I Have A Better Idea - Francis Chan

Written by Francis Chan, Until Unity, Page 67-68 (digital book - Scribd), 2021

Sometimes the dream of a united church feels unattainable, so we busy ourselves with goals that are within reach. While we may believe that our oneness would impact the world, we are nowhere close to that, so we find other methods of attracting the lost. God’s method seems too hard, so we come up with “better” ideas. We need to be so careful with this reasoning. It seems dangerously close to what Saul did, and it cost him the kingdom.

In 1 Samuel 13, Samuel tells Saul that God is going to tear the kingdom away from him and give it to someone else—a man after His own heart. Just two chapters before, we’re told how the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul and how he mustered all the people of Israel to accomplish a great victory over their enemies. We see in chapters 10 and 11 that when Saul is criticized by others, he holds his peace and chooses not to take revenge when given the opportunity. Saul glorifies God for the military victory, sacrificing peace offerings and rejoicing before Him. He seems like an effective leader and a wise man. So what went wrong?

In chapter 13, Saul is about to go to war with the Philistines. Samuel had told Saul that he would come in seven days to offer sacrifices and entreat the favor of the Lord before the army went to battle. So Saul waits seven days, but Samuel does not come. The people grow tired of waiting and Saul does not want to go to war without sacrificing to God, so he offers the sacrifice himself. Doesn’t that make sense to you? It does to me. Samuel was late, Saul needed to go to war, but he knew he shouldn’t go without making an offering first. Were I in his position, I could see myself doing the same thing.

It feels like a very logical decision. God doesn’t see it that way. He sends Samuel to rebuke Saul for his foolishness and tells him that because of his disobedience, his kingdom will not continue. It seems like a harsh punishment for an understandable offense.

In chapter 15, we see a very similar scenario play out. Saul is commanded to go strike down the Amalekites and destroy everything, even down to their livestock. But Saul and the people, seeing that some of the animals are very good, keep back the best portion of them to offer as a sacrifice to the Lord. Again, I feel like this is a reasonable decision. The animals are going to die regardless, and the people aren’t taking the livestock for themselves out of greed, so they just want to sacrifice them to God. But when Samuel hears of it, he responds:

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 than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king. —1 Samuel 15:22–23  

My fear is that, perhaps without even realizing it, we’ve fallen into the very dangerous habit of neglecting God’s commands in favor of our logic.

In the words of John Snyder, “Innovation, tradition, sincerity, sacrifice, good intentions—not one or all can substitute for obedience to God regarding how He desires to be worshipped.” On the outside, Saul’s errors do not look that serious. But underlying them is a very serious heart condition: Saul does not treat God’s words with the appropriate reverence and awe. Because of this, he thinks it appropriate to add to God’s instructions some of his own reasoning. The lesson of this story is that no matter how good or logical it seems, it is never appropriate to modify God’s commands in light of human reasoning. At the root of that kind of behavior is pride, thinking that some- how in our wisdom we have considered something God neglected to notice. God treats this presumption as idolatry.

This prideful, idolatrous spirit is running rampant in the church today, disguised like Saul’s with good intentions and pragmatism. God made it clear that striving together in unity would work, but we reason our way into new methods.

I don’t pretend to understand exactly why unity would cause unbelievers to suddenly believe in their coming judgment and our salvation. But my responsibility is not to understand why; my responsibility is to be obedient. Saul may not have understood why it was important for all the livestock of the Amalekites to be destroyed, but it should have been enough for Him that God had commanded it. That is what it means to accept Jesus as Lord and King.

Francis Chan has been a pastor for over thirty years. He is a New York Times-bestselling author of several books, including "Crazy Love" and "Letters to the Church". He and his wife, Lisa, have been married nearly thirty years and coauthored "You and Me Forever." Currently, Francis and his family split their time between ministry and church planting in Northern California and Asia.