Sunday, 18 September 2016

'Believe in yourself less and Jesus more' (1 Samuel 17)

Rebecca Manley-Pippert tells of a time when she went to a lecture given by a very successful entrepreneur.  This woman began her lecture by asking the crowd, most of whom were Christian businessmen and women: ‘how many of you believe in yourselves one-hundred percent?’  No hands were raised.  ‘Okay, then how many of you believe in yourselves ninety-five percent, or ninety percent?’  Some hands went up.

The entrepreneur then said, ‘Where did Jesus’ success come from?  It came from believing in himself one hundred percent – and so must you!  Ninety-five percent is not good enough!  Follow Jesus’ example and believe in yourself one-hundred percent!’
Rebecca Manly-Pippert watched in astonishment as the crowd applauded with enthusiasm.  So she raised her hand and said, ‘excuse me, but do you really think Jesus spent his time on earth trying to help people believe in themselves?  I’m sure Jesus was self-confident.  But then if I was God I’d be a lot more self-confident too … However … isn’t our problem today that we believe in ourselves too much?  I fear you are taking away the very thing that brings us to the truth and enables us to see our need for God – the realisation of our own inadequacy.’
I agree with Becky!  The passage that we are studying teaches us that we should believe in ourselves less and trust God more.
Our champion has won the battle  
The great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon explained how he read the Bible by declaring, ‘I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one … for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.’ 
Spurgeon is looking at the Bible the way Jesus did.  You see, after the resurrection, the risen Jesus met two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and beginning with Moses and all the prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27).  These disciples later exclaimed, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ (Luke 24:32).  When we see that the whole of the Bible points to Jesus it should thrill us!
There is some debate as to how various details in this story might point to Jesus, so I am going to keep it very simple.  This is a story of God’s champion standing before the enemy and saving his people. 
Goliath was asking Israel for what was known in the eastern world as a representative battle.  He was challenging them to find a champion to represent them in a fight.  The winner would bring victory for their whole nation.  But Israel had no champion.  They had put all their hope in Saul, a man who was a foot higher than anyone else in the country.  But a seven foot man is no solution for a nine foot problem.  Then up steps David, stands alone before the giant, trusts God and saves his people.  In the same way the Son of David went alone into battle for us, and through his death and resurrection he has won the victory.
He has won the victory over guilt.  Our accuser constantly reminds us of our sin.  But Jesus washes us in his blood.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!
He has also one the victory over death.  One writer in the Huffington Post says, ‘as we reach our fifties, it is common to start worrying about our mortality ... Some may even come to fear death, no matter how far it is the future.’ She suggests that we look to the various religious leaders and mystics, who may not tell you, with certainty, what happens after you die, but who can prepare you for the afterlife.  Jesus does speak with certainty on the issue—warning of the eternal hell our sin deserves and inviting us to experience the eternal life his victory has prepared for us.  Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).  He has destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is the devil (Hebrews 2:14).
We can live in the light of Jesus’ victory
I want to focus on just one aspect of Jesus’ victory: we can overcome temptation because Christ died for us.  Not only has Jesus’s victory taken the punishment for our sin, it has freed us from slavery to sin.  I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20).  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For the one who died has set us free from sin (Romans 6:6-7). 
Look at the army of Israel.  Before their champion stepped up to the plate they were helpless.  They were defeated and downhearted.  After their champion has triumphed they step out in battle.  We can have victory in light of champion’s victory.  Defeat is not inevitable.  But how do we live as overcomers?
The first thing to do is get your motivation right.  David sets us an example in the fact that, like Jesus, he is passionate about God’s glory.  He wants the world to see that our God saves.  One Bible-teacher explains that the driving concern of this story is the honour God’s name.  David is concerned about God’s reputation. 
One reason we are weak in the face of temptation is that our motivation is skewed.  We want to overcome that besetting sin, and change that character flaw, because we are sick of the shame, and we don’t like feeling bad about ourselves.  But such shame is rooted in pride—we think that we are better than this.  It is time to think less of yourself and more of God.
Our passion for holiness needs to be motivated by the fact that we have beheld God’s beauty and we want the world to share what we have seen.  We can be honest about our failings because our honesty magnifies the fact that our gracious God gave his Son for failed people like us and continues to keep us though we let him down.  We also want to be made more like Jesus so that the angels in heaven and people on earth can see that our God is the one with the power to make his people beautiful.
Having worked on your motivation for overcoming sin we need to think about the weapons we will use in the battle.  When you depend on your strength, you will fail.  When we depend of God’s strength we will overcome.  We need to believe less in ourselves and trust more in Christ.
Sadly, one of the reasons we are weak in the face of temptation is that we are too like Saul.  Saul was an impressive leader who was a head taller than anyone else in Israel.  The problem is that it is little use being seven-foot tall when you are facing a nine-foot problem.  The human impossibility of the situation should have driven Saul to his knees.  However, even when David steps up to the plate, Saul’s preoccupation is to get him kitted out with manmade armour and a manmade sword. 
Compare that with David who acknowledges that it is not the accuracy of his sling-shot that matters.  He remembers that in the past it was the Lord, ‘who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear and will deliver me from the hand of the Philistines’ (37).  Rebecca Manly-Pippert says, ‘David lived like a man who knew that God is real, which is why he is always praying’ (as we see when we read his psalms).
But I prayed when the temptation came and I still fell into sin.  Maybe that is because we waited until the crisis before we prayed.  David didn’t simply pray on the day of the battle.  During all those hours alone with the sheep David had developed intimacy with God.  He mediated on the God of grace.  He sang of his beauty.  He delighted in his presence.  Read the gospels and you will soon see the priority that Jesus gives to a life soaked in prayer.  If Jesus gathered strength from prayer then surely we need to do so too. 
In a book entitled ‘Saving Grace’, John Miller writes that when we come to the end of ourselves we need to consider where our faith is centred.  ‘If any problem seems unbeatable, check whether your immobilization is a result of your trusting in the wrong thing.  If your faith is centred in yourself, you are trusting in the flesh.  Know the power of your Saviour and his salvation.  The one who lives in you has all power … Develop confidence in the greatness of who you have in Christ … Begin to ask God for grace; pray that he would change how you think and what you desire.’ 
I began by saying that we need to believe in ourselves less and trust God more.  We need to realise that we will only overcome when we live in the light of Christ’s victory.  Our champion has stepped into the battle and won.  He has not only taken the punishment for our sin, he has freed us from the slavery to sin.
Let me tell you of a time when believing too much in myself and not trusting in Christ for victory lead to spectacular defeat for me.
In sixth year in school, I was a fairly weak Christian, if I was a Christian at all.  Having being useless at sports for most of my life I had become reasonably good at rugby.  I managed to make the school’s first team—being the weakest player on a reasonably poor team at a relativity humble rugby school.  However, I felt like I was living the dream.  And I got to go on tour.
On the bus in Scotland someone explained that there was an unofficial award for the person who made the biggest fool of themselves on tour.  I remember thinking, ‘I will be the last person in this squad to win that award.’  In pride I believed too much in me!  To my shame I discovered that I could not handle drink, spent a lot of tour drunk, made a complete fool of myself and was judged by the rest of the team to be the person who had made the biggest fool of themselves.
Don’t believe in yourself.  Believe that there but for the grace of God go I.  Therefore, let anyone who thinks he is strong take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).
Christ has won the victory.  He has freed you from the price and power of sin.  Failure in no longer inevitable!  God promises that you will never face a temptation that has greater power than the power that Christ offers to work within you.  But the proud know nothing of this power.  So believe in yourself less and trust God more.  Ask him to give you a passion for his glory and don’t simply wait until the heat of the battle before you fall on your knees in prayer.

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