Chinese Church Voices

To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

A Sermon

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

Here at Chinese Church Voices, we often highlight articles written by Christians and posted on various websites, blogs, and/or micro-blogs. This week, however, we have translated a sermon by Pastor Chen, of the Fangshan Church in Beijing. It was delivered on February 8, 2015, and posted to the church website shortly after that. In it, Pastor Chen uses 1 Samuel 15 to remind the congregation of the importance of obedience.

To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

‪Brothers and sisters, the peace of the Lord be with you. Let us pray. Dear Heavenly Father, we thank and praise you. And when we come to your table of grace, we truly know Lord that you are at our side. We know, Lord, that you love us and that you will give us life. We pray that you will protect the work of our hands and that you will fill the hearts of your children. Lord, you bring us into your worship and bring us into your word. Let us receive encouragement, help, and training from your word. Let our lives mature from your word. Let us live our entire lives for the Lord, and live out the glory of the Lord. Once again, we give all of the brothers and sisters who have gathered into the Lord's presence into your gracious hand. May you, our dear Lord, do the work of transformation, the work of renewal, and the work of sanctifying our lives. Lord, we commit this worship service into your hands. May your name receive the glory that it is due. You give heavenly peace, joy, and power to your people. So, we pray this in the name of our gracious Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!

‪We have just read 1 Samuel chapter 15. Let's look at this chapter of scripture together today. We see that God chose Israel from among the nations, and that God wrought miracles among the Israelites that he did not work among other peoples. The Bible allows us to see the miracles God displayed among the Israelites, leaving them with no way to doubt his glory. However, we also see in the Bible that the Israelites stubbornly persisted in all their own ways. They violated the word of God and did not follow God's commandments. The result was that they were forsaken by God and punished. Today we are also called by God. We are chosen by God from among the people. We are a group of people chosen by God. We believe in God. We are people chosen by God, so we enjoy the blessings of God. We simply cannot resemble the former Israelites who stubbornly persisted in their own ways. So when we read this passage from scripture we should reflect on what God's requirements are for his people. Whether it is the people of Israel or us, how do we please God?

‪Let's look at the first point: listen to his word, and then behave according to it. Since you have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ, conduct yourselves according to his words. The Bible contains much of this kind of language to instruct us. What sort of things are recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 15? Chapter 15 begins with an account of Israel's first king, Saul. Through Samuel, God told Saul how the Amalekites had mistreated the Israelites when Israel departed from Egypt and how Israel withstood them; God said he had not forgotten. Now God was saying through Samuel, "Go and smite the Amalekites, and utterly destroy them all, from their king to their people, all the way to their livestock. Kill them all." Saul led Israel's army under God's leadership to victory over the Amalekites. Yet, when they captured Agag, the Amalekite king, they took pity on him. And, they became greedy and spared the good cattle, sheep, calves, and lambs. When he saw the nice, fattened cattle and sheep, Saul thought it would be an incredible shame if they were killed. So, from among the cattle and sheep he picked out the best and brought them and King Agag back with him.

At that time the Lord said to Samuel: "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions." Samuel was very distraught. He spent the night in prayer, pleading to the Lord. Then in the early morning he rose to meet Saul. As soon as they met, Saul said, "I have obeyed God's commands! I have done what God instructed! I captured Agag the Amalekite and utterly destroyed the Amalekites." Samuel said to Saul: "From where comes this sound of sheep bleating and cattle lowing that fills my ears?" Saul replied: "This is what I have brought from the Amalekites, because we spared the best cattle and sheep to sacrifice to the Lord your God." Then Samuel said, "Has the Lord as great 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 disallowed you from being king." Why did God reject Saul as king? Because Saul not only heard the word of God and did not act on it; he distorted God's word for his own interests. Therefore, Saul's reign as king came to an end. Verses 34-35 say, "Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel." This was the end of King Saul. So brothers and sisters, after listening to the word of God, God wants us to act in accordance with it. We should not act according to our own interests in order to distort God's word.

‪Second,  God wants us to obey his commandments. We receive redemption and grace today because of the grace of Jesus Christ. When we believe in Jesus Christ, we receive salvation. This is not to say that we have something to boast of; we do not. The commandments of the law in the Bible, we have to know, are like a mirror. Through them we can see whether our lives are pleasing to God. These words are very important because we can only rely on the precious blood of Jesus Christ on the cross to be saved. These words also tell us that we are saved; not by our own power, but our salvation is the gracious gift of God to us.  It is God-given, it is not something that depends on our own conduct because we have nothing to boast about in that respect. God requires us in our daily lives to live in such a way that demonstrates what we have received salvation; that we have been redeemed. Those of you who have accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior should live out your lives according to Jesus, since to accept the gospel is to have a life commensurate with the gospel. This point is very important. God's commandments and words are recorded in the Bible. These recordings are not at all what are used to save us. What saves us is the Lord Jesus Christ. These records tell us that our lives are like a mirror that will illumine God's character and will reveal whether our lives are seeking the delight of God. So, we must remember and act in accordance with them.

‪Third, if we are to receive God's blessing, if we want to receive the delight of God, we should then know that to obey is better than sacrifice. We must also know how God instructs us, we must understand God's heart, and we must understand the desires of God. So, we must fulfill his own desires. We want to know the desires of God. If we clearly know God's desires, but do not act accordingly, how can we possibly seek to please God? God is all-knowing and all-powerful, omnipresent and omniscient. What is his desire? As children of God we need to know God's desire. The Bible tells us that God's desire is very urgent. When we read the Bible and pray, the Holy Spirit tells us that God desires all mankind be saved, and that he does not wish that any should perish. Why did God send his beloved, only begotten Son? Because God so loved the world that he gave the only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God wants people to be saved, and does not wish that any should perish. Dear brothers and sisters, this is the fervent desire of God. He desires that people to trust in Jesus Christ. He desires that people receive this grace and blessing. He desires that we honor Jesus as mighty, and he desires the name of Jesus to be exalted. So brothers and sisters, we are the work of God because we are made in God's image and likeness.

However, Satan frantically attacks us. When people are deceived by the devil, they work together with the devil to deceive God. The devil blinds the human eye, so people rebel against God and go to hell, they sink into depravity and destruction, which is very painful for God. So God sent Jesus Christ into the world to save us. God very much desires that we honor Jesus, believe in Jesus, and trust in Jesus. In Psalm 2 verses 11-12 we read,  "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him." When we read the Bible, we know that God's desire is that we turn back to his embrace.

How do we return? Believe in the one whom he gave us, the Lord Jesus Christ. We read in John 6:40 that when the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world and took on flesh, he gave his life for us. We read together that, "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." We all can see that this passage speaks about the will of the Father. The Father desires that people believe in Jesus Christ whom he sent, that they accept Jesus and worship him, and that they come to God through Jesus Christ. So today we come before God through Jesus Christ. Today, we worship God because we believe in Jesus and we trust in Jesus. We believe that through Jesus we can boldly come before the throne of God. Together we can see our Lord. We believe he is in our midst. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that, today when we come before our Father by trusting in Jesus Christ, our Father will rise from his throne and greet us. Our God will be gracious to us and he will bless us. Therefore we need to know the Bible tells us that those without the Son are also without the Father. The Father calls us to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ. He desires that we worship him and love him, and that we obey his words by our actions.

So, dear brothers and sisters, let us remember what the Bible teaches us. God's desire is that people be saved, and that not one person would perish. In John 3:14-15 Jesus tells us, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." The Lord says that whosoever believes in him shall have eternal life. Therefore, Jesus specifically tells us that he desires for us to receive eternal life, the abundant life that he gives. This is God's desire. Jesus Christ has borne sin for us. On the cross he said, "It is finished!" When it was finished, the veil tore apart. Jesus bore our sins, Jesus bore our sickness, Jesus bore our curse, Jesus bore our poverty, Jesus bore our failure, Jesus bore our death, Jesus blocked our window to hell. All of this Jesus took upon himself for us.

So, we read in the Apostles' Creed that Jesus died for us, he was buried for us, and on the third day he rose from the dead for us. He did everything for us. He told us that "I am the resurrection and the life." So he has given us the life of resurrection.

So, dear brothers and sisters, the Lord wants us to believe in him and to trust him. And he wants to release us and liberate us from every entanglement. We read in Galatians 5:1 that, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." So, the Lord desires that those who do not yet trust him hear this wonderful news. The Lord desires that those who do not know him would open their eyes and return from the power of the devil into his embrace. This is Jesus' most urgent desire. What, in Acts 1:8, does the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, come to do? We read together, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Thanks to our Lord, the Holy Spirit came to illuminate our hearts and to do the work of transformation in our hearts and in our lives. He causes us to more clearly understand the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible, and God's will. So, the desire of the Holy Spirit was to come and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in the whole earth: to your family, to your neighbor, to the ground beneath your feet, to every nook and cranny in Fangshan, to all of Beijing, throughout all of China, and to the whole world–this is the purpose of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit comes to live in our church and in our hearts. He wants to penetrate us, to penetrate you and me, and to penetrate God's children. He wants to proclaim the Father's will and Jesus Christ's glorious redemption to the ends of the earth, to proclaim it throughout the world, and to each family that still has not accepted Jesus Christ. Each of us has a responsibility. So the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the three persons of the Trinity, want to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. God wants to rescue people from the clutches of Satan the devil. He wants to bring people into God's kingdom. When the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts, we want it to fill us and lead us. We want the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel though us who believe in Jesus Christ.

Soon we will be faced with a traditional Chinese festival [the Spring Festival], which is a time when families reunite. Now, are we to get together to eat and drink in the same way as ordinary people? Or, are we to build family fellowships to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ together with spreading the gospel? Brothers and sisters, how are we to face the challenges to our lives in this world? I want to tell you that we will fail if we trust in ourselves. Last Sunday I shared with you that "the promise is God, and success is also God’s. Everyone is inseparable from God." What happened when Abraham, after witnessing a catastrophe in the land of Canaan, left God and went to Egypt? Abraham joined together with the secular and brought great shame. When he returned to the land of Canaan and returned to God in prayer, his spirit improved. So, when we are faced with traditional holidays, we want to bring the precious gospel to those we love the most. Pray for them. We do not know God's timing, but we certainly want to follow God, to follow his wishes, and to be his workers. We must always listen attentively to God's heart. We must not do things in which God does not delight. If we simply fulfill the needs of our mouths and stomachs, then we are the same as ordinary people.

We need to pray for church revival and the spread of the gospel. May God help us and forgive all our sins and heal our diseases. May God use his glorious grace to cover us and meet the needs of our lives. In this new year, let us  receive new strength like an eagle. Let us receive supreme, abundant grace from God. If we want to receive God's delight and blessing before the Lord, we should not be like those Israelites. Let us come before the Lord to obey his word and to act according to his commands. Let us listen to the Lord's heart and listen to the Lord's desires to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us make the church like a golden lamp stand on this earth to illuminate every single place. Fight the good fight for the Lord. Let every brother and sister be connected to the head of the body, Jesus Christ. Let everyone chosen by God fight the good fight on the earth underneath their feet until they see the Lord's face.

‪Thanks be to God.

Let us pray. God, we thank you that you give us this chance to consider desires. We beseech you, God, to open our ears and to open our eyes. You created us with ears so that we may hear your voice, Lord, and you created our eyes so that we may see your deeds. You created us with hearts so that we may be united with your heart. So, today your people are before you, listening to your words, seeing your deeds, and uniting with your heart. Let us commit our whole lives to you. When we are on the road ahead, we seek your guidance. When we run this heavenly road and turn to the left or to the right, let us hear your voice calling, "This is the right way. Stay the course." So, once again in your name we give everyone who has gathered into the Lord's presence into your hand. May you lead us and protect us. Let us use this upcoming traditional holiday to bring our families into your presence because this is your desire. So, in your name, we give the families of those brothers and sisters gathered here into the Lord's hand. In your name, we give the families of all those brothers and sisters into the Lord's hand who do not yet believe in the Lord, who are destitute, who have fallen into suffering and trials. Although we cannot recount each single person's name, yet we know, Lord, that you are present everywhere, and that you are all-powerful and all-knowing. When we pray here in your name, we believe Lord that you will perform the work of transformation among our family members, that you will do the work that no man can do. Because the one who promised it is God, and the one who will achieve it is God. So we thank you God, we implore you, God, to help us. Lord, let each of us take your glory back to our families as a beautiful witness to you. We give the glory back to God and in this way we pray all in the gracious name of Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!

‪Original article: 听命胜于献祭 (Beijing Fangshan Church) 
Image credit: by Joann Pittman, via Flickr

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