Discipline is about everyday battles. It is really about the small things. We do not avoid slipping up only by jumping over the big pitfalls. Moreover, while one success is a victory, it takes many grace-fueled successes each day to move forward in sanctification. For example, we do not avoid weight gain by avoiding one desert. It is a daily struggle of fighting many battles in which we have choices to make. We do not avoid being out of shape by avoiding one lazy afternoon. No, we fight against the desire to avoid work each day as we lace up our shoes to go to the gym or out for a run.
We have to die to self daily, even hourly, allowing God to have not just the big victories in our lives, but the small ones as well. In fact, it is the small victories that keep us on track for the big victories.
Winning one battle is not going to win the war. If we do not take the little battles seriously, we have no hope to keep a disciplined life. Just as getting our lives back on track from whatever has us feeling down is never a fast process, so too is falling away from good habits often a slow process in which we lose sight of our goal, and since it happens by small degrees, we often do not notice until it is too late. Again, weight gain comes to mind, but, as always, at The Echo Life, physicality serves as a platform, but the application goes on into all areas of life.
One of the best illustrations of a slow demise comes in Judges 13-16. Samson was a Nazarite from birth. God had set him aside for a special task, and Samson was to keep three promises as an outward sign of his special, inward relationship with God. 1) He was to never touch a dead body. 2) He was never to partake of wine or strong drink. 3) He was never to cut his hair.
Samson was chosen out of Israel from the tribe of Dan to be a judge, that is a military deliverer. He was to lead the Israelites against the Philistines, who were trying to take over the Promised Land. God had called Israel to this place as a ministry to the world. The Promised Land was the crossroads of the world. God wanted to establish a Holy Nation at this spot so others passing by would notice their goodness and seek for God. To accomplish such a task, all pagans had to be driven out so that Israel’s light was clearly seen. Samson was to begin the process of driving one such pagan group out, the Philistines. This was God’s will for Samson’s life.
Contrary to wanting to follow the will of God by wanting Israel purified of the pagan Philistines, Samson instead decides he wants to marry a Philistine woman he found attractive. This was the beginning of Samson’s great downfall, and brings us to our first point: Sin begins in the heart when we put our will before God’s will. (Note: Even in the midst of Samson’s disobedience, God uses Samson’s desire for Philistine women to confront the wicked Philistines. In other words, God’s plans won’t be thwarted.)
On the way to arrange his marriage to this woman (a task he was forcing upon his parents who, in this day, were to choose for him), a lion attacks Samson and the “Spirit of the Lord” comes upon Samson so that he can kill the lion. Later, Samson returns to the place he has killed the lion. He is alone, and he looks inside the carcass to see bees have made honey inside. Since he is alone, he, in secret, eats the honey. He actually scrapes the honey out of the dead animal. Remember, Samson had promised God he would not touch a dead body, which brings me to my second point: Sin that begins in the heart by putting our will before God’s soon leads to sinning in secret, when no one is looking, and we think it won’t hurt anything or anyone.
When he gets to the Philistine town to marry the woman, he ends up throwing a party. The Hebrew reading would allude to, “a festival of wine or heavy drink.” Not only does this lead the reader to assume Samson drank, but also he supplies the drink. Remember this was the second promise he was to keep, not to drink. Since he was not in the midst of God’s people, but instead in the midst of Philistines, he cuts loose. It seems he sees no need to act like one of God’s people, let alone a Nazarite, which brings me to my third point: What begins in the heart and moves to secret places soon moves into sinning with those we think don’t matter. We end up quickly with the wrong crowd, living like the pagans live.
At the party, like all drunken muscle heads, Samson picks a fight, and soon the Philistines bring the fight back to Samson’s home, Israel. Samson’s sins lead to the suffering of his loved ones. The Israelites give Samson over to the Philistines, but during the exchange, Samson breaks free of his bondage, picks up the fresh jawbone of a donkey, and slays many Philistines. Remember, Samson was not to touch dead bodies. The first time he did so was in secret. He was now sinning, not in secret, not just in front of the Philistines, but in front of his own people, which leads me to my forth point: Sin that begins in the heart, moves to the secret places, then in the presence of bad company, soon leads to full out disregard for God, His people, and His ministry.
Samson loses much in the process. The woman that he went to marry is put to death, and his people grow angry with him because he brings suffering to them, but does this stop him? No. He again peruses a Philistine woman. This time it is Delilah. We all know the story, and I bet many of you found it silly the first time you read it: No man has super power, and no one loses their power from a hair cut. But that is what the Bible records, or that is what we are taught in Sunday School. In fact, it is not about the haircut, but was about an increasingly destructive series of undisciplined acts.
Delilah asks Samson the source of his power and he finally tells her it is his hair. She cuts it. But, is this why Samson loses his strength? Of itself, the answer is no. It was the last sign of his inner relationship with the Lord, and he did not find it important to defend, instead he falls asleep, knowing that Delilah is trying to all she can to subdue him (she had tried time and time again). He had already broken the first two promises by touching the dead and drinking wine. He had forgotten his relationship. This is best seen when he says, “I will break free as I have before” (see 16:20). As we saw with the lion, it was not his own strength that delivered Samson, but the Spirit of God. Now, he was assuming he was the source of his own strength. This brings me to my final point: Sin that starts out in the heart and then moves into what seems to be the most insignificant of sins in secret can soon enough lead to fully losing sight of God.
Samson time and time again had battles to face. He could have chosen to do it God’s way, but each time, he does it his own way, and it leads to increasingly compromising situations. It finally leads to Samson forgetting God altogether. The silver lining is that the end of his story shows he remembers, but by this time, his eyes are gouged out and he is enslaved. Much damage had already been done. He had lost it all. What we need to see from his story is that losing it all begins with the small battles in which we can choose to do things God’s way, by avoiding temptation. No sin is too small. They add up, and if we keep going, it can lead to disaster. Seek God and discipline yourself to his ways by His grace each and every day.