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“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?”[1] This was a reply that Samuel gave Saul when Saul tried to excuse his behaviour in keeping the sheep and goats of the Amalekites after the Lord had told him to: “Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.” “Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”[2]

Saul’s excuse was, “But I did obey the Lord. I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their King. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”[3] Notice that he did not say, “The Lord, my God at Gilgal.” Saul obeyed to a measure, but near enough is not good enough. Not that anyone is perfect in obeying the commands of Jesus at any stage, but the grace of God is clearly available to us, for the word He gave Jesus for His disciples concerning obeying His commands was this: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man…”[4]

The use of the word “practice” shows God’s grace that has been extended to us compared to King Saul. King Saul was not allowed to “practice” annihilating the Amalekites; he was just to do it, full stop! And whatever he did not do to the letter was accounted to him as disobedience. Indeed the rest of Samuel’s reply set a high standard: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination [see Balaam] and arrogance like evil idolatry. [see James in Acts 15] Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you as king.”[5]

Balaam’s sin of divination was that he put God under obligation by his sacrifices, so that God was obliged to reply to Balaam concerning the request of Balak. Modern-day divination, which is practised, includes extending the promises of God beyond what He intended, and is an outright disregard of what God said, taking it to another place because it seems good to us. God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them,”[6] but Balaam went with Balak so that God had to say to Balaam, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.”[7] It may have seemed alright; at least God said, “do only what I tell you” to Balaam, but did Balaam miss the point God had made when God said, “Since these men have come to summon you…”? Balaam was no longer a prophet summoned by God to speak to men, but a prophet summoned by men to speak to God. It seemed good to Balaam and it seems good to the church. What right does any servant of God have to speak to God with men’s requests, when that servant has not listened to God in the first place? None! It is merely God’s graciousness that He would humour Balaam and turn Balak’s plans around from curses to blessings. Any of us who at anytime do not obey the voice of the Lord, are guilty of rebellion and so nothing less than continuous repentance is needed.

King Saul tried to justify the action of disobeying God’s instruction in not slaughtering the cattle so that a sacrifice could be made to God. It seemed good, but what for? It is like the conquistadors of Spain giving a share of their golden booty to decorate the altars of cathedrals. It looked good and sounded good, and even appeared to justify the action, but was it really good?

You are now well instructed with the arrogance of James the Younger who stood up and said, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God…”[8] as if the instructions of Jesus to His disciples when He said, “teaching them everything I have commanded you,”[9] was making it difficult for the Gentiles. James the Younger had idolatry, which was his Jewishness and what love he had for the Law of Moses, which he felt was still needed to complete our justification before God. Or why else would he recommend that we Gentiles should turn back to observing part of the Law instead of listening to Jesus? He turned us from practising perfection to practising something that could never perfect us. The practice of the Law never perfected anyone. Jesus who fulfilled the Law was already perfect before He fulfilled the Law. The Law did not add to His holiness, His sanctification, His justification or His perfection. He fulfilled it on our behalf because we could never fulfil it because we were sinners to begin with. The Law was never intended to sanctify or justify any sinner, but to point out where they had sinned. As such, no sinner could be perfected by the Law, only convicted and condemned.

Whereas, the practice of Jesus’ words is the practice of perfection, for they come from He who is Perfect. The willingness to practise His words is proof that we have faith in Him, even if it is only a mustard seed’s worth, but it is faith enough to move a mountain of sin. It was faith enough to move the Mountain of God from Horeb to Calvary. But James never saw that as it is written: Even His own brothers did not believe in Him.[10]

Now we are moving on from seeing the faults and errors of the forefathers to our own. As such, we are not as much concerned from now on what others are doing in error as to what we are doing in error. It is time to move beyond those who phileo Jesus and would ask questions like, “Lord, what about him?”[11] It is now time to join with those who do not just offer phileo love to Jesus, but those who agape Him and are truly not ashamed of His words or His person.

We have already received His grace in full when He said to us, “put them into practice,” concerning His words. It means that we cannot and are no longer sinning the moment we are listening to Him and are putting His words into practice. Indeed, the Law has no power over us concerning sin any more, but rather, it is righteousness that has total power over us. Righteousness works this way: that which we do right in God’s eyes today can always be done better tomorrow as we come to know Him a little bit more, as long as what we did yesterday helped us to do it right today. Repentance then, for slaves of righteousness, comes not because we are being condemned, but because we have been saved for eternal life, and that eternal life dictates that we come to know Him, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent.[12] And as time passes into eternity, and eternity into eternities, we can only come to know Him more and more and so our practice of His words will be moved from improvement to improvement, and from glory to glory. So, what is good now will become better, and what has become better will only seem good as something even better comes in view; truly life abundant and without end.

As such, you must begin to learn to take an offensive attitude, as offensive as the Lord’s reply to the one who only offered Him phileo love. “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.”[13] As offensive as saying to those who enquire of us, “What are you doing?” with a reply like, “What business is that of yours? As for you, you must listen to Jesus first.”

For what has God to do with sheep and cattle from the Amalekites or the plans of Balak, and what has the church to do with observation of the Laws of Moses? Nothing! Indeed, we have only begun to listen to Jesus and are mere infants in learning to recognise His voice. Like infants who have drowned out all other sounds with their own cries as we crave for milk; we have not recognised the voice of our Father as much as we have recognised the softness and taste of the teat. And as soon as we are full of milk, like babes, we slumber till the law of nature awakes us and once more we cry until our discomfort is removed.

If indeed, after a few years of discipleship, we reckon that we can speak as one who recognises the voice and knows how to listen well, we are truly as arrogant as James the Younger and worse sinners than he, for he did not have the benefit of hindsight as we do. No, we have merely reached the stage when we can be toilet trained and receive some solids. Not what we consider solids, but what God the Father calls solids. So, listen carefully and watch. These are observations that have been illuminated to my eyes, like a child whose focal distance is improving, so now, see the word a little bit more clearly.

Should it offend anyone that we speak of continuous and unceasing repentance as we plan for the soon arrival of Jesus Christ at Jerusalem, when the first word the Master Himself said was, “Repent…” and the last word recorded as being spoken by the Master was, “…soon.” Indeed the first sentence is, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” and the last line is, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Then surely the conduct of any ministry should always emphasize repentance and preparation for His soon arrival if they are serious about abiding in His will and plans, for the other commands, decrees, promises, indeed all His other words rest between His first and last sentence: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God is near,”[14] and, “Yes, I am coming soon.”[15]

As such, we cannot conduct ourselves in any other manner, but be found between stages of repentance and stages of preparation for His soon return. We cannot be found doing anything else between our phases of repentance and phases of planning for His return. Indeed, all our words rest between repentance and preparation for His return. Nothing else matters. Repentance is our alpha and preparation for His arrival is our omega, and everything else in between is practice, as He said.

So, it should not be any surprise to any of you that our repentance leads to more preparation for His return and the preparation of His return leads to more repentance, all worked out in the practice of the words that were given to Him by the Father to speak to us. It should not be a surprise that we will go back, again and again, over the commands and decrees that we have practised to our satisfaction, and each time find ourselves in repentance because our previous practice needs to be better. The only thing that would stop you from accepting such a state of existence is pride and arrogance to presume that you can do better than what He commanded. Balaam did not repent for going back to Balak. Saul did not repent of not killing the cattle and James did not repent of his introduction of the Law into the church, according to what is written. So, let us begin our toilet training.

To the church, it may seem God loves everyone and indeed that is how it is often preached and taught. Indeed, Christmas cards cry out, “Peace on Earth and good will to all men,” in a blatant misquote of the words of the Angels who said, “and on Earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.”[16] God’s favour does not rest on all men. Indeed He has clearly stated, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,”[17] and, “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated…”[18] So, be not too eager to hand out God’s love and compassion to all and sundry. Neither, be not too arrogant of your calling and election, and be humbled by the lesson of Moses who for one incident, one incident, missed out on the Promised Land. But, praise God for Jesus Christ, and indeed we thank God for Christ Jesus, that it should be Christ Jesus that we endeavour to lift up and lift up only. Not being ashamed of Jesus and His words is when we begin to lift Him up. As such, your journey to listen to Jesus has only just begun, for by your exercises, you now know what was said as it has been written for us, but now we need to know how it was said and why it was said. When we can begin to apply how and why to what was said, a truer picture emerges and you will see many more myths and half-truths revealed. Close enough is not a close up.

It is time for you to accept that God “so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son… to save the world.”[19] Jesus was not given to save humans, but the world and all that is in it, every cat, every dog, every flea and every human being, but to humans, He gave the choice to believe so that they “shall not perish but have eternal life… that they come to know [Him], the only true God and Jesus Christ whom [He] sent.”[20] To those humans who have heard the good news… What good news? That God has saved the world through His Son Jesus, that’s the good news… but have refused to believe it… refused to believe that there is a God… refused to believe that God has a Son and that Son has been sent to save the world… they all stand condemned because Jesus said, “but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the Name of God’s One and Only Son.”[21]

Anyone who has heard the good news and does not believe it is not an unbeliever. In truth, there are no unbelievers at all. For before one can believe or not believe one has to have the gospel preached. So, if one has never heard the gospel, one is not an unbeliever, but just ignorant and no different from a cat or a dog or a rock or a plant, but are saved along with the world. It’s just that without having been given the choice to believe, they cannot choose eternal life or choose not to receive eternal life. Dogs and cats have no eternal life, for they have no ability to come to know God or Jesus Christ. They can live forever, but living forever is not eternal life, not the way Jesus defined it in John 17:3.

As such, those who have heard but not believed, are not unbelievers and neither are they ignorant. They are in truth the condemned. Jesus said they stand condemned now, yet we call them unbelievers as if Jesus must be wrong, or Jesus is too hard. Does the thought of thinking about those who have refused to believe as the ‘condemned’ seem too harsh and offensive for our political correctness? We are not the ones who have condemned them. No, but rather it is their choice in not believing the words of Jesus that has made them the condemned. You see, friends, Jesus means what He says. Did He not say, “There is a Judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”[22] We know that though they are condemned, they are not condemned to hell forever as some childish doctrine would have it, but condemned to be saved as the world is and forfeiting the privilege of coming to know the Only True God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.

So indeed, if we are to begin the offensive to bring Jesus back, then we must learn to take offence… take offence at ourselves at how we have not listened to what He said, much less how and why He said it. It is only when we find our ignorance, arrogance and presumptions offensive to God, can we take the offensive to others. It isn’t what seems good and right to us, but what is good and right to Him that counts from now on. Remember, you walk amongst the condemned, not unbelievers.


 

[1] 1 Samuel 15:22

[2] 1 Samuel 15:18,3

[3] 1 Samuel 15:20-21

[4] Matthew 7:24

[5] 1 Samuel 15:22-23

[6] Numbers 22:12

[7] Numbers 22:20

[8] Acts 15:19

[9] Matthew 28:20

[10] John 7:5

[11] John 21:21

[12] John 17:3

[13] John 21:22

[14] Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15

[15] Revelation 22:20

[16] Luke 2:14

[17] Exodus 33:19

[18] Malachi 1:3

[19] John 3:16

[20] John 3:16; 17:3

[21] John 3:18

[22] John 12:48

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