I have been reading through 1 Samuel over the last two weeks and came across the passage where Saul was instructed to devote to destruction all the Amalekites and their possession. Saul was to lead Israel to not spare any of them, “but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” As the passage unfolds, Saul led Israel to victory. However, the Bible says, “[He] took Agag the king of Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them” (1 Sam 15:8-9).
In light of this, the Lord was not happy, happy, happy (pardon the Duck Dynasty reference)! He communicated to Samuel what had transpired and of his displeasure with Saul. Samuel showed his displeasure as well, crying out to the Lord all night. The next morning Samuel went out to meet Saul. Interestingly, Saul immediately welcomes Samuel and tells him, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” Knowing that he didn’t, Samuel responds by inquiring, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” In other words, if you have been so faithful to the commandment of the Lord, why do I hear all these animal sounds? Samuel then proceeds to tell Saul what the Lord had said the night before. And it is this exchange I want to highlight:
“And Samuel said, ‘Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed. Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord? And Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission of which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep, and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:17-21).
Here’s what I want to point out: God desires that we be comprehensive in fulfilling our mission, not partial. In other words, according to the Lord, to partially fulfill a mission is to fail at mission. Thus, it is imperative that we strive to comprehensively fulfill the mission of God in our life and in the life of our church. In order to do so, I believe there are (at least) six principles found within 1 Samuel 15 that will aid us as we seek to completely and comprehensively fulfill the mission of God.
1) Know what the Mission is. This is a rich topic today in evangelical circles. And much ink has been spilled on this topic in attempts to clarify what God’s mission is and how his people can be actively participating in his mission. It is not the aim of this blog post to try and sort out in specific detail what the mission of God is and how we can fully and comprehensively participate. However, I will admit (in my opinion) that to reduce the mission of God to one area whether to evangelism or mercy ministries fails to comprehensively participate in God’s mission today. I believe when we begin to ask the question, “What have we been sent here to do?” in light of the metanarrative of Scripture—from beginning to end—we will then be able to construct a comprehensive understanding and vision for what we have been sent here to accomplish. Knowing what the mission is prevents us from partial fulfillment, or participation. [For some passages that I believe at least point us to our comprehensive mission, see Matthew 28:18-20; Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 22:37-39; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; Genesis 12:3 (which is referenced in Acts 3:24 and Galatians 3:8); 1 Peter 2:9-12 (which has language reminiscent of Exodus 19:4-6)]
2) Understand that the mission is not ours, but God’s. In other words, understanding that our mission derives from the Lord should help keep our role and function in check. Our role and function isn’t to go Jack Bauer, taking matters into our own hands as if the mission relied solely on us doing what we think is necessary. Given that the mission is not ours, but God’s, and that we are the avenue, conduit, tool by which God accomplishes his mission should give us the proper perspective. In addition, this proper perspective will guard against us picking and choosing which parts of the mission we want to participate and which ones we don’t. When we know it is his mission that he has sent us on, our duty, obligation, role, and function is to simply obey the totality of the mission.
3) Don’t deceive our self in believing we are fulfilling the whole mission. Saul never once stopped to think about what the Lord had communicated through Samuel. It is as if he heard only the parts he wanted to hear. [Sounds like something that happened in the garden—Genesis 3.] He continued to go through the motions of the mission. As a result, throughout the dialogue with Samuel, Saul consistently insisted that he had fulfilled the whole mission. He had deceived himself into believing that he had done what he had be sent out to do. It was only after he was told that he had once again been rejected as king that he repented. So when he didn’t get what he really wanted, he was sorry. It is important that in our participation in God’s mission we live in light of the Word of God, the commandments, and the assigned tasks of our mission, so that we may be faithful in fully fulfilling our mission in the world.
4) Refrain from making personal judgments, or discernments, about the mission. In other words, it is not our responsibility to make judgments about the mission and how we can possibly enhance the mission. For instance, Saul thought that he would take the best of the spoils, build an altar, and sacrifice them to the Lord. However, nowhere in the mission plans did God direct Saul and Israel to take the best of the spoils, build an altar, and sacrifice them to the him. This is a judgment or discernment that Saul made all by himself. Later, he will say he did it out of fear of the people, which becomes part of the point I am trying to make here. He made a personal judgment that his kingship was more important than God’s mission; or he feared people more than having a reverent fear of God. Therefore, I think that it is important today that we do not make inferences or assign priorities, or cave in to man-made pressure or fear regarding God’s mission unless warranted and specified in Scripture.
5) Realize that God delights in unwavering loyalty and obedience, rather than what we think we have done for him. In other words, God delights in our humility, not our pride. See, Saul thought he was really doing something for the Lord by keeping the best animals to offer them as a sacrifice. What he failed to realize is that God is not so much as interested in what we can do for him, but how we relate to him. [For in our relation to him, he can do far more through us.] In the more familiar part of this passage, Samuel communicates, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to listen [is better] than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam 15:22-23). Samuel teaches that God is not like all other false gods looking to be appeased by our measly attempts to satisfy him with our small tokens of external sacrifices of religion. What God is looking for, what he delights in, are people who love him, listen to him, and fully obey him. To put it in another way, he is looking for faithful children to be his people and he their God, rather than idolatrous distant people who perform religious rituals in attempts to get what they want. When it comes to comprehensively fulfilling the mission God has sent us on, we must remember God can do far more through us when we properly relate to him in unwavering loyalty and obedience than he can when we are prideful, arrogant, idolatrous, and religious people.
6) Focus on following Jesus as our great God and King. We will fail at comprehensively fulfilling our mission—or following the above principles—unless we concentrate on following Jesus, and asking for the Spirit of God to empower us to participate and fully engage in his mission. On our own, in our own power, we will fall short at fully participating and engaging in God’s mission. However, Jesus did not fail. In fact, in the Gospels we see that Jesus fully obeyed the Father and accomplished the mission for which he was sent. If the church is to carry out the mission of Jesus, they must become the conduits by which Jesus lives out the mission through them. This has been made possibly by Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the pouring out of his Spirit. As the church confesses her allegiance to Christ as their king, and asks for the Spirit to empower them for kingdom living and mission, they are empowered to participate and engage in the mission of God for which God has saved them and sent them in the world to accomplish.
In conclusion, we have heard it said, “Partial obedience is disobedience.” This is in essence what took place here with Saul. His failure to comprehensively fulfill the mission was partial obedience, which resulted in a failed mission and direct disobedience. When it comes to us fulfilling what God has sent us in the world to accomplish, it is vital that we strive to complete the mission in its entirety. Happy missioning!