But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away." - 1Samuel 12: 24-25 (NLT)
The nation of Israel was designed by God to be a theocracy, with Almighty God as the Sovereign King. After their deliverance from Egypt and the leadership of Moses and then Joshua would pass from this earth, Israel went through a period of four hundred years where God would raise up judges from amongst their numbers to deliver them from the oppression they found themselves under. If you read the Book of Judges, overall you will see a continuous cycle of sin, repentance, deliverance, and then sin again. Having never learned any lessons from the mistakes of their past, the Israelites seemed doomed to repeat them. The final of these judges was Samuel. It was toward the end of Samuel's life that the people of Israel insisted that they wanted a mortal king to rule over them like all of their neighboring kingdoms.
Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. "Do everything they say to you," the Lord replied, "for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don't want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them." - 1Samuel 8: 6-9 (NLT)
Despite those warnings, Israel demanded their own mortal king to replace the one true King of Kings. Saul would be anointed the first King of Israel and he would lead them into various military successes early on. Samuel would grow older and realize his time was coming to a close. The key verses today are literally the parting words Samuel gives to the people of Israel. It is therefore the foundational instruction for the new nation Israel became once they moved from a theocracy to man-led regime. Over a thousand years later as we watch the remnant of Judah carried into captivity by the Babylonian Empire, we realize that Israel failed to adhere to these instructions. Fast forward thousands of years after this and we see the church today failing as well to adhere to the basic foundational instructions from the Prophet Samuel to the people of God. Within these two simple verses are four foundational instructions for us today as believers and as the church as a whole.
The first warning is perhaps the most basic. The most foundational. The most important for us. Be sure to fear the Lord. Unfortunately, the modern theories of church growth omit any discussion of the fear of God. They want to sell a fuzzy warm God who is all about little puppies and endless rainbows. They do not want to discuss Sodom and Gomorrah. They do not want to discuss how the flood destroyed all of known humanity except the family of Noah. Jesus however made sure to discuss it:
"When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah's day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn't realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. - Matthew 24: 37-39 (NLT)
So it goes today, both in the world and in the church. In the world we see a culture that is drifting further and further away from any sense of godliness. But just like the instructions from Samuel were for the people of God - so they remain for us today. The church is also partying like in the days of Noah. How can someone preach to thousands of people, using God, to line their own pockets? No fear of God. How can someone sell fake healing to those who are most desperately in need? No fear of God. How can someone create a purpose driven empire that erodes the foundations of the church? That waters down salvation to the point that people are being "churched" instead of being saved? No fear of God. How can leaders sell the notion that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is no longer sufficient for the next generation? That we must compromise who we are in order to become relevant to a dead culture? No fear of God. How can entire denominations allow leaders who live lifestyles outlawed by God Himself? How can entire denominations abandon the Bible as being the literal Word of God? How can someone preach grace without sin? No fear of God.