The Temptation to Modify

The story of King Saul is one filled with tragedy and missed opportunities. Even though King Saul lived in a different time period, we should view his story not as ancient history, but as a warning. This is because we know that ultimately there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10) and that the same sinful tendencies Saul struggled with are present in our hearts today.

One of these tendencies is our desire to modify God's Word rather than obey it completely. Let me explain what I mean.

The First Modification
In 1 Samuel 13, Saul is waiting for Samuel to arrive in Gilgal and make a peace offering to the Lord before Israel goes into battle. God had clearly commanded that the peace offering was to be done by the priest and not the king. However, Samuel doesn't show up after seven days. The pressure of the situation gets to Saul, and instead of holding fast to the entire command of God, he makes an adjustment that will better fit his needs. He steps into Samuel's role and offers the sacrifice himself. He obeys some of what God says, but not all of it. Saul probably meant well, but Samuel replies with this rebuke: "You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you." (1 Samuel 13:13)

The Second Modification
Just two chapters later we see that God commands Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites and not leave any person or creature alive because of their sin. Again, Saul makes some modifications to God's commands. He destroyed the Amalekites but he keeps their king alive along with the best sheep and oxen. He goes along with the people's desire to offer these animals as a sacrifice to the Lord rather than destroying them. After all, the people weren't taking the animals for themselves, they were going to offer them as sacrifices to the Lord in order to please Him. Surely God would be pleased with their vertically-focused changes to His command.  

What This Means For Us
After reading these stories, I was struck by the realization that we often make similar modifications when we come up against commands in Scripture that are hard to follow. Sometimes, certain commands that were once easy to follow may become difficult to obey due to our changing circumstances. One area of obedience that immediately came to my mind was the area of sexual purity.

It is hard to continually follow God's commands, especially when the season of singleness lasts longer than expected.  Instead of waiting until marriage to live together and engage in sexual intimacy, we are tempted to tell ourselves that God will approve of our modifications, to live with our partner and engage in a sexual relationship before committing to a covenant of marriage, in light of how godly the rest of the relationship is or in light of our intention to someday marry this person. Like Saul, who could feel the threat of the Philistine army bear down on him more and more each of the seven days that Samuel wasn't there, we begin to believe that following God's commands fully will actually leave us worse off than before.  So we take matters into our own hands and we try to modify God's commands, making adjustments for our own circumstance while trying to keep the "spirit" of the biblical commands. We obey some of what God has said, but not all of it. After all, we tell ourselves that "pretty soon we'll be married and we'll be able to start fully obeying God’s Word then."

This blog isn't meant to be pointed to just one group of Christian brothers and sisters, however. The second area that came to my mind (which was a conviction for me) was God's command to visit widows and orphans in their affliction (James 1:27). Obeying that command requires time, sacrifice and intentionality. Sometimes I try convince myself that God would surely be fine with me passing on obedience to this command since he knows how much I already invest in the people at my church and in my small group. That is a modification.

Those are just two examples of many. (How about the command to fast in Matthew 6:16-17?)

The biggest takeaway for me was this; what if I stopped spending time and energy on figuring out how to modify God's commands and instead spent it on just obeying what He has said? Samuel's response to Saul is so vividly makes this point.

Has the Lord as great a 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.

This passage foreshadows Saul's ultimate downfall. In 1 Samuel 28, Saul consults a medium and engages in the sin of divination. Why is this act so offensive to the Lord? The reason is best summarized by John Piper when he says, "Divination is seeking to know what to do in a way that ignores the word and counsel of God." While none of us will probably consult a medium in our lifetime, we do act in similar ways as Saul does.

When we seek to modify God's Word, we often begin seeking out those who approve of our new viewpoint in their preaching, blogs or writings. We start listening to them more and more. We find other sources of wisdom instead of holding fast to the pure Word of God. We give in to the modern teaching which says that God will allow you to make adjustments to His Word as needed as long as you mean well. The idea that holding fast to God's Word is worth it, no matter what it costs you in comfort and convenience, has been lost on our generation.

So what happens when we are convinced that we must obey God fully, but in our attempt to follow through, we fail? This is where the gospel comes in to play. God knows that we can't keep His laws perfectly no matter how hard we try. When we fail, we can confess our sin, knowing that He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The reason we seek to obey all of what God has said is because we believe in Him. We believe God when He says His commands are ultimately for our good and for His glory. We believe Him when He says His desire is to bless us. And we believe His promises to never leave us, no matter how hard life gets because we are obeying His Word. The Bible stands as a testimony for us to stop spending energy modifying God's Word and instead seek to obey all of it with all of our heart.

Joshua 1:8-9
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
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