1 Samuel 3 Second in Advent

Notes from sermon preached on 4th December 2011

The God who speaks

It is the second in advent, and we are thinking about the God who speaks.  The Bible teaches us that God spoke the world into being.  He spoke to the prophets:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” [Hebrews 1:1-2]

God the Father has not only spoken through his Son (God’s final revelation) but he speaks to us these days through his Son, by the Spirit.  God is a speaking God because he is a personal God, and we can know him personally.  One of the criticisms of the prophets like Jeremiah was that the people make idols, but “they cannot speak” [Jeremiah 10:5].  But God does speak to us.

God has spoken to us through his word.  In John 1:14 it says “the word became human being.” Jesus the Messiah was the living word of God.  The Bible is an inspired testimony to this living Word.

This morning I want to talk about this theme of ‘the God who speaks’ from 1 Samuel 3, which is about the call of Samuel.

God our heavenly Father wants us his children to hear his voice; to become confident in hearing the voice of Jesus.  In the discourse on the Good Shepherd in John 10, Jesus teaches that the sheep listen to the voice of the Shepherd; the sheep know the voice of the Shepherd; in fact they won’t follow a strangers’ voice.  So we need learn to recognise His voice, and we can learn some lessons from Samuel.

Main points

1.       Samuel had a heart to serve God- a servant heart

“The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli.  In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of the God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark was. Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.”  And he ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.” [1Samuel 3:1-5]

Samuel ‘ministered’. To minister means to serve.  Minister means servant, so it’s an appropriate term for those in ministry.  The apostle Paul described himself as a servant, “Paul a servant of Christ Jesus.” [Romans 1:1]  To be a servant is to belong to another – we belong to Jesus – we are his servants. We are not all called to full time ministry, but we are all called to serve.

Samuel was involved in servant-like tasks, like sweeping the floor, trimming the lamps, polishing the lampstands, and keeping everything in the Temple in order and tidy.  And I think he thoroughly enjoyed it! I think one of the reasons God spoke to Samuel was because he had a servant heart.  Sometimes we can miss God’s call because we despise the idea of servanthood.  But if we are going to follow the LORD we need to have a servant heart.  We belong to the LORD, not to ourselves.

We shouldn’t despise the day of small things.  In God’s economy beginnings are always small.  Nature teaches us this. A giant tree starts as a tiny seed; God brings the increase in his time and in his way. So we should be faithful in small things.

Samuel also had an impressive attitude towards Eli.  Eli was his elder and his mentor.  It was the middle of the night and Eli had gone to bed first, and Samuel was still up.  Maybe he spent some time reading, or praying, or making things ready in the Temple for the morning.  Then Samuel lay down to sleep, in a room not far from the old man, in case he needed anything.

“Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.”  And he ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’” [1 Samuel 3:4-5]

Have you ever called your children in the middle of the night?  And they jump out of their warm bed to come and see if you are okay?  Maybe not! Or to put it another way, how do you feel if your child calls you in the middle of the night, and you are wrapped up in your warm duvet? Do you jump out of bed!  Or do you roll over and think, “Oh no, not them again!”  But not Samuel!  He jumped out of bed and probably thought, “Is Eli alright?  Is there anything I can do to help?”  I think Samuel had what Jesus called “a good and noble heart;” it seems to me the way we relate to elders (those who are over us in the LORD,) and serve others is important to God.   But if there is rebellion in our heart it will stop us hearing God.

2.       Samuel was a good listener

Samuel also a good listener.  If we are to hear ‘the God who speaks,’ we need to be good listeners as well.

“Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went back and lay down.” Again the LORD called “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realised that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  [1 Samuel 3:5-10]

Have you ever tried to speak to someone who isn’t really listening?  You are talking to them, but it is obvious they have their mind on other things.  It doesn’t make you feel very good does it?  I think it must be the same with God – we do have to concentrate on listening to him.  To do this we must give ourselves to prayer and by immersing ourselves in the Bible.

Eli’s sons should have been the ones listening to the LORD, since they were the priests.  But not only were they not concentrating, they had their mind bent on evil things.

“They were wicked men and had no regard for the LORD.”

God wasn’t speaking with them, (except in a word of judgment through the prophet.)

If there is a sin in our heart, it gets in between us and God.  The question is, “Do I really want to hear the LORD?” but are we prepared to let him point out my sin whatever that may mean for us?  If God is talking to us about our sin – and by his grace he will, it is unlikely he will talk about anything else until we have obeyed on that point.

Samuel heard the LORD, but he didn’t recognise it as the LORD’s voice: he thought it was Eli’s voice.  This is the same mistake that we make probably more often than we realise.  We think, “Oh, it’s only the minister.” Or, “it’s only my friend – her opinion,” and we dismiss it.  God is trying to get through to us, but we are spiritually deaf.

However, recognising the voice of Jesus is something to learn. It is not a gift we are born with any more than Samuel was born with it.

v7 “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD.  The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.”

In order to hear the LORD we need to know the LORD – we come to know him through faith in Christ.  He gives us his Spirit, and if we have the Spirit of God then we can understand the things of God, but if not it all sounds a bit foolish.  Paul said in 1Cornthains,

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” [1Cor 2:14]

Do not expect your non-Christian friends to understand spiritual things.  They don’t have the ability to understand because spiritual things are spiritually discerned.  So what does this mean in practical terms?

I became a Christian aged 22 years old.  I was at a meeting, and that night God spoke to me through the preacher.  I just “knew” it wasn’t only the words of the preacher, but somehow God was using those words and speaking them into my heart, and I knew in my heart that God wanted a response.

When I was considering whether to pop the big question to Anna, a vicar said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as you wife.”  This is what the angel said to Joseph.  It’s just a Bible verse, but on that occasion it came to me with a spiritual oomph, and I knew it was speaking into my situation and encouraging me in the direction I took.

When I moved to Cannock in Staffordshire I was asking the LORD, is this right, and the words “let the peace of God guide your heart” came to mind.  And since I had a lot of peace about the whole things I concluded it was a good move.

Hearing the LORD’s guidance in these ways does not mean the abandonment of common sense.  But if we really want to hear God, he will speak to us.

Samuel was a good listener and he learned to hear the LORD.

3.       Samuel was ready for God to speak through him

The third thing I want to say about ‘the God who speaks’ is that God doesn’t just want to speak to us, but he wants to speak through us.  Samuel was ready for God to speak through him.

v11-14 And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears it tingle.  At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end.  For I told him that I would judge his family for ever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.  Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, “the guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.”

This wasn’t an easy message.  In fact Samuel really didn’t want to share it with Eli.  As our society continues to move away from God, so it will become (is becoming) increasingly difficult to bring the message of the gospel.  This is because there is a negative side to the gospel as well as the message of God’s love. But it’s not politically correct to speak about sin these days.  Yet if people are going to know the good news of forgiveness, they also need to know what they need to be forgiven from.

God speaks in many ways.  But the main way, the most unlikely way, even the most foolish way, he has chosen to speak is through his church – that’s you and me.

Are we prepared to let the LORD speak through us?  If so, we need to be a people rooted in prayer and the Bible and be a listening people.

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