This sermon is part of the sermon series "Dealing with the Difficult Person". See series.
We are taking four Sundays to consider the subject of loyalty and what it takes to keep faith in a broken world. Our particular emphasis in this series has been learning how to deal with the difficult person who causes pain in your life. Each week, we take another step in building our case from Scripture. Nonetheless, we are able to view all of our themes in one specific story in the Scriptures—the story of Saul and David. But before we return to that story, let's summarize what we have learned.
First, we've learned that a loyal person understands providence. In other words, nothing in your life happens by accident if you're a Christian. Your life is held in the loving hand of God, and he works in all things for the ultimate good, which is not that you'll have a pain-free life, but that the character of Jesus will be reproduced in you to the eternal glory of God.
David, of all people, understood this to be true. We have seen that Saul made David's life absolutely miserable for 15 years. But God used even this to shape David into a man of God and the great king that he was.
Second, we learned that a loyal person speaks the truth. Loyalty, in other words, does not mean being a kind of doormat. Loyalty cares enough to confront, speaking the truth in love.
We saw from the Scriptures how Samuel confronted Saul after Saul had disobeyed a direct commandment of God. He named Saul's sin, he showed the significance and the scale of it, and he announced its consequences.
Some of us may also have a Saul in our lives. It may be at home. It may be at work. But there is a person—or perhaps even people—who have brought great pain into your life. You need to know how to deal with them.
Today we're going to take a third step in discovering how to deal with difficult people. Today we will discover that a loyal person shows grace. We're going to take up the story where we left off last week, which is in First Samuel 15:23.
The rise of David
As we begin, let's consider some important background information. We saw last week in First Samuel 15:23 that God had rejected Saul as king over Israel. This did not mean, of course, that Saul could not be forgiven. There is always grace and mercy for those who turn to God to receive it. But it did mean that there were consequences for Saul's sin. The Spirit of the Lord departed from him, and the blessing of God no longer rested on Saul's leadership. This was a terrible thing for both he and the people of Israel.
Mercifully, in First Samuel 16, God tells the prophet Samuel to go and anoint another king. In this chapter, we read the story of how David was anointed. Though probably just a teenager at the time, David was to be the next king of Israel. It happened in private. Saul knew nothing of what was going on at this point.
Then we come to First Samuel 17, which most people know well. It's the marvelous story of David and Goliath. At this point, Saul was leading the army without the blessing of God on his leadership. Not only was Saul without blessing, but also his army was in trouble. They were stuck in a valley. They were humiliated by the taunts of a super-sized warrior called Goliath. Goliath would shout across the valley, challenging someone to come out and meet him. Saul—the once great leader who had been head-and-shoulders above everyone else in Israel—now suddenly looked rather small and pathetic. He certainly wasn't volunteering to take on the giant!
Then 15-year-old David came along with the Spirit of God upon him. As history reveals to us, David delivered God's people from their enemy. In reaction, Saul was so impressed that he thought: Wow, I've got to recruit him onto my staff! This is a marvelous fellow to have around.
So David is brought into the palace. As Scripture informs us, he makes Saul look so good that he ends up being quickly promoted. First Samuel 18:5: "Whatever Saul sent David to do, David did it so successfully that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people, and Saul's officers as well."
The more success David had, the more popular he became. In First Samuel 18:7, we find the women in the town singing, "Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands." At that point, things began to change. First Samuel 18:8 reads, "Saul was very angry." The song that the women were singing really got him going. "They have credited David with tens of thousands," he thought, "but me with only thousands." Then notice what he says at the end of verse 8: "What more can he get but the kingdom?"
This is the moment of recognition. It suddenly dawned on Saul. He knows that the Spirit of God has left him. He's heard the Samuel's announcement that the kingdom will be taken from him. Saul realizes that David—the very man that he's promoted and whom God has already used to deliver His people—is the man who's going to end up getting the kingdom.
At that moment, Saul faced a choice. If he had accepted the word from the Lord, accepting the consequences of this sin and showing true repentance, he could have spent his later years mentoring David. But the tragedy of Saul's life is that instead of accepting the word from the Lord and submitting to it, Saul just became angry. One could write a single word over the later years of this man's life: Angry. He was angry with God, he was angry with David, and progressively, as we follow the story, he becomes more and more angry with everybody else around him. As we're going to see, he makes life miserable for everyone. First Samuel 18:9 reads, "And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David."
Here's the extraordinary thing: Saul knows that the blessing of God is on David, yet he spends the later years of his life trying to destroy the very person God has chosen to bless. This was an exercise in utter futility, since no one can destroy the purpose of God. So as Saul becomes older, he gets more and more frustrated. Pursuing David becomes an obsession with him—so much so that in the end, Saul seems to lose touch with reality altogether.
This is one of the saddest stories in the Bible. It's a story that contains a powerful warning for every one of us, especially when we're disappointed. Be very careful when you find yourself becoming angry. Be very careful when someone else has the blessing that you wanted. The New Testament says to us, "See to it that no root of bitterness grows up in you" (Hebrews 12:15). A root of bitterness destroyed Saul, and it will destroy you, too.
The difficulty of Saul
I want us to see two things from the Scripture this morning. The first is the pain that Saul caused as he became increasingly angry and frustrated—the pain he caused to other people around him. Secondly, I want us to see the way in which David responded to this with grace.
Let's begin with First Samuel 18:11. David is now on the palace staff. As good as David's exploits in leading the army were, he evidently doubled as a solo musician, a harpist. Saul is listening to David playing the harp. In a moment of fury, Saul sees his spear and thinks to himself: I'm going to pin him to the wall right now! I'm going to finish him off!
His anger and frustration too much to contain, Saul hurls the spear at David, and David sidesteps the javelin and wisely leaves the palace.
When the dust settles, Saul pledges that he'll never do such a thing again. David comes back to the palace, and then Saul uses another tactic. He says: I know. I'll send him out with the army and the Philistines will finish him off for me.
So Saul sends David out on more and more military campaigns. But as you might expect, God blesses David, causing him to become more and more successful and popular. Everything Saul does just leads to more and more frustration, because he can't overturn the blessing of God on this man.
A few verses later, in First Samuel 18, things got worse for Saul. Out of all the men in Israel, Saul's daughter falls in love with David. If you look at verse 20, we're told that "Saul's daughter Michal was in love with David." Look at Saul's reaction in verses 21-22:"When they told Saul about it, he was pleased. 'I will give her to him,' he thought, 'so that she may be a snare to him.'"
Now what do you make of this man? He's ready to use his own daughter as a spy on his enemy. Talk about a dysfunctional family.
Put yourself in David's shoes. What would you make of a father-in-law who would attempt to use his own daughter—your wife—to undermine you? But when David married Michal, Saul promised to "let bygones be bygones" and so forth. So David comes back to the palace. But in First Samuel 19, Saul's temper erupts yet again. He evidently can no longer control himself. He throws his spear at David—the second attempted at impaling him.
Saul's deteriorating temper affects even his own son, Jonathan. In First Samuel 20, we're told about an evening when the family was gathered around the dinner table—no doubt an extended banquet table with many others present. David was not there that night, because he was hiding in the fields. We know that Jonathan loved David, and in the course of conversation, he spoke up in defense of his friend. In First Samuel 20:30 we read that, "Saul's anger flared up at Jonathan."
This is the kind of man Saul is. His temper flares up again and again—this time at his own son, Jonathan. Saul even says to him, "You are the son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don't I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!"
Jonathan replies, "Why should he be put to death? What has he done?"
And Saul takes his spear and throws it right over the table at his son! Now Jonathan has to avoid Saul, too.
This is, by any standards, a family completely out of control. The Spirit of God has departed from Saul. Bitterness and anger are raging within him. No one knows how he's going to erupt next. The man finds himself in the grip of a power that he cannot control and the whole family suffers because of it.
So do you see what is happening in Saul's life? He's angry with God. He's angry with David. He feels power slipping away from him. He doesn't like it. He doesn't know what to do about it. Nothing he tries seems to work. He's increasingly frustrated. So Saul ends up destroying relationships with the very people God has placed around him, even his own son and daughter.
David shows grace to Saul
Then one day, David had the chance to get even. I want you to turn to First Samuel 24. Saul now has 3,000 men who are out looking for David. By this point in the story, David is a fugitive on the run. He's hiding in a large cave in the area of En Gedi.
As the men search for David, Saul needs to use the restroom. As you can imagine, there aren't a lot of restrooms provided in the desert, so Saul decides that he'll go into a cave to relieve himself. In fact, he goes into the very cave where David, accompanied by a few of his fighting men, is hiding in the darkness.
What would you have done? If there is a Saul in your life, it is more than likely that at some point God will give you the opportunity to get even with the person,and what you do with that opportunity will be one of the greatest tests of your Christian life.
Our American culture screams to us this slogan: "Don't get mad, get even!" You've been hurt? "Don't get mad, get even!" That's why our courts are packed full. When we have been hurt, our first instinct is to hurt back. "I'll make them pay for this," we plot.
God gives David the opportunity to get even. Picture him in the back of the cave, completely concealed from Saul. Saul, who's been such a pain in his life for years, is now in an utterly defenseless position. What an opportunity to even the odds!
Not only did David have the opportunity to get even, but he also had plenty of encouragement to do it. Notice in First Samuel 24:4 what David's mighty men were whispering to him in the back of the cave: This is the day. This is God's day. This is the opportunity that God is giving to you. Go, take the dagger, and finish him off.
Consider this a warning: When a moment to get even comes along—when you are given the opportunity to get even with someone who has harmed you—there will be no shortage of friends who will come along like David's mighty men, and say: Go for it. Kill him.
But David refused. Instead, he crept forward, and he cut off the corner of Saul's robe. Saul knew nothing about it. He picked up his robe, put it back on, and went out of the cave. Then listen to First Samuel 24:8-9. As David comes out to the mouth of the cave, he says, "My Lord the king … Why do you listen when men say, 'David is bent on harming you'?" Then David adds in verse 10, "The Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, 'I will not lift my hand against my master because, he is the Lord's anointed.'"
Do you see the extraordinary contrast between these two men? On the one hand, Saul had no reason to attack David over these years, but he's thrown a spear at him twice, he's leaned on his own daughter to betray her husband, and he's raised an army against David.
David, on the other hand, has every reason to attack Saul, but he exercises restraint. He shows grace.
Showing grace to the most difficult of people
We live in a very broken world, where many people do terrible things. Some of us can identify a Saul in our lives—someone who has hurt us deeply and made life dreadfully difficult. This individual has tried to take what was rightfully ours. When you have been hurt, there are two ways that you can go. The first is that you can try and get even: Someone has hurt me, so I want to hurt him back. I want to make him pay. I want to make her pay.
What's wrong with that? Shouldn't we Christians be concerned about justice? We absolutely should be, but there is more than one way of getting justice.
Look at what David says in First Samuel 24:12. "May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you."
David is not disinterested in matters of ultimate justice, but he has made a choice to entrust these matters into the hand of God. Saul is one of these guys that's always saying, "I'm sorry" or "Let's start over; I'll be different." We've seen this pattern repeating itself throughout the story. It's very difficult to tell whether he means it sincerely, or whether this is just another repetition of the same line.
How does David deal with this kind of deceptive and difficult person? He says: I'm placing this in the hands of God. God knows my heart. God knows my motives. God knows everything I've done and everything I will do. But I'm not going to take the matter of trying to sort this whole thing out into my own hands. I'm going to leave it in the hands of God.
This is what enables David to show grace to Saul. He restrains the impulse to get even. He offers grace to Saul, who has been so bitter towards him. David places matters of justice in God's hands,and not his own.
Few stories in the Bible speak more clearly, helpfully, and powerfully to those who are struggling to find out how to handle someone who's hurt them and shows no sign of sorrow. Notice that at the end of First Samuel 24, David does not go back with Saul (and he would have been quite unwise to do so). David has no way of knowing if Saul's repentance is real. Saul does acknowledge to David in 24:17, "You are more righteous than I … You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly," but Saul has said this kind of thing before. David is cautious about Saul's words—and rightly so. This is not a story about forgiveness. In fact, that never happened. This is a story about showing grace to a man who never changed.
Some of us really do struggle with how we are to treat the person who has wronged us and shows no sign of real repentance. Here's something you can do: You can restrain the desire to get even, and you can place the whole matter into the hands of God. The day may come when this person who has injured you comes to repentance; it will be wonderful if God causes it to be so. The day may even come— though you may find it hard to imagine—when a wonderful reconciliation may be possible. Until that day comes, here is what you can do: You can restrain the desire to get even and you can place the matter in the hands of God. When you do that, you keep faith in a broken world. This is grace, and it is the most liberating thing in all the world.
Those who choose the path of David when dealing with a difficult person, gain something quite valuable. When you act in grace, you reflect the character of God, for God is gracious. Just as God withholds vengeance and creates room for reconciliation, so do you. There will be ultimate justice, but right now God creates room for every one of us to be reconciled to Him. .
This is precisely what the Lord Jesus Christ did. Peter tells us in his letter that when they hurled insults at Jesus, he did not retaliate. When he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself into the hands of the Father who judges justly. You don't ever hear Jesus from the cross saying: You know, one day you guys are going to be real sorry for what you did to me.
You never hear him saying: Let me tell you what I'm going to do to you …
He placed the whole matter in the hands of God. He trusted that God would do what was right with regards to this case. Where there was genuine repentance, God would bring forgiveness. Where there was not genuine repentance, God himself would do what is right. He had compassion on his enemies in the meantime, and he prayed for them.
Maybe you say: That was Jesus; that's different. But Peter very specifically says, "Christ suffered for you, leaving an example, that you should follow in His footsteps" (1 Peter 2:21). And he continues in 4:14 by saying, "If you are insulted … you are blessed, for the Spirit of Glory and of God rests on you."
That's worth more than the satisfaction of vengeance or some profitable legal settlements. In a world of "don't get mad, get even," we desperately need grace. And the world is not going to find it anywhere unless it begins in the church of Jesus Christ, right here among us.
Where you've been wounded, have you considered the possibility of restraining the urge to get even? Have you considered showing grace and putting matters of ultimate justice—and the wrongs that have been committed against you—into the hands of God? Do you know that he judges justly?
I want to say a word at this point to all of you who have shown grace to a Saul in your life. Someone has hurt you, and there were things that you could have done to get even, but you chose not to. As you restrained vengeance, you showed grace and reflected the character of God. You have followed the example of Jesus, and the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Many of you know much better than I do that there are plenty of Sauls in the world of business. They are greedy, self-obsessed people—both angry and frustrated—who'll do anything to get their own way. They feel increasingly desperate when they don't, and you work amongst some of them. The world of business needs more Davids. It needs men and women who will restrain the urge to get even and will show grace instead.
The tragic reality is that there are plenty of Sauls in our families, as well. These are men or women who have been running an argument for years. They won't let it go, and they can't stop talking about it. Our families need more Davids, men and women who will restrain the urge to get even and will show grace instead.
When you look in the mirror, are you looking at David, or are you looking at Saul? If we were to ask your family or your circle of friends or your colleagues at work to speak honestly about how they experience you, would the reality be that you're bringing a great deal of pain into the lives of other people, or would it be that you're bringing a great deal of grace into the lives of others?
Both Saul and David are here among us. Some of us are causing terrible pain to others. You need to seek real repentance. I don't mean the Saul "lip service" that just says sorry every six months and carries on exactly the same. I mean the repentance that comes to God and says: Oh God, change me! For that is why Christ died for you.
There are David's here as well. Some of us know wounds that are very deep, but we also know that the calling of Jesus Christ is very high. We don't want to be part of an ongoing hatred in society, and we have offered grace to even the most difficult of people.
When we know the grace Christ has given us through the cross, we begin to discover the place where that grace may be released to others around us. God has restrained vengeance and shown amazing grace to us, in Christ. What are we going to show to those who have hurt us?
Colin Smith is pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois.