A Guaranteed Plan for Failure
Last week, we considered the example of the Israelites as they moved into, conquered, and settled Canaan as a pattern for conquering sin; this week, let us consider another example, but one from which we should learn what not to do. To put it bluntly: It is a guaranteed plan for failure if you are trying not to sin.
The example we are going to consider is a story familiar to many of you: King Saul’s failure to destroy the Amalekites, as God had commanded. The story begins with Samuel, the prophet and judge of Israel, telling Saul that he was to “attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have” (1 Sam. 15:3). If you recall the story, you remember that King Saul did not do that. The Scriptures tell us, “Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them” (1 Sam. 15:9). There is no debate about the facts of this story: Saul did not obey the Lord. From his example, we can see a guaranteed plan for failure — a powerful example of what not to do if we desire to please the Lord.
An Unwilling Heart. Note that the text tells us plainly that Saul and the people “were unwilling” to follow God’s command. That, in itself, is a certain path to failure, for one cannot seek to please the Lord and simultaneously refuse to do His will! In no world and at no time is refusing to do the Lord’s will going to please Him!
I am sure we would all readily agree with that, but we sometimes do not see that we have done no different and no better than Saul. A day does not pass without someone proclaiming their desire to please the Lord who, at the same time, are refusing and outright rejecting His commands that directly apply to them and their lives. Every day, men refuse to love their fellow man as Christ loved us; every day, a professing believer ignores the words of Jesus that emphasize justice, mercy, and faith more than simply keeping the ‘letter of the law’; every day, someone who professes to love the Lord and claims to be a faithful believer will be unwilling to heed the words of Jesus regarding marriage and divorce; every day, someone who claims to be a faithful Christian will be unwilling to heed the expectation of God that he “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18) or “flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22). Friends and brethren, we are no better than King Saul if we are unwilling to do what God says.
Honor Yourself, Rather Than God. It is said when Samuel was told by God that King Saul had disobeyed, Samuel went to meet Saul, but was told, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself” (1 Sam. 15:12). What arrogance! King Saul was raised up as King by God, yet when he returns from victory over the Amalekites, he sets up a monument for himself and offers no glory or thanks to God for either his current position as king, or for the recent victory over the Amalekites.
This, too, is a guaranteed plan for failure, if it is pleasing the Lord you seek to do. God has never tolerated men who honor themselves, and even less so those who take honor upon themselves that is rightly due Him. Remember that Aaron and Moses failed to enter the Promised Land for that very reason (cf. Num. 20:12). Honor has to be more than mere words, for God condemned those who “honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me” (Isa. 29:13), and Jesus strongly condemned the religious leaders of the first century by quoting Isaiah; in each case, some had taken honor upon themselves while proclaiming verbal honor to God. It was meaningless!
Honoring self, rather than God, means we have too high a view of self, and it is extremely likely we [like King Saul] will not even recognize we have fallen short of God’s expectations. With such an inflated view of self, we will likely not be actually following His will at all, but will be doing only the things God says we must do if we deem them acceptable, and we will ‘overlook’ or outright ignore those we find unpleasant, difficult, or something that would make our lives a little uncomfortable.
Deny Reality. When Samuel met Saul, Saul said to him, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:13). Incredible! God Himself told Samuel earlier, “he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” (1 Sam. 15:11), and here he is telling Samuel he has done what God commanded! Talk about denying reality!
But, as foolish as that sounds to us now, I don’t think we realize that, sometimes, that is exactly what men do today — quite often, as a matter of fact. Entire religious organizations exist now that claim to be following God’s commands when, in reality, they are following the creeds of men, traditions, or their personal desires and, should someone question them, they will boldly claim — like King Saul — that they have done God’s will. Friends and brethren, we can proclaim faithfulness to the Lord all we want and until time ends, but if, in fact, we have not kept His commands, we have fooled only ourselves, for the Lord is not fooled — and He will be our judge.
Shift the Blame. When Samuel did not believe King Saul’s claim of obedience to the Lord’s commands [maybe it was those bleating sheep and lowing oxen that gave it away (1 Sam. 15:14), and the fact God told him Saul had not obeyed], King Saul then told Samuel, “the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen” (1 Sam. 15:15), shifting the blame for disobedience off of himself and onto “the people.” I would have been tempted to ask King Saul, “Who, exactly, is the King? Who was told to do this?”
But, again, this is a common reaction to sin being exposed. Go all the way back to the beginning, when sin first entered this world, and you see Adam shifting the blame to the woman (Gen. 3:12), and the woman shifting the blame to the serpent (Gen. 3:13). Let’s be honest here and acknowledge that shifting the blame does not diminish nor eliminate our guilt. Shifting blame is merely a guaranteed plan for failure!
I sincerely hope that no one who reads this actually desires to fail when it comes to sin. The things we have considered today, though, are certain to result in failure. There is a better way! Willingness to do God’s will, and then doing God’s will is the way to success. — Steven Harpers