This little rubber band has potential. It really does. In fact, when I stretch it, it is the very definition of "potential energy". When I stretch this rubber band it has the potential to do all kinds of things. It has the potential to fly across the room. It has the potential to go really fast and to cause you pain, especially if you are on the front row. When I pull it back, you respect it because you know what it can do. But now, when I stop stretching it, it has no potential. It is worthless. It's just taking up space with no redeeming qualities.
All it can do now is go back to my desk drawer and tell all the other rubber bands about the good old days when it almost flew across the room. It almost did this and did that. It had great potential there for a while. But now it's just pretty pathetic.
Does that sound like anybody you know? We probably have all known someone who failed to live up to their potential; someone who had everything going for them but squandered an opportunity to use it. "Potential" is a word you will hear often on Sunday afternoon during the early part of football season. All the young guys are described as having potential and when somebody has potential on the football field, it is obvious to anyone with an experienced eye.
The coaches see it. The other players see it and even the opposing scouts see it and do their best to plan to do whatever they can to minimize that potential. It's the same way in our spiritual lives. We have often talked about this life being a battle. There are dozens of passages in the Bible that refer to this life as a battle or a war and we are given everything we need to survive and thrive in this battle if we just use what is given to us and live our lives to our full potential.
And we all have great potential to do great things to further the Kingdom of God. We are all given gifts and talents by God that will allow us to do great things that will make the name of Jesus famous. And when we have those gifts we are commanded to use them. If you can sing, sing. If you can teach, teach. If you can clean, organize, prepare, witness, pray, give wise council, whatever you can do, we are told to use that gift to the glory of God.
But I have to warn you: The potential in that gift is seen by all who have an experienced eye, including Satan, and like an opposing scout, he is doing his best to minimize your potential. We are told in I Peter 5:8 that he is a roaring lion looking to devour us and if he can't kill us, he at least wants to keep us from living up to our potential. If at the end of your life all that can be said is, "He had potential", then Satan says that's one for the win column, baby!
There was a young man in the Old Testament who had great potential. He had it all, in fact. He was tall, good-looking, smart, and strong with an humble personality and a noble character; a lot like me in so many ways. But unlike me, he was chosen to be the first king of Israel. And when God told Samuel to anoint Saul, Samuel said that there was no one like him among all the people. Later it says that the Spirit of God dwelled inside Saul.
Now that's potential! This was before Pentacost in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit came on everyone who believed and remained there. In the Old Testament the Spirit would come into some people and not into others and could leave at any time. But Saul had the Spirit of the Living God living inside of him and so his potential just skyrocketed.
Can you imagine what Satan felt as he looked at Saul? Satan is a good judge of potential. He is a great scout for the opposite team. He knows what to look for and I think when he saw Saul he must have been a little nervous. He wasn’t nervous when he saw that Saul was head and shoulders taller than everybody else. He wasn’t intimidated by Saul’s good looks. Satan didn’t much care about Saul’s bloodline or ancestry or what he had done in the past. Satan saw that Saul had the Holy Spirit living inside of him and was very concerned about what Saul might do in the future to further the Kingdom of God.
Unfortunately Satan is a good judge of character and when he sees somebody with that kind of potential he goes to his tried and true playbook and pulls out some trick plays that work all too often. I want to look at 3 things that Satan does to minimize Saul’s potential and I hope we will be able to recognize these plays in our own life so we don’t wind up like Saul, with an empty life that once had so much potential.
Judy kids with me that I always have 3 points in my sermons so that everyone will know it’s a good sermon because everybody knows you need 3 points to have a good sermon. Well I tried this week to find either 2 or 4 things about Saul just to be different but God showed me 3 so I’m going with that.
We will look at 3 different passages in 3 different chapters of the book of I Samuel. I changed it after the bulletins were printed so don’t try to follow that necessarily. First let me tell you what Satan wants us to do or to be and then we will see what the Bible says about these things in the life of Saul.
When these 3 qualities manifest themselves in our lives you can bet that Satan is at work trying to minimize the potential we have to further the Kingdom of God. It worked in the life of Saul and it will work in our lives as well if you allow them to remain. The first thing Satan likes to see in our lives is for us to be worried. The next thing he likes is when we are selfish and the last thing Satan enjoys is when we are jealous. He knows that with those 3 attributes that our potential, as it was for Saul, will be reduced down to nothing and that at the end of our life, people will think of us and say sadly, “They had such potential.”
Turn to I Samuel 13 and let’s read verses 5-15.
Looking at the mismatched numbers, one can understand why Saul would be worried, right? The Philistines had thousands more troops, many with chariots and all of them well-armed and we find out in the passage after this that the Israelites didn’t even have any real weapons! Who wouldn’t be afraid? That’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight with thousands of gunfighters.
And then is one of those times when it didn’t matter how much taller and good-looking Saul was. When all your army has to defend themselves with are sharp sticks and harsh words, it’s going to be a bad day. The good news is that the cavalry is coming. Samuel was the prophet who anointed Saul to be king according to what God told him and it was Samuel that told Saul to wait there at Micmash and don’t do anything and don’t worry about the battle because he would be there in 7 days and he would sacrifice to God and ask for his wisdom and blessing for the battle.
Have you ever been almost patient? Have you ever almost done what you were supposed to do? Have you ever been almost obedient? Do you know what almost-obedience is called? Disobedient. And the reason he was disobedient is because Saul got worried. And he had good reason to be worried as we saw with all those troops coming against him but he also had an even better reason to not be worried.
His troops were scattering like rats from a sinking ship. They had no real weapons. He had to do something. He told Samuel in verse 12 that he felt compelled. “You weren’t here, Samuel. God wasn’t here. And so I had to do something to save the day. I had to do something.”
And so Saul went through the motions of making a sacrifice because he figured that was what needed to be done before God would bless the battle but God wasn’t interested in a cow or a sheep being burned up on an altar. That wasn’t the point. God wanted Saul to wait on God; to have faith that God would prove Himself faithful to do what He said He would do. But Saul got worried and disobeyed God by “acting foolishly” as Samuel said.
Do you think worry is a sin? Does it displease God when we sin? Yes, for one thing His word tells us not to do it. In Philippians 4:6, we are commanded, “Do not be anxious [do not worry] about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” 1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
And that is an incredible promise to us as believers; to have the peace of God and we get that peace when we refuse to worry. But as we see in the life of Saul, the reason that worry is a sin is not just because it robs you of your peace. It’s not because you won’t get a good night’s sleep. The main reason that worry is a sin is not because it affects you but also because it affects the Kingdom of God. Worry leads to trying to do it on your own and that is never the best plan. Worry leads you to do things that will bring dishonor to God, His name and His throne and this family.
Mickey Rivers was an outfielder for the Texas Rangers years ago. His philosophy was this: “Ain’t no sense worrying about things you got control over, because if you got control over them, ain’t no sense worrying about them. And there ain’t no sense worrying about things you ain’t got control over because if you ain’t got control over it there ain’t no sense worrying about them.”
Not exactly Shakespeare and not exactly biblical but pretty good advice. God doesn’t want you to worry but Satan does.
The next thing Satan likes to see in your life is when you are selfish. Turn to chapter 15 and let’s read verse 1-14.
Some time has passed from chapter 13 and we see that Saul is militarily in much better shape. He has gone from 600 men to nearly a quarter of a million. But unfortunately his character is still lacking. God makes it plain what is supposed to happen. Samuel makes it clear that they are to kill every man, woman and child and to destroy everything that had anything to do with the Amalekites.
We saw something very similar in our study of Joshua just last week when God told Joshua to take Jericho and kill and destroy everything in it. And you remember that Achan took some of the bounty for himself and hid it in his tent. Well, Saul took so much stuff he couldn’t hide it in his tent but he did try to cover it up.
But before we go any further with Saul’s selfishness I need to take a time out and I would like to discuss something else we see here because it is also important to us in the times that we live. In a recent Wednesday night study of “What does the Bible say about_______?” we looked at what the Bible says about Israel. It seems very harsh for God to command Joshua and Saul to kill every man, woman and child and all the animals and destroy all the stuff. Without going into a lot of detail, I want you to see why this happened.
Way back in Genesis, God told Abraham, the father of the Jews, that God would bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him. And the thing you need to realize, real quickly, is that you don’t know of anyone who is an Amalekite. You don’t know any Philistines. None of you are related to any Moabites. There is no such thing as a Hitite anymore because of that promise. And for future reference, if you are here this morning and you are from Russia or China or Iraq, just know that God has not changed. It would be very wise to know if you are an American president that God has not changed His mind about Israel.
All of that is for free. It doesn’t have anything to do with being selfish but it is a biblical truth and I just had to touch on it. We will talk more about that later.
So we see that in spite of the clear directive from the Lord Saul keeps for himself all the good stuff from the Amalekites. He keeps the best of sheep and cattle and he also spares the life of the Amalekite king. This was not done from a merciful heart. This was done so he could tie the conquered king to his chariot and lead him around town as a showpiece, to show that Saul was the conqueror and the other king was conquered.
Obviously Saul is pretty pleased with himself. It says in verse 12 that Saul had set up a monument in his own honor. At least Achan had tried to cover it up. He at least had some shame. Saul had none. He had nothing but selfishness. I think it is interesting what Samuel says to Saul when he finally catches up to him on his country-wide “see how great I am” tour.
Saul greets the old prophet with “Hey, Lord bless you. Mission accomplished. I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. Ain’t I somthin’?”
Samuel says to his selfish king, “Then why do I hear sheep and cattle?” If you had done what you are supposed to do then it would be silent around here. I guess Samuel hadn’t seen the king tied to the chariot yet. The biggest problem here is not that Saul took all the good things for himself. It wasn’t so much that God didn’t want Saul to have nice stuff. He didn’t want him to have that stuff. He didn’t want Saul to have anything to do with the Amalekites and that included their stuff.
Let’s look at this from Saul’s point of view. He had worked hard to beat the Amalekites. He conquered the place. He deserved to have some of the spoils of war. And maybe that was true but that’s not the point. At other times God allows them, even commands them to take everything home with them. But the point is that God had a reason for making that demand and when we think even today that God is going to overlook some disobedience; that it’s not that big of a deal, then we are falling into that lie of Satan; that lie that keeps us from reaching our full potential.
Of the 3 character flaws that we are looking at today, I believe this one is the hardest to see in the mirror. None of us think of ourselves as selfish, do we? A little boy and his sister were riding a stick horse together. They galloped around a little while and the little boy stopped and said to his sister, “If one of us would just get off this stick horse it would make more room for me.” But he didn’t think of himself as selfish. It made perfect sense to him and that’s when Satan gets the victory.
Satan loves it when we are worried. He thinks it’s funny when we are selfish and he enjoys watching how things work out for us when we are jealous. Turn to chapter 18. Nobody thinks of themselves as being jealous either. We just think of it as being wise or being careful or being just or even having the spirit of discernment. The Bible calls it sin. Galatians 5:26 says, ““Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” That sure sounds like Saul; conceited, provoking, envying. Look at chapter 18 verses 5-9.
Can’t you just see the scene here? Saul is leading the triumphal parade and David is a few feet behind him. The people are singing and dancing in celebration. Mr. Selfish Saul is full of himself, doing the queen wave as he rides in his big gold chariot. And then he hears this homemade song sung by some ladies as he passes. “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”
Not exactly Top 40 material but it is enough to make Saul jealous. I Corinthians 13 says that if we have love then we won’t be envious. The thing about jealousy and envy is that it, like selfishness is so subtle. We don’t often recognize it in ourselves and it is often one of the last things Satan has up his sleeve.
The Screwtape Letters is a fascinating book of satire written by C.S. Lewis. In it he humorously describes Satan giving advice to one of his demon nephews on how to secure the damnation of a British man known only as “the patient.” The nephew has a difficult time getting the patient to sin. When Satan asks what the problem is the nephew says that the man is completely honorable and humble, not at all proud. Satan then replies that the nephew’s job is to then make the patient proud of being so humble.