“A Kingdom Provided”: Hannah and Samuel
I love the story of Hannah that we encounter as the Book of 1 Samuel opens. We are given only a brief couple chapters of this woman, but what we are given is ample enough for us to see how amazing she is. Hannah is a woman of deep faith and prevailing prayer. That is why my wife and I named our daughter Hannah, praying that she might likewise exhibit these characteristics in her life. Additionally, anytime we can lift up a godly woman in Scripture to our kids, that is a big win for our girls and our boys.
It is tempting, therefore, for us to spend some time with Hannah in this blog post, but as much as I want to do that I feel the need to go a different direction and camp out with her young son Samuel for a little while. The reason all comes down to two verses: 1 Samuel 3:11, 17 and what they teach us about the need to speak God’s truth to others.
Speak the truth
We pick up the story of Samuel after Hannah has made good on her commitment to take the boy she had longed for to serve God in the tabernacle. (I told you she is amazing.) Young Samuel is asleep and God calls out to him. At first, Samuel (and Eli) do not understand it is God calling, but finally they do and this is how God begins His message to the young prophet:
11 The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder. (1 Samuel 3:11 CSB)
I like the CSB translation here. The ESV, NASB, and NIV all speak of the ears of everyone hears the message tingling. That is the literal translation, but I have heard this verse used in a positive sense—that the message through Samuel would amaze the people. That is not what is in mind here. God is telling him that the message he was giving Samuel would do the opposite—it would shock the people. What was to follow would not be a good, happy message, but a difficult, sobering one. God was going to judge Eli’s family because of their iniquity (v. 13). Nothing like giving young Samuel such a softball for his first prophetic message, right?
Understandably, Samuel is a tad timid to share this message with Eli (v. 15). Now, from what we read of Eli he was likely not the best priest or father, but to his credit, he gets what he says next right:
17 “What was the message he gave you? ” Eli asked. “Don’t hide it from me. May God punish you and do so severely if you hide anything from me that he told you.” (1 Samuel 3:17 CSB)
Eli had enough sense to know it is better to hear what God says than what you might want God to say. Even if that message is difficult, which appears to be what Eli anticipated. Again, to his credit, Eli seemed to have enough self-awareness to know he was not up for any employee of the month awards. And so, Samuel complies and told Eli everything (v. 18). Thus began the public ministry of one of the more important prophets in Israel’s history.
Speak the truth with grace
We need to just say it: God’s truth, the gospel, is offensive. Don’t take my word for it:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. 24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, 25 because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25 CSB)
Think about it. It is the offensiveness of the gospel that leads Christians to be martyred and marginalized, in Paul’s day and our’s. Indeed, it was the offensiveness of the gospel that led to Christ’s crucifixion. Why?
Because how the gospel message, much like Samuel’s message, begins with words of judgment because of our iniquity. Some gospel outlines begin with God’s love, or the plan that He has for a person—and that is fine if you prefer that approach. But even if you do, what must follow is an explanation of humanity’s sin and God’s holiness. As the evangelism adage goes: we have to get them lost before they can found. Jesus’ death on the cross makes no sense apart from a person first making sense of his sin. Without understanding our sin and God’s righteous judgment of it, the cross is reduced to a blood-soaked instrument of a sadistic God. Only by seeing that same cross through our sin and God’s holiness, are we able to see God’s glory and grace.
Such is the truth we are commanded to speak. Like Samuel, we are stewards of a message that will make people shudder. Our lips, and lives, bear a message that is offensive to our culture, but it is a message we must share. We need to share it in loving obedience to Christ and our culture needs for us to share it so that they might come to know and love Christ as well.
But here is where I often see the church stumble and fall. Now, I am not talking about how we fail to share the gospel (although this seems often to be the case). Rather, I am talking about how sometimes we seem to take great delight in sharing the gospel with a heart of judgment instead of grace. The church seems to delight in wagging our bony index finger at our culture in judgment. We seem more anxious to shame people rather than see God save them.
Yes, we need to speak the gospel boldly and unashamedly. Yes, this means we have to confront our culture much of the time. But we must always do so with hearts saturated with grace and mercy. Our motivation matters. We are not in it to win a debate, we are in it to see God bring people to Himself through Christ. Our goal is not to be right, vindicated, or brought into the mainstream from the margins, but for God to be glorified. Full stop.
The gospel is offensive, but we are not to be offensive in the way we deliver that message.
Speak the truth with humility
Perhaps the key for us to carry ourselves with grace as we share the gospel is to undergird that grace with humility. Let’s never forget that there was a time when we did not know the gospel. And even now, we fail to live it as we should so often. We are not saved because we are smarter than the world. We aren’t more spiritual than the world. We aren’t better than the world. We are saved merely by the grace and mercy of God. There is no room for boasting in the gospel, except for boasting in Christ. A people who are marked by the gospel are to be a people who are marked by humility, and that humility ought to carry over to how we share the gospel message with others.
This is another area in which we seem to be lacking. Need proof? Look at how we tend to treat one another on social media. Peruse Twitter for a little while and see the lack of humility and grace we offer other believers, merely because they don’t quite hold to the specific secondary or tertiary doctrines we hold to. Or so we believe; we often are prone to judge and attack one another without even listening and understanding where we are coming from.
If this is how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ, no wonder we lack humility and grace with the world.
Speak the truth with love
And this takes us to our need to bolster it all with love. The two greatest command center on love: we are to love God and love people. All of what we do hinges on these two postures of the heart. And that includes sharing the gospel. We are to share because we love God and are grateful for what He has done for us in Christ. We share to make His glory known to the nations. And we are also to share because we love people. We are to have a genuine longing to see people—of every tribe, tongue, and nation—come to saving faith in Christ.
The words of the gospel are indeed offensive, but they are bound up in love—God’s love made known to us on the cross and our love made known in our faithfulness to share the gospel with all who might hear.
Sin either stops up our ears from God’s voice or makes God’s voice terrifying rather than comforting. Sin causes us to fear God’s voice rather than love God’s voice.” — Heath Thomas and J.D. Greear 
Preschool Tip: For preschoolers, one of the main take-aways of this session is that they see that God gave Samuel a message to tell others about God. That it was a message of judgment is an extra layer they may not need to know. Rather, you may want to focus on how God gave that message to Samuel and he was faithful to share it. From that, you can point to Jesus in the Christ Connection and talk about how we too are given a message to tell others about Christ.
Kids Tip: For kids, you may want to ensure that the nature of Samuel’s message is made clear. What God told Samuel to do was hard. Our kids need to know that, because the chances are pretty good that they feel that God is calling them to do hard things too. This could lead you to have a wonderful discussion of how Jesus was called on to do that which was hardest of all and how God equips us and empowers us to do even the hard things in life, such as living for Christ and telling others about Him.
 Heath Thomas and J. D. Greear, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2016) [Wordsearch].