Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Confirmed as a Servant of the Lord

When God announced judgment upon His people through the prophet Jeremiah, He made a rather interesting statement at one point. “Then the LORD said to me, “Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people; send them away from My presence and let them go!”” (Jeremiah 15:1).

I suppose I could talk about the Lord's obvious displeasure with His people, but I'm more concerned with the fact that He singled out – above all others – Moses and Samuel. Yes, I know that Moses represents the Law and Samuel the prophets, but surely this speaks more of their character than of their representative status.

Exodus 33:11 says that “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” High praise indeed! But what about Samuel? Why is he regarded so highly by the Lord? I believe we can find the answer clearly in 1 Samuel 3, which relates how God called Samuel, even while still a youth.

It is a true statement that – of all the things that we do in this life – only what is done for the Lord will last. He wants us … His people … Christians … to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). So why not examine a man like Samuel, with the intent of seeing what separated him spiritually from everyone else.

I believe the first quality made very obvious in the text is his OUTSTANDING DEDICATION.

1 Samuel 3:1 says, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.”

Here is a boy, no more than fifteen at the most, who is already committed to a life of outstanding achievement for God. In today's society, a boy like Samuel would be called strange and unusual because of his early attachment to the Lord. Children today – even those raised in religious homes – are too often being allowed to "sow their wild oats" in the hopes that they will "get it out of their system." Satan has convinced many that it’s normal for kids to get into trouble when they're young. So-called experts are teaching that it’s okay if teens take a smoke or a drink ... or watch a dirty movie ... or whatever ... because – according to these intellectual experts – it solves a child's curiosity problem. They say that once a child's curiosity concerning something bad is satisfied, then he or she will not want it anymore.

Seriously? What horrid logic! But unfortunately, that’s the way many adults think. "Don't judge it till you've seen it (… or done it)." “Don’t take a step, until you walk a mile in the other man’s moccasins.”

Now all that may SOUND good from some human perspective, but it is not biblical. Oh, I’ve heard some people say that their encounters with evil strengthened their faith … but as far as I'm concerned, they don’t know anything about real faith. I do not have to stick my hand in the fire to know that it’s hot. I do not have to walk a mile in a prostitute’s shoes to know that it’s sinful behavior. And neither do children have to commit sin in order to know what sin is and what it does.

It is never suggested that young Samuel felt the urge to go and "sow his wild oats." He was too busy being the best he could be for God. Most of the credit has to go to Samuel's mother, Hannah, who was concerned enough about her son that she dedicated him to the service of God even before he was born. She didn’t wait until he was out of college, or until he was old enough to make up his own mind. She began as early as possible to insure that his life would become outstanding for the Lord.

Why would anyone think that God wants only our adult years, and not all of our years? We’ve all known of teenagers who have died in accidents. We’ve heard of youth who have died as a result of things like drug overdoses, gang violence, or suicide. Do you really think that "I was sowing my wild oats" will be an acceptable excuse before God Almighty? Nowhere in Scripture does the Lord say that its all right to sin when you're young, because you'll have plenty of time later to repent and be saved. Nowhere in Scripture do we find the Holy Spirit teaching us to let our kids and grandkids wait until they grow up to choose their own religion.

Maybe every other kid was out causing trouble in the neighborhood, but our text tells us that “the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD.” Such outstanding dedication to the Lord was the first reason why God eventually confirmed Samuel as His servant. And how like Jesus, who – at the tender age of twelve – challenged His earthly parent's understanding, saying, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house?” For all the money that has been spent by the modern church over the last forty years in “youth ministry,” where are such righteous results being found?

But in order to see why God singled out a man like Samuel, we also have to consider his OUTSTANDING PREPARATION. Look at vs. 2-10, “It happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well), [3] and the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was, [4] that the LORD called Samuel; and he said, “Here I am.” [5] Then he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, lie down again.” So he went and lay down. [6] The LORD called yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he answered, “I did not call, my son, lie down again.” [7] Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him. [8] So the LORD called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli discerned that the LORD was calling the boy. [9] And Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. [10] Then the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.””

In these verses, we notice that three times the Lord called out to Samuel in a strikingly human voice. In fact, Samuel mistook it for Eli's voice. There were no fireworks ... no flashing lights in the sky ... no strange unknown mystic languages. In fact, there was nothing dramatic about the communication at all. It was just an ordinary voice calling out to the youth, which he confused for his teacher's.

Actually, I believe the fact that Samuel was confused tells us a lot about why he turned out to be such a great man. It all boils down to training. He was in the Temple being trained and prepared as a servant of God. Years of eager and willing obedience had made Samuel alert to the voice that he heard. This call came either at night or at a resting time, because the Scriptures tell us that both of them were lying down ... but that didn’t stop Samuel from being alert.

When the first call came, v. 5 says that Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”” He showed a responsiveness that not many people today could claim, and not once did he let disappointment dull his ear.

This situation could have turned out to be a "boy who cried wolf" scenario, but it didn't. When Samuel was called a third time, he could have said, "Ah! It's just my imagination. Eli said he didn't call me the first two times, so I'm probably just hearing things." Samuel could have done that, but he didn't. He showed a responsiveness to each call.

Then, after Eli finally figured out what was going on in v. 8, we see another outstanding attribute of Samuel's in vs. 9-10, “Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. [10] Then the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.””

We saw responsiveness, and now we see obedience. Samuel took it for granted that Eli knew what he was talking about, and never once questioned his instructions. Samuel showed through his actions that he was prepared to be called as a servant of the Lord.

Outstanding dedication … outstanding preparation … and then, finally, we see Samuel’s OUTSTANDING PROCLAMATION. Look at vs. 11-18, “The LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. [12] In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. [13] For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. [14] Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” [15] So Samuel lay down until morning. Then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. But Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. [16] Then Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” [17] He said, “What is the word that He spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. May God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the words that He spoke to you.” [18] So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.”

The job that the Lord gave to Samuel was difficult: To pronounce judgment upon the house of Eli the priest. Not that Eli didn’t deserve it. 1 Samuel 2:12 tells us that “the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD.” Yes, Eli was a priest in the Temple, but he had obviously failed as a father.

God has always had high expectations for those who would be His servants, and especially for those who would serve as leaders. According to 1 Timothy 3:4-5, one who serves as an elder “must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity [5] (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?).” 1 Timothy 3:12 likewise says that “deacons must be ... good managers of their children and their own households.”

But Eli had failed in this regard. His own sons would not listen to him. Thus God was making it clear that Eli could not possibly direct the religious lives of God’s people if he could not even control his own family. So God gave Samuel the very difficult task of announcing His judgment upon Eli. Literally, God sent a boy to do a man's work. But again, we see Samuel's outstanding character.

In v. 15, the Scriptures make it abundantly obvious that Samuel was human ... a kid that was afraid of the job before him. But that didn’t stop him from carrying out the task. After being encouraged by Eli, v. 18 says that Samuel told the old priest everything and hid nothing from him. He once again showed his outstanding obedience. I’m sure it must have been difficult for Samuel to speak the Lord's judgment – especially to someone so close to him – but he did it anyway, because that's what God had commanded.

From the time he was a baby, Samuel had been trained and prepared to respond to the Lord's call … and ultimately, he was confirmed as a man of God. Samuel was divinely appointed for the difficult job of pronouncing judgment upon his mentor. Samuel obeyed … and because of his obedience, vs. 19-20 record that “the LORD was with him and let none of his words fail. [20] All Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the LORD.”

No matter what our age, we must pay attention to the call of God through His Word. May we be as responsive as Samuel. May we teach our children and grandchildren from the earliest age possible to do likewise. Just like the prophet, alertness to God's Word and obedience to His commands will develop within us an outstanding character.

Oh, that it can be said of us, "The Lord was with [insert your name here], and all the world from [insert your location] outward recognized [him or her] as a servant of the Lord."

But it will not happen unless we prepare ourselves. In Luke 6:40, Jesus says, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” So “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Don't let the world (or, more to the point, Satan) convince you that a little sin is OK. “If anyone cleanses himself from these things , he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

The real question is: Do you want to be confirmed as a servant of the Lord?

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