“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” —the Lord Jesus Christ, John 14:15

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22). King Saul has just won a battle of annihilation, and now, because of disobedience, Samuel pronounces: “The Lord hath rejected thee from being king” (15:26). Those are hard lines with which to meet a triumphant, victorious king. It was a hollow victory and an empty triumph. Saul had tried to improve upon the commandment of God. We do the same today, only in more subtle ways.

There are certain words that command respect. They speak of something held in high regard. Few people hold a negative view of these words. One of them is volunteer! The sound of the word may cause shivers to run through a person. It is used where ideals are at stake, where danger and death are the reward, where sacrifice is necessary. It has the sound of someone above the crowd—the exception—someone of a free will doing something with the consequences clearly in mind. The word occurs in time of war, and it also applies to the spiritual war, especially in the foreign missions enterprise, as in the Student Volunteer Movement of the early part of the twentieth century.

In recent months I have been asking groups of Christians a simple question: “Would you rather volunteer or would you rather obey?” With very few exceptions, every group has responded overwhelmingly to volunteer.

The first time I asked this question was at a junior-high Bible study group. Everybody wanted to volunteer. When asked why they would rather volunteer, the answer was clear. They got credit for volunteering and no credit at all for doing what they were told. One boy added some further insight into the problem. He was thinking about volunteering to clean the basement and was feeling rather fine about it, when his mother cut his musing short with an order for him to clean the basement. She ruined it all! Suddenly, he did not want to clean the basement. This question was prompted by the passage we were studying:

“Suppose one of you has a servant ploughing or minding sheep. When he comes back from the fields, will the master say, ‘Come along at once and sit down’? Will he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, fasten your belt, and then wait on me while I have my meal; you can have yours afterwards’? Is he grateful to the servant for carrying out his orders? So with you: when you have carried out all your orders, you should say, ‘We are servants and deserve no credit; we have only done our duty’” (Lk. 17:7–10).

A word that occurs today with great frequency is the word challenge. Although it is not a synonym for volunteer, there is a close relationship between these words. If challenge is used as a synonym for encourageor exhort, no harm is done. But the word in today’s vocabulary connotes the concept of the defiant challenger flinging down the gauntlet; this sort of challenge involves the application of subtle pressures on a man to attempt that which he previously has been either unwilling or unable to do. Often we hear Christian speakers portraying the difficulties and hazards of particular tasks in such a way as to provoke in the minds of their hearers a human pride that makes them eager to volunteer and do that which needs to be done

The dictionary definition of “challenge” has a close resemblance to the word as we use it today, with one exception: we challenge our own team. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, and according to tradition and history, a challenge comes from the enemy, the adversary, the sentry, the opposition. A challenge does not come from our team. It is defiance, a dare. Now with this definition, we see the challenge occurring in Scripture. It first occurred subtly, challenging God’s authority, when the serpent said to the woman, “You shall not surely die.” Other examples are:

·       Satan’s challenge to God to let him have access to Job in Job 1:9–11, 2:4–5.

·       Goliath’s defiance of the armies of Israel in 1 Samuel 17:10.

·       Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18:21–27.

·       The Rabshakeh’s famous challenge to the people on the wall to surrender in 2 Kings 18:27–37.

When the challenge comes from the enemy, it may come as a threat, a lie, or a promise. In any case, it is an attempt to get us to respond on the enemy’s conditions. The very nature of challenge is to lay out conditions determined by the challenger that the challenged must accept. If he is wise, the challenged will never respond to a challenge on the challenger’s conditions.

*Excerpted from Principles of War. To purchase, visit ccmbooks.org/bookstore.