THE BOOK OF 1 SAMUEL—Week 8
Crisis 8: Overwhelming Challenges to Faith (1 Sam. 17)
According to a November 14, 2022, research briefing for the British Parliament, there were 360 million Christians worldwide who experienced “high levels of persecution and discrimination” in 2022. According to that same report, 5,898 Christians actually lost their lives because of their faith in 2022, a 24% increase over 2021. While most of us in America have never experienced intense persecution for our faith, we nevertheless live in a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. In TV shows and movies, it is common for Christians to either be portrayed as ignorant bigots or outright villains. Though it is frequently said that we live in a post-Christian society, one of the bishops in our communion recently challenged me that it would be more accurate to say live in a pre-Christian society. By that he meant that we live in a society where many folks have something other than the Bible as the foundation for the moral framework within which they live their lives. It is as if the reset button has been hit, and we have been placed into a similar situation as the early Church, trying to introduce our faith to a society that views our faith with suspicion and having to defend our faith from the many lies and misconceptions that exist. So, how do we confront such overwhelming challenges to our faith?
One of the key principles we can glean from this week’s passage is that standing our ground is not enough. In fact, many times standing our ground results in us losing ground to the enemy. For forty days, Saul and the Israelite army had stood their ground against the Philistines. They did not retreat. They remained in battle formation. There was a problem, however. The enemy had already set up camp in Israelite territory at a key position to control the central hill country and the important crossroads nearby. The Israelites standing their ground did nothing to eliminate this threat. At best, all standing their ground did was to try to contain the threat. The same holds true for us—there is no such thing as standing our ground spiritually. We are either taking ground, or we are losing it. We should be reminded of this every Sunday when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” We are called to advance God’s kingdom, not maintain it, and we cannot advance God’s kingdom by sitting defiantly in our churches complaining about the decline of our society. We must take the gospel outside the walls of our church and into our community if we are to claim ground for God’s kingdom.
We also can be encouraged by this story in that all it took was the courage of one teenaged boy to turn the tide of a seemingly overwhelming situation. While the rest of the Israelites trembled in fear at the challenge they faced, David instead saw an opportunity to win a great victory. Why did David see opportunity where others saw defeat? First, David saw opportunity because he remembered God’s deliverance in the past. For David, Goliath was no different than the lion and the bear he’d previously defeated. David lived in the assurance that God had announced his plans for him, and nothing could thwart God’s plans. In the same way, we can face challenges to our faith with confidence because of the victory Christ won for us on the cross (Rom. 8:31-39). But David also knew that expressing confidence in God’s ability to deliver was not enough. That confidence was made complete in taking action. His confidence was empty until he stepped out in faith and confronted Goliath. The same holds true for us. It is not enough for us to believe we are more than conquerors. We need to turn that faith into action (Jas. 2:18-26).
The final principle I would like to point out to us is the concept of imputed victory. When David slew Goliath, his victory was imputed to all of Israel. They didn’t have to go out and fight the Philistines. They merely had to go out and collect the spoils of a defeated enemy. In the same way, when we face overwhelming challenges to our faith, we must remember we don’t have to go out and win the battle. The battle was already won by Jesus at Calvary. When we go out and claim ground for God’s kingdom, we aren’t fighting battles, we’re claiming the spoils of Christ’s victory.
- Have you ever had your faith challenged? What was that like? How did it make you feel?
- What are some of the ways that our society challenges our faith? What are some of the misconceptions society has about Christianity? What can we do to challenge or change those misconceptions?
- Consider the statement that if we aren’t taking ground, we’re losing it. Can you think of some examples of this principle? Why is standing our ground not enough?