responsibilities. He may have been tall (and previous verses said he was very handsome), but that wasn’t enough. He also had been given a new heart, which is rarely mentioned as a quality of OT believers, but even that did not prevent him from giving in to a cowardly streak. It happened to this man and it happens to Christians in the NT and also today.

In the NT, James exhorts believers to affirm and display their faith with action. Claiming faith is one thing, but doing something that proves it is a different and more difficult challenge. The Bible is clear; I cannot SAY Jesus is Lord except by the power of the Holy Spirit. It also says that I cannot DO anything apart from Christ; I must abide in Him and rely on Him for, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14–17)

How then can a person, particularly a person that God has saved and transformed, fall? A better question might ask how can a believer be consistently obedient? How can I conquer the power of sin that grips my old nature and threatens to overpower me every day?
The psalmist knew the answer: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes . . . . I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:71, 75)

It is by affliction that we are broken — and in the kindness and mercy of God, we are afflicted. Oh, we don’t like it or want it. Many Christians seem to think we are not to accept affliction, as if God owes us heaven on earth. One sore toe and we pray for healing. Any trial or tribulation and we pray for its removal. How difficult to learn the lesson that suffering is a sign of God’s faithfulness.

I know this. I’m not happy about the reality of it, yet it does test my priorities. Do I want to be comfortable in this life? Or do I want to start well and finish well? I like the choice made by the psalmist . . . “May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame!” (Psalm 119:80)

I can say the words . . . but must be diligent for I am also capable of running and hiding among the baggage.

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