Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
Today I would like to look at what the Bible has to says about two very important aspects of our Christian living. One is ‘obedience’ and likewise the other is ‘sacrifice’. These two qualities are foundational for a faith filled walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Although both qualities are as important as each other, if you had to pick one or the other as to what would be more pleasing to God, what would it be? If we look into what the scriptures say, the Bible is clear that obedience is better than sacrifice. Let us begin by looking at the key verse for our study today.
1 Samuel 15:22-23 “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 rejected you from being king.”
What is important to God is complete obedience to Him because everything else is a by-product of this initial obedience – even sacrifice. Let us take a look at what obedience really means in the Bible.
Obedience according to the Old Testament means “to hear” or “to listen”. It is not just a regular hearing, but a hearing with reverence and obedience, whereas in the New Testament the word is suggestive of “hearing under” or of subordinating one’s self to the person or thing heard. What we are seeing here is essentially ‘relationship’. It could be a relationship between that of a master and a servant, and particularly between parents and children (Proverbs 15:20 says “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother.”), or even between a sovereign or ruler and their subjects, for example in 1 Chronicles 29:23 it says “Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king in place of David his father. And he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him.”
Out of all of these, the highest significance of the usage of the word obedience in the Bible is between the relation of man to God. The reason for this is that obedience is the supreme and ultimate test of faith in God and reverence for him. This is a very important relationship which must not be broken. The significance of this spiritual relationship is expressed by Samuel when he asks the question in 1 Samuel 15:22 “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offering 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.” This is the condition without which a right relationship with God cannot sustained. This is why we see that God blessed Abraham, because he passed the test of Faith through his obedience to God as it says in Genesis 22:18 “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
Even as we come into the New Testament scriptures we see that an even higher spiritual and moral relation is sustained than in the Old Testament. This important aspect of obedience is just as greatly emphasized. The greatest illustration of this is Jesus Christ Himself. As it says in Philippians 2:8 saying “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Now for us, when we are obedient to Him (Jesus Christ), then we are through Him made partakers of His salvation as it says in Hebrews 5:9 “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”
This is the supreme act of faith in Christ. These words become synonymous with each other, faith and obedience. In fact the apostle Paul himself expresses this idea in Romans 1:5 saying “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,”. Peter also designates believers in Christ as “children of obedience”, as it says in 1 Peter 1:14 “As obedient children do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,”.
So we see here that obedience is seen as the test of faith in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament. The union with Christ is obedience through faith, by which we are identified and the believer becomes a disciple of Christ.
Notice here that sacrifice flows out of obedience. A sacrifice that does not flow out of obedience is disobedience and is not pleasing to the Lord.
So this is a moment that we need to look deeper into our hearts to see if we are actually providing sacrifices to God, without obeying His word. I am sure that once we examine ourselves today, we will all identify that we have fallen into the same grave mistake as Saul. And if we have, then what are we going to do about it so that our faith in Christ is established by our obedience to him.
What is the ‘obedience’ that the Lord requires?
Lets begin by looking at what the Bible has to say about obedience. As we now know, obedience is an essential part of the Christian faith. Jesus Himself attests to this as we read earlier that Jesus Himself was obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). What does obedience look like for a child of God? Just as Jesus took up the cross and was obedient unto death, when we pick up our cross and follow Christ this means obedience. Matthew 16:24 says “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” When we do this, it is a reflection of our heart condition, it is essentially showing that we love the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact in John 14:15 it says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
There are many examples in the Bible that shows us that disobedience to God is also dishonoring Him and is not pleasing to Him in any way. Lets look at an example in the scriptures that show the consequences of such disobedience. We read this account in 1 Kings 13:11-26. Here we read of a prophet who is only identified as a “man of God” who was sent by the Lord from Judah to prophecy against King Jeroboam of Israel. Jeroboam sought to seize him but it tells us in 1 Kings 13:4 saying “..Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” And his hand, which he stretched out against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself.” The king then asked this man of God to pray for him and his hand. When he healed the kings hand, the king attempted to reward him, but the prophet replies in v9 saying “for so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD saying, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came.'”
When we read the next verse, it is clear that this man of God was careful to follow the three-fold command of God. As we read in v9, he neither ate nor drank and now in v10 it says “So he went another way and did not return by the way that he came to Bethel.” So far so good in keeping to the commandments of God. However, on his way home another older prophet came to him saying, in v18 “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’ But he lied to him.”
This second prophet was lying (v18), as the word of God says that no angel visited him and God had not spoken to him in regard to this matter. But the man of God believed this lying prophet – directly disobeying the very command given to him by God. While at supper the prophet who lied suddenly received a true word from God, saying in v21 “Thus says the LORD, ‘because you have disobeyed the word of the LORD and have not kept the command that the LORD your God commanded you, but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place which he said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water,” your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.'”
So what we see here, is that we have a prophet who disobeyed the command of the Lord and the consequences were dire. We may think to ourselves, what did the prophet do to deserve such a punishment? Wasn’t he deceived by the other prophet who lied? To us it may seem reasonable because the prophet is bringing a word from God as he says in v18 saying “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.'” To the layman this may seem reasonable that God is sending a message to the man of God through another prophet – but we all fall into the same way of thinking and falling into the trap of the deceiver. If the LORD has given a direct instruction to you, then no matter what anyone else says differently, you should not turn to the left or to the right to the command that the LORD has given to you. This is the principle by which we must base our relationship and faith in Christ. We are not to listen, even to the voice of an angel, if it is in contradiction to the word of God.
This is the very reason the apostle Paul warns in Galatians 1:8 saying “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” You are not to heed the word of any other, other than the word of God itself, no matter who it may be that is saying to you otherwise. Base every decision on this very important and foundational principle in your life. In fact Jesus Himself warns us of this very thing in Matthew 7:15 saying “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” It is our duty to test every spirit to ensure we are in obedience to God. 1 John 4:1 says “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We are to be on guard so that we are not deceived by Satan leading us to disobedience. This is the very objective of Satan, right from the beginning from the Garden of Eden where Eve was deceived and it continues to this very day. He knows that by this deception He can bring about disobedience in our life. 2 Corinthians 11:3 says “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be lead astray from a sincere devotion to Christ.”
This is why ‘obedience’ has such great importance throughout scripture. Do not look at obedience as a type of work that you need to do in order to be saved. We know that our salvation is by faith alone and a complete work of God and no works of our own, but Christ requires obedience because in the end, it benefits us and ultimately glorifies Him. It keeps us from the devices of evil, it keeps us from being lead astray, it ensures that our focus remains on Jesus Christ and that we are led by Him. In fact it is also a sign of who the real children of God are. So it is crucial for us to remember and know that this obedience flows out of our love relationship and our transformation by the Holy Spirit in Christ. If we are not grounded on this and we are not truly saved, it says in 1 Timothy 4:1 that “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,” So guard yourself by your obedience to Christ. It is for your benefit through which all glory is given to our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What is the sacrifice that the Lord requires?
Now that we have understand the importance of obedience, let us consider what is the the ‘sacrifice’ that the Lord requires. The sacrifice that the LORD requires is one that is birthed out of an obedient heart. The promise that Jesus gave to us in John 14:21 is that “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” In other words those who has the commandment of God inwardly, shows outwardly that he is the one who loves God by his keeping of them. And for that person, God the Father loves him, Jesus Christ loves him and will reveal himself to them. What a great promise.
The scriptures tells us what kind of sacrifices are pleasing to God. 1 Peter 2:5 says “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” There are a couple of very important points that this scripture reveals to us. Firstly it is that you are like living stones being built up. What you need to know today is that, you are still a work in progress. The building work is continuing and this is a work of the Holy Spirit through whom you are being sanctified daily. So you can rest assured that it means that you are not perfect pertaining to the flesh while you remain on earth, and doesn’t mean that you will be sinless, but that you are being transformed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ. You are being built up. It is your obedience in this process that the spiritual house is being built up, and disobedience is what tears it down. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 it says that “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
In other words, you are now the temple of God. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says “Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” So if we are a temple, then there is a need for a priesthood, and if there is a priesthood then there needs to be an offering of sacrifice. The scriptures tell us that we are the temple, the priesthood and the one who is to offer these sacrifices. When you read further in 1 Peter 2:9 it says “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Note here that the concept of sacrifice has not passed away, in-fact real relationship with Christ demands it. Jesus Himself was the greatest example of this. Because of his love of the Father and to do the will of the Father and because of His love for His creation, Christ offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for the whole world. The Bibles tells us that Christ humbled Himself being obedient even to the point of death. If this is our very example, then we ought to follow what Jesus Christ did. To be obedient to His Voice and to His will. Whatever he requires of us and this in itself is the ultimate sacrifice. That is why Romans 12: 1 says “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Such sacrifices are an act of worship to the Lord. The opposite of this is that when there is no obedience and yet you come to the Lord and offer Him a sacrifice of praise through your worship, through your giving, through your praise and through your prayer but deep inside and in your lifestyle you are being disobedient to the Lord, then this is not pleasing to the Lord. That is why God says ‘Obedience is better than Sacrifice’. God would rather have your obedience than any of these outward signs of sacrifice and worship. Obedience itself is a sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord. When you continue reading Romans 12:2 it says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
So let us look at the priority that the Lord places in order for us to understand what is a fragrant offering, what is an acceptable sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord? Proverbs 21:3 says “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” A sacrifice brought, when there is no righteousness and justice on your part does not please the LORD. The act of sacrifice is validated and backed up by what you are doing to please the LORD in your obedience to him. This is why obedience and sacrifice goes hand in hand. Your sacrifice is validated by your obedience. It proves that you know the will of God and you humble yourself in order to do it. As we read earlier in Romans 12:2, it says that, by the renewal of our mind we are to ‘discern what is the will of God’. When you discern God’s will and do it, that which is good and acceptable and perfect, then this in itself becomes a sacrifice presented holy and acceptable to God. You see, you yourself is that sacrifice, what you do and what you present to God is the ultimate sacrifice that is pleasing to God.
We make hundreds of decisions every single day. When we make these decision do we ever question our self – if the decision fits into what God’s will is? This is a good place to start. When we read the word of God, it tells us that God created us and redeemed us (in other words God doubly owns us), We therefore have an obligation to fulfill His will as we are His workmanship and His children. Just as Jesus said, our spiritual food must be to do the will of Him who called us out of darkness and into the marvelous light. In John 4:34 Jesus says “My food is to the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
So our priority and obligation should be to discern and fulfill God’s will through our lives. The question then becomes, how can I determine what God’s will is? In order to determine the will of God, you need to start by handing over every area of your life in to the hand of God. There are to be no hidden areas, no closed compartments but lay your life down before the LORD and acknowledge that He is going to be supreme master over your life. It is not going to be a shared rule here, but He has complete and full authority over you. When you do this, God’s path may include some severe and difficult trials but you can rest assured that even through these He will only do what is best for you and His blessings will always follow you. Psalm 84:11 says “…No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”
Once you have committed your life into the LORD’s hand, you must grow in Him intimately and through His Spirit. Spend time with the LORD, every moment you have, you need to walk with Him, continuously meditate on the word of God and spend time in prayer. The word of God reveals His will for your life. Let Him be on your mind continuously and as you begin to do these things, you will begin to have an intimate relationship with Christ keeping Him at the center of everything you to. Once you are in such a walk with Christ and in communion with the Holy Spirit your life will start to transform so that you begin to act and do all things based on biblical principles and not relying on human wisdom. You begin to realize God given gifts for your life, and you will begin to analyze the motives and desires in light of God’s sovereign purpose of His ultimate purpose of being glorified among the nations of the world.