Christians often tend to view the Old Testament like their embarrassing, kind-of-crazy uncle. He’s family; and, he can produce a funny story on command. But, we can’t help but think that our family gatherings wouldn’t suffer too terribly if his tobacco spit and his confederate flag, and rusted out pick-up truck didn’t show up at the next family party.
Similarly, we are thankful for the story of David and Goliath and some of the other more PG OT narratives. But we are more than willing to dispense with David and his buds if that saves us from having to deal with the more barbaric stories of rape, genocide, and world-wide floods.
But when we focus exclusively on the later third of the Bible, we lose a great deal of the mercy and grace of God. The God of the NT is the same as the God of the NT. After all Jesus came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. As Lloyd-Jones notes,
Read these four Gospels, and watch [Jesus’s] quotations from the Old Testament. You can come to one conclusion only, namely that He believed it all and not only certain parts of it.
And because Jesus believed the whole OT, we should embrace the beginning and middles of our Bibles. Those pages speak both the warning and grace with cherish in the NT.
The kindness and mercy of God show up profoundly in 1 Samuel 12. The prophet Samuel has been removed from national power by the people of Israel through the sovereign will of God. The people have also rejected Samuel’s sons and have embraced the weak-willed Saul as king. Worst of all, the people have turned their back on God, looking to men for salvation. When the stiff-necked Israelites finally understand that they, “have added to our sins this evil” and seek repentance, Samuel extends them the hand of friendship and love. Notice his powerful words in 1 Samuel 12:23,
Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.
The prophet of God does not sit in his office with a smug expression on his face as he haughtily tells them, “I told you so.” No, he does the opposite. He loves this cruel, unteachable, and incentive people. He prays for them. And he does not pray for God to send fire upon them. He asks God to forgive them and to bless them with faith. But that is not all. He promises to teach show the people the good and the right way of God. Samuel loves those who abused him and wants them to excel at life and godliness.
Why does this OT prophet extend his abusers such mercy and forgiveness? He understands that his calling, his mission, and his ministry comes from the Lord. He loves others well because he fears the Lord who loves him well.
Friends in ministry, would we do the same? If our Sunday school class asks us to resign and then asks us to pray for Susie because she is struggling with cancer, would we pray? If our son is asked to resign his youth pastor position by our elders for misusing church funds and then those same elders asked us to forgive them for making a mess of the music ministry, would we forgive them? If our church accused us falsely, asked us to resign, and mocked the doctrines of grace and then pleaded with us to forgive them, would we go back and pastor them?
I fear many of us would not. Most of us would want to punch the above people in the face. At the very least, we would either give them a dressing down or whine about them to our fellow pastor buddies. But Samuel does not attack; nor does he whine. He keeps his eyes upon God and dives head first into the ministry, praying for and teaching the nation of Israel.
Samuel’s life perfectly illustrates Paul’s command to pastors in 2 Timothy 2:24-25.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.
The faithful Pastor or elder understands that their call descends from God as opposed to ascending from the pew. The faithful pastor will not quarrel with his people but will teach them. Moreover, the faithful pastor will endure evil. He will anticipate being maligned, attacked, and abused by his congregation. But He will keep going because he know ministry is not ultimately about the people in the pew. It is about glorifying God. And when he endures the abuses of others for the purpose of seeing those in sin redeemed through a knowledge of the truth, God is glorified.
Our churches struggle today, because our pastors and elders don’t wrestle with the whole counsel of God. We don’t know of Samuel’s patience and grace. Thus, we complain and strike forth in anger at the very moment we need to extend the forgiveness modeled by Samuel and discussed by Paul. Bonhoeffer helpfully admonishes all weary pastors and church leaders when he writes,
If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is not great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all to in Jesus Christ. This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregation. A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God.
Samuel modeled thankful leadership because he understood God well. Thus, his people grew in their faith! We need more pastors like Samuel.
If we toss the OT into the trashcan, we will lose this beautiful picture of spiritual leadership. We pastors need both the OT and NT to lead well. Our church need both the OT and NT to understand God.
How can any Christian say that they do not need the OT?