Sermon for Sunday, October 1st, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[1Sa 2:18-26 ESV] 18 Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. 19 And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20 Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the LORD give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the LORD.” So then they would return to their home. 21 Indeed the LORD visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the LORD. 22 Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the LORD spreading abroad. 25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death. 26 Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and also with man.
New Testament reading:
[2Pe 1:3-11 ESV] 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
[Luk 2:41-52 ESV] 41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
So far in the BOOK OF SAMUEL we’ve focused on Hannah and on Eli’s Worthless Sons, Hophni and Phinehas. But, this IS the Book of SAMUEL, AFTER ALL. And so now we do come to our lead character Samuel and to his growth in the Lord.
Our sermon title is “Samuel’s Growth in the Lord.”
I. Samuel’s Growth
The Lord intends for Samuel to be a priest and a prophet, and so the Lord grows Samuel from his earliest days in preparation for those roles he will one day fulfill.
At first all of the references to Samuel are merely passive. This is to be expected. First he is “conceived” and then he is “born.” These are passive roles. The mother does the work; she gives birth, while the child is “born.” And it is only in jest that we speak of the difficult work of husbands during the birth of a child.
Also passive, in the case of Samuel, is that he “lent” or “given” to the Lord. It is passive because this was not his active choice. And neither was it Samuel’s choice to be conceived or to be born. These are all blessings to him from God.
Being born into this world is that first indicator to all of us that WE ARE NOT IN CHARGE and it is not about OUR RIGHTS. Rather, God is in control. He does as He pleases. He chooses when and where we are to be born. And he blesses His people. God blesses Samuel in bringing Samuel into the world and He blesses him again in bringing Him to live in the temple. And Samuel is merely passive in these decisions.
Have you ever considered how startling that we are brought into the world without our consideration in the matter? How startling it is that we do not choose to be born? Of course, I think that is why Christ used that analogy with Nicodemus, saying “You must be born again.” And “you must be born of the Spirit.” Again, who does the work? God himself. As it is God’s choice that we are born physically, so it is His choice that we are born spiritually.
Now, like most people, I have a certain fear of death. I always have. From a young age I’ve known that there is an inevitable end to my life on this earth. But I take comfort in the Lord, because, as the day of my birth was not my choice, so the time of my death is not a choice I get to make. They are the Lord’s. And, knowing that He brought me into this world, out of nothing, certainly he can bring out of this world into heaven, and can resurrect my body and give me eternal life. So I take comfort in the Lord, and say “it is OK that I am passive in these things, for the Lord is Active.”
While at first Samuel is merely passive — having things done to him and decisions made for him —there came a time for him to be active. We find in our text the first active verb for Samuel. And what is he doing? He is “ministering” before the Lord.
This is the first this we see Samuel DOING something of his own volition. He is “ministering” before the Lord.
And this is a surprising word perhaps to be used for him; as you ask “how old was Samuel?” He was indeed young; only a few years old. And here he is ministering before the Lord. Now, in the New Testament, Timothy is often given as the example to young people to be encouraged that you’re never too young to work for the Lord. Well, Samuel is an even better example in that he is far younger. Timothy might have been 18 years old, Samuel is perhaps only 3 years old!
There are couple breaks in our passage that veer away from person of Samuel. There is one break to talk of Hannah (his mother) , and another that speaks of Eli and his evil sons, Hophni and Phinehas. And Lord willing, when we continue in 1st Samuel next Sunday, we’ll address Eli and his evil sons again as the Lord rejects them as priests and instead raises up and calls Samuel as priest and prophet.
C. Children Are a Blessing of the Lord
But here I do want to look briefly at the verses on Hannah.
The text says:
And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20 Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the LORD give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the LORD.” So then they would return to their home. 21 Indeed the LORD visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters.
The theological truth here that I want us to focus on is that CHILDREN ARE A BLESSING OF THE LORD. [REPEAT: CHILDREN ARE A BLESSING OF THE LORD]
Certainly the birth of Samuel was a blessing. It was an answer to Hannah’s prayer. And now again Hannah is blessed with more children: three sons and two daughters. Clearly these are presented a blessing to Hannah and Elkanah. Children are a blessing of the Lord!
This is always the case in the Scripture: children are a blessing from the Lord
Oh how far we have gone in our world, when, for many, children are a burden, and abortion is rampant. Pray for our world.
We, on the other hand, as Christians know that life is precious, a gift from God. And not only should we care about the lives coming into the world, but we should care about the growth of children, physically and especially spiritually.
The pro-choice crowd so hates the facts that the pro-life people have the morally correct position that they say things like this: “Oh, you care about life coming into the world, but you don’t care about life be sustained in the world.” Of course, they are wrong about this. The same Christians who are pro-life are pro-adoption and care greatly about life in the world, and the growth of children.
Children are a blessing from God, and the grow (physically and spiritually) of each child is a blessing from God.
D. Samuel’s Growth, Physical and Spiritual
In two places in our text it speaks of Samuel’s growth.
Verse 21: And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the LORD.
Verse 26: 26 Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and also with man
This works as a sort of refrain that tells us what the central point of our passage is, and gives us today our sermon title: “Samuel’s Growth in the Lord.”
Of course, this is only mildly in reference to his growth in physical stature. That is really just the reference for the analogy. The focus is “growth” in the Lord. As a person (or a plant) increased in height, so a believer increases in knowledge of the Lord, and in godliness, and in sanctification because of the work of the Lord.
We see with Samuel that growth in the Lord starts right away; we are to train up a child starting in their earliest days.
Now, there is an error associated with Arminianism called “the age of accountability.” I don’t know what Scriptures they are reading, but some think that children below a certain age aren’t accountable for their sins. And similarly, Baptists won’t count children as members of a church.
But, in Ancient Israel, children WERE part of the people of God from their birth. And they were to be trained up in the Lord. And so also today, children are to be taught to pray. They are to be taught the truths of the Lord, and encouraged to grow in the Lord.
And we train children because they too ARE sinful. There is no “age of accountability.” Or, I could say it this way: there IS an age of accountability; that age is ZERO. So everyone is ZERO years old or older, you are accountable.
David says in the Psalms: [Psa 51:5 ESV] 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
We are indeed all sinful at birth, and need to be trained in righteousness right away. We need prayer, and training in righteousness, and growth in the Lord form our earliest days.
This, in fact, should be the goal of our education. The goal of all education IS NOT that we can get a job and make a lot of money. The goal of the educator is to grow boys and girls into Christian men and Christian women.
You see, the sons of Eli continue to go astray, but by the Grace of God and the care of Hannah, Samuel grows in the Lord. The passage emphasizes the contrast between these two families. The family of Elkanah (with Hannah and Samuel) is blessed, and the family of Eli (with Hophni and Phinehas) is cursed. As Hophni and Phinehas fall into disgrace, Samuel grows in standing with God. God is raising up a good priest.
It is this growth of Samuel that is echoed in Luke’s Gospel regarded the growth of Jesus Christ.
II. Christ’s Growth
Luke 2:52 – “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
This is an obvious parallel with Samuel. We can use that language of type and antitype. Samuel is the type of the Christ who was to come. Jesus is the antitype, the fulfillment of the type and the greater Samuel.
This perhaps is a perplexing passage; the idea that Jesus increased in wisdom. Of course, as God, he knew all things. But in his humbling of himself —what is called his humiliation — Christ grew from a child into a man. An old commentary explains “his equipment was not complete.” His human mind developed as he grew from a child to an adult.
These years of Christ’s youth, like those years of Samuel’s youth, are summarized with that statement, “he increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
We could say “children are to grow in the Lord” but there is an obvious problem. ADULTS are to grow in the Lord! It doesn’t stop at childhood; or when you reach adulthood. The growth of a Christian does not end. Our sanctification is not complete until we are glorified in Glory. And, to my understanding, we shall ever grow in knowledge in heaven. The knowledge of God is infinite and so we’ll never reach that, but we’ll grow.
III. Our Growth
This evening I’ll preach about Christ’s youth, as we look at the “Missing Years” of his life between ages 12 and 30. But for now I want to move on to “our growth.”
Last week I had a topic sermon on the church growing in numbers, as the Lord “Added to their number” in the church in Acts. Now, along the lines of Samuel, the subject is our own personal growth in the Lord.
For many Christians, there is not the luxury of being raised in a Christian family. Your growth in the Lord began not at birth, but at your rebirth.
Even those who grew up in the church, your growth in the faith does not end at age 18. You could live a thousand years and have plenty of room for growth.
We should all consider ourselves students, disciples. That is what Christ’s followers were called, disciples. We are not masters of religion, we are students. We have room to grow.
Praise the Lord that in Jesus Christ we are in God’s favor. In that sense, we don’t need to grow in favor with God. We are already in His favor, because Christ took away our sins.
But there is no doubt that we have room to grow in knowledge and in holiness.
What are some practical ways that we should seek growth?
It always starts with prayer. [REPEAT: It always starts with prayer] That is something I’ve recognized more and more in my Christian walk. It always starts with prayer. There is no occasion when we shouldn’t “take it to the Lord in prayer.” And recognizing His might and our weakness, we should know that we are to start with prayer.
And we are to pray to God, knowing that the Holy Spirit works within us to grow us.
Both of these are elements of Trust:
We are to pray to God. That takes trust.
And we are to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.
Growth is benefitted by your surroundings, by the company you keep. Samuel is in the Temple of God. That helps! But, unfortunately this point isn’t quite as clear as I’d like it to be; because in the temple are Hophni and Phinehas. So Samuel grows despite those examples of worthless priests around him. But, in general, there is that statement in the New Testament that “bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33)
3. Other Qualities
In our New Testament reading, Peter spoke of “qualities.” He spoke of qualities that can be “increasing,” that can grow n the Christian. And he says “if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
So what qualities did he tell us to practice?
For life and godliness, we are to:
supplement your faith with virtue,
and virtue with knowledge,
and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness,
and steadfastness with godliness,
and godliness with brotherly affection,
and brotherly affection with love.
We are to practice these things. And grow in them which grows us in the Lord.
These are to “supplement” one another. You are not a one point virtuous and another time loving. You don’t forget about one to do the other. They supplement one another. They go to together. We are to practice these things. Faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.
That is a lot to practice! Well, we have many opportunities! This term “practice” is like the way a musician or an artist using the term. Their action, their efforts, even on the highest stage are called “practice.” Likewise, we are not only to “practice” Christian virtues in our youth or in a school setting, but we are “practice” them in the world. We are to employ those things Peter declares.
BE a seeker of knowledge (reading the Bible and Christian books)
BE one who has brotherly affection
The opportunities for growth abound. We cannot get even MINUTES without an opportunity to live as a Christian. And that vey life — living as a Christian — brings GROWTH. Isn’t that astounding. How do you become a better Christian? By being a Christian.
4. Turn your Eyes upon Jesus
As the hymn says “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.”
To be more Christlike, look to Christ!
YOU COULD look to Samuel, but Samuel only points to Christ. So it is better to look to Christ straightway.
The spiritual growth of Christians can be hard to perceive. It is subtle and at times slow. The accumulation of changes, is profound. The mature Christian is closer to acting as that NEW MAN which Christ has declared him to be.
Let us pray that through the means the Lord has provided for our sanctification, that we grow in the Lord. It is a long journey indeed, but full of blessings.
Let us pray.