Sermon for Sunday, January 28th, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[1Sa 12:1-25 ESV] 1 And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. 2 And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day. 3 Here I am; testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.” 4 They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” 5 And he said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.” 6 And Samuel said to the people, “The LORD is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. 7 Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous deeds of the LORD that he performed for you and for your fathers. 8 When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the LORD and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. 9 But they forgot the LORD their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. 10 And they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ 11 And the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety. 12 And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the LORD your God was your king. 13 And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the LORD has set a king over you. 14 If you will fear the LORD and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well. 15 But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king. 16 Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. 17 Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.” 18 So Samuel called upon the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. 19 And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” 20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. 23 Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 24 Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25 But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”
New Testament reading:
[Act 20:17-21 ESV] 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
[Mat 5:33-37 ESV] 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
We as Christians are called to integrity.
We have in this twelfth chapter of 1 Samuel, a speech of the prophet Samuel at Gilgal at the occasion of the renewal of the kingship of Saul. Now that Saul is King and the Lord has given Israel victory over the Ammonites, Samuel calls the people and king alike to integrity.
This is a “farewell speech” of Samuel.
There are quite a few farewell speeches in the Scriptures.
Jacob has one. (Genesis 47:29 – 49:33)
So does Moses (Deuteronomy 31 – 32).
Joshua (Joshua 22 – 24),
Samuel (1 Samuel 12),
David(1 Chronicles 28 – 29),
Paul (Acts 20:18-35),
and even Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).
Clearly the farewell speeches of the Scriptures are for honored and Godly people. Samuel is placed then in this highest echelon, a real who’s who of the faithful Biblical leaders. Therefore his words are to be listened to.
So then, what does Samuel have to say in his farewell speech, in this call to integrity?
Well, he starts off by ADMITTING that he is old. Remember back in 1 Samuel 8:5 the people wanted a king and gave reason saying to Samuel, “Behold you are old.” This, I had said, would make a great birthday card. Now, some time later, Samuel himself says, Behold I AM OLD. Maybe that is a phrase to use on your birthday party invitation.
Now although Samuel is old, this isn’t the end for him. He’s alive for some time yet. His death isn’t for another 13 chapters. But he is old. And this, for one, as an old prophet means that he is respected and wise. But it is also to say “I’m not going to be around for ever.” “My advice won’t always be available.” “So NOW is the time to listen and heed my advice.”
And what does Samuel advise? He says, in affect, YOU MUST HAVE INTEGRITY.
We’ll see this in three parts of his speech:
I. Witness Samuel’s Integrity
II. Witness the Lord’s Integrity
III. Obey the Lord with Integrity
So what is integrity?
I had “integrity” emphasized to me in my youth as a member of a martial arts academy. They had developed, or taken from somewhere else, a series of ethical “tenets” to strive for. I had to memorize them, and still remember to this day. Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control, Indomitable Spirit, and Humility. I don’t know where these came from, but they are all essentially Christian virtues.
I fear that integrity is not a frequently used term in Christian culture. But it IS a Biblical term, used 16 times in KJV, and 25 times in our ESV translation.
In its various Hebrew forms, the word for “integrity” means “completeness.” [REPEAT: Integrity is completeness.]
As for some examples:
Integrity is completing the race marked out for us with perseverance.
Integrity is finishing a project with the same gusto with which you started it.
And integrity is doing the right thing despite all pressures to the contrary; It is being complete in our obedience to the Lord.
So we are first to witness Samuel’s integrity.
I. Witness Samuel’s Integrity (v. 1-5)
This is what he says to the people: “I have walked before you from my youth until this day.”
Samuel is a great example for us to understand integrity because we’ve seen his whole life unfold. Few others in the Scriptures have their whole life in view. At the very beginning Samuel was dedicated (by his mother) to the Lord in the temple. And from then on he has been dedicated (in all his efforts) to the Lord. He has lived with integrity.
Not sinless indeed, but he has avoided those gross heinous sins that sully the character. He has not stolen from anyone or defrauded them in any way. He has not taken advantage of his position as prophet and judge.
Here I am; testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”
Samuel has walked with integrity.
And the people agree that this is true. They have been witnesses to it.
They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.”
There is similarity in this part of Samuel’s farewell speech with part of the Apostle Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elder in the book of acts.
Paul too says, in affect, “You are witnesses to the fact that I have lived with integrity.”
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews, how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house.
This is … integrity. Integrity in life and integrity in doctrine. Both Paul and Samuel speak the word of God and live the word of God.
The people then are to see Samuel as an example to follow. But an even greater example is the example of the Lord.
The people have witnessed Samuel’s integrity.
They have also witnessed the Lord’s integrity.
II. Witness the Lord’s Integrity (v. 6-13)
Samuel says, look at “all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers.”
What has the Lord done?
– Brought them out of Egypt
– Delivered from their enemies (the Canaanites (Sisera of Hazor), the Philistines, and the Moabites)
– And now delivered from the Ammonites.
These are enemies from all sides. The Egyptians to the South. Hazor to the North. The Philistines to the West, and the Moabites and Ammonites to the East.
And it has been over a period of time. The Lord has proven his integrity, his steadfastness to fulfill His covenant promises throughout the generations. God has been faithful. And therefore they are “righteous deeds.” Being true to His word is righteous.
As a bit of an aside, there are two notable textual variants in this section. Our Bible version, the ESV lists here among the judges of Israel “Barak.” The King James in the same places has “Bedan.” What seems most likely here is that the original was “Barak” who is a judge mentioned in the book of Judges, but that the letters in the Hebrew language are similar in appearance to those of “Bedan” and so a scribe copying the text recorded it wrong. And there is no “Bedan” listed among the Judges elsewere, so Barak is probably correct. And some old manuscripts in Greek and Syriac and Arabic confirm that it is Barak.
The other variant is that some texts says “Samuel” and others says “Samson.” It makes more sense, in my opinion, if Samson is listed as one of the judges. But Samuel is considered a judge as well.
Neither of these variants change the main thrust of the text: witness the integrity of the Lord.
III. Obey the Lord with Integrity. (v. 14-15)
Now, where is Samuel going with this? He has said that he has lived with integrity and God has been faithful to the people. Now he says “YOU are to obey the Lord with Integrity.”
Follow the example of Samuel and of God. Complete the course.
The idea is straightforward:
If you obey the Lord it will go well.
If either you OR THE KING disobeys, it will not go well.
The king is not exempt from having to obey the Lord. That is a good Biblical view. The King is not above the Law. Only God is above the Law. Even the king must obey him.
And this foreshadows what is to come, because Saul does not obey the Lord. Saul does not have integrity.
So God says “if you will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king.”
And God immediately makes good on this promise and proves his might. He sends thunder and rain on that day, during the wheat harvest. A time when it does not rain in Israel. And a time that threatens to ruin their crops.
A commentator (KD) says: “this was a miracle of divine omnipotence, intended to show the people that the judgments of God might fall upon the sinners at any time.”
And the people are afraid. I would be afraid too.
There are these threats of punishment:
“if you will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king.”
“if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”
Samuel, the prophet, must function as a prophet. So he commands and he warns. He commands, “Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart.” And he warns, “if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”
But what is the purpose of these threats of God? This is what I’ve agonized over this week while working out this sermon. Why does God give these threats in the Scriptures especially since we have Gospel in the text as well. (And we’ll get the Gospel shortly.) How can their be both Gospel and threats! And how do we reconcile the threat of our sins bringing damnation with the Gospel forgiving our sins!
These are not easily questions. And I’m not sure I can answer them all.
But I want to suggest two purposes for the threats.
First, for those who will not believe. These threat ADD to their guilt. They have guilt already because as Paul says in Romans chapter, God’s invisible attributes are known to all because God has shown them to all, being clearly perceived since the creation of the world. But now with the threats we have additional reason to say “God warned you.” “You’ve sinned against him, and it was not without warning.”
Then, for those who believe. The threats have a different purpose. They are instrumental. They are used by God to turn us toward him. Used to turn us in repentance to believe in Jesus Christ and his salvation. Where I want to be clear is on this point: we are not saved by our ability to not sin. We are saved by Jesus Christ. And the threats of punishment remind us, like the law itself, that we are sinners in need of a savior. The threat of punishment leads us to say “I need Christ” and with the Holy Spirit working in us we say “I’ve rely on Christ.”
So the people are afraid
Yet, Samuel say, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.”
And he says “fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart.”
There is a call to INTEGRITY even amidst their sin. This is good news to us. This call to integrity is forward-looking. We can’t go back and improve our integrity in days past. We are broken, sinful people. Damaged goods. And so we say to God “We have sinned against you.” “What hope do we have?”
But then there is grace in the text. “The LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.” “For consider what great things he has done for you.”
As God has show his integrity in the past, fulfilling his promises, so He will for all time fulfill his promises. He MAKES us to be His people. That is key here, HE MAKES US TO BE HIS PEOPLE. And being “made over” by him, we have forgiveness of sins, being not afraid of damnation, but fearing the Lord in the sense of having respect and awe for His people. And being “made over” by him we seek to serve him faithfully with all our heart, WITH INTEGRITY.
Application 1: Fear of God
Samuel says in our text “Be not afraid.” But when I heard about the wrath of God, I am afraid!
25 But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”
I do sin. I am wicked. And I fear judgment.
Is this you? You are not alone.
If so, know this. If you are fearful of the judgment of the Lord, know that you are saved. The judgment is coming upon those who DO NOT fear the judgment of God. Your very fear of God and your faith shows that you are one of his people. Your very fear of the wrath of God confirms that you believe that HE IS and that He has power over all things and that you must run to his arms for security. You who believe in Him ARE one of his people.
The Lord has made you one of his people. And what God has started, he will complete. [Phl 1:6 ESV] 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
One minister said it well, “The Lord is not interested in seeing that you are miserable over your sin for the rest of your life. He wants you to follow him.”
Let us follow him, let us have that rightful fear of God, and live with integrity.
Application 2: Living with Integrity
Now, finally, and we will conclude with this. An application on “living with integrity.”
Let us consider integrity and its impact.
We are called to follow God with integrity.
What does this look like?
A person who is taught integrity and lives with integrity will not skip out on work calling in sick unless they are sick. They will make a better employee.
An artist with integrity will not be changed by fame.
And church with integrity won’t change its principles to appease a wealthy patron or a pressuring government.
Integrity changes us, because it calls us to live with the long term in view, and to live for God. And so integrity takes a lifetime of effort. It is a constant adherence to being above board, above reproach. It is to be constantly constant. Consistently consistent in living out the morality of God and completely displaying the Fruit of His Spirit.
For this we must pray that the Lord works His Spirit in us so that we may will and do according to his will. Lord help us to live with integrity. Let us pray.