Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 7, Number 29, July 17 to July 23, 2005

Hope Rising

1 Samuel 3:1—4:1

By Rev. Russell B. Smith

Covenant-First Presbyterian Church
717 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202

In our studies so far, we have been working our way through Samuel, seeing how God graciously blesses ordinary people when he's up to big things. He transformed the pain of Hannah into blessing, and he planted seeds of hope even while Israel was suffering under the tyranny of Eli's sons Hophni and Phineas. Now in 1 Samuel 3:1—4:1, we will see how God grows the seeds of hope into the new leadership of Israel. The main point in this passage is that God takes the initiative in raising up leadership. God identifies whom he will speak to, God gives his leaders a specific calling, and God makes their efforts effective.

God develops his leaders. This is what we see in verses 1-10. We have this sweet little story about God calling out to Samuel in the middle of the night, and him mistaking the voice of God for the voice of Eli. This happens twice. Verse 7 explains it, saying, "The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him." Then, finally, Eli understands what is going on and instructs Samuel how to respond. Get this: Eli discerns the calling on Samuel's life before Samuel does. Eli is the first one to understand what God is doing, and he gently uses his close relationship to instruct Samuel how to respond. The story gives a wonderful picture of one of the ways God develops his leaders: through the relationships he places in their lives.

God places important figures in the lives of his leaders, figures who, through their wisdom and encouragement and gentle admonition, shape the course of these leaders. Moses had his father-in-law Jethro; David had Nathan the prophet; Abraham had Melchizedek. Ultimately, we all stand on the shoulders of giants — the giants of the faith who have gone before us and have personally invested in us. I wouldn't be here today if in college I hadn't received a letter from my Uncle Lewis suggesting that I might have a call to ministry. I ran from that call for four years after college, but finally realized it was true.

A friend and I were talking after a recent chili cook-off. We were doing ministry shop-talk when he called to my attention John Newton, the slave ship master whom Jesus transformed into a great pastor and hymn writer. Newton poured himself into one William Wilberforce. Everyone was encouraging Wilberforce to give up his law career and enter the ministry, but Newton encouraged him to follow his law career because of the great calling he sensed on his life there. Wilberforce heeded Newton's advice, stayed in law, and in 1807 he passed the law that ended the slave trade in England. He continued to work for the abolishment of slavery in England, and it was finally abolished one month after his death in 1833.

Our faith is more often passed on through relationship than by didactic presentation. So, whom are you pouring yourself into? How are you investing in the next generation? Are you taking the time to build relationships with younger Christians so that when you see the Holy Spirit moving in someone, you can call their attention to it?

There's another facet here, too: development is a process. God does not expect Samuel to understand immediately. He expects that it will take time to develop Samuel into the prophet he is going to raise up. This illustrates the truth of Philippians 1:6 that we go back to repeatedly: "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ." God may have begun a good work in you, but he's not done with you. And don't think he'll be done with you in this lifetime. If you ever think you've arrived and that you've got it all down, then you are most in danger.

Not only does God develop his leaders, but he gives them a daunting task. In 1 Samuel 3:11-18, God gives Samuel a message of judgment — and it is judgment against his friend and mentor. It's a painful message, and Samuel in his compassion is afraid to tell Eli. The good leader always must live with the vision of how things could be and the pain of how reality is. And the good leader must have the courage to proclaim how reality is, and the compassion to proclaim it with love. My friend and mentor Steve Brown used to tell us in class, "Don't preach about hell unless you preach with tears." That is the painful calling of the leader — to speak truth in love. It's a calling to live courageously.

George Washington, after successfully winning the war for American Independence, could have easily become the first King of America. He very courageously let it be known that this would not be good for the new nation, and that he would retire to his plantation as soon as possible. King George III of England quipped, "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world." 1 Washington surrendered his commission on December 22, 1783, and kept his promise.

Later, when he was elected president under the new Constitution, Washington had the opportunity legitimately to hold on to power as long as he could. But in 1796, he relinquished power for a second time, and by doing so he delivered a powerful message about the nature of a republic. His farewell address contained his final charge to the country: admonitions to unity, to preserving public virtue, avoidance of national debt, international neutrality, and exercise of self-restraint in the use of power. It was essentially his political sermon, and it gained incredible validity through his selfless action of renunciation of power.

Washington not only spoke truth; he lived it. He was a model of integrity. In the same way, Christian leaders must strive to live truth, even when it is difficult, even and especially when it involves self-renunciation. This essentially means leading lives of grace. It's not so much about being perfect and doing everything right; it's about living the life of graciousness. That's where Eli went so wrong. He forgot that God is about grace more than judgment. He should have remembered Deuteronomy 30:1-6. After announcing all the curses that come from disobedience, God assumed that Israel would be disobedient and suffer the curses. Then he promised that if there were repentance, there would also be restoration and blessing. This is the same in Jeremiah 18:10-11 and Ezekiel 33:11. God knows that we won't get everything perfect. He's more concerned about having a leader that has a broken heart and passion. Eli stoically accepted judgment rather than broken-heartedly crying out for the mercy that God loves to give. That's always been the way God has been, and Jesus is the culmination of this graciousness.

Not only does God develop his leaders and give them a painful task, but he also establishes their legitimacy. In 1 Samuel 3:19-21, he made Samuel's words effective. This was because Samuel's words were not his own; they were God's words. A godly leader is effective only insofar as he stays close to God's word. The prophet Isaiah says,

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isa. 55:10-11).

Because of this intimacy with God, Samuel had an intrinsic authority. Have you ever encountered leaders who draw on their position for authority, saying, "You have to listen to me because I'm in charge"? Samuel doesn't have to do this because he sticks close to God and has actual authority. That is why I stay so close to the text when I preach — because that is where the authority lies. Honestly, my ideas and opinions are not that important. But God's Word is authoritative. It has the power in and of itself to shape your heart.

In 1936, Europe was in Hitler's grip, and the 1936 Berlin Olympics were supposed to be the showcase of what the supposed "master race" would be able to do. But a courageous black athlete named Jesse Owens turned Hitler's propaganda upside down. In the face of all the claims about Aryan superiority, Owens showed that the son of an Alabama Sharecropper was better. He won the 100 meter dash, the 200 meter dash, the 100 meter relay, and then he dramatically defeated the blonde-haired, blue-eyed German Luz Long in the long jump. After the event, Long acknowledged Owens victory with a great hug, but Hitler refused to shake his hand, preferring to believe the lie of his own superiority. When Owens returned to that same field for a 1951 event, Hitler was dead, and Owens received a 15-minute standing ovation. Hitler tried to declare authority; Jesse Owens demonstrated it.

Christian leadership is the same way. We can't simply declare it, but it must emanate from us through our closeness to the Holy Spirit. No leader will ever live up to the challenge. It's an impossible task. But through our faith in the work of Jesus, God still uses our humble efforts.

The question before us is this: Are we letting God develop us through relationships with others and through deep acquaintance with his word? Are we being faithful to God's difficult calling to speak truth and love? Are we asking God to authenticate our ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit? These are the questions every one of our church leaders asks himself, but they perfectly appropriate for all Christian disciples. Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that the officers of the church are given "to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up." Each one of you is being developed by God for his calling on your life; that calling entails speaking truth in love, and it entails authenticating your calling by sticking close to the Word. The question is: How are you going to respond? Are you going to spend more time running away, or are you aggressively going to chase God's calling for your life? You think about that. Amen.


1. Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (New York: Vintage Books of Random House, 2002), p. 130.