After Saul failed to follow the Lord’s instructions (to destroy Amalek totally, together with their livestock), the Lord rejected him as king. The incident is related in 1 Samuel 15.
Saul’s excuse was that they spared the livestock in order to offer sacrifices to God.
“But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:21)
Samuel’s reply is:
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
This is a warning against the tendency that many of us have to be pragmatists. To do what works irrespective of what God says.
It’s the “irrespective of what God says” bit that matters here. So: There’s nothing wrong with saying “God wants to see the world evangelised, so I’ll do whatever it takes to reach the world”. Or, “God wants earthly government to reflect his good, moral, holy character, so I’ll do what it takes to pursue that end.” Finding an end that is good to God’s heart, and finding ways of moving the world towards that good end is not a problem.
It’s doing it irrespective of what God says that is the problem. We can’t say “God likes X, so I’ll achieve it by means of Y”, if God has also said that he hates Y. We can’t say: “The summary of the law says this, so I’ll obey it by doing these detailed practices” if the detailed practices are prohibited in the full text of the law, the exposition of the summary.
So pursuing evangelism is a good thing for a church: Provided the way that priority is worked out doesn’t disobey other priorities and values. Pursuing social action, reformed national government, greater love amongst God’s people, ..., are good things for a church: Provided the way those priorities are worked out doesn’t disobey other priorities and values.
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)