Bear with me a minute while I “think outside the box” — which here means “to think freely, not bound by old, nonfunctional, or limiting structures, rules, or practices“. That’s a phrase I hear a lot. It is usually used to encourage people to do something different, to think about things in a different way. There are a lot of people who succeed by doing this very thing — thinking outside the box. Being creative is a great way to set yourself apart from others. It is a great way to solve problems.
Thinking outside the box can also bring its own set of problems. There was a king who thought outside the box. He came across a problem. He thought to himself what would be the best way to solve this problem. He came up with a solution. He acted on the solution. The next thing he knew, he had lost all favor with God. He learned that he would lose his kingdom. Saul is the king. The story of his creative thinking can be found in 1 Samuel 13.
Here is what the scriptures say:
“As for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.”
The people were in fear. They were trembling. Saul needed to do something or they would leave him like the others had in the previous verses. If he had not taken action, he would be looked at as a weak leader. I’m sure the people he was with were comforted by his quick, decisive actions. He seemed totally unaware that his “thinking outside the box” would be greeted with anything less than praise from Samuel.
But look at what happened next:
“And Samuel said, ‘What have you done?’”
I just wonder how Saul felt when, instead of being praised, Saul saw disbelief on Samuel’s face and heard bewilderment in his voice. “What have you done?” is a far cry from “You did the right thing. You are such a wonderful king!” I wonder if Saul’s heart sank like I know mine would have.
Now comes the excuses:
“Saul said, ‘When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.’”
Defending his actions, he begins explaining why he offered the sacrifice. He “felt compelled” to offer the offering. He did it for God. Someone had to offer the sacrifice and since Samuel wasn’t there, the job would have to fall to the king. Wouldn’t anyone else do the same thing? After all, it is the sacrifice that is important, not who offers it, right?
“And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
Apparently, Saul’s explanation was not enough to satisfy Samuel. “You have done foolishly” is what he said. What? The king of Israel had acted foolishly? He was just doing what he thought was right. Why would God care about the details? The end result is the same. The sacrifice was offered. Saul learned that God does care about who does something and how it is done because God took away his kingdom. He took it away because Saul did not obey Him.
What does this have to do with you and me? While “thinking outside the box” can be a good way to do some things, serving God is not one of them. As much as we would like to think that God would never punish us for doing what we think is right or for doing things because we “mean well”, God isn’t like that. God is loving, yes. God is patient, yes. God is forgiving, yes. But if we do things our way instead of God’s way, He will not only be unhappy with us, if we do not change our ways, He will punish us — severely. God wants obedience. Complete obedience. Obedience even if we think we know of a better way. Obedience even if we do not know what He wants us to do. Ignorance is no excuse. God expects us all to read His word, study His word, meditate His word and, as we are told in Ephesians 5:17:
“Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
God has given us a box. A perfect box. Our job is to fit into His box. He does not want us to try to enlarge His box or change His box in any way. The wonderful thing is that His box is for all men for all times. He doesn’t need to give us a new box for a new generation. His box is His word. Those who follow His word are added to His church and have the hope of living with Him eternally. So when we are tempted to do things differently than God has told us, remember Saul and his moment of “thinking outside the box”.