A sign of a healthy church is a humble attitude and posture.
The previous book of Judges showed how Israel completely failed to obey God’s covenant commands and fully inherit the promised land. It was a chaotic time period in God’s chosen family’s history that foreshadowed their need for leaders that would be faithful and wise, unlike the judges were.
The story of the book
1 Samuel picks up from the chaos in the book of Judges and tells the story of the process of this need getting dramatically fulfilled. Throughout the book, Israel transitions from a group of tribes ruled by judges to a unified kingdom ruled by King David in Jerusalem.
It opens with a story about a woman named Hannah who’s never been able to have children. But by God’s grace, she finally has a son named Samuel. To mark the occasion, she belted out a tune praising the fact that God humbles the arrogant and lifts up the meek, that He is active in the world despite humanity’s wickedness, and that He will eventually establish a savior king for His people (1 Samuel 2:1-10).
This introduces key themes you see throughout the rest of the book.
Samuel grows up and becomes a great prophet and leader for the people of Israel (1 Samuel 3:20). But when a people group called the Philistines become Israel’s arch-enemies, they have a battle in which the Israelites get arrogant. Instead of asking God for help, they trot out the ark of the covenant under an arrogant assumption they will be victorious.
They seem to believe they are better than their enemies and deserve victory by default because they possess it. So God allows them to lose the battle and the Philistines steal the ark (1 Samuel 4).
God proceeds to defeat the Philistines by Himself, which directly communicates to Israel that they don’t deserve victory and blessing more than anyone else. He opposes pride no matter who you are or think you are. To experience God’s covenant blessing, Israel needs to remain humble and obedient.
But in yet another move of being influenced by the nations around them, the Israelites come to Samuel and ask for a king (1 Samuel 8). Samuel is upset of course because it essentially amounts to a rejection of God’s design for His people. He also understands that there’s no such thing as a perfect human king and Israel will face the consequences of that.
He talks to God about it, and while God confirms it’s not His intention for His people, He’s willing to give them what they want (1 Samuel 8:9).
They go about choosing a tall, good-looking man named Saul. But he also comes with deep character flaws. He lacks honesty, integrity, and the ability to admit when he’s wrong. He wins some battles at the beginning, but his flaws run so deep that he eventually disqualifies himself by blatantly disobeying God.
Samuel had warned them. Now he informs Saul that God is going to bring up a new king to replace him. Saul is brought low while God is working behind the scenes to raise up a new king, who’s an insignificant shepherd boy. God’s choice shows us what matters – humility and trust in Him.
The story told in 1 Samuel embodies all of the themes of Hannah’s poem at the beginning. God opposes Saul and Goliath’s pride while exalting the humble David. He works to accomplish His purposes despite Saul’s blatant disobedience. He also raises up a new king for His people to save them.
Saul’s story is an example of someone who struggles to focus on their own character flaws instead of those of others. David is an example of humility and trust in God in the midst of the most trying circumstances.
God does not show favoritism
Israel got this idea that their character didn’t matter because God was on their side. They believed that he favored them over other humans because of who they were and what He’d done for them. But God shows here that He’s not one to show favoritism.
Paul writes in Romans…
There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:9-11)
Just because he chose their family to be the one through which He would rescue and bless His world again, it doesn’t mean they get special treatment. They had allowed the grace that God bestowed on them to become their platform for arrogance.
Churches today can display this same behavior.
Just like happened to Saul, arrogance blinds groups of people to their own flaws while they focus on the flaws of others. It erodes a reliance on God. This dampens trust in Him and leads to disobedience.
God’s requirement of humility in His chosen family goes all the way back to when He first called Abraham. The people of Babylon were trying to make a great name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). Abraham was a no-name person who simply believed God.
Whenever humans receive God’s blessings, there’s always the temptation and possibility that they’ll choose to get puffed up about it. Israel got arrogant, and their arrogance strangled their obedience because they started to trust more in themselves and their abilities than in their God. They didn’t even ask Him for help in a battle!
Not only that, but then they go and choose Saul as their king. This choice was a further display of their arrogant attitude and posture. Instead of choosing someone that modeled humility and trust in God, they chose someone whose physical stature and makeup was a symbol of arrogance (1 Samuel 9:2).
How a church images God
A sign of health is when a church is humble in their attitude and posture. This will be marked by a lack of boasting, a lack of competitiveness, a rejection of celebrity, pomp, importance and fanfare. When you experience this church, you don’t feel less important than anyone else. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
A sign of church health is when the pursuit of each person is that every other person would feel more important than they are. In this way, they mirror the Persons of God who are always preferring one another. A church is designed to be the image of God.
I’ve been part of churches where the most influential people thought they were God’s gift to the world and almost every other church was inferior to theirs. I’ve also participated in that line of thinking in the past and had to repent of it.
Not only was this attitude and posture displayed toward other churches, I can vividly recall being a part of meetings with “leaders” that would be filled with talking about (and making fun of) the dysfunction of the “non-leaders” in the same church. This kind of behavior is not of the Spirit.
To the world around it, they don’t come off as an elitist group that has life all figured out because they’re a Jesus follower. Instead, they show they realize what Israel did not. They realize it’s 100% God that has rescued them and made them new humans. They carry the reality of that in their attitude and posture. There’s not a whiff of elitism in the bunch.