Many characteristics may define a Christian life. Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel. In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.
Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone. But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that. Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life. More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character. For the next five weeks we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.
- Serving with Obedience
- Serving with Strength
- Serving with Suffering
- Serving with Priorities
- Serving with Change
In 1 Samuel 15, we are plunged into the moment of no return for Saul, the newly anointed first King of Israel, and his relationship with God. After Israel demanded a King of their own in place of God, God granted their request and gave them Saul. Although he began his reign over Israel as a humble-hearted servant, Saul’s character began to change with success and popularity. As is the case with many of us, Christian or not, the moment we see more of ourselves we see less of everything else. This is where we find Saul as we enter into Chapter 15.
However, at this point we can’t be too critical of Saul. Saul still believed that he was doing God’s work and acting in a way pleasing to God. In the passage, God had given Saul direct orders to deal with the Amalekites completely and conclusively. With zeal and strength in the Lord, Saul overpowered them with ease and was left with the choice: to see his orders out to the end or to compromise God’s will to pursue his own. Unfortunately Saul made the same mistake that we often do. He compromised God’s true will in order to follow his own interests and desires.
God ordered Saul to eliminate the Amalekites completely. Although Saul defeated them on the battlefield, his priorities after the fight changed once he let his heart and the people around him influence his decision-making. As the battle came to a close, Saul had the king of the Amalekites, King Agag, alive and potentially useful for a ransom reward. Saul also found himself with an impressive financial and material bounty taken from the Amalekites. As Saul began to listen more to the desires in his own heart, the voice of God faded ever further into the background. Saul concluded that God would not think critically of his decision to do what he truly desired as long as God’s command was at least partially obeyed. To Saul, there was large-scale sin and small-scale sin and God would naturally view his as that of the smallest order. After all, he did defeat the people God ordered him to. Would God be so displeased if he took a little reward for himself on a part of his dutiful “service” and “obedience?”
Samuel, the prophet who was God’s messenger during Saul’s ruling years, entered the scene as Saul was carrying out these sacrifices. Noticing Saul’s blatant disobedience, Samuel began to rebuke Saul for his actions. At this point it is far too easy for us to judge Saul’s actions, shocked that someone could disregard the commands of God in such a manner. However, as we read this passage in front of the mirror, Saul’s actions following Samuel’s initial rebuke has a lot in common with us. Saul begins to make excuses as to why he did not do everything God had demanded. To this Samuel has a powerful, one-word response. STOP.
As Christians who actively work in the church, or even as Christians who are living our days under the banner of Christ, there are often times when we clearly are aware of what we are supposed to do, yet we hesitate. For whatever reason, we doubt either our initial calling or the necessity to follow that calling to the exact specifications. In other words, we all face moments when we want to do one thing and God wants us to do another.
It is never easy to follow a path that seems lead nowhere, or lack a purpose and direction. However, as Christians, there must be a deeper motivation to our service. Our service can never be about knowing the destination ahead of time, or the easiest way to get there. As Christians and God’s children, we must follow and obey because we are aware that the One handing out the orders has our best interests in mind and deserves our service. The moment we begin to stray from our orders is the moment that we have either lost trust in God’s ability to know how to do something, or lack the faith that he knows how to get us somewhere. Either way, straying from the will or plans of God shows complete lack of respect. We are prideful beings who like control and only God can heal this sickness in us.
It’s important to remember that all along Saul thought God would understand and be pleased with his actions. Saul is not sinning in the pursuit of unrighteousness. He is under the impression that God’s righteousness can find harmony or balance with our own personal desires. What we learn from Saul is that, as much as we have been programmed to repent of our sins and all of our unrighteousness, we as Christians need to be ever aware of sins done out of righteousness and “good deeds.” The one thing that Saul never says is, “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong.” He could not believe that God disregarded his efforts and achievements. How could an obedient servant be criticized for such a trivial deviation from the original objective?
As we carry out duties within the church and society we must always be aware of why we are doing the things we do for God, and if we are serving to be obedient to God or to our own hearts. In other words, do we obey out of a love for God? Or do we obey out of a love for ourselves? As Christians, although our dependence on sin will fade over time, as we are reborn in spirit we must be aware of the never-ending presence of sin in our lives. Sinful desires can be overcome, but sin will never disappear as long as we are alive. In Jesus Christ, God is with us, but because of the fall, so is sin. Even as we go to church on Sunday and serve, even as we share the word of God, we must never forget that none is good but God. The only “good” person has ransomed us out of our imperfection. It takes the realization of God’s saving grace through the work of Jesus Christ to find true motivation to serve with natural, genuine obedience to God alone. We ultimately find the motivation to “be good” only because he is perfect. Jesus calls us to be servants, not out of the promise of riches or rewards, but out of a desire to be one with him through our sacrifice in the name of obedience.