If our message is, “Stop being gay,” we’ve missed the Gospel and Christ’s sufficiency.

You have heard the quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” The quote is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, though he never said anything like this. The quote is pseudepigraphal (false writing) and contradicts what Francis actually taught,

“No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister … All the Friars … should preach by their deeds” (Rule of 1221, Chapter XII).

He taught that we must use words to preach the Gospel with gentleness and respect while not living in such a way that contradicts the Gospel we preach. In every place in Scripture, the Gospel is proclaimed and people are called to repentance. For some reason, Christians today look for every excuse not to explicitly, gently, and respectfully call worldly people to repentance in response to the explicit, spoken Gospel. They even go as far as to invent quotes that contradict Scripture and attribute them to people who would never speak that way. Why? Is it so we can justify our own lifestyles, religiosity, comfort, preferences, and status? Is this why we lie to ourselves about what God desires? Is this why we see the most popular self help books are the ones with titles like:

Girl, Stop Apologizing

Own Your Everyday

The Greatest You

Finding Your Own North Star

You are a Bada**

100 Days to Brave

The Universe Has Your Back

Do you notice something similar about all of these titles? Some are secular and some are religious, but all of them are essentially the same. If I wanted to sell a book or claim instant fame, I would write or speak a message in which I reveal how anyone can live a happy, satisfied, and successful life with minimal effort and without having to change. I would be an instant hit. Like these books, it would not benefit anyone. Such is the human-centered religion of our own day and, sadly, even most “Christian” quotes and book titles reflect this sort of vain religiosity.

In this section of the story, we have seen God working in a way that is so different from what we might expect, but it is the way that God works, and we continue the story.

1 Samuel 6:13-7:2

Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they raised their eyes and saw the ark and were glad to see it. The cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite and stood there where there was a large stone; and they split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. The Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the box that was with it, in which were the articles of gold, and put them on the large stone; and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices that day to the Lord.

When the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned to Ekron that day. These are the golden tumors which the Philistines returned for a guilt offering to the Lord: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron; and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages. The large stone on which they set the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite.

He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter.

The men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?”

So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down and take it up to you.”

And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took the ark of the Lord and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. From the day that the ark remained at Kiriath-jearim, the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.

The things we celebrate (6:13-18)

The Philistines had captured the ark and we discovered that God was working even the capture of His ark together according to His own will, to accomplish His purpose, and for His own glory both among the Israelites and among the Philistines. The Philistines would never accept God. They would never know Him or understand Him. They would see His strength, power, and the riches of His glory. Even among unbelievers, God is making these things known. It is why we preach the Gospel to everyone. The Philistines encountered God and rejected Him because God was not interested in sharing His glory with anyone. So, they sent the ark away with a guilt offering as described in Leviticus 5.

Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they raised their eyes and saw the ark and were glad to see it. The cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite and stood there where there was a large stone; and they split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. The Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the box that was with it, in which were the articles of gold, and put them on the large stone; and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices that day to the Lord.

The Israelites in Beth-shemesh do the outwardly religious stuff. They celebrate the return of God’s ark. Here we are transitioning from observing a people who reject God outright, the Philistines, back to the nation of Israel and to a people who consider themselves to be God’s people. These people have this outward form of religiosity, something that looks very Hebrew and hold to a form of worship that looks very biblical.

According to Leviticus 5, guilt offerings, including the price of retribution, were to be brought to the priest. The priest would accept the retribution payment and make the sacrifice on behalf of the people. Here we see the Beth-shemites offering up this sacrifice on a makeshift alter. The Levites (the priestly tribe) are not making the sacrifice on behalf of the Philistines. Instead, they are concerned with moving the ark of God’s covenant. So, again in the first book of Samuel, we witness the Levites refusing their lawful responsibilities according to God’s instruction.

As we have been discovering, there are so many times the church today ignores God’s instruction in order to do something else that seems religious but is actually entirely contrary to God’s word. It is human-centered rather than Christ-centered, and we have become spiritual hoarders.

The Beth-shemites also celebrate the return of God’s ark. Their worship is, again, misplaced. They, like the unbelieving Philistines, worship the things of God rather than God. The whole city, with its outward religiosity, looks like the unbelieving nation, wanting the things of God their own way. In the same way, many people who claim to be Christians in our day and those who are unbelievers and who claim to be irreligious and who claim to worship any number of other gods are the same. They want to look good and they want to celebrate good things, but they live their lives without any true meaning. The things they do are vain and don’t actually profit them or anyone else.

When the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned to Ekron that day. These are the golden tumors which the Philistines returned for a guilt offering to the Lord: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron; and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages. The large stone on which they set the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite.

The Philistines turn around and go home. Even though they had experienced the things of God and even though they had seen God’s power, they remained an unbelieving people. Such is the case for all of those who do not belong to God. Even if they see the things of God, they will not believe because they are unable. Jesus taught about this in Luke 16:27-31,

“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

Again, we see that our strategies, tactics, music, and every other outwardly religious thing is insufficient. If people to not believe at the hearing of God’s word in response to God’s conviction, they will not be persuaded by anything- even if someone rises from the dead.

The holiness of God (6:19-21)

He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter.

God defeats Israel, again, at Beth-shemesh. This is a difficult verse. Once again, it is not difficult to interpret or translate. It is difficult to accept that a loving God would do something like this regardless of the number of people. Here, I simply want to explain God’s just nature and the truth of His Gospel as He has revealed in His word.

Deuteronomy 7:9-11

“Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them.”

In the Law, God wrote through Moses that He keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him. He connected the keeping of His commandments with love for Him. From early in the Biblical story we know that if someone really and truly loves God, that love for God produces obedience in the life of the believer. Obedience is the fruit of genuine love. Conversely, this means that those who do not strive to live obedient lives to God show that they do not love God. Disobedience is the fruit of hate or any type of ingenuine love. In the case of the Beth-shemites, this meant that they are doing stuff that looks religious and biblical, but God is not being honored as holy. It is not an explicit, outspoken hatred. It is an ingenuine form of love that revealed the hearts of the Beth-shemites.

The Law was never about making people righteous but about drawing the people of God into a love for God. Genuine love has always been the prerequisite, and obedience has always been the fruit. This has not changed. We either love God or hate Him. God is just.

Jesus will get at the same truth as He teaches His disciples.

John 14:7-15

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

Proper belief in God produces works, and love for Christ produces obedience to Him. Obedience is the fruit of genuine love for God. When we look to 1 John 4:19, we see that the Gospel writer will clearly state that the only reason we love is because God first loved us. So, we see that if we do not have a genuine love for God as a gift given first by God’s loving us, we will not care to obey God or to do the real and true things of God. We may reject the things of God and the Law of God, or we may do things that look religious. If we love God, then we see that we love God because we genuinely care about obeying Him. We do not have to convince ourselves to do the right things or to give up certain things or lifestyles or try to justify our current preferences or lifestyles. If we love God, we come to care about what God wants and why. As we discovered previously, we are the children in this relationship, not the parents.

The Law was given so that when we disobey, we might recognize our unrighteousness and our lack of love for the God to whom our devotion rightly belongs. He is king. When we lie, when we speak any word in vain, when we defend any manner of unnatural human sexuality, when we fail to be generous, when we murder, when we practice religion in order to gain or celebrate something for ourselves; we see the hatred toward God that is in our hearts. God’s word stands as a testimony against us. The Scripture is clear. We are unable to overcome any of these things. The homosexual can’t simply stop being a homosexual. The liar can’t simply stop lying. So, this can’t be our message concerning human sin. This sort of message is contrary to the Scriptures. Instead we have to say, “Please recognize your sin. Understand that you are unrighteous and without hope of becoming righteous. Receive God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus. God will receive all glory and He is working all things together for the good of His people.”

The men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?”

So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down and take it up to you.”

The people recognize God’s holiness in contrast to their religious celebration.

It is amazing to me that God has not only been doing this with the Israelites. Throughout history, God has been doing things in such a way as to make His power and the riches of His glory known. I want to put this in the context of evangelism. Today we have mass media- television, blogs, podcasts, and internet. God has graciously given us these things as avenues through which to preach His word. We ought to utilize every tool available to us in a God-honoring way. These tools did not always exist. Before high speed internet, there was dial-up. Before internet and television and radio, there was print. Before the printing press, there was the Roman road. Before the Roman road, God migrated His people from place to place so that they would be forced to have conflict with other nations for the purpose of making Himself known. God has always been doing evangelism among the nations, among His chosen people and among the reprobate. 

Like the Philistines, the Israelites at Beth-shemesh send the ark away. When God deals with hearts, when He gets at real things, so many people and groups are so quick to reject God and to reject the things of God.

Lament as true worship (7:1-2)

And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took the ark of the Lord and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. From the day that the ark remained at Kiriath-jearim, the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.

Some of God’s chosen national people are loved by God and, as a result, love God and care about honoring God. This physical remnant from among Israel is a picture of the spiritual remnant from among all peoples. While there are many people who refer to themselves as “Christian,” we know that many merely hold to some religious for that they identify as Christian religion. In our devotional commentary, we make these realizations:

What surprises me, here, is that God is making His power known against the Philistines and against the Israelites. He is declaring His holiness. We often expect God to be on our side, to defend us, to protect us against our enemies, and to bless the plans we have made or favor the way we think things ought to be. 

God shows no favoritism, no partiality. He is not preoccupied with taking sides. He is holy. He is all sufficient. He is the one who works all things together, including both death and life. Maybe instead of expecting the God of the universe to be on our team, we should ask ourselves whether or not we are on His team following His direction and striving to understand rightly what He wants. God is God, and there is no other. 

What is our response? True repentance and worship is marked by lament. When is the last time we lamented over our sin and the sin of others? When is the last time, instead of being judgmental, we gently and respectfully called the world to repentance?

Beginning in January, I want to begin practicing communion on a weekly basis. The Lord’s supper symbolizes our constant reminder that we are all sinners covered by God’s grace. It reminds us that we, in spite of our sin, are covered by God’s grace. It draws us to repentance and to reorient our lives to God, that we may honor Him.

Maybe it is time for us to declutter, take personal spiritual inventories, and take a spiritual inventory of the church. Are we madly in love with God, or do we prove that we hate Him?

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