J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Strengthening Holiness – I Samuel 2:1-4

It’s a very common in the beginning of a movie for a character to be deathly afraid of something, and then after a period of time, they realize the thing that they were afraid of is not scary at all.  Then the movie ends with the main character teaming up with the thing that was scary to battle some very real mean and evil force.  This is the premise of Transformers, Terminator 2, Shrek, and even Alvin and the Chipmunks.

The idea behind these movies is that you need to give things that are different a second chance.  Don’t be so quick to jump to preconceived notions.  Things that are different might not be so scary once you get to know them.

Unfortunately, this is exactly how we approach God’s holiness, and I think this is a mistake.  God’s holiness is not something that we get used to.  God’s holiness is His complete otherness from us.  If other becomes comfortable, then it is no longer other, and holiness is always other.

Scripture tells us that God is completely holy and without sin whereas we are completely sinful and even antagonistic towards God apart His help.  For example, the scriptures say this about God’s holiness.

  • 1 Samuel 2:2 There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside you: neither is there any rock like our God.
  • Psalms 145:17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.

And this scriptures say this about our lack of holiness.

  • Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
  • 2 Chronicles 6:36 – “there is no one who does not sin”

The amazing thing is that as you have faith in Jesus, God forgives you of your sins, and God’ holiness is given to you through Jesus Christ.  Because of this, you now have access

to God.

Hebrews 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

But here is the thing I want to hold before you.  Though we may approach the throne of grace because of Jesus’ death on the cross, and though we have full access to God the Father because of the work of Jesus Christ, God is not now our buddy to help us go fight the Decepticons.  He is our loving and holy heavenly father.  And because of that, we must never lose a healthy fear of and adoration of God’s holiness, His otherness.

Yes, we are declared holy in God’s sight through Jesus, but any holiness we have is just the holiness of Christ granted to us.  By God’s amazing grace, we share in Jesus’ holiness and are called holy by God, but we must always revere, respect, and worship our God who is Holy.  We must never grow accustomed to it as it as foreign to us as flapping our wings is to flying.  But here is what I would offer to all of us as encouragement.  Though we share in God’s holiness only as He gives it to us, and though God is completely holy and we are completely sinful apart from Him, God’s holiness is intended to strengthen you if you have faith in Christ.  We are not to play loose with holiness or take is lightly, but God’s holiness is intended to strengthen His people.

Though this may seem like something we have never considered before, let’s explore it this week as we watch Hannah sing in praise God as she gives her son, Samuel over to God in the priesthood.  With that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question.

Big Picture Question:  How does God’s holiness strengthen his people?

2:1 And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord.

Remember the setting here.  After so many years of being barren and hopeless, God has given Hannah a son, Samuel.  And after enjoying him and raising him for 3 years, she has weaned him and is now offering him to God in service of the priesthood.  From this moment on, she will only see her son occasionally, but she will know that Samuel is her son and that He is God’s amazing gift to her.  As she offers him to God, she breaks into prophetic song celebrating what God has done.

In one of the most painful moments a parent can imagine, she gives her son away, and she sings and prays.  She says, “My heart exults in the Lord,” and “My strength is exalted in the Lord.”  How amazing are those two statements?

First, let’s explore what it means for one’s heart to exult in the Lord.  Let me approach the statement by asking you this question:  Ask yourself, “What makes you happy?”  I know small things make us happy like enjoying a good cup of coffee or eating ice cream, going for a good run, getting in a walk with your spouse, playing a video game.  Those things are great, but most everything I mentioned there is a short term happiness.  What makes you truly happy?  An enduring joy is what I’m talking about.  I’ll be honest, most people I know really aren’t that joyful.  I see people who either have decided to just think the worst of this life so as not to be disappointed or have never found anything with which to find true joy.  Oh people love to tell you, “Oh, I’m doing great,” or “I’ll be fine once I get to vacation,” but a person of real joy is rare.  I think that’s because our hearts exult or lift up or find joy and peace in so many shifting and changing things.

Only when the heart finds something of real, eternal, and everlasting value, will joy then overflow into the rest of their life.  If you exult and take joy in the fact that your relationship with God is repaired, restored, and secure, then you live joy in other places of life.  This is understanding the depth of the Gospel.  Exulting in an ever present, eternal, unshakable, affection and love of the Father poured out on your behalf because His wrath was poured out on His son, Jesus on the cross.

What Hannah is doing here is saying, ‘My heart, my whole being, exalts God.”   She is lifting up God above all because He has been so gracious to her.  This joy, the exultation in who God is, gives her strength.  She can endure the painful moment of giving her son away into the priesthood because her strength is not in her kids, it’s not in her husband and it’s not in the ease of her circumstances.  Her strength is in the good and gracious God who loves her and takes care of her.  Folks, before we move forward, please think on this.  Think about where your joys fall short and where you might have given up on finding joy.

If you can think of places that you expect to find real joy apart from God, I pray that you can repent right now of trying to find any lasting joy in this world outside of God.  Pray that God gives you an over exulting joy in celebration of what God has done for you so that you can then enjoy the joyful aspects of this life in their proper perspective.  You can enjoy you spouse or your children or your job or your church knowing that they are smaller joys that God gives, but they pale in comparison to what Jesus has secured for you:  a peaceful, restored relationship with God.  This was definitely something Hannah understood despite being born thousands of years before Jesus Christ.  Look at the next verse.

My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.

It’s shocking to see in Biblical print, “My mouth derides my enemies.”  Isn’t it?   You have to ask, “Is Hannah mocking Peninnah who once mocked her?  Well, what we have here is another one of those very difficult words to translate.  “My mouth derides” can also be translated “My mouth opens wide against my enemies” but I don’t know if that helps things at all.  I’ve read commentator after commentator that say that Hannah is not speaking of Peninnah here, but it is pretty hard to get away from it.  Though that language may not mean “I’m mocking” my enemy, it is saying that God has defended Hannah against her enemy.

You see, when Peninnah mocked Hannah, she wasn’t just making fun of her because of her bareness.  Peninnah’s accusations were really mocking God.  They were mocking Hannah’s prayers and desires to have a child.   They were diminishing God’s power and ability to gift Hannah with a child.  So Hannah was rescued, she enjoyed salvation in the sense that she has been delivered from the one that oppressed her.

Before we get all excited and think, “Yeah, God is going to go after that person that spoke sarcastically to me in the grocery store,” consider this.  Your enemy as scripture defines it is not just a person who disagrees with you or confronts you.  Your enemy is the person who openly mocks or attacks you because of Jesus Christ.  You see we have this tension in scripture.   One where David would pray to God for Him to strike down his enemies and the other where Jesus tells you to love your enemies and to pray for their blessing.

When Hannah says that her mouth derides her enemy, she does it not by wishing to see her enemies humiliated but by lifting up salvation.  Rejoicing in your enemy is not mocking them on facebook or a blog or secretly wishing for their doom.  The only true victory one can have over their enemy is the lifting up of the salvation that God offers.  In this case, Hannah couldn’t have children, she was mocked by Peninnah, God gave her children, so Hannah lifts up the one who rescues her as a testimony to any and all that doubted or mocked Hannah for her faith.

You see, Hannah doesn’t lift herself up in the midst of all these things.   She lifts God up.  Her rescue is a lifting up of God and God alone.  And if you are going to lift up God, then you will lift Him up as Hannah does.  Look at the next verse.

There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.

Has your heart ever cried out this way?   I don’t ask you that question to mock you or shame you.  I ask you because I so badly want this kind of cry of the heart for you and me and everyone here.  Hannah had the very real sense that God was completely other, completely wonderful, completely beautiful, completely holy, and she also had the very real sense and resting assurance that because God is so wonderfully beautiful and different, her life can rest in Him – hence God is the rock of her salvation.

You might hear that and say, “Well, Gordon it is easy for Hannah to say that.  She got what she wanted.   I’ve been struggling for years for what I want and God has never given it to me, so though I believe in Jesus and have my sins forgiven.  So, no I’ve never or at least not recently said ‘There is none like God.  There is none beside Him in my heart.’”  That’s the real issue for all of us isn’t it?  Will we be happy?   Will we be content?   Will we find great joy even if we don’t get what we want?

Well, what does Hannah emphasize here?  That God is the one who will give you what you want?   No she emphasizes that there is no one holy like God.  There is no one that is that is perfect and righteous like God.  She could have spoken of His great power and how He is the only one that can open and close a womb, and she would have been correct, but that is not the focus of her prayer here.  What comforts Hannah is God’s holiness.  You might wonder, “How is that possible?”   How does God’s holiness comfort and help?

Let me explain it in this way – we have gotten used to God’s holiness.  God’s holiness is like Bumblebee from the Transformers the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.  At first we were scared of it but now God’s holiness like a friendly pet who helps us out.  But this is not the picture of God’s holiness we should have.  God’s holiness is His absolute perfection and goodness that separates Him from all evil.  Yet God’s compassion moved Him to send His perfect son to pay the penalty for sin so that those who have faith in Jesus can now share in the righteousness and holiness of Jesus and have fellowship with the father.

I’m afraid that we grow so accustomed to this truth that we forget its immensity.  Our hearts begin to want lesser goods because God has granted us the greater good of salvation.   Without actually voicing it, we are tempted to live our lives thinking, “Well if God can forgive me and save me, then surely he will give me the things I want, the desires of my heart.  And though God obviously and quite clearly can give you the desires of the heart, God still gives and grants according to the counsel of His holy will. God gives only that which is consistent with His holiness and the giving of Him glory.

So Hannah celebrates that by saying that God’s holiness is what gives her strength.  God’s holiness is what encourages her.  It is like saying, “Perfect holy God, would you listen to me?   Would you incline your ear to me?   That you, Holy God would listen to me a sinner is what strengthens me.  ‘The fact that you God would seek me out and repair my relationship with you, that you would pity me when in need, that is my strength.

That attitude should give your life the proper perspective.  That helps us to find contentment in whatever we have or don’t have because our perfect holy God has cared for enough to restore our relationship and hear our cries.  This is the attitude of Paul in Philippians 3:7 when he says

Philippians 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Paul says, I am not holy because of anything I’ve done.  I’m holy because of what God has done in Jesus for me.  Because of that anything else I might gain is nothing because I have the greatest thing that I could ever hope for: I have Jesus’ holiness and a restored relationship with God.  This is humbling language and it causes Hannah to cry out in verse 3.

3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

Last week we talked about the temptation we have to say, “I’m going to do this.  I’m not going to do that.  I have my plans and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.”  And sometimes our plans are couched in a more supposed Godly language.  We say, “Surely God will give me the desires of my heart.  Why would He give me this desire if He didn’t want me to have it?”   That of course assumes our desires are given to us by God which is not always the truth.

That type of language is incredibly arrogant, and Hannah sings of silencing such arrogance before a holy God.  Arrogance is assuming anything about our selves (either action or thought) apart from our dependence of  God.  As Paul says, once you professed faith in Jesus Christ, “Now for you to live is Christ; to die is gain.”   The life of faith in Jesus is the giving over of yourself in service of Jesus Christ because when we give ourselves away, then we find true joy and happiness.   That is what living is.  Assuming otherwise is arrogant.  Why? Because God alone is wise and God alone is holy.

God is a God of knowledge which means He decrees and ordains all things wisely according to His own wisdom.  Have you ever noticed that we rarely see a connection between wisdom and holiness?   If you google search it all you get is quotes from the Dalai Lama.  But that is no help because all you will find there is human wisdom.  But human wisdom and God’s holiness are always at odds with each other.

As 2 Corinthians 1 says 12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with holiness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

God’s holiness is always connected to God’s wisdom.  So Hannah celebrated that God was holy, that God was wise, and therefore God is perfect in all His actions.  If God decided to make Hannah suffer at the hands of bitter rival, and if God caused Hannah to suffer and wait for a child, then so be it because she knew that God was holy and wise in everything that He does.  Even if Hannah’s or your heart cries out to God, your waiting to understand God’s holiness and wisdom does not make God any less holy or wise.  If you wait in patience with great love and respect for God, then what happens is you become more wise, more holy and ultimately strengthened as your wait.   Look at verse 4.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.

In faith, in trusting a holy and wise God, the mighty, the proud and the strong will be broken and brought low because pride and self-sufficiency stand opposed to God.  But the feeble, those that recognize their complete dependence on a holy and wise God are ultimately lifted up and find strength because they gather it from the one true place that it can be found: the God of all wisdom, might, and holiness.  What I want all of us to do right now and as we go forward is to celebrate God’s holiness and wisdom, and I want it to produce in us a lifestyle and a culture of worship.   We celebrate that we are weak and needy and that God is the only hope that we have to be strengthened.  Worship God because He is holy and see yourself strengthened, lifted up and encouraged.

  • 1 Chronicles 16:10 Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord
  • Psalms 99:5 Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.

What I’m hoping is that we won’t shy away from being weak or pretend that we have it all together but that in the creating of community that we desire to do at ce groups, fight club and project runway, we’ll be honest and vulnerable and share both the struggle to be weak and the joy of having an all holy, all wise God strengthen us as we worship him.  That way when you engage your neighbors or the police, or the EMS or Hayes Place or your coworkers, you don’t have to pretend to have it all together.  You don’t have to pretend that you no longer have any needs because you met Jesus.  Instead you can tell your neighbors and other folks that you serve, “I’m as needy as you, I’m as messed up as you, I’m as confused as you and I’m as sick as you, but I have found that God alone in Jesus Christ is wise and holy.  The fact that God is so different is what strengthens me and so as I trust that God is wise and holy and different than me, I’m encouraged and strengthened as I either wait for Him to answer my prayer or I wait for him to change my heart and my desires.

But I am not left alone.  I’m strengthened as I trust in God – come join me and the rest of the messed up people at SK as we worship this holy wise God who sent his holy and perfect son Jesus to love and care for us.  And you know what?  Garner and this places that you live hate this message.   It is the bad news of the good news.  The fact that you are here may mean you love it or it may mean you are struggling with it, but it is the Gospel.  It is however the message that will take root in our community if we ask God to make it take root in us.  None of us should expect the gospel to transform any one else if it is not transforming already transforming us.  Thankfully, our hope and our strength is that our Holy God seeks to love us and transform us through the beautiful work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment