29/8/2021Thematic Message 132                                                                                                                                                                   www.lifechurchmissions.com  

Learn Christ, Not Methods <1 Sam 4:1-11>

Prelude: We human beings have spiritual senses and also logical analysis, so we can easily use these two instincts to develop some so-called "spiritual methods" and use them as channels for victory.  In day-to-day living, whether it is serving, managing finances, leading the family, handling matters and dealing with people, etc., it is very easy for us to adopt some tried and tested methods.  Sometimes these methods seem to work at first, but over time, they lose their effectiveness. Perhaps we may have had some experiences in the past, where some brethren shared some health care methods, and if we thought that if we followed along, we would also receive the same results but this is not necessarily the case.  Or some ministry workers saw the methods adopted by other ministry workers to revive the church, and they wanted to learn. However, it did not work out for them. In fact, one of the spiritual problems which we believers have is that we are always learning methods or finding the ways to success, but often, we are not learning about Christ or doing things by seeking His perfect will. This is why the Lord said in <Zec 4:6>, Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit. Might and power are what man values and these are the method most people rely on, as though they are key to  guarantee victory. If a king has a powerful army, or a capable minister, he has the assurance of victory.  Of course, there is a some level of probability, but in all of this, God has placed a key element, which is to rely on the Spirit of the Lord. It is true that people of the world who do not believe in God succeed by chance, but they will also fail.  However, God's people cannot rely on such probability to succeed.  Ultimately, what God wants to gain is the hearts of His people who love and rely on Him. It is like those who believe in science always have an upper hand, but we should also know that this is because God created the principles of science, so that the current the research of  drugs and vaccines truly can fight against the virus.  But the people of the world do not know this God. They use the benefits derived from the principle of God's creation, but their hearts are not dependent on God. God however does not want His people to be like this.  Usually, what can be seen, touched, and reproduced are more tangible. Of course, we are not deliberately trying to be counter intuitive, but we have to believe that God's guidance for His people's lives is unique, and He also uses counter-intuitive methods. This is like when Joshua attacked the land of Canaan, God was testing the heart of Joshua and all the Israelites before that.  In particular, God ordered them to be circumcised in the enemy’s territory <Jos 5:2>, and also instructed them to circle the city of Jericho for seven days without raising their voices <Jos 6:3-4,10>. We cannot understand the purpose of doing this, but this was the method God provided to Joshua and the Israelite army at that time.  Today, quite a number of believers also imitate this practice, saying that maybe they can also go to a city or a university and walk around it just like how the Israelites circled the the city of Jericho and triumphed over it.  In doing the same, they could overcome the spiritual enemies of the city or university. This sounds like there is a connection, but if it is not what God instructed them to do, it is definitely not the method to victory. Indeed, it is easy for us to come up with strategies and methods, but we do not truly have the heart of God.  Some preachers imitate the way some senior pastors preach, but do not have their  spirit.  <Pro 4:23> says, Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Indeed, the heart of loving the Lord and relying on the Lord are what truly pleases God and brings holistic and lasting benefits.  Therefore, let us not be attracted by people's short-term successes or methods that are temporarily effective. This is like Saul relying on power and ability. Although he ruled Israel for 40 years, he was defeated in the end.  David was a king after God's heart, although he had gone through many tribulations, he was eventually regarded as the holy king of Israel. So, what is the heart that pleases the Lord the most? That is a heart to learn and imitate Christ. <Php 2:5> says, "have the same mindset as Christ Jesus". 


Defeat of Israel

1Background of the battles

Those times, there were not any world powers like Egypt or Babylon, hence the Israelites’ battles were against the surrounding tribes who were on par with them. These tribes were like Moabites and Ammonites. But among them, a stronger tribe emerged and that was Philistines, originated from Crete. During Abraham times, there were the minorities. After Israelites conquered the land of Canaan, the Philistines gradually became stronger and had more advanced weapons such as helmet, armors, shield, swords or spears. They were the first in Canaan to make machineries. Therefore, they had the upper hand in battles. We need to know, when God allows a stronger power (or a more serious problem) among God’s people, we cannot gain victory using our usual methods, neither can we do it without struggles. Instead, God’s people need to be even more humble and rely on the Lord at such a time. Before this, it was recorded that God gave Samuel the prophecies, and caused the Word to be spread <1 Sa 3:21>. In other words, God is relaying the message through a prophet to redeem the hearts of his people. Because when Eli was a judge, Lord’s words were scarce and there were not many  visions  <1 Sa 3:1>. It is in this context that the battle between Israel and Philistine took place. After that, Israel was defeated and 4,000 solders died in the battle that day.


2) The Israelites leaders adopted a mystical method

Instead of turning to God through the Lord’s Word, the elder had suggested to bring the ark of covenant to the battlefield, assuming it would bring them victory. This method was once used by Israelites. In <Jos 6:6-8>, Joshua had also instructed the priests to carry the art of covenant and to march around the city with the Israelites. In <Num 31:6-7>, when the Israelites were at war against Midianites at the wilderness, Moses also instructed Phinehas to take the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm. When they did that, every Midianite male in the battle was killed. Hence, when Philistines defeated Israelites now, the Israelites leaders had unanimously assumed the ark represents the presence of God, and they could call upon God to fight for them. But they had forgotten Moses and Joshua did according to Jehovah’s instructions. They had the word of God in their hearts, and they could hear God, and followed the instructions of the Lord. Now, the leaders of Israel did not have God’s words in their hearts, they merely lived by sight, and reacted according to circumstances. When they were defeated, they did not humble and seek God. Instead, they adopted those “spiritual methods” used by their ancestors. The more they behaved this way, the more it would displease God. What God had desired was their repentance, not their temporal victory.


3) In the end, the Israelites army was completely defeated

The two ungodly sons of Eli carried the ark of covenant, the whole Israel put their trust on the presence of ark of covenant thinking it is God’s presence, but their hearts did not rely on God. The Israelites even gave a mighty shout and the earth resounded. Imagine such a scene, the Israelites’ morale was so high, even the Philistines were deceived into thinking that this was the sign of God with them, and were afraid. But in the end the Israelites were completely defeated. Israel lost thirty thousand soldiers.  Eli’s two sons died, the ark of God was captured. This was like some big scale Christian gatherings where the speaker did not teach God’s word clearly, and failed to bring people’s mind and thoughts towards God, and only ask them to loudly proclaim victory or call upon the Lord, as if they are moving God’s hands. It may seem like God is with them, but they are marching towards the complete failure in spiritual battle. After many believers joined such gathering, their spiritual eyes were further blinded, their souls were sick. They could not understand the depth of faith, and do not pursue meditating and confirming the Word of God and receive spiritual strength through it. Instead, they only relate God’s presence with the emotional surge, and seek some mystical experience or methods to experience God’s power. All these are symbols of Israel’s failure. Let’s ponder, why Israel failed? (1) Out of fear, the Philistines fought with all their might. Indeed, at times despair does not cause one to be timid but make him bolder to fight; (2) With the courage of complacency and falsehood, the Israelites thought this was an easy war, but they did not expect this mentality to be fatal;  (3) In the end, and the most important reason, that is God was not with Israel. God hated their mysterious and unfounded beliefs. They were deceived by their own blind faith and superstition, and finally failed miserably.

2. Not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord

1Learn Christ, not methods

After the disciples received the Great Commission, the Lord instructed them not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift Father promised <Ac 1:4>. Because it was not the apostles who spread the gospel to Rome, but the Holy Spirit who did it through the apostles. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, any human might, power, strategy, resourcefulness would not be able to accomplish this. However, there are divisions among churches regarding the work of the Holy Spirit. First, we must know that the coming of the Holy Spirit is not to give us some kind of special power. But He will remind us of Christ’s teachings and example. Furthermore, Christ’s teachings and example are not elsewhere but in the revealed word of God, just as God sent His word to His people Israelites through Samuel. Thus, after we read the Bible, what we should receive is Christ’s heart, and what we should learn is Christ’s example. After we read the Bible, if what we learnt are certain methods of church revival movement, or some healthcare methods promoted by some people, or certain successful business models, or some parents’ successful ways to teach children, etc, then we are learning methods instead of Christ. God’s people cannot accomplish things by relying on methods, but they should rely on the Spirit of the Lord. Hence, a person who wants to rely on the Lord’s Spirit will set his ultimate goal as knowing Christ, imitating Christ and following Christ. Why did he read the stories of Abraham and David, as well as the epistles of Paul? It is not because they were very great, but because what they had encountered and learned in their entire lives made them eventually more and more like Christ, and were one in spirit and of one mind as Christ. Thus, our faith is certainly not to make us learn a few lines of tongues, or how to lift up our hands to pray, or shout loudly, so as to manifest the power of the Holy Spirit. Some believers receive from God’s word a heart of truly loving and relying on Christ, thus whatever they pray and ask for will be fulfilled for them. That is not because of their loud cries, but because they have asked with an understanding of Christ’s heart.


2To be Spirit-led, not hope for the end of sufferings

Many a times, God works in the secret. Sometimes, over prolonged period of time, we do not see God’s very amazing work, but when the time comes, God’s work manifests very obviously. Take Joseph for example, he walked with God in his 13 years of suffering, but when the time came, he became the ruler of Egypt instantly. At that moment, when we look at his whole life and how he suffered so much in the past, then we know that all those were God’s preparatory work. Who can know God’s work and plan in secret? Thus, when we are led by the Spirit, it is not about wanting to get out of a situation we do not like, but we should walk with God in the midst of it. No doubt, we do not like some circumstances, such as illnesses, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, etc. Yet, God tells us: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer <Ro 12:12>. For those of us who are shepherds, our responsibility is not to change the circumstances of the Lord’s people, but to use God’s word to encourage the Lord’s people, so that they are sure they are walking on the right path, thus they will not be discouraged. Sometimes, one mistake we shepherds make easily is to offer solutions too soon to suffering sheep, such that we forgot to pay attention to sanctifying work the Lord wants to do in their lives.


3Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh

Some people are bound by smoking addiction, some by gambling addiction, some by pornography, some by certain popular culture, always going after some celebrities and stars, some always lament in self-pity due to their weaknesses, some just cannot forgive those who hurt them. Blessed believers who are saved know that all these are not right, and they are willing to be liberated from such a state. These people often asked, “Why is it that I cannot be liberated from all these sins despite using all kinds of methods?” Some people even say their methods are none other than reading the Bible, praying, attending church meetings, leading brethren living, etc., yet they are still not liberated. The problem is they treat these spiritual activities as methods. In fact, the Bible does not say that when we are engaged in certain spiritual activities, then we can be liberated from desires of our flesh. What the Bible says is when we walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. We read the Bible, pray and attend church mainly to know the Lord, and receive the heart to love the Lord, so that our entire heart and living can walk more and more by the Spirit, and in the course of this, the desires of the flesh will lose their power in our hearts. Perhaps in the midst of this, the hatred in some people dissolves gradually, and some start to feel it is not unbearably lonely anymore, some slowly change their bad habits, some gradually do not feel like doing or watching certain unclean things. Indeed, the Holy Spirit has sufficient power to free us from sin. The key is to walk with Him and not rely on methods.


3.  But God in His wonderful guidance, will surely provide some ways for us

1If we test and approve and follow the Lord on solid foundation, we will realise some ways come from God’s guidance

E.g.: Ways to shepherd people, ways to engage people, ways to raise children, ways to care for the body, ways to manage money and time, etc. Blessed people always seem to have a set of ways. Even how Paul preached the gospel to Asia Minor, Macedonia and Rome, all these were indeed by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but within it, there seemed to be a set of strategies and ways. E.g.: How Paul first preached the gospel in the synagogues, then started to preach it among godly people. Indeed, that was the way the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul, and that is also the most ideal way for us to preach the gospel, raise disciples, build and shepherd churches. However, we must not forget that this was the way Paul figured out when he loved and relied on the Lord, and was guided by the Holy Spirit. Thus, if people consult us on some methods, we must always preach the gospel of the Lord, teach them biblical principles, and first bring their hearts before the Lord. In the course of this, we can test and approve that person’s circumstances and offer some suggestions, then let that person pray and seek the Lord himself. We must be careful not to offer people seemingly effective methods the moment they find us.


2Sometimes, also do not look down on the suggestions blessed brethren offer us

Some people may have been entrapped in their problems for long, thus they always reject the suggestions people give them. They always feel that the suggestions and methods of people around them cannot work. Perhaps they will say, “Your situation is different from mine”, “your spouse or children are not the same as mine”. But after saying these, they themselves also do not test and approve God’s perfect will, but keep remaining at the same state. In fact, this is also a kind of slowness. Blessed believers and particularly believers who always lead brethren living will not reject every suggestion of others, but they will repeatedly think through. Actually, in every situation, the Lord will surely guide us by the principles of His word. Otherwise, He will certainly guide us through brethren beside us who love us and pray for us. Thus, we will realise that those who value church living more, will all the more see the Lord’s guidance in all things.


3Finally, God grants us victory by our heart’s dependence on Him

From today’s story about Israel’s defeat in battle, we must know the reason. That was because they believed in methods, but their hearts were far from God. In fact, personally, I have not seen a person who is truly willing to rely on the Lord but keeps remaining in a deadlock. Some believers grumble daily because of their conditions and undesirable environment, or because others are not helping them; in fact, they never look into themselves to truly see that the problem originates from the issue between their heart and the Lord. Even during the 13 years when Joseph was a slave and prisoner that he saw God’s guidance was lively. But some people have better conditions than Joseph yet they always cannot see God’s guidance and thus their hearts are full of complaints. In fact, such people need to repent and acknowledge that their situation now arises from their lack of love for God and not relying upon Him, thus they are stuck in a stalemate for a long time. After we repent, the ways ahead will then be opened for us.