Used by God

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1 Samuel 11:1-15 (Saul rescues Jabesh Gilead)

INTRODUCTION: Our series is called “The Rise and Fall of Saul” and we have been tracing Saul’s rise to leadership. When we began the series Saul was just a young man out looking for donkeys. But then we saw how God anointed him and called him into service. Last week we saw his rise to leadership as the first king of Israel, and now today we will see how he was used by God in that role for the first time. (Read 1 Samuel 11:4-6 and pray.)

Last week when we looked at Saul’s rise to leadership, we said that all of us are called to leadership in some form. All of us are called to have a good and godly influence on those God has placed around us. Last week we looked at how we get there. How do we rise to leadership in a way that is spiritually healthy and biblically sound? This week we want to answer a different question. What do we do once we get there? What are some of the primary characteristics of a spiritual leader?

Today’s message is called “Used by God.” And as Christians this should be one of our deepest desires – that we would be used by God to further his kingdom. Last week we saw Saul rise to leadership. Now this week we see him rise to the occasion. This is Saul’s first opportunity to act as leader of his people, and he does admirably well.

And once again, we see that God gives Saul everything he needs to rule well. He calls him into office; he affirms his kingship; he equips him with his Holy Spirit. In every way God sets Saul up for success. And so when Saul fails, as he eventually will, it is not God’s fault, but the responsibility will rest firmly on Saul’s shoulders and his own personal choices.

So what are some of the characteristics of spiritual leaders? What does it mean to be a spiritual leader who is used by God? As we look at Saul’s successful first run as king, we find three important characteristics of spiritual leaders who are used by God: 1) Spiritual leaders care about people’s problems, 2) Spiritual leaders take action, and 3) Spiritual leaders bring people together.

I. Spiritual leaders care about people’s problems (1-6)

So let’s begin with the first one. Spiritual leaders care about people’s problems. And there are several points we can look at here.

   A. They recognize that people need help (1-3)
      – Job 5:7; John 15:18-19, 16:33

First of all, they recognize that people need help. Let’s take a look at the beginning of our passage now in 1 Samuel 11:1-3:

Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, “Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you.” 2 But Nahash the Ammonite replied, “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.” 3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you.” (1 Samuel 11:1-3)

The people of Jabesh Gilead were in a tight spot. They were under siege. They were willing to make a treaty, which probably means they would have to pay taxes to the Ammonites. But then Nahash, the king of the Ammonites, decides to play a diabolical game of “Let’s Make a Deal” with them instead. He would only drop the siege if they would let him gouge out the right eye of each man in the city.

Well that’s a horrible deal. By taking out the right eye Nahash wanted to bring shame on Israel as well as hamper their ability to take military action in the future. So the elders of Jabesh Gilead made a counter proposal: “Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, then we will surrender to you.” I guess the thought here was if no one came to their rescue, it was better to lose your eye than to die. (Jesus said something similar in the New Testament – Matthew 5:29)

Surprisingly King Nahash agrees to their proposal. Either he doesn’t expect anyone to help, or he believes he can win against the rest of Israel as well. Either way his arrogance will be his undoing.

The people of Jabesh Gilead needed help, and spiritual leaders recognize that people need help. We all have problems, and we all need help. When you walk into church on a Sunday morning, you may think you are the only one with problems, but it’s not true. Everyone has problems. We read in Job 5:7: “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7) Even Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

As Christians we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Satan hates Christians, and the world hates Christians as well. Jesus said in John 15: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) This gruesome attack on Israel was a direct attack on the people of God. It was part of the spiritual battle that has been going on ever since Genesis 3.

Spiritual leaders recognize that people need help to overcome their problems. In fact a major theme of this whole chapter in 1 Samuel 11 is the theme of salvation or rescue or deliverance. The theme of rescue shows up in all three major sections of this chapter: you find it in verse 3, in verse 9 and then again in verse 13. We all have problems, and we all need help with our problems. Spiritual leaders recognize that people need help.

   B. They are willing to get involved (4-5)
      – Philippians 1:23-24

But spiritual leaders go beyond just recognizing the need. They are also willing to get involved. Look at verses 4-5:

When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. 5 Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, “What is wrong with the people? Why are they weeping?” Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said. (1 Samuel 11:4-5)

Saul was out plowing when the message came. He’s king, but he’s still not sure exactly what he’s supposed to be doing yet. That’s okay, God will guide him, just like God will guide you when you commit to serving him. But when he comes in and finds everyone weeping, he immediately throws himself into the mix. He asks what’s wrong. He shows concern. He is willing to get involved.

Spiritual leaders do not remain on the sidelines, but they get involved with their people. I think of Paul who when facing possible death in prison wrote to the Philippians: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:23-24) Paul wasn’t afraid of dying. He knew it was better for him to depart and be with Christ. But he knew it was better for the Philippians that he remain and serve. The Philippians needed help, and Paul was willing to get involved.

   C. They rely on the Holy Spirit (6)
      – Zechariah 4:6

Spiritual leaders recognize that people need help. They are willing to get involved. But then thirdly, they rely on the Holy Spirit. Going back to 1 Samuel 11, look at verse 6:

When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger. (1 Samuel 11:6)

We saw last week after Saul became king, some troublemakers questioned his abilities and asked: “How can this man save us?” Now we learn the answer. How can Saul save them? Only by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes upon Saul in power, similar to what happened to the various judges in the book of Judges. Saul is empowered by the Holy Spirit to deliver Israel from the Ammonites.

Spiritual leaders care about people and their problems, but they rely on the Holy Spirit. They are willing to get involved, but they avoid having a savior mentality. They do not try to serve in their own strength but rather in the power of the Holy Spirit. They cling to verses like Zechariah 4:6: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6) When we try to do God’s work in our own strength, we burn out quickly and fail. When you rely on the Holy Spirit to do God’s work, that’s when you will truly be used by God to help others.

So that’s our first characteristic of a spiritual leader this morning. They genuinely care about people and their problems.

II. Spiritual leaders take action (7-11)

Our second characteristic is this: Spiritual leaders take action. There is no such thing as a passive leader. Leaders not only recognize the problems people are facing, but they take concrete steps of action to help them. The rest of Israel sat around weeping when they heard about the men of Jabesh Gilead, but Saul took action. In this next section of our passage, there are at least four action steps of a spiritual leader that we can trace in Saul’s story.

   A. They rally people to action (7-8)
      – Ephesians 4:11-12

First of all, spiritual leaders rally people to action. They don’t try to do it all themselves, but they rally the people to do the work God has called them to do. Look at verses 7-8 in our passage:

He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they turned out as one man. 8 When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and the men of Judah thirty thousand. (1 Samuel 11:7-8)

Saul had to act fast. Jabesh Gilead was 42 miles away, which means it took a couple days for the messengers to get there, and it would take couple days to get back. And they only have a week. So Saul cuts up a pair of oxen and sends the pieces throughout Israel saying this is what will happen to you if you don’t show up to help. Notice Saul includes Samuel in his call to action. Later on Samuel and Saul will have a parting of their ways, but for now they are working together in unison for the good of God’s people.

The fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they all come out to fight. Saul suddenly has an army 330,000 strong. He gathers the troops at Bezek, which was an excellent choice for a staging area. Bezek was about ten miles west of Jabesh Gilead, so it was far enough away to escape notice, yet near enough to attack.

Saul rallied the people to action. If you can’t rally people to action, then you’re not a leader. A leader by definition must have followers. If you don’t have followers, you’re not leading; you’re just taking a walk!

Now your call to action will look very different from Saul’s. You probably won’t be slaughtering a cow and sending out a thousand quarter-pounders to convince your people to come together. But as a leader you must still call people to action. We read in Ephesians 4: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11-12) God gives the church spiritual leaders in order to prepare God’s people for works of service. Spiritual leaders rally people to action.

   B. They choose faith over fear (9a)
      – Joshua 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:7

Secondly, they choose faith over fear. Look at verse 9:

They told the messengers who had come, “Say to the men of Jabesh Gilead, ‘By the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be delivered.’ ” (1 Samuel 11:9a)

This is a strong statement of faith based on God’s promise of deliverance as indicated by God’s Spirit coming upon Saul in power. When God is with you, you do not need to be afraid. Remember God’s words to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Or Paul’s words to Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Spiritual leaders are not afraid to take risks. They are not afraid to step out in faith. Their trust is firmly in the Lord, and they choose faith over fear every time. Faith leads to action, while fear leads to inaction. Spiritual leaders choose faith over fear.

   C. They encourage people with God’s promises (9b-10)
      – Joshua 23:14; Romans 15:4

And then a third way that spiritual leaders take action is they encourage people with God’s promises. They not only claim God’s promises for themselves, but they encourage other people with God’s promises as well. Look at verses 9-10:

When the messengers went and reported this to the men of Jabesh, they were elated. 10 They said to the Ammonites, “Tomorrow we will surrender to you, and you can do to us whatever seems good to you.” (1 Samuel 11:9b-10)

When the men of Jabesh heard God’s promise of deliverance, they were elated. They were lifted up. They were encouraged. They even began to spread some military disinformation among the Ammonites. They told them: “We’ll surrender to you tomorrow, and then you can do whatever you want with us.” The word translated “surrender” in verse 10 is a word that simply means: “We will go out to you.” So there’s an ambiguity to the statement. The Ammonites thought they meant, “We will go out and surrender,” when the people of Jabesh knew that they really meant: “We will march out to you in victory!”

Spiritual leaders are always pointing people back to God’s word and God’s amazing promises. When the leader Joshua was ready to die, what did he tell the people? He reminded them of God’s promises. Look at Joshua 23: “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” (Joshua 23:14) The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 15:4 that: “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

   D. They use wise planning and strategy (11)
      – Romans 12:8; 1 Corinthians 12:28

How do spiritual leaders take action? 1) They rally people to action, 2) They choose faith over fear, 3) They encourage people with God’s promises, and then finally 4) They use wise planning and strategy. Look at verse 11:

The next day Saul separated his men into three divisions; during the last watch of the night they broke into the camp of the Ammonites and slaughtered them until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together. (1 Samuel 11:11)

Saul didn’t rely blindly on God’s promise, but he did his part, too. He used strategy. He organized the men. He divided them into three groups and had them attack the Ammonites from three different directions simultaneously during the last watch of the night, which was sometime between 2-6 a.m. He led a surprise attack before dawn which resulted in a crushing victory against the Ammonites.

Spiritual leaders rely on the Holy Spirit, but they also use wise planning and strategy. This is the blood, sweat and tears of leadership. This is the hard work of planning, administrating and organizing that is part and parcel of any good leadership. Spiritual leaders practice wise stewardship of their available resources in order to accomplish the goals set before them.

We see this reflected in the various lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament. Romans 12:8 says: “… if it is leadership, let him govern diligently.” (Romans 12:8) That word translated “diligently” means to work hard, to expend effort, to do your very best. 1 Corinthians 12:28 speaks of “…those with gifts of administration.” (1 Corinthians 12:28) The word translated “administration” comes from a word that means to guide or steer a ship. The captain of the ship doesn’t let go of the wheel and ask God to steer. The captain grabs hold of the wheel with both hands and asks the God to guide him through the storm.

Spiritual leadership is more than just trusting God to do all the work. Spiritual leadership trusts God to do the work through you as you do all that you can to make the work successful. Spiritual leader use wise planning and strategy.

III. Spiritual leaders bring people together (12-15)

So far we have looked at two key characteristics of spiritual leaders. 1) Spiritual leaders care about people’s problems. 2) Spiritual leaders take action. And now we come to the third one. 3) Spiritual leaders bring people together. And we find two examples of how they do this in the final section of our passage.

   A. They keep people’s focus on the Lord (12-13)
      – Hebrews 12:1-2

First of all, they keep people’s focus on the Lord. Whenever we take our eyes off Jesus, that’s when divisions occur. Spiritual leaders keep people’s focus on the Lord. Look at verses 12-13:

The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring these men to us and we will put them to death.” 13 But Saul said, “No one shall be put to death today, for this day the LORD has rescued Israel.” (1 Samuel 11:12-13)

Saul chose not to punish the troublemakers who had questioned his authority. Instead, he focused the people’s attention on the Lord. This wasn’t a time to punish people. This was a time to celebrate! Notice that Saul gave all the glory to God. “For this day the LORD has rescued Israel!” The people wanted a lynching, but Saul brought them together by focusing their attention on the Lord.

   B. They earn the respect and support of the people (14-15)
      – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Spiritual leaders bring people together by keeping people’s focus on the Lord. And then secondly, they bring people together by earning the respect and support of the people. Look at verses 14-15:

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there reaffirm the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and confirmed Saul as king in the presence of the LORD. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the LORD, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration. (1 Samuel 11:14-15)

Saul had earned the people’s respect by providing solid spiritual leadership in the face of a terrible crisis. Now Samuel gathers everyone at Gilgal to reaffirm the kingship. Notice the phrase “all the people.” Saul had won over his critics with his actions. Notice the focus is still on the Lord as they sacrifice fellowship offerings before the Lord. It is good to celebrate your successes and to give thanks to the Lord.

Paul in the New Testament also spoke about spiritual leaders earning the respect and support of the people. We read in 1 Thessalonians 5: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13) According to Paul it was not just their position that garnered respect, but the fact that they worked hard to serve the people as God had called them.

CONCLUSION: God confirmed his call in Saul’s life as king when he used him in a mighty way to deliver his people. Saul had been anointed, called and now he was used by God. Do you know the ultimate affirmation that God has called you to serve in a particular way or area? When God uses you to minister to others.

Once again Jesus is our greatest example of someone who was used by God. Jesus cares about us and our problems. When we were lost in our sins, he not only cared but he did something. He took action. He died on the cross for our sins that we might be forgiven. And then Jesus brings his people together in the body of Christ that we might serve and glorify God as one people united by the Spirit for all of eternity.

We need spiritual leaders today who care about people and their problems, who are willing to take action, and who are gifted at bringing people together. There is no greater privilege than to be used by God to serve other people.

© Ray Fowler

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