A Heart For God - 1 Samuel 24:1-17
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A Heart For God
1 Samuel 24:1-17
There’s a very famous preacher named Charles Spurgeon who worked in London back in the 1800’s. He was one of the greatest preachers in history, given the nickname The Prince Of Preachers. And there was this other pastor named Joseph Parker, and their churches were near one another in London. Now part of Spurgeon’s ministry was an orphanage that he ran. And on one occasion, Joseph Parker commented on the poor condition of the children admitted to his orphanage. He said nothing bad about the orphanage, but was commenting on how ragged the children looking before Spurgeon took them in. It started the rumor mill, however, and it got back to Spurgeon that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself. So the next week Spurgeon got up in the pulpit and blasted Parker. Remember, this was a brilliant preacher, and when he wanted to scorch something he could do it. HIs attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town. The next Sunday people flocked to Parker’s church to hear his rebuttal. They didn’t have Judge Judy on daytime television back then - so they had to settle for pulpit drama. And Joseph Parker gets up and says, “I understand that Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit preaching today, and usually this is the Sunday where they take an offering for the orphanage. I suggest we take a love offering here instead.” The crowd was delighted, the ushers had to empty the collection plates 3 times. After he was attacked viciously by Spurgeon, and instead of attacking back, he promoted the ministry instead. Later that week there was a knock at Parker’s study. It was Charles Spurgeon and he said, “You know Parker, you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved, you have given me what I needed.”
Today we are continuing our study through the Chronological Bible, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about - no worries, this is my first Sunday too. We as a church have been reading through the entire bible, and we’re going to complete it in a year. We’ve been following this story of Israel through slavery in Egypt, and then wandering in the wilderness, the time of Judges and last week we talked about the prophet Samuel who was called by God. Now, I’ve told the folks at the Cardinal Square campus, where I usually am preaching, I’ve said this almost every week - we are reading at such a quick pace that every week there is SO MUCH to cover. If I tried to drill down on everything - we’d be here until Tuesday. So what we’re trying to do is give you themes, to pull out story arcs and highlight main components, and then I’m going to trust that you’ll do the reading yourself this week - and you can dive even deeper if you join up with one of those Chronological Bible Studies we’ve got going on. Basically what I’m trying to say is that even though we are skimming along the surface - these are deep waters we are swimming in. BUT, I do want to mention - even if you’re just joining us for the very first time, that’s fantastic. The amazing thing about reading the Bible together like this, is that you can jump in at any point. The story has so many incredible threads woven together like a tapestry into the story God is telling, the more you read the more you see the threads and find the connections - so you can have a 90 year old church lady who has read the Bible cover to cover 100 times in her life sitting in bible study next to a 14 year old who is opening the Bible for the first time, and they can both discover new things together. That’s part of the power of scripture. So let’s dive in.
Now last week, we zoomed in on the story of Samuel - the way God called him and the way God calls us and how we respond. Now the book is called First Samuel, and Samuel is always there - sort of in the background, but in our readings for this week the story really centers on two other characters - Saul and David. Now I know you know these stories, but let me give you the backdrop for our scripture passage. In chapter 8, the Israelites start whining at Samuel, saying they really want a king. Give us a king, they said. Now God tells them this is a terrible idea. You don’t want a monarchy. The king is just going to go corrupt, take advantage of you, take all your stuff and ruin everything. But Israel doesn’t listen - give us a king. And so God tells Samuel to anoint Saul. And in the beginning, Saul is everything you could ever dream of in a king. It says he’s head and shoulders taller than everyone else. He’s a great warrior - it literally says he’s the most handsome man in all of Israel. Is he a good leader? Does he have a heart for God? Who cares - he’s pretty! And Saul starts winning victories for Israel. I think chapter 14, verse 47 highlights it nicely, [read v.47-48]. But then things start to fall apart for Saul. He disobeys God, and so God raises up a new leader - David. Now David could not be more different than Saul. Do you remember David’s introduction story? If you’re not familiar, basically God sends Samuel to this guy Jesse’s house. And Samuel tells him, “Bring me your sons, God told me one of them is going to be king.” And the first son comes in, and Samuel’s like, “wow, look at that guy - he’s definitely going to be king.” And God says NOPE. And so they bring in the next son, and the next son and the next - until they run out of sons. And God says nope to every single one of them. And Samuel turns to Jesse and says, “is this it?” And Jesse says, “well - There’s one more, the runt of the litter is out back watching the sheep.” And that was King David. Now hold those two up against each other. Saul - son of a wealthy man, talk dark and handsome, great military warrior. David - the afterthought, forgotten child. And this becomes a theme in the story of David and Saul. Saul is the one who has a heart for himself, a heart for the world. He does things in a way that makes sense for the world, and then there’s David who has a heart for God, who does things in a way that makes sense only to God.
You see this illustrated with David and Goliath. You remember that story, right? Goliath, big giant Philistine, challenges the Israelite army. And Saul can’t find anyone to challenge Goliath, and then David shows up. This is chapter 17, and then David visits the army, and hears the challenge - so he offers to fight. Verse 32 he says, [read v.32-33]. Saul has a heart for this world, and by the standards of the world - this is impossible. But David has a heart for God. And even when Saul agrees, he tries to dress David up in his armor, still stuck and thinking with the world’s standard. Down in verse 37, [read v.37b-40]. And I don’t blame Saul for his fear - right? He was doing the math. He’s looking for a worldly answer to a worldly concern, but David wasn’t looking at how big the problem was, he was looking at how big God is. David had a heart for God. It actually echoes something that Jesus said to his disciples. In Matthew chapter 20, Jesus says this, [read v.25-28]. Saul is a ruler of this world, but David has a heart for God and it’s pretty clear which one Jesus teaches us to be.
Now after David and Goliath, things start to sour between David and Saul. Living with a heart for yourself and living with a heart for God leads you in different directions. Saul becomes jealous, and it actually gets to the point of David going into hiding, and Saul chasing him around the country trying to kill him. It’s almost like Robin Hood, David and his merry men have escaped to the Caves of Abdullam, and the evil Prince John (or King Saul) is chasing him around the countryside - and that’s the backdrop for our scripture lesson from today. Saul is actively chasing David with his army - clearing wanting to kill him, and we open up in chapter 24. [read v.1-3]. Saul is out with 3,000 men hunting for David, and he stops in one of the caves to “relieve himself” [pause]. My preaching debut at the Midland Campus of the honorable Aldersgate Church and I get the pee-pee passage. [laugh]. So Saul is relieving himself and David is in the back of the cave with his buddies. [read v.4-6]. So sneaks up and cuts off the hem of his robe. There’s a power dynamic here. David has the upper hand. He could have EASILY killed Saul. And that’s the world’s answer to all of David’s problems. With Saul gone, David could be the undisputed king - nobody would be chasing him around. But then his conscience starts bothering him. Saul is kind of a bad dude, but he’s God’s anointed king. I think there’s something key here for us - your heart matters to God. More than winning or losing, more than the opportunities and answers the world might offer you - your heart matters to God.
We see this in our Psalms. For those who don’t know - the book of Psalms is this incredible collection of Poetry, a lot of it written by King David. Psalm 54, says [read v.1-7]. That’s the whole thing - that’s the whole poem, just crying out for God’s protection, for God’s solution, but listen to the little note [read it]. This poem was written for this exact moment that we’re studying in 1 Samuel chapter 24! David is basically saying, “I’m not going to stab Saul in the back, even though I could - because that’s not God’s way. I’m going to wait for God’s solution.”
So back in Samuel, [read v7-8]. Okay, now I want to you understand how crazy this is. This is right up there with going up against Goliath with a slingshot. He had the upper hand on Saul, could have snuck up and stabbed him in the back. But he waits until Saul is out of the cave, gets his attention and then bows down! Do you know what bowing down does? It makes you vulnerable! He went from having the upper hand to making himself vulnerable to Saul’s attack. David continues, [read v.9-11]. This is the great reversal. Saul has been nothing but evil to David, over and over. Back in chapter 19, Saul literally threw a spear at David’s head, he had to dodge out of the way to stay alive. And by the world’s math, by Saul’s math, David has every right to pay him back. Eye for an Eye, Saul deserves to die. You hit me, I get to hit you back. You lied about me, so I get to lie about you. You see it stamped all over our culture in the modern world - they did a bad thing, so that makes it okay for my team, for my side to do bad things too. This is the way of the world - but David said, and Jesus echoes, “we are going to do things different.” David calls out to Saul, “you did evil to me, but I will respond to evil with good.”
He keeps going, [read v.12-13]. This is such a core theme, not just in this story but throughout all of scripture and it echoes into our lives so easily. The old familiar phrases - an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, fighting fire with fire does nothing more than burn the whole world down. From an evil person comes evil deeds. The basic premise goes like this - when someone does evil to us, we are given a choice. You can respond to evil with evil, or you can break the cycle. If you respond to evil with evil, I can guarantee they will respond with MORE evil, and it will escalate. It becomes a vicious cycle of who can do the most evil thing. Or we can be like David, we can be like Jesus - we can stop the cycle and respond to evil with good. And to do that, we have to shift our mentality. Our goal in life is not to win, it’s to honor God. I think marriage is a decent example of this. Because once you get married, you can’t win an argument ever again. They don’t always tell you that before you get married - but there’s no such thing as winning a fight in married life, because even when you win you have lost. I have won fights, I have won arguments - she was wrong and I made her feel bad about it. And I sat there in my victory, and Jesus came up beside me and tapped me on the shoulder. And he says, “go apologize.” And I argue with him - I don’t want to apologize. I want to win. I don’t want to reconcile with my wife and heal a broken relationship - I want to win the fight. But if you win the fight you lose in your marriage. Jesus doesn’t let me win very many fights. He says that to me a lot. “You don’t get to act like THAT and call yourself my follower.” So even if I win the fight, sometimes I still have to go back to my wife and apologize. Because Christians are supposed to do things a different way. Our goal is not to win, it’s to honor God.
And then watch what happens. Verse 16 [read v.16-20]. When David repays evil with good, he breaks the cycle. Saul is overcome, he just breaks down and starts crying. Undeserved grace is a shocking gift to people who are consumed by the world. But by not responding to evil with evil, by breaking that cycle and showing Saul a better way - David gave a Saul a glimpse of what the world could be. Rather than cycles of mutual destruction where we try to outdo one another in the realm of evil - repaying good when we are given evil is how we break the changes of a broken world and start to make a difference in our world. This is the secret to building the kingdom of God on this earth - not beating them at their own game, but playing a higher level of game.
See one of the things I do when I read the scriptures, is that I always want to know - what does this passage teach me about the character of God? What did I learn about who God is from this? And what I realized from this story, from the whole Saul and David dynamic is that God wants your heart= more than your victory. Let me say that again, God wants your heart more than your victory. We have this choice in life, to live like Saul or to live like David. Saul was the perfect picture of the world’s answer. Head and shoulders taller than other men, the most handsome man in Israel, and a great warrior to boot. If David and Saul were politicians in the modern world, I think a lot of us would want to vote for Saul. He fits that leadership picture, but none of that stuff made Saul godly. None of it made him a better leader. David had a heart for God, and it actually made his life a lot harder - but he did things God’s way, and God brought him the victory. Because God cares more about your heart, than your victory. Now if you know your bible, you’ll remember there are moments when David doesn’t always do things God’s way, and as a man with a heart for God - David gives us this great picture of what repentance looks like, but we’ll get to that next week. For today, the important piece is to realize that what God wants from us is not victory, but rather an obedient heart.
This is a massive shift for us as Christians, right? We have to shift our priorities - because our goal in life is not to win, it’s to honor God. Out there in the world, they’re always trying to get us to fight fire with fire. Cancel culture - they attack us, so that makes it okay for us to attack them. I remember when I was a kid - I’m the oldest of four children. And my little brother would hit me, or something - and so, as the bigger brother, it was my responsibility to destroy him. I would hit him much harder. Then I get in trouble, and I would always try to deflect it. “But HE did this, so that makes it okay for me to do that.” My mother, Godly woman that she is, had no time for that nonsense. If you’re a parent or grand-parent, see if you’ve ever used this phrase, my mom would say to me, “I don’t care what he did, I care what you did. I will deal with him later, I’m talking to you right now. You are in control of you.” That used to drive me crazy. Didn’t my mother know that I HAD to win the fight? That if he was going to light the fire, it was okay for me to burn the place down? But she was so much more focused on my character than my victories, and that’s the way God is with us. God wants your heart more than your victory, and so our goal is not to win, it’s to honor God.
So now we come to the question of, okay - so what? How does this actually affect our lives in the real world? Well I would hope the answer is obvious. At the end of chapter 24 Saul says the better man repays good for evil. So my challenge for all of you this morning - repay good for evil. The world around you is going to try and suck you into a cycle of fighting fire with fire. They will try to trap you into a never-ending back and forth of pinching and eye-poking. I’m mean to you, so you’re mean to me, which makes it okay for me to be mean to you, and around and around we go - and the only way out is to break the cycle. Repay evil with good. When someone hurts you, do them a kindness. When someone angers you, do something nice for them. Someone spreads a rumor about you, maybe you compliment them behind their back. They post a mean thing on social media, maybe you create a post talking about how much you appreciate them. They kick over your garbage can, you mow their lawn for them. They yell at you, you bring them cookies. Because remember, our goal is not to win - it’s to honor God. Look for opportunities in your life to repay evil with good. We, as Christians, we should be fountains of good in our community. People should be weirded out by how we never repay evil with evil. We, as Christians, we refuse to be a part of that cycle - we want something better, we want the light of God to shine from each of us into our darkened world. And if they ask why, if they are thrown off by you breaking the cycle and bringing kindness to a knife fight - you tell them, “I don’t want to win, I just want to honor God.” See if that doesn’t make them curious to learn more about this Jesus fellow you keep talking about. Repay good for evil, that’s my challenge for you today.
I remember back in 2017, there was a story that went viral coming out of Egypt. There had been a horrible bombing in a Coptic Church on Palm Sunday, some terrorists blew up two churches in Egypt. And at one of the churches, a man named Naseem Faheem threw himself at the bomber, he wouldn’t let him inside the church, taking most of the blast on himself - saving a lot of people. He was two months away from becoming a grandfather. And his wife, his widow, went on TV, and did an interview with a TV host Amr Adeeb. And they asked her, do you have anything you’d like to say to your husband’s killer, and she said and this is a translation, “I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, “may God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. Believe me, I am proud of him. And I wish I was there beside him.” But what came next is my favorite part. The host of the TV shot, Amr Adeeb - was so stunned by her forgiveness, that he sat there gaping at her for a full ten seconds. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but dead air during a news program - 10 seconds. When he finally spoke, this is what he said, “The Copts of Egypt are made of steel. If it were my father, I could never say this. These people have so much forgiveness. But this is their faith and religious conviction. These people are made from a different substance.”
The world can be a horrible, broken place, constantly offering you an invitation to get sucked into a cycle of fighting fire with fire - but there is a better way. Jesus teaches us, he says, “this is how it is with the world, but with you guys, with Christ followers, it’s going to be different.” Even among church people, like Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker - the temptation to repay evil with evil is SO strong. But we are people made from a different substance, and so I’ll leave you with this. May you look for opportunities to repay evil with good. May you break the cycles of a fallen world, and make it your goal not to win but to honor God. May you never forget that God wants your heart more than your victory. Let’s pray.