All of us want to do works that are good and pleasing to God. We also know we should go above and beyond the call of duty and not be unprofitable servants. But sometimes we may feel our extra efforts just don’t seem to reap the spiritual rewards and blessings we feel they should.
The reason may be that we have failed to see and properly understand that most basic principle of all regarding how to please God—and that is the fact that He considers obedience, simple obedience, better than sacrifice.
The classic example of this, and the story from which we get the this phrase, is in I Samuel 15.
We all know the story. God, through Samuel, instructed Saul to go and smite the Amalekites and utterly destroy all that pertained to them. But Saul and the people spared Agag, the Amalekite king, and all the best of the livestock. Then, when Samuel came on the scene, Saul claimed he had obeyed God and said it was the people who had spared the best of the sheep and oxen that should have been sacrificed to God.
Then Samuel, in verse 22, said: “ 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 heed than the fat of rams.” And in verse 26 we see the result of Saul’s disobedience—God rejected him from being king over Israel.
God punished Saul very severely, not only for disobeying, but also for his attitude. Saul thought that if he made a great sacrifice to God, that it would cause God to forget Saul’s disobedience to His simple command to exterminate the Amalekites and all their livestock.
Of course that was a single incident long ago, but does the principle apply today? Human nature hasn’t changed. And Old Testament examples are there for our admonition.
Less Than Ethical
I remember an example of this sort of thing many years ago, when I was a youngster in Texas. My father worked for a Chevrolet dealership, and the owner was quite a wealthy man, who was noted for being less than ethical in some of his business dealings.
The man developed serious heart trouble and knew that he was going to die soon. Just before he died he gave huge amounts of money to the large church of which he was a member. At his funeral some people were making the comment that, “the old (expletive deleted) was just trying to buy his way out of hell!”
Of course we can’t know what was in the man’s heart, but that is what some people accused him of doing.
The principle God gave in I Samuel 15 certainly still applies today. I, and several other Ambassador College students, learned a lesson about this principle the hard way many years ago.
This involved a Freshman Speech class in Pasadena. Some of us had been negligent in our regular assignments during the semester, and we thought we could make up for it at the last minute by doing some extra credit papers.
Not only did we fail to raise our grades by this effort, but the teacher actually lowered our grades for thinking we could make up for our lack of diligence by doing this extra credit work at the last minute. I have never forgotten that embarrassing little incident.
Doing The Simple Things
So when we begin to think of ways we can do great things for God, we should first ask ourselves whether we are doing the simple things of obedience expected of us. God expects us to do the simple day-to-day things. This includes prayer, Bible study, fasting, tithing, honoring the Sabbath properly, controlling our thoughts and our tongue, working on our own personal weaknesses and getting along with one another.
In connection with getting along with one another, Christ gave some instruction in the Sermon on the Mount that shows that very same principle of obedience being better than sacrifice.
This is found in Matthew 5: 23-24: “ Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
So it is the simple things we know we should do that mean more than any great gift, sacrifice or service we might give to God. Sacrifices are good, but should never be used as substitutes for simple obedience.
The First Commandment
And there is another scripture that wraps up the point very well. It is in Mark 12: 28-34. It is the story of the scribe who came to Christ and asked Him which was the first commandment of all. Christ proceeded to explain the scriptures about love towards God and love towards fellow man. The scribe agreed and said those things were more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. Then, in verse 34, Christ saw that he had answered wisely, and said: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
So that shows just how important this principle is. Simple obedience must come first, and then we can give our sacrifices, which will then be acceptable to God.
by Bill Eastburn