“To obey is better than sacrifice.” I imagine most of us who grew up attending church regularly have heard those words quoted from I Samuel chapter 15. They are strong words conveying a powerful concept.
Every major religion values sacrifice. The concept of putting forward something of value and relinquishing it as an act of worship is moving to human emotions. It requires depriving one’s self for the sake of something greater. That’s why the announcement of something that is better than sacrifice grips our attention. What, we wonder, could be nobler than sacrifice?
Often, we take the words, “to obey is better than sacrifice” as a suggestion to abandon sacrifice in order to focus on obedience. Some may rationalize their lack of giving to the church or volunteering in ministry as a result of misunderstanding this verse.
In I Samuel 15, Samuel anoints Saul as King of Israel and immediately relays a directive from the Lord to completely destroy the city of Amalek. Nothing was to remain.
Saul was victorious against the Amalekites. However, instead of destroying everything, he spared the king along with the best sheep, oxen, and fatted calves. This was direct disobedience of God’s instruction.
When Samuel confronted Saul about the King and animals, Saul rationalized his actions by stating that he brought back the best of the animals to sacrifice unto the Lord.
To this, Samuel replies:
“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 listen than the fat of rams.”
Notice, Samuel never says that God does not delight in sacrifice. Instead, He elevates the value of obedience. Notice the connection: sacrifice is only as meaningful as the sincerity of the one sacrificing. If that person has a disobedient heart (especially regarding the sacrifice itself), the sincerity behind the sacrifice is diminished. It is form of hypocrisy to represent one’s self as sincere before the Lord while simultaneously disobeying Him. Therefore, the first step is to get to the heart of the matter –obedience.
I imagine the applications are endless. It is easy to imagine the financial implications (ie. Don’t use unethical means to finance ministry, etc.). But what about those who “sacrifice” their time to attend worship services and act like sincere worshippers yet live consistently disobedient lives without any contrition? I imagine we all can relate.
Saul had forgotten his role before God. Instead of submitting his kingship to the authority of God’s universal kingship, Saul acted like the other kings of his day –bringing home the spoils of war to demonstrate power and authority. He was willing to claim “sacrifice” when it worked in his favor –yet, in the end; it was just an act to cover the true intentions of his heart.
Yes, sacrifice is important, but the heart of the matter is obedience. Is there any greater example of this than the cross of Christ? We often speak of His sacrifice on the cross, yet the Romans crucified many. What made Christ’s sacrifice significant was His perfect life of obedience.
So don’t stop giving or sacrificing on account of Samuel’s words. Instead, imitating Christ, make your sacrifice significant through a lifestyle of obedience.