Today we are going to look at the curses of chapter 3 to get an understanding of God’s grace-infused judgment. That may seem like an impossible thing to put together, but I think that is exactly the beauty that we are supposed to see out of this passage and by extension the rest of the passages in the Bible. We serve an incredibly merciful God that even when He is by no means clearing the guilty, He is merciful in His punishments.
We pick up the story in verse 14. Adam and Eve have finally confessed what they have done, and judgment is about to fall. This is often called the “curses,” but what is a curse? Ross helpfully states: “"...'curse' has the idea of banishment from the place of blessing” (145). It begins with the snake. The snake is cursed beyond all the other creatures as a reminder of the heinousness of the crime committed. Now, as we have discussed before, this snake is later identified as the Devil in Revelation 20:2, but he has already been kicked out of heaven. This snake is now a symbol of rebellion against God and as such is given a unique place of dishonor and a humble diet of dirt.
Now if I could place myself in the minds of Adam and Eve, I might think, “Yeah, the snake is going to be dishonored, but at least he gets to live.” They know that the penalty for eating of this tree is going to be death, but hearing that the snake is going to continue to live long enough to feel his new cursed position had to have piqued their interest.
As we get into verse 15, I can only imagine what would have gone through their minds as they hear the words, “I will put enmity between your offspring and her offspring.” Wait. Offspring? Meaning, that there is going to be children? We aren’t just going to be annihilated right here? This is the first note of hope in this chapter, and it comes in the classic bad news-good news format. The bad news is that the snake is going to have offspring. The good news is that Eve is going to have offspring, and Eve’s Offspring will triumph. We who are reading this passage in light of the New Testament see this as the first proclamation of the gospel. If the snake is Satan, than this Offspring to come is Jesus Himself. He is going to crush the head of the snake, but unbeknownst to them, there is going to be a long line until we get there.
This is something that we will see spread throughout the rest of Genesis. There is going to be the line of the faithful who will ultimately produce Christ, and there are going to be a parallel line of the unfaithful who try to destroy the godly line. Cain kills Abel, but the line continues through Seth, but the conflict continues. For every Isaac, there is an Ishmael. For Jacob, there is Easau, and on and on it goes. But God will triumph in the end with Christ.
God didn’t have to do that. He could have just said, “Oh, do you want to serve the snake? Would you rather listen to him? Fine. Good luck. See how far that gets you.” He could have done that to Adam and Eve. Instead, He promises that the snake will not have the last laugh. Sin is not going to have the final word on anything. We need to keep this in mind that this promise is still operative. Do you look around and see that there is chaos everywhere? We see evil people serving the devil in unspeakable ways, and it seems like they always win! But they will not win forever! Jesus has crushed the head of the serpent at the cross, and one day as we will see in Revelation, Jesus is going to bind him to hell forever. This will be made new.
But it will come at a cost. Crushing the head of the snake is going to mean getting a bruised heel. What does that mean? This means that while the snake is going to take a mortal wound, the Snake killer is going sustain an injury. This is exactly what we see at the cross. Jesus dies, but He rises again. This means that Satan is defeated forever! Death is his ultimate weapon, and Jesus took it and beat it. This is a glorious promise made to us here!
This doesn’t mean, of course, that the path to this ultimate victory is going to be paved with flowery beds of ease. This offspring will need to come through childbirth, and this is not going to be an easy process from start to finish. It is worth noting that the word “curse” doesn’t show up when God is talking to Eve (Mathews, 248), but this doesn’t mean that things aren’t going to be harder for her as a result of sin. There are two areas that she is going to suffer in: childbearing and relationships.
God says that He is going to surely multiply the pain of childbearing. Here, God uses the same word “multiply” that He used in His original command to Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply. God is multiplying the pain of multiplying. For a reason that we will discuss in a minute, God is not saying that you must make child-bearing as painful as possible. God isn’t banning the use of medication to help with pain, in other words. God is simply describing how the world is going to be rather than prescribing what it must be (Ross, 144). Of course, as any woman who has gone through a pregnancy can tell you, pain is an accurate description of the childbearing process no matter what medication they give you. We as husbands have every duty to make that process as comfortable as possible, but the inability to remove all trouble from this process is evidence of God’s judgment here. We are reminded that the pain of even the most precious arrival in a family’s life is there because of sin. Yet the fact remains that we are still able to go forth and multiply, and where a culture multiplies, a culture has hope.
I came across a shocking statistic this week that said that China’s birth rate has dropped 70%. That is the deepest drop in birth rate that humanity has ever seen. Beyond the obvious implications that this will have for the rest of the world, that is a shocking loss of hope for a country. As painful as child-bearing is, it is punctuated with an undefeatable note of hope. As any couple who struggles to have children will tell you, the pain of not being able to have children outweighs the pain of being able to have children.
But this isn’t the only area that Eve and thus all women will struggle with, as the verse continues to talk about her relationship with Adam. As we get to this section, it is worth noting that this is probably one of the most debated verses in this section, potentially the most debated verse in Genesis. A lot of it comes down to how we interpret the words “desire,” “contrary to” and “rule.” The reason why this is so debated is because the way we settle on these questions changes how half of the population reacts to the other half. Some look at this passage and say that male leadership in the home is the result of the curse while others look at the woman’s struggle for power as the result of the curse. Which is it?
While we don’t have time to cover every move of every argument, I think we can look at two passages really quickly to answer this question. The first is in the very next chapter of Genesis. In Genesis 4:7, we see that Cain is thinking about killing his brother Abel. God tells him that sin’s desire is contrary to him, but he must rule over it. It is the same wording and virtually the same structure as our verse here in chapter 3. The meaning there is pretty clear: sin wants to control, but Cain shouldn’t allow that. It would appear, then, that Eve is now going to desire to be in control, but Adam is going to be the one in charge. This tells us what the word “desire” means, but it doesn’t answer the question of whether or not male headship in the home is a result of the Fall or reinforced after the Fall.
For that, we go into the New Testament, specifically to Ephesians 5. Here, at the end of the chapter, we see that Christ is the head of the Church, and this is mirrored in the marriage relationship. Paul grounds this in the original creation of Genesis 2 and says that Christ and the Church was always meant to fulfill that. So here, the cause of conflict isn’t male headship but the resistance to that and the domineering of the husband in it. The fact that this is such a debated issue between men and women shows that there is a curse here. What this is ultimately talking about is the fact that there is going to be relational disharmony. And in fact that there is going to be disharmony in the very relationship that should matter most.
Finally, we get to Adam’s curse, wherein the entire ground is cursed. One commentator puts it like this: "The ground will now be his enemy rather than his servant." (Matthews, 252). Now, all of Adam’s food is going to come through Adam’s pain (the word there used is the same as “pain” for Eve). Work is not a result of the Fall, but the things that make work so unpleasant are. This is why crops die, projects stall, drill bits snap inside the board, it all comes back to this. These things shouldn’t be surprises to us!
But the final line is to dust you shall return. This is where the final line of God’s warning to not eat of the tree comes into play. Adam, Eve, and all the rest of humanity, is going to die. As one scholar put it, "'Dust you are' always overcomes the progress of medicine and the ingenuity of cosmetology; every opened casket proves it so" (Matthews, 254). We knew that this penalty was coming, but the surprising thing is that it doesn’t come immediately. Didn’t God say, “in the day that you eat?” Why didn’t Adam and Eve die that very day? Well, as many commentators have pointed out, that what Adam and Eve experienced that day was the separation from God, a spiritual death indeed (Belcher, 75). But this doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to also literally die. In God’s mercy, He extends their time, but that death march begins and continues unstoppably. I liken it to a cancer diagnosis. When someone is given that horrible diagnosis, even though death doesn’t happen that day, you are a different person walking out of that exam room than you went in. Suddenly, everything is a reminder of that diagnosis, every joy, every pain. We can grasp that as human beings who know from a very early age that we are going to die. Adam and Eve started out in literal paradise, and now everything is ruined and everything is a reminder of that ruin. Clothes are new, weeds are new, pain is new, arguments and bitterness—it’s all new and terrible! It’s a living death if there ever was one and a constant reminder of their failure.
So to not put too fine a point on it, Adam and Eve will experience a literal, biological death, and while they wait, they endure the spiritual death of separation from God, from all things good and beautiful. They are expelled from the Garden and the Tree of Life. This is an act of mercy from God so that they would not have to live a cursed life forever. The world has gotten to such a point that one wouldn’t want to live forever here! Before He sends them out, He provides for them clothing, clothing of animal skins. One commentator writes about this: "'Adam took the leaves from an inanimate, unfeeling tree; God deprived an animal of life, that the shame of His creature might be relieved. This was the last thing Adam would have thought of doing. To us life is cheap and death familiar, but Adam recognized death as the punishment of sin. Death was to the early man a sign of God's anger. And he had to learn that sin could be covered not by a bunch of leaves snatched from a bush as he passed by and that would grow again next year, but only by pain and blood. Sin cannot be atoned for by any mechanical action nor without expenditure of feeling. Suffering must ever follow wrongdoing. From the first sin to the last, the track of the sinner is marked with blood.'" (Ross, 149, Quoting Marcus Dods,*The Book of Genesis*, 25-26).
So what are we supposed to take away from each of these curses?
Well, we see that because of sin, everything has gone wrong. Relationships and childbearing—two expected sources of joy and delight—often include pain and suffering. Work and production—two expected sources of purpose and accomplishment—often include toil and setbacks. But I think that Christ is able to redeem these very problems both in the future and present. These problems are actually meant to point us to God, to awaken in us a sense of, “this ought to be different.” It should! We aren’t meant to find our hope here! So hold this pain the world gives you and use it to let all the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. By all means let the joys that do come in this world wash over you. Enjoy them. But don't let them be the end in themselves. Don't look at them like scraps of food in the wilderness to keep you alive for another day. Instead look at them like the scent of bread baking in the kitchen. Enjoy the smell, but let it awaken you to the joy that food is coming! More is coming! Better is on its way! Not only will you smell but you will hold, taste, consume, and be finally filled. One day all things will be made right.
Even in the present, Christ can give our sufferings purpose. When our work fails and is set back, God is both in control of that setback and will be glorified by that. If you do your work honestly and as if God Himself were your supervisor, then whether your efforts panned out like you wanted, God is still pleased. Toil in your work doesn’t defeat God.
The same can be said of relational pain. When we dishonor God in our battle for control of our spouses, rather than lovingly, sacrificially leading and patient following, we can turn to glorify Him in forgiveness. And over time, you can glorify God in a marriage that was once defined by conflict and jockeying for supremacy, that is now in the power of the Holy Spirit defined by love. If this battle turns physical, you can glorify God by not allowing that to continue. If you have had a relationship turn sour, it doesn’t have to define you. Christ who defines you.
Finally, when it comes to the snake, we learn that there are going to be two seeds, and two seeds only. One is either in the camp of the snake or the camp of Christ. The Bible simply doesn't see it any other way. Matthew 12:30 has Jesus saying exactly that. You are either with Jesus or against Jesus. There is no third option, no matter how much we might delude ourselves into thinking otherwise. Who's side are you on? Have you surrendered to Christ? Have you held up your sins to Jesus and said, “I want to be rid of these so that I can hold onto you”? Have you asked Jesus to forgive you? Jesus took on sin’s penalty by dying on the cross and rising again! He is the one we look to for hope, for one day, He will heal everything, as far as the curse is found!
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Sin is really hard to deal with honestly. We’ve all seen the fake apologies from politicians or celebrities that did something wrong and got caught. Sometimes the non-apologies are easy to spot: “I’m sorry you were offended.” That’s rookie stuff. Sometimes they are a bit more sophisticated: “Mistakes were made.” A phrase like that gently moves responsibility off of the speaker without it seeming like that. This is a phenomenon related in a really fantastic book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). In the book, the author, though writing from a non-christian perspective, points out all the ways that we justify ourselves when we do something wrong. It is so automatic, subconscious, and universal, all of us can feel seen in a book like that. Seriously, I read that book and questioned everything I was thinking for weeks (or was I?).
However, once we look at our passage today, I think you will be able to see the roots of this sort of response to sinful actions. Right after the first sin on Earth is committed, the first appearance of shame and blame begin. Shame and blame are two ways of dealing with sin that when used in the wrong way just lead us even deeper into sin. We will see the wrong way of dealing with our sin, and then we will see how Jesus’ work saves us from both.
As we dive into our passage, it is worth reminding ourselves where we started. At the end of chapter 2, Adam and his wife have everything that they could possibly want. They had food, paradise, each other, naked and unashamed. But after they were led down the path of sin through the Serpent’s words and their own desires, now their eyes are open. They see that they are naked and are filled with shame. Who would have seen that coming? One commentator saw the sudden shame Adam and his wife felt as being like if we were suddenly ashamed of our hands (Cassuto, 137). It would feel very foreign to us to have that happen, and I can only imagine how disorienting that was for them, as they didn’t even know what shame was.
When we feel shame on something, our first instinct is to cover it up. This is what our first parents do when they have sinned against God: get some leaves! It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. Here they have sinned against God who has done nothing but good things for them, a sin so serious as to deserve death, and the best that they can come up with is leaves. That’ll fool God! He’ll never notice that!
This is an example of shame used wrongly. The problem is not that Adam and his wife feel shame. They should! They’ve sinned against a loving and gracious God! They should feel bad. We should feel bad when we sin, too. God has been just as good to us. In fact, you might even suggest that God has been better to us than Adam and Eve, because he has blessed us despite our sin! Shame is an appropriate initial reaction to our sin. The problem comes when we try to solve our shame ourselves.
Adam and his wife try to solve for their shame by putting leaves on themselves. Initially, this seems like a good solution. They are ashamed to be naked, so leaves will cover up the parts they aren’t comfortable with anymore. But what is this really doing? Is this actually resolving their shame? Not really. It is just coping with it. They’ve disobeyed God; they can’t undo that. All they can do is try to deal with the uncomfortable symptoms.
Can we not relate? How many times when we sin do we just retreat into our computers? Retreat into our work? Retreat into our drinks? Guilt is such a powerful emotion. Can it not ruin everything? Everything else can be going perfectly, but when there is something we know we have to confront, even paradise is a living hell. Now some have an even more powerful and sophisticated way of dealing with shame and that is wallowing in it. They have done this terrible thing, and they cannot stop talking about it and beating themselves up about it. They don’t try to distract, but quite the opposite: they try to deeply punish themselves. They take on the shame as a massive part of their identity, making it so that no life ever really reaches them. They suffer for a completely indefinite amount of time, simultaneously too much and not enough.
None of these ways of dealing with shame addresses the root problem: you have sinned against God.
Adam and his wife have not truly covered up their shame, because as soon as God comes into the garden, they retreat to hide amongst the trees. This is an interesting little moment here, as they are trying to use God’s blessings of the trees to hide themselves from God.
God isn’t fooled. He says to the man, “Where are you?” Scholars note that God isn’t actually confused about where they are, and the text itself hints at that by saying that God said this to Adam. In fact, as Matthews points out, God is very specifically talking to Adam in verses 9-11 as the words are singular when God says “you.” (240). God’s Word also demonstrates that God’s knowledge of all things is completely comprehensive. There is simply nothing that God doesn’t know about. But here, God is noting to Adam that he is missing from the usual place. Something is different, and it is time for Adam to confess what he has done. But Adam doesn’t really do that. He starts out by saying that he was ashamed to be naked in God’s presence. God won’t let him off the hook and asks specifics about their eating of the tree. Again, Matthews comments, “There will be no possibility for reconciliation if the guilty are unwilling to confess their deeds.” (240). If someone will not even agree that what they have done is wrong when they are wrong, there is just no way a relationship can thrive in that condition. Confession is the first and often one of the hardest steps.
When it is clear that God already knows what Adam has done, Adam deploys the next trick for not dealing with one’s sin: blame. Adam begins by blaming his wife for giving him the fruit. There is also the not-so-subtle blaming of God Himself for giving Him his wife in the first place! One scholar notice that the word “gave” is used here twice, almost to say, “You gave me her, and she gave me the fruit!” (Matthews, 241). That same scholar goes on to say, “Now, like the serpent, he charges that God’s good gift was malicious, for she has led to his downfall. She is a mistake.” (241). Is that not chilling? Here, Adam has become snake-like. He follows those steps we talked about last week. God was stingy in not giving Him the right woman, whereas Adam would have been a much better person to evaluate the fitness of this woman for him (nevermind that this is precisely what happened!). He does eventually say that he ate the fruit, but wow, it took us a while to get there, and what horrors we had to endure to get through blaming! Adam admits to sinning, but only after blaming literally everyone else in the world first.
His wife is quick to pick up this trick! When she is confronted by what she has done, then she turns and says that the serpent deceived her, so she ate. And while that can be seen as true, it wasn’t as if she didn’t know what the command of God was. The serpent was just successful in getting her to flat-out disregard what God had said. She also, after making this excuse, eventually confesses her own sin, and Matthews notes that she is able to do so without blaming God (242).
Blame is just another trick that we tend to use when we are confronted with our sin, and often comes with shame. When it is undeniable that the sin has taken place, and it is equally undeniable that you have done it, the next step is to try to blame someone else for making you do it. When I was a new dad, I thought that my grumpy moods were due to my lack of sleep, and blamed my son’s sleep habits for my crabbiness. Getting sleep is needed, but all that sleep deprivation was doing was revealing what was really down there. It turns out that I am a sinner who gets mad when things don’t go my way. Sure, sleep deprivation brings that out (more), but it didn’t create it. Adam’s blaming brings this out really well, because Adam is ultimately blaming God for his sin. He says in effect, “If you hadn’t given me this woman, I wouldn’t have sinned.” How often have we heard that today? It is certainly not God’s fault that Adam sinned, and it isn’t His fault that we sin, too. Turn with me to James 1:13-15. Notice that sinners are led away by their own desires. The only reason why something is a temptation is because it is something that you already desire. I’ve not felt the temptation to steal anything because I have not had a desire for something that strongly. That doesn’t mean that I am incapable of stealing, it just means that I haven’t had the right desire stoked yet. When Eve took the fruit, she saw that it was “desirous,” the same word that is used for coveting (Ross, 136). She wanted what that fruit had, and it didn’t matter who was saying no. Blaming the serpent doesn’t change that.
So what we have seen at this point is that blaming is just as effective a strategy for dealing with our sin as covering up shame. Blaming someone else for your sin is never going to get you anywhere. Now, can it be true that someone sinned against you? Of course! Can it be that someone sinned against you worse, even way worse, than you did against them? For sure! That said, it doesn’t excuse sinful response to that sin. Look at Jesus Himself. He is the ultimate example of someone who was sinned against in an absolutely horrific way. Jesus literally did nothing to deserve that kind of treatment, but He opened not His mouth. He didn’t curse those who harmed Him. He didn’t zap them with lightning, or even call ten thousand angels to His aid. He didn’t even so much as complain!
Indeed, Jesus does the exact opposite: He takes the blame and shame onto Himself. All of the elects’ sins He takes the blame and shame for, and then dies with it. Oh, if you can just grasp this, you would enjoy your life so much more, because this is the gospel. This act of Christ removes the need for shaming and blaming and instead replaces it with forgiveness!
Follow me, here! Shame comes from knowing that we have done the wrong thing, and blaming is the attempt to find the cause of the shame. When we rightly conclude that we have no one to blame for our sin except ourselves, we are left with shame. This shame can never go away because nothing will ever change the fact that we sinned except that Jesus offers forgiveness! Jesus doesn’t pretend that this sin never happened. Quite the contrary! Your sin was so heinous in all of its God-dishonoring, God-denying, pride-exalting ways, that the only way to get rid of it was to have God Himself in the person of Christ absorb all the just wrath aimed at those sins. Jesus has taken the true penalty of those sins, and offers total forgiveness. God chooses to not hold your crimes against you even though He is fully aware of them. That and that alone frees you from lasting shame. Do we still feel bad when we sin? Of course! But now that shame can drive you towards God to find forgiveness there rather than cover yourself in the fig leaves of your silly excuses and attempts to fix things.
Knowing that you have such a way of dealing with your shame, you can now direct the blame where it needs to go: yourself. This doesn’t mean that we blame ourselves for things that we didn’t do wrong. Never blame yourself for something you didn’t do wrong. That’s lying. But where you do find your fault, you can admit to that fault, and then run to Jesus for forgiveness.
This was the mistake that Adam and Eve made. When they sinned, the proper response should have been to say when they heard God in the Garden, “Here comes the Lord. We have sinned. Let’s go to Him and seek His forgiveness. He has been so merciful to us in all that He has provided; it is just His character and nature. Let’s be honest with Him, and throw ourselves at His mercy and love.” That should be our response to sin, and really the only way to have a response like that is being transformed by God.
So what is our takeaway today? We will do anything with our sin other than confess it. We will hold onto shame by either trying to cover it up or wear it as a badge. If we don’t take that approach, we will blame anything and everyone, including God Himself, for our sin. Neither approach makes the sin go away. But what we find in Christ is freedom from guilt! Romans 8 declares that there is no condemnation for those in Christ, and if God is for you, who can be against you? Nothing can separate you from the love of God! All of this should drive you towards Him and away from your sin. Sin only brings shame and blame. It is Christ and Christ alone who can take it away forever.
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Today, we discuss the very sad topic of sin. It is something that isn’t pleasant to think about and can trigger many painful memories of people sinning against us, or it can resurface deep regrets that we have in the ways that we have sinned against other people. Sin is not a very popular doctrine and has been watered down tremendously in our culture. Sinning comes up more often in the context of dieting than anything else! People feel guilty for that extra cookie and what it means for their waistline rather than their selfishness and what that means for their marriages.
We have to know what sin truly is. It is no exaggeration to say that if you don’t understand sin, you will not understand anything in this world. Why do certain approaches to government work and others don’t? Because one takes into account sin and the others don’t. Why do we have Christian leaders elevated to great platforms only to watch them fall in big ways? Because we don’t understand sin and take appropriate measures against it.
Sin is our enemy, and if we are going to fight our enemy, then we need to know how sin works. By this, I don’t mean that we need to dive deeply into the world and consume all of these terrible things to understand sin. Sin isn’t going to tell you what it is. Sin is just going to lie to you (as we talked about a couple weeks ago). Instead, we are going to dive into God’s Word to see Sin lies about God and God’s goodness offers more than sin.
Sin lies about God
There are more places to go than Genesis 3 for an analysis of sin, but what better place to go than at the beginning? Let’s see how sin worked the first time, and as we will see, this is pretty much how it works every time.
We begin with verse 1 which describes this serpent. It is worth noting that the serpent is described in relation to the rest of the creatures. This serpent is not a competing god that has a chance against the Almighty. This is just another creature that God made. How this creature became evil is never answered by the Bible. Revelation tells us that the serpent was the devil, but we are not told how the devil became evil. Ultimately, we wouldn’t be served by knowing the answer to that question. I want to know how to get rid of it so it never comes back! That is the question that the Bible answers. Of the two, I’m glad I have the answer to that one!
Anyway, the serpent begins the conversation with Eve and gets right to the point: did God really say, “you may not eat of any tree in the Garden”? The question is meant to plant doubt in their heads (Belcher, 72). I think that this is meant to get them to think that God is being stingy with them. The question is designed for them to say, “Well, not exactly, He just said that we couldn’t eat from this tree.” That makes you focus on the negative, the thing that you can’t have, instead of remembering the positive, all the things that God has otherwise provided. Sometimes we lose the fight with sin in this way. I can’t remember who I heard this from, but some preacher once talked about how we fight against sin wrongly. When we feel temptation come up, we start thinking about how God told us we can’t do that, we pray “help me not do that” and go round and round like that. Instead, the more effective thing would be to say, “Yep God told me not to do that, and look at all the good things that He has given for me to do, and stop thinking about that sin! Fill your mind with something else! Bitterness doesn’t get better by focusing on the bitterness. Instead, focus on how God has forgiven you. Instead of dwelling on what that person did to you, refocus it by praying for them instead.
But Adam and Eve don’t do that. Eve tries to correct the serpent, but the commandment is not exactly what God said. Instead, she gives a distorted picture of God’s command. Remember how I said that God was Italian when He told Adam to eat of all the trees? God says “Eat, eat!” pointing to the glad heart of God to be generous to His creatures. Instead, Eve just says, “eat.” Now, you may say that I’m being overly picky on Eve, but it does show how much precision matters. It is exactly this point (God’s generosity) that the serpent is trying to exploit as we will see in the following moves he makes in verse 4. Many will also point out that Eve said that they weren’t supposed to touch it, which God never said. Just about everyone will point out that Eve was being a Pharisee in that moment by adding onto what God said. Precision matters! She makes God to be a bigger rule-setter than He is and is making Him look less generous than He actually is. Adding onto God’s commands never helps, and forgetting God’s generosity never helps.
Now, in verse 4, the serpent makes his next move and flat-out denies God's Word and builds an argument in five moves, the first of which we have already seen: 1) God is stingy (there is a prohibition here). 2) God is a liar (you shall *not* die) 3) The reason God is a liar is because God is selfish and insecure (He knows you will be like Him). 4) God really isn't all that different. You just need to know a little more. (You will be like God) 5) Humans have unlimited potential that they can create. Their fate is in their hands.
The insidious thing about these moves is there is a little bit of truth mixed into exactly one point. That truth comes in His fourth move in that they will become like God. They do become more like God in the sense that they know more about good and evil now (God Himself confirms that in verse 22), but they have become so much less like God by sinning. What a cruel joke!
Is this not how every temptation is made? We see something that we know we shouldn't have or do, and what is our reaction? Frustration or sulking! We close off our eyes to the bounty of blessings in front of us to focus on the red light! This gets us to think that God is stingy. "I deserve this high, this feeling, this person, this money, this house, this spouse" you can fill in the blank, "and if I don't get that thing, then it might as well be that I don't have any blessing at all." That's how it works, doesn't it? Let’s see how the other points work in our own lives.
At that point we have a choice: do I listen to God's warnings or not? We hear in James 1:15 that sin brings death, and our own experience in life will tell us that sin doesn't bring us good consequences. But when we do sin, we think "God is a liar; bad things won't really happen to me if I do this."
Move three is more implicit in our thinking than we realize. If we call God's rules false and say that God is a liar, then we would have to ask the question, "why would God lie to us?" Really the only answers to that are either: 1) God is just a big meanie who gets a kick out of our suffering or 2) God is insecure and selfish, so he forces us down and away from our full potential. Either lie we believe gets us right to the next step in the argument.
Move four is also implicit in our thinking and a consequence of the three preceding moves. If God is a stingy, lying, insecure being, then He isn't all that different from us, is He? In our minds, God loses His transcendence and becomes one of us. Losing reverence and fear of God is a very scary place to be. If you don't fear God, then there really is nothing within to stop you from anything.
Move five, if God is one of us, then one of us can be God. We can be the masters of our own destiny, and by moving through the world we see fit, we can create the world we want in our image. Watkins notices this move in verse 6 when Eve saw the fruit and it was good to the eye. Does that remind you of a phrase from chapter one? “God saw…and it was good”? Eve is stepping into the place of God by deciding for herself what was good and evil. After all, that was God’s work in creation. When God said that light was good as He made it or that the sea was good, God wasn’t comparing His work to some standard that was external to Himself; He was basing how good something was in creation solely on His own standards (Christopher Watkins, Biblical Critical Theory, 112-113). In other words, God wasn’t holding up an assignment worksheet like a student with a grading chart comparing His work to the standard. No, God IS the standard, and He, and He alone, determines what makes the cut or not.
And it is this power that Adam and Eve are grasping at. We forget that Adam and Eve actually did know at least a little bit about what was good and evil. God’s command was a good thing and disobeying it was a bad thing, something that they shouldn’t do. Watkins further comments that the Hebrew word “knowing good and evil” can also mean “choosing.” When God called something “good” it wasn’t because God was looking at some chart that He had to follow and called it “good” when it matched. He called it good because He decided that it was good, and now Eve is stepping into that place (Ibid, 112-3). Van Till, a theologian, thought of it as Eve was gathering opinions about God’s commands from the snake and herself, and by doing so, she brought God down onto her level as just one opinion among many (quoted in Watkins, 113).
My Hebrew professor, Alan Ross put it like this: “Adam and Eve lived in a setting that God himself had pronounced ‘good.’ Yet they were now led to believe that there was greater good held back from them, that somehow they could elevate life for the better” (Ross, Creation and Blessing, 136). In other words, despite everything that God had done for them, life itself, living that life in literal paradise with all the purpose and provision they could possibly have, married to people literally made for each other, but they thought they could imagine better.
That's the roadmap of sin! Anytime we sin, we are doing the same things for ourselves. We say that we know better than God does about what will make our lives better. We look at all the blessings that God gave us and conclude that He is still holding out on us. Have you ever been to a kid’s birthday party where it was extremely obvious the kid was spoiled? No matter how many presents he opens, it’s never enough. When he begins to scream about this, do we not feel a mixture of indignance and sadness? At the same time we think “how on earth did this kid get so entitled” we think, “but then, that’s how I act inside when I don’t get my way, don’t I?” Every sin we commit is the rage of a toddler saying, “I want more; I deserve it!” It’s humbling to put it in those terms, isn’t it? That discontentment is all fed by telling ourselves those lies I mentioned already at the beginning. We think that we deserve more because we think God is stingy, a liar, insecure, pretty much just like us, so we can do His job for Him.
All of those thoughts happen at lightning speed and with such frequency, we hardly notice them anymore. When your spouse said something unkind and we responded in the same way, what happened? We thought, “I know what God said about loving my spouse, but look at what I’m dealing with here. I don’t deserve that. God is withholding something good from me, that makes Him a jerk, therefore, I am going to suspend what He said because I’m right here on the ground, I see what’s going on, and instead of saying a soft answer to turn away wrath, I’m going to bring about my judgment on them right now with a harsh word.” Now, you may not have every step of that in your mind, but if we were to put those thoughts in slow motion, interrogate each thought as they went by, you’ll find it.
Can you see why sin is so offensive to God? And can you not see the damage that these patterns of thinking can do over the long haul? Sin never stays small because once you have agreed that it is ok to disagree with God here, it doesn’t take much to disagree with Him a little bit more. When we have made our spouse out to be the bad guy unfairly one time, it is easier than it was before to do it a second time. Well by the time you have done that 20 years and 80,000 times later, it’s no wonder one’s marriage isn’t functioning. When you keep telling God He doesn’t know what He is doing, sometimes He just lets you find out for yourself.
God’s goodness offers more than sin.
So if this is sin—this easy to commit—what hope do we have of defeating it? Well, this is where Jesus comes in, and He always comes in. Jesus came to defeat sin, to overturn those lies that lead to our destruction. And this cost Him everything. His body would need to be broken; His blood would need to be poured out. And it all would need to be applied to us.
You know, one of the commentators that I read this week noticed something very interesting in the Bible. It goes to show you how paying attention to the individual words of the Bible pays off. You’ll notice in our text that Eve saw the fruit and then took and ate it. There is an echo of this that shows up in the New Testament at the Last Supper. What did Jesus say when He broke the bread and poured the wine? “Take and eat.” (Kinder, quoted in Ross, 137). Jesus’ sacrifice undoes the curse of the tree! Instead of the fruit that lead to death, Jesus offers the Bread of Life! When Adam and Eve tasted of the fruit, they found the knowledge of evil, but those who taste of the Bread of Life will see that The Lord is Good. Instead of being bound to do evil you will be released to freedom to do good. That is the hope of the gospel. And at the end of it all, Jesus will usher you towards the Tree of Life, never to face sin and hardship again, that’s the good news.
Have you tasted that bread yet? Have you put your trust in Jesus? Have you asked Him to forgive you of your sin? If you haven’t, taste that bread today. The world will offer you the fruit of sin and the sour wine of disobedience. It may taste good going down, but it is bitter later. You know that. You’ve experienced that, and if you haven’t, you will. Take of the bread of Jesus. Know what it is to be satisfied and filled with Him.
Maybe you are here today and you think, “Well, I’ve been a Christian for a while, but the bread, if I’m honest, is feeling a little stale.” It could be because you are trying to coast on old bread you ate many years ago, if I may extend the metaphor. You need to daily stay close to Christ, daily consume the Bread of Life, because when you do, you’ll be amazed at how you aren’t as hungry for the things that don’t satisfy anymore. You will find joy in your Savior who tells you, “Eat, eat! Enjoy!”
Further, when temptation arises, remind yourself of God’s goodness to you. When our kids disobey, our thought is, do you know how much good I’ve done to you? We need to take the same approach with God.
Image by Anja
Last week, we looked at the incredible idea that the God of the universe makes covenants with us. This week, in our last look at this incredible chapter for now, we are going to look at what it is to make a covenant with each other, specifically in marriage. There are many examples of covenants that we see made in the Bible. We see covenants made between two men for example in Genesis 31:44 between Jacob and Laban, and famously between David and his friend Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:16). Covenants have been made between nations, for example, in Joshua 9:15, when Joshua makes a covenant with people from another country.
But there is a special kind of covenant that is unlike the other ones that we have seen in these examples: Marriage. Marriage is a special kind of covenant, a promise of devotion, that points to something more than just a promise between two people. Ultimately, marriage is going to point us towards the relationship between Christ and His Church, a relationship that is the reason for everything existing in the first place. The Bible begins and ends with a marriage, some of the greatest joys and comforts can be found within marriage, which then shows why Satan is so bent on destroying or redefining marriage.
When we hear something like that in Church, we tend to think then of the national state of marriage. We think that I am going to be preaching against the LGBT movement or national divorce rates. Certainly that is something that we will talk about today because the Bible addresses those things directly in our passage, but I don’t want us to miss the trees for the forest. Yes, we want to say something about these obvious assaults, but we can become so focused on national sins that we forget that there are personal sins in our individual marriages that need addressing. Single people don’t get to sit this one out either. Believe it or not, the problems we have in marriage don’t come from marriage. They are simply revealed in marriage. Selfishness, anger, greed, laziness, critical spirits, and lust are all just as available in the single life as they are in the married life. A lot of times, those sins are developed and more deeply entrenched during those single years, and how well you repent of those things now will give you a good indication of how you will repent of those things in marriage. The Christian life doesn’t start when you say “I do” to a fiance, it starts when you put your faith in Christ.
So today, we are going to cover that and more as we dive into our last look at Genesis 2, looking (finally) at point number 3: God convenes marriage.
God convenes marriage
Here in verse 18, we get a very surprising word from God. So far, everything has been good! But then God looks at Adam and says, “It is not good.” Last week, we looked at the personality of God and the way that He forms relationships with human beings. Yet, we stressed that God didn’t need us for anything, and this is true even for relationships. God wasn’t lonely. He exists as a Trinity, three persons in one God, all existing in relationship to each other. God isn’t alone with Himself. But Adam is. So the Lord is going to fix that by making Adam a helper.
Here the text says that God formed the animals our of the ground and brought them to Adam. Once again, this is not a contradiction where Moses forgets what order everything was made in. Remember that animals and human beings were made on the same day, but it does look like human beings were made last. In this case, I would say that God simply produces animals in the Garden just like He made the trees spring up in the Garden for Adam.
Thus begins the parade of the animals as they are each brought to Adam to see what he is going to call them. One source pointed out that Adam was the first scientist! One scholar put it this way: "'Science was simply an advanced state of language. Language in any case is the form and condition of science, and in language the active naming is the first and indispensable operation.''" (Watkins, 109) What he is saying there is that all science is doing is giving us a way of talking about something, naming something. Gravity and how it works has always existed since the world was created, but now, thanks to scientists, we know what to call it and roughly know how it works.
As an aside, I was talking to the 4th grade class last week, and their teacher told me they were talking about Genesis. The teacher asked, “Why did God have Adam name all the animals first before making Eve?” One of the students responded, “So this way there wouldn’t be any disagreement over what to name them.”
Anyway, Adam is naming all these animals, but what we are really looking for is a helper, someone to complement Adam and he to complement. But no matter how many birds, bears, and other beasts of the field go by, Adam doesn’t have that match. This is something special because something like a bull or a cow is passed over. LET ME EXPLAIN! To a farming community, it is difficult to overstate how important animals were. If you didn’t have an ox or at the very least a donkey, your ability to grow food was greatly limited. Adam has just been charged to keep a Garden, so having something like an animal would be an extraordinary help wouldn’t it? That would be like being put in charge of a large field, and someone is offering you a tractor!
But none of these animals fit, because Adam doesn’t really need a plow to complete him. This shows that marriage isn’t meant to be some sort of pragmatic move. Your spouse isn’t supposed to be someone that you exploit for your own ends. Adam doesn’t need someone to do their fair share of the yard work, a good horse will do that. Adam doesn’t need someone to be his employee, an ox will serve that purpose just fine. Adam needs someone who will complete him and he her. Adam needs someone who will help him multiply people to worship and serve God. Adam needs someone who will, with him, complete the image of God.
Adam needs a wife. So God is going to make him one. Now, this is a really interesting procedure here of what God is about to do. We remember that God formed man out of the dust and breathed life into him. We might think that this is the recipe for humanity dirt + breath= living soul! But God has a different recipe for making a woman. It requires some surgery. Adam is put into a deep sleep, a rib is taken out and formed into a woman.
Now, you’ve got to admit this sounds a little strange. Why do it this way? Well, I think there are a number of reasons for this. One this points to the care of a husband to his wife. Adam wasn’t kidding when he said bone of my bone. That was literal! Now, my wife was not formed of my body, but I am to treat her like it. What does it say in Ephesians 5:28? Love your wife like you love your own body. You nourish and take care of your body (or at least you’re trying to!). If you had a bruised rib, you would be very careful with that, wouldn’t you? You would do whatever it would take to ensure that it is healed up. Should we not treat our wives in the same way? We care for them gently and in an understanding way. What was physical for Adam is spiritual for us, but the responsibility is the same.
I think a second reason for forming the woman like this was so that there is no doubt at all that she was made in the image of God and is just as human as Adam. History shows that women haven’t been treated very fairly, and it comes from not seeing women as equally in the image of God as men (in fact, as we will see in a moment, both are needed to image God). I like to make pizza at home, and I have a recipe that produces a large lump of dough that I split into two pieces. One piece is not “more” bread than the other. They came from the same lump. In the same way, the first woman was made from the first man and thereby has every claim to humanity as he does.
I think a third reason why she was made this way was observed by Matthew Henry, a minister and Bible commentator in England in the late 1600s: “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”
Listen to how Watkins describes what marriage is: "The biblical view of marriage is one of a relation of utter spiritual, intellectual intimacy: this is, after all, how we will know God and be known by him in eternity, and marriage is used in the Bible as a picture of this eternal intimacy.… God did not make two humanities, one male and one female, equally and independently in the image of God, but one united humanity with two genders that together are in God's image. The image of God, it would appear in verse 27, is corporate rather than atomized and individualistic: male and female are in *the* image (not in two images) of God." (99). A parrot is not going to do that. Nothing else but a male and female are going to make a marriage. This is what God has decreed from the very beginning. We went through all the options here. No one else will ever do except Eve. God could have made another man, but He didn’t. He could have said that Adam will just pop children out of his ear or something. But for some reason (that Paul tells us exactly about in Ephesians 5), God has designed that marriage is only between a man and a woman, forsaking all others and becoming one flesh. This is the design that Jesus refers to as well as the rest of the New Testament. It is all grounded right here at the very beginning.
And marriage was so good there. It says that they were naked and not ashamed. These two could be totally open to one another. There was nothing to hide—total trust of each other. That’s not how it is now. We all wear clothes because we all are hiding from each other. There is vulnerability and threat without clothing.
Yet in the gift of marriage, that part of Eden is restored. There is one person, and one person only, who has the honor of knowing everything about you. One person who can see every single flaw that you have, physical and otherwise, and still be committed to loving you. That is what marriage should be.
This picture of marriage is what we should be striving for with each other, because that is what we have with Christ! Ephesians 5 lays out for us that the entire point of creating marriage was so that there would be an earthly picture of a heavenly reality. The husband is supposed to be playing the part of Jesus and the woman playing the part of The Church. It would appear that this was prefigured in Genesis more than we might at first think. I was talking to one person this week who pointed out that Adam goes through what looks like a death and resurrection. Adam goes into a deep sleep, and when he rises, there is his wife. In a similar way, Christ dies, and when He rises again, His bride the Church stands before Him. You could even pile onto the imagery that Christ’s side was opened up, too! But whether these images were intended to be seen that way, the point remains that Christ provides loving leadership to His Church who in turn loving submits.
We can be unashamed because Christ knows you better than your spouse does. He knows you better than you know yourself. He sees every single flaw as it actually is in all its evil, and yet He chooses to love you still. That is a great spouse. That is a loving Savior.
So what does this mean for our marriages? We have marriage in a post fall world. We aren’t in paradise anymore, and we aren’t perfect anymore. But this is exactly where we practice the sacrificial love that God calls us to. The marriage we are called to emulate isn’t Adam and Eve. It is Christ and the Church. And it is only in Christ that we can. You aren’t enough to make marriage work. You need power from Christ that you get when you turn to Christ and ask His help. I have a wonderful marriage survey tool and devotional to take you through if you would like a check up on your marriage.
Titles and names are funny things. Even without recognizing a voice, I can tell who is talking to me based on what title or name they use to get my attention. If someone behind me says, “Sir,” I know that they likely don’t know me, but they are trying to be respectful in getting my attention. Someone who says, “Pastor Jessup” probably knows of me, but again is trying to be respectful. Someone saying Pastor Mark is probably a member of my church, because that is what you all call me. People who say, “Mark” likely knew me before I was a pastor and as such likely know me very well. The title that people use for me doesn’t really define me, per se, but it rather defines the relationship that I have with the person giving me the name. Now, I don’t find my title all that important. If you want to call me either “Mark” or “Pastor Mark” or whatever, that’s fine, but let’s imagine for a moment that you said, “Hey, Mark Buddy, how are you?” and I was to turn to you and say, “That’s Pastor Jessup, to you!” What have I done? I have redefined our relationship, haven’t I? I’m saying, “You and I only know each other professionally; you don’t get to use my first name. We aren’t that close.” Names and titles define a relationship. The Queen of England was “Your Majesty” to everyone, but to her family, she was “Lilibet.” No one amongst her subjects would dare call her anything but “your majesty.” No one would presume to use the name her family used.
Now, as we get into chapter 2, we are going to see another name shift happening, and it is a profound name change that should stir our hearts this morning. In Genesis chapter 1, we see God referred to with the general term for God, “Elohim.” Elohim spoke this, Elohim made that. Here, in chapter 2, we see a new title in verse 4: Lord God. This is one of those “blink and you miss it” kind of things, but this is so crucial for us to understand. The word “God” is still Elohim, but the word we translate as “Lord” is Yahweh, which is God’s name. How do you get to know God’s name? How do you get to be on first-name basis with the Almighty? Today, we are going to cover just that.
Last week we started our look at the whole of chapter 2, and only got through the first third! We covered who we are and what we are made of, and now, we are turning our attention to the second point which will tell us about God, specifically, the fact that He not only makes us but makes promises, covenants, with us.
It is worth reminding ourselves as we begin today, that we are not talking about airy-fairy philosophical concepts here. The fact that God makes covenants with us is as real and concrete as anything. This might be why the Bible mentions in passing the rivers that flowed out of Eden. We know where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are, but the other two are unknown. The ESV Study Bible (a great resource, by the way), gives a map with a couple of different possible locations for Eden. While we don’t know exactly where it was, we do know that it was a real place, somewhere along the banks of these rivers.
And just as real as the rivers and gold inside them are, so are the promises that God has made with His people. The promises that God has made are called covenants. Now, what is a covenant? A covenant is a solemn promise between at least two people with expectations placed on both parties. In ancient times, the two parties in a covenant would walk between animals that have been split in half basically saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the covenant here, may God do to me as I have done to these animals.” You are making a promise on pain of death to fulfill them. As you can see, this is a lot stronger than a business contract. You can get out of any business contract with enough money. A covenant is a promise for life.
Often, covenants were made between kings and the lands that they conquered or helped. Usually, it would begin with some sort of statement of what the king had done, and then proceed to announce the terms, expectations, or rules of the covenant. Now, you can imagine if you were to have a covenant with the great emperors of the past like Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus, you would feel pretty secure wouldn’t you? Would you not say, “Oh, good, I have someone who has made a solemn promise to me and has resources to back up those promises.” Many of us actually don’t have to imagine this. We go through the anxiety of whether or not we are going to have a good covenant every four years, don’t we? We want the guy with our interests at heart to be at the top of the chain, and just about every time we are disappointed, aren’t we? Because of deficiencies in the man himself or the system and circumstances he occupies, most presidents simply don’t live up to the expectations we have for them. Yet we go through the same cycle of hope and disappointment year after year because we long for that security, that sense of peace that comes with being allies with the powerful.
What if we could have that with God? What if we could have a permanent promise with the God who made all things? What if you could be bonded to God by His own Word to not only have a promise, but to know His name, Yahweh? No longer is God just your Creator, but your Father? Doesn’t that sound too good to be true? Well, let’s see!
Here in this text, we see God Himself making a promise, a covenant with Adam. Now, as one commentator pointed out, "Although the term 'covenant' is not used in Genesis 1–3, the relationship between God and Adam is best understood as a covenant relationship. The term 'covenant' is not used in 2 Samuel 7 for the relationship that God established with David, but Psalm 89 does refer to it as a covenant. The same is true for Genesis 1–3. The term 'covenant' is not used, yet Hosea 6:7 refers to God's relationship with Adam as a covenant" (Richard Belcher, 68). God’s pattern here looks very similar to other covenants He has made.
Remember, Genesis has been written to Israelites freshly released from slavery, Israelites who have just made a covenant with God themselves. In Exodus twenty, we see God laying out what the covenant terms are. In verses 1-2 God says, And God spoke all these words, saying,“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Notice that “LORD,” the announcement of His name to His people and what He has already done for them. This is grace that God has given for them to be His people. It does not start with, “You are the House of Israel, a people who by their obedience to my commands, left Egypt and have found me on this mountain.” It doesn’t because it couldn’t. Israel couldn’t command God to make a promise to them. God doesn’t owe them or any of us other dirt people anything. Yet God makes these promises anyway. We see this happen again in 2 Sam. 7:5-9 when God makes a covenant with David. David didn’t earn his way to the throne, but he was brought there by God.
Seeing all of that, we look at Genesis 2 again and we see God picking up the man that He made, and placing him in the Garden. The man didn’t create himself or walk up to this garden. God places him there and then gives absolutely everything the man could possibly need or want. In verse 16 God lays out the blessings He has provided and the expectations of the covenant: You may surely eat (literally “eat, eat”) of anything in here, but there is one thing you must hold back from: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God has placed a limit on what Adam can do.
But far from God just giving Adam a list of don’ts, God lays out what He has for him to do in verse 15, work and keep the Garden. My old seminary professor, Dr. Ross, put it this way: "These two verbs are used throughout the Pentateuch for spiritual service. 'Keep'...is used for keeping the commandments and taking heed to obey God's Word; 'serve' describes the worship and service of the Lord..."(124). The Garden is like the Temple, and Adam is a priest. This means that work was something that happened before the Fall and has a dignity even today, as another scholar points out: “There is a spiritual dimension to human work because it is done as service to God and has a purpose of faithfully keeping the instructions of God (Lev. 8:35). The implication is that the purpose of work is more than an activity that allows a person to provide for his needs but that work is a vocation which enables a person to fulfill a calling of service to others and to God" (Blecher, 62, emphasis added). So the promise of God comes with provision and purpose. God says, “Here is everything you need to work as I define it from my absolutely exhaustive knowledge of both you Adam and the world that surrounds you, and here is the purpose of your existence, again, defined by my absolutely exhaustive knowledge and wisdom of everything, namely, work to serve me and keep my commands.” Implied in all of that, is God will give Adam life eternal. If the punishment for breaking this rule was death (and we will get into that later), the reward for obedience was life in the Garden of Eden.
So we have seen that God makes gracious promises to His people, but I want to draw out something that Christopher Watkins brings out in His book, Thinking Through Creation. God is making a promise to a human being, a person. This means that God is entering into a relationship with Adam, God is being personal while remaining absolutely above all. This is totally unique from all other religions in the world. All religions see their god as either personal but not ultimate (the god has needs, too), or god as ultimate but not personal (20-51). Think about the concept of karma in Hinduism. If you are good, Karma rewards, and if you are bad, Karma punishes, but it is more like a force of gravity than a personal, relational god. If I jump off a building (transgressing gravity), I’ll feel the consequences, but gravity doesn’t care. Gravity doesn’t have personality. I can’t have a relationship with gravity; it can’t love me even though gravity is a universal law that transcends all things.
So how do you have both? How do you have a power that is above all things, subject to no one but itself yet has the capacity to love, form relationships, and have purpose of will? Nothing in creation does that. Only the Creator, who stands above His creation, has all of that. He doesn’t need anything from His creation, yet He forms a relationship with His creatures whereby He swears by Himself (because there is nothing higher to swear by, Hebrews 6:13) to uphold His promises to them. This means that the rules God sets apply everywhere at all times because He is ultimate, yet He reveals something about Himself because He is personal (Watkins 29-31).
Is that not incredible? You don’t serve a force or a local god! Instead, you serve the ultimate, personal God who actually, really, loves you as sure as the rivers that flowed from Eden.
Now, as we make the turn to the Lord’s Table here in just a minute, we will see what it costs God to make the New Covenant. As we will see in a few weeks, Adam broke the covenant God made. He ate from the tree, disqualifying Himself from the covenant, and earning death, just as God warned. This is more than physical death and includes spiritual death, eternal separation from God, the source of all life and goodness itself. There is now an eternal debt to repay, but who can conquer death, spiritual or otherwise? We need someone ultimate, someone above death. But who is above death? Death is God’s own punishment for sin. Who is above God’s just punishment for sin? God can’t just wipe it out, because God won’t deny His own justice. God won’t deny Himself because He is God! His justice, His wrath against sin must be satisfied. Ultimate death must be fulfilled, but the only way to do that is for someone ultimate to die.
Enter Jesus Christ, ultimate, personal God, who also took on flesh, tailor-made to suffer, formed of the dust to die. To make a new covenant that promises life, something has to die, but this time it won’t be an animal that is split, but God Himself in the person of Jesus is going to die. His body is going to be broken, He is going to pour out His own blood for you and me. That’s personal! That’s as personal as it gets! And yet, because of Who’s blood this is, it’s as ultimate as it gets!
That’s what we celebrate here at the table, God making a covenant with us at great cost to Himself. That’s the good news! God took on eternal death so you don’t have to, if you will trust in Christ, repenting of your sins as you do so. You can’t earn this covenant, nor can you earn your right to stay in this covenant. The covenant with Adam shows that even in perfect conditions, human beings can’t keep themselves in a covenant. Now, in the New Covenant, God says, come unto me, and I will give you rest. I will never leave you nor forsake you. And it is all thanks to the wonderful grace of God in Christ.
But there’s one more thing. This table doesn’t just commemorate a death. This isn’t a ballad to a fallen hero that we sing. Instead, this is an act of worship to a living savior, Jesus Christ, because He rose again! Verse 18 of Luke 22 tells us, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” This is not only a commemorative meal, this is an appetizer for the celebration meal of the coming Kingdom in heaven.
So what do we takeaway from this? The ultimate personal God of all the universe will make a binding promise to you His people which will result in your eternal life with Him in the future and your joy with Him in the present.To adapt something I heard on a podcast this week from John Piper: no politician, bank account, drug trip, sexual experience, corporate achievement, youthful ability long since lost can ever really come through on a promise like that. So how do we stop believing those false promises? Piper answers, by trusting in better promises! You have a greater promise, so rest in that today. Everything, everything else is going to fade, so don’t look to that which is fading. One day you will be victorious with Christ! So in the meantime, keep your eyes on Him and His personal promises to you.
Image by DaveMeier
If you ever take an art class, shop class, or really any kind of class, one of the first things that you will see is the ideal example of what you are trying to learn about. Artists study the great masters of old like Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and others to see what the best of the best is supposed to look like. While it is certainly discouraging at first to look at works like that and compare it to the stick figures that you can draw, it brings out an appreciation for what good artwork requires. Recently, I attempted to hang some crown molding in our house, which, if you are unfamiliar, is cut upside down and backwards. I didn’t really know that starting out, so it seemed nearly impossible to get that thing hung! Since then, everywhere I go, I stare at the crown molding, breathlessly impressed at how they get that hung up there and it fits! Hope comes in for the painter or aspiring carpenter by the knowledge, that while they likely won’t be as good, their skills will improve. It is possible to be done!
In Genesis chapter two, we see what life was like before the Fall, creation, as the Divine Artist originally made it. Life was beautiful, easy, and totally without conflict. If we had to make a wide-ranging summary of what this chapter wants to tell us that is it. God makes beautiful places and makes a good life. Beholding this helps us like studying those great painters, or crown molding carpenters. We see how it was supposed to be, but our hope is made stronger by the sure confidence of seeing something better than Eden if we are trusting in Christ. God created Eden, but He is well on His way to bringing back something even better.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot that we can learn from chapter 2! The God of Genesis 2 is the same one of Revelation 22, so we are going to mine this section to behold our great God and what He is like. I’ve got three points of which we will only cover the first, but they are: God cares for the earth, God Covenants with humanity, and God convene’s marriage.
God cares for the earth
Before we begin our exposition of this chapter, we have yet another controversy to quickly look at. If you pay any sort of attention between chapters one and two, you may notice that things look a little different in how timing and order is being described. A surface level reading of this chapter looks like man is being created before the plants and the animals! Do we have a contradiction here? No we don’t. What we have here is a different emphasis here in chapter 2 than what we had in chapter 1.
One analogy that I have for this is the concept of instant-replay in sports. Whenever you are watching football, for example, usually the camera position is pretty high up so you can see all the players on one screen. When the play is over, usually they will switch to another camera view that focuses on the one or two players that made the play to give you a better sense of the action that just happened. Now, if you have never heard of that concept somehow, you might be a bit unsure of what was happening. Before, you could see all the players and the whole play from beginning to end, but now you are only seeing the tail end of the play from a totally different angle. But they are doing that not to confuse you but to focus you on what is important.
The same thing is true here in Genesis 2. Moses didn’t fall asleep after chapter 1 and then wrote down the wrong order in chapter 2 without checking because his Genesis paper was due! What is actually happening here is God is focusing on the portion of the world that hadn’t been filled yet (Kenneth Matthews, Genesis, 194). Remember, when God made things, He would say, “Go forth, multiply, fill the Earth” clearly implying it wasn’t full everywhere. There were some spaces that needed filling. Yes, there were animals, just not here yet. Yes, there were trees, just not here yet. The focus is going to be on humanity and its role of ruling and cultivating all of these things. God is going to take care of His creation through another creature: man.
The passage begins with our prologue that these are the generations of the earth and heavens, signaling the start of a new section in Genesis. We don’t have a long genealogy, because, well, there aren’t any humans yet!
Verse seven gives us an extremely interesting view into how God made mankind. With all of the other elements of creation, we see God speak, and it exists. With humanity, God seems to take His time. The word used here “form” is the same concept of a potter shaping something out of clay or a carpenter shaping something out of wood (Kenneth Matthews, Genesis, 196). There is an artistry here of taking something that you can’t imagine doing anything with, and making something grand. I have a lot of red clay around my house, and the only thing it seems good for is staining one’s clothes forever! It is difficult for me to wrap my head around someone taking a lump of that stuff, and with a wheel and some fire, make a mug! Here, God takes this dust of the earth, dirt, and makes a human being.
Why dust, though? Was this because God needed some other material to work with? Not at all. God has already demonstrated that He can do just fine with nothing. He is putting His heavenly image on a creature made from dust. Exalting and humbling at the same time, isn’t it? Carl Sagan, an astrophysicist of yesteryear, famously said that “we are star stuff,” which sounds cool and elevating, but we are not. We are dirt stuff—dirt stuff that God has exalted, which is a point that the Bible makes over and over again. In fact, even the name Adam, is a play on words for the Hebrew “ground” (adamah). So the next time someone calls you a dirt-bag, you can respond, “How theologically precise of you!” We are very closely connected to the earth. Bruce Waltke summed it up like this: "The wordplay shows the man's close connection to the ground, his cradle, his home, his grave..." (85). It keeps us humble. Author Christopher Watkin said that “...we enjoy dignity, but not deity." (Thinking Through Creation, 90). God did not make us little gods, but He made us from humble circumstances just to show how amazing He is. I’m impressed people can make a coffee mug out of dirt. Making a human being with consciousness, emotions, having abilities like painting, singing, parenting, and performing surgery—out of dirt! Out of dirt God made the human brain! We think to ourselves how amazing a potter is for making a plate out of dirt, and compared to the plate, the human being is infinitely more amazing, so how much more spectacular must God be if you and I are His sandbox project?
What’s more is that He made us out of more than dirt. He breathed life into the dirt to make us a living soul. This idea of the soul (Hebrew: nephesh) isn’t separate from the body, but is absolutely intertwined, inseparable. This breath of God is what gives us life and separates us from the rest of the animals as this term for life is never used of them (Ross, 122). This is an incredible gift. He grants to the dirt life. That is not a gift we can grant. Life comes from God alone and is sustained by God alone, and yet He grants it! He isn’t stingy with it; there are 8.1 billion forms of it right now!
All of this keeps us in check when we feel we have a grievance with God. Paul in Romans 9, picks up on the potter imagery in verse 20. Paul is imagining someone questioning why God would chose some for salvation and not others and accusing God of injustice. Paul effectively says, who are you to question? The dirt doesn’t get a say with the potter what it is supposed to be. The potter is the one who makes the choice. Indeed, it is the same here in our lives. We are dust, special dust, dust with God’s stamp on it, dust with the life-breath of God in our lungs, but dust. God doesn’t have to bow to our wills. God doesn’t have to explain Himself to us.
Now, why am I beating this concept? This is not to make you feel less about your humanity, but it is to make us amazed at how God reacts to us. It is very easy to slip into a prideful idea of who we are and what we can offer to God. Do you notice Adam contributing anything to his life? No. Every single thing that Adam has is a gift from God. Adam has nothing to offer, no leverage over God. But many of us think we can.
Christopher Watkins points out in his book Thinking Through Creation (incredible book by the way, you should totally get it and read it all: Link right here) that in all other religions our relationship with a god looks like an “n.” The relationship starts with us making an offering to a god, and if the offering is accepted, the god will help us out, “mutual back-scratching” as he puts it (55-6). People do this all the time in panic situations: “God, if you get me through this test, I’ll start reading my Bible or going to church.” God doesn’t need you to do that. Passages like Ps. 50:7-13 and Acts 17:24-25 tell us very clearly that God does not need us for anything (56).
I think most of us know that, but even we can fall into this trap more easily than we think. Have you ever had the thought after something hard has happened, you think, “Hey! I read my Bible today! I prayed! I’ve been to church this month! Why do I have a flat tire right now?” There’s that n shaped thinking again. “I gave God my end, He should do His part!” and Scripture responds with, “What was that, Dust?”
Instead, as Watkins walks us through it, we have a U- shaped relationship with God. God is the one who sends things down to us, and all we can do is thank Him. We can’t add anything. We are in the place of humble reception to God’s gracious giving (56). And we are on that reception side more than we think we are.
If you are a Christian this morning, you especially have much to praise God for. Because, listen now, as we will see in chapter 3, we dirt people also became sinful, dirt people. Have you ever had something that was supposed to work but didn’t? You maybe give it several tries over the course of a few hours if you are really patient, but especially if the thing you bought was cheap and didn’t work after a few tries, what would you do? You throw it away. If you spend a dollar on some cheap tool that didn’t work, you hardly feel any sense of remorse as you toss it. Creating human beings cost God nothing. But far beyond the human being not working, the human being actively disobeys, he actively does things that not only bring him and his fellow human beings into destruction but also cause the destruction of everything else God made. If your one dollar tool was able to cause fundamental damage to your house, you would throw it away with such force and anger, you would likely try to smash it before tossing it out!
But God doesn’t do that. No, in His mercy, He not only didn’t throw us away, but He took on dirt Himself, became a human being. He lived under the law, under the humiliation of being born and even in that, born poor and lowly. Have you ever had to make a step down in your life? Maybe money has gotten tight, and the places you’d thought you’d never have to shop at, you do? Have you had a breakdown in your marriage where all you can think about is how things used to be, wondering if they’ll ever be back? That’s taking a step down in life, and Christ took that step down times a million. Life was bad enough, but Jesus went all the way to death. Jesus took on a dirt body born of dirt, raised on dirt, died on dirt, and buried in dirt.
But then! Glorious day! Jesus burst from the dirt of the grave yet kept his dirt body, glorified, but still a body. Then He promises that if we put our faith in Him, turning from our sins and to Christ, one day He will glorify our dirt bodies, raise our dirt bodies from the dirt, and exalt us to live in heaven forever! (1 Corinthians 15:44-49). That’s a gracious God to care for His creation, the dirt people, who can offer nothing but thanks in return.
What if we were to apply this to each other? Watkins asks this question. Often we look to our fellow human beings and ask, “Well, what has this person done for me? I am certainly not going to put myself out until I know that it is worth it.” Aren’t you glad that this isn’t the way that God has approached you, oh, person of dust? If God is this way with us, then we can be that way with others. God has been so gracious when everything is completely lopsided, how can we not be gracious when things are slightly weighted less in our favor (at least, if our perspective on the situation is even accurate) (Watkins, 57)? Marriage can be tough. There can be a lot to forgive, but we have been forgiven much. Parenting can be tough. The relationship is pretty lopsided. Siblings can be tough. Friendships can be tough, ministry can be tough, but we have been given so much! God has been so gracious and has given freely. We can do the same with His help. Just remember who made you, what He made you out of, and where He is taking you one day.
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The Green Bay Packers were having a tough time playing their football game. After one particularly disappointing first half, their coach, Vince Lombardi, gathered the team together, held up a ball and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football,” to which one of the players replied, “Slow down, Coach!” It is always worth it to remind ourselves of the fundamentals and that is exactly what Lombardi was doing—returning to the basics, the foundation, the first things, the things you always have to keep in mind even as you advance to learn the finer details. This is true of every skill. While dancing in ballet, you must never forget that you are always visible, and every position and movement to the next position must be drawing a beautiful line for the eye. In music, you must never forget pitch and rhythm.
And in life, you must never forget that God created the world.
Genesis is the introduction to everything, and the introduction to Genesis begins in the beginning. We are going to be considering the first things, the facts and concepts that drive the rest of our lives whether we realize it or not. So today, we are going to be exploring a few key points, namely these three (though, we could cover so much more): God alone created creation, God alone commands creation, and God alone blesses creation
God alone created creation
Genesis begins by saying that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The Bible does not make an argument for God’s existence, because, at the time, that wasn’t the radical claim. The radical claim was that there was only one God who created everything! There were a lot of weird and violent stories that were popular at the time to explain why the world was made the way that it was, but the Bible just says, “No, there was only one God who made everything.” What’s amazing for the original audience, recently emancipated slaves from Egypt is that, as one scholar put it, “the God of the covenant community is the same as the creator of the cosmos.” (Bruce Waltke, 55). The same God who is leading the people of Israel through the desert is the same God who made the desert! This is especially a comfort as one of my old seminary professors said, “"In short, everything that the pagans worshiped God had made. Consequently, their gods should pose no real threat to Israel, for the creation must be subject to the Creator." (Allen Ross, 102). In a world that viewed other nation’s gods with fear, this would be a tremendously comforting message. The Egyptians worshiped the sun, but Israel served the God who made the sun.
We do well to keep this in mind. While you are much more likely to come across someone in our culture who doesn’t believe in the supernatural at all (although, there are some interesting trends that suggest that won’t be the case for long), Genesis is still relevant. In a culture that is increasingly believing that that the world popped out of nothing and grew itself into people, Genesis has even more to say! Genesis tells us that you are not some cosmic accident but are in fact a special creation with a job and purpose.
Let’s look at how God formed the world. Verse one told us the whole story in a nutshell, but now we are going to look at the details of how God went about doing this. As an aside, I am not going to spend a whole lot of time here arguing about creation versus evolution. That is an important subject, but I think our time is better spent thinking about the implications or “so what” of God creating everything. Briefly though, evolution is driven by survival, avoiding death. I think that death doesn’t show up until sin does in Genesis 3, therefore the primary driver of evolution doesn’t show up until after everything is already here. I think also that God is being pretty clear that everything is being made in six 24 hour days for the following reasons, as articulated by Allen Ross, “"(1) Elsewhere, whenever yom [the Hebrew word for “day”] is used with a number, it means a twenty-four hour period; (2) the Decalogue [the Ten Commandments] bases the teaching of the Sabbath day on the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest; (3) from the fourth day on, there are days, years, signs, and seasons, suggesting that the normal system is entirely operative; and (4) if yom refers to an age, then the text would have to allow for a long period of "day" and then a long period of "night"—but few would argue for the night as an age." (Ross, 109). If you have additional questions on this, come see me afterwards or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
So we get into verse 2 and we see that the world is formless and void. These are two Hebrew words that describe chaos and emptiness. A couple different commentators see this as actually providing us the structure for the rest of creation with the first three days putting things in order and the next three days filling the emptiness (Ross, 104). In the first three days of creation God is going to tame the chaos. There is going to be order, structure, and separation (Ross, 102). God is going to separate and order day and night, heavens and earth, and land and sea on the first three days and the second three days He is going to fill all of those spheres.
It begins with the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters or the deep. Many wonder where this comes from. Well, Genesis doesn’t say, but in John 1, we find out that there was nothing made that God didn’t make. God made everything, and one commentator likened this verse to being like a potter who takes an unformed lump of clay and slaps it onto the wheel to begin forming His creation (U. Cassuto, 23).
God starts with creating light. You’ll notice that God doesn’t start by creating the sun.That doesn’t happen until day four. God doesn’t need a sun to create light like we need a bulb to light up a room. God can simply speak light into existence as He does here.
Next, God creates a separation between the earth and the sky. God separates the waters of the ocean from the water in the clouds (Ross, 109). This shows us that there is nowhere that God does not rule. Go to the bottom of the ocean, God is still in charge, ascend to the highest atmosphere, and God has already been there and already created the place. This extends until day three where God also separates the land from the sea. There is nowhere that God does not rule and command.
Now, the Lord moves on to filling. We have brought order to the chaos, but now it is time to fill that which has been ordered. God begins with the land to fill it with vegetation and all kinds of plant life. This should remind all that all food comes from the hand of the Lord. This is why it is good for us to pray a prayer of thanksgiving before a meal. Every calorie on that plate is provided for us by God ultimately.
Next, God fills the universe with planets and stars, the sun and the moon. At this time, these creations are used to mark the days and seasons. One commentator points out, "The first function: to separate the day from the night. This expression enables us to comprehend the existence of the first three days, when there was as yet no sun in the world. To separate one thing from another means to mark the distinction between two things already in existence. It is manifest that the night exists even without the presence of moon and stars. Similarly, according to the view reflected here, the sun is not the cause of daytime, for the latter is to be found without the former" (Cassuto, 43-44).
Then the Lord moves on to fill the heavens with the birds, the seas with the fish and great creatures, and the land with the animals we’ve come to know. There is an interesting tidbit of Hebrew here: "As a rule, the stem (swarming things) is used of small or tiny creatures, but here, in the command of God, who is communing with Himself, it refers also to large creatures, for vis-à-vis the Creator, they are all equally small. But when, in v. 21, the Torah tells its readers of the implementation of the fiat, it uses human phraseology and distinguishes between the big and the small creatures." (Cassuto, 48).
The Lord alone Commands His creation and Blesses His Creation
At this point the Lord commands the creatures to multiply and fill the earth, and the Lord has a particular blessing at this point for the fish. This blessing is that of fertility which became something of a proverb in Hebrew culture (Gen. 48:18, “let them multiply like fish”).(Cassuto, 51).
But then we move on to the creation of mankind. Here is where things really slow down in the narrative, and you can tell that there is a real effort to emphasize this portion of creation. Much has been made about the phrase “let us make man.” Who is God talking to? The noun for God throughout this passage is a plural noun, but the noun has always taken a singular verb. Moses is being very careful to show that God is alone in all of this, so this particular moment is odd. There are various ways to look at it, but I think that this is an early hint at the Trinity. You have your one God in three persons first mentioned here, but will get more explicit as the Bible moves on. This doctrine of the Trinity is actually much more important than we tend to think, and we will explore why next time, but suffice it to say, God decides to make mankind and mark them with His image.
What is His image? God doesn’t have a body (John 4:24), so this isn’t some sort of physical thing. Whether this is the fact that we share spiritual and moral attributes of God, or the fact that we have a soul, or many other possibilities for this, whatever the case may be, we are endowed with a special marking from God that gives us dignity above all the rest of creation. It is not strictly the fact that we are made human that makes us special, it is the fact that human beings bear the image of God. That is what gives us all worth.
This is something worth keeping in mind when we are upset with people, or annoyed with them on the road. Yes, that person is made in the image of God, even people who don’t use their blinkers while driving. And as such, they deserve respect. This is why life is so important to us. Babies in the womb bear God’s image all the way to the elderly in the nursing home. They all bear God’s image, so we don’t want them destroyed or ignored. It’s not a perfect analogy, but we are often careful with physical pictures of my family. We wouldn’t want to see them ripped up. Hurting the physical print doesn’t hurt the person pictured, but respect for the image shows respect to the person imaged. It is the same with God, we love God, so we love His image reflected in people.
Finally, God blesses humanity and sets them over all creation. This is both a privilege and a responsibility. We are called to subdue creation (something that gets a lot harder after the Fall), but that doesn’t mean destroy. We are called to rule it, but it is still God’s. As usual, humanity falls into one of two traps. Either creation care is elevated above care for humanity, or creation care is given such a low priority that it looks like we haven’t been called to be good stewards of it. We are called to care for it, but we don’t forget that this has been given for us to use but used responsibly.
Finally, on the seventh day, God stops from creating. It is said that he rested on the Seventh day, not because God was exhausted and needed a break, but because He was providing a model for us (Cassuto, 68). He again blesses the seventh day, and sets it apart, and makes it holy. This is something that we still enjoy today. It is a day where we set aside our work and remember how God has made all things for our good and His glory.
Of course, that day has changed for us from the seventh day to the first because there was something very special that happened on a Sunday two thousand years ago, that was itself four thousand years after creation: Jesus rose from the dead. Since the Fall, we have labored under sin, doing things that we shouldn’t do that are against God’s law. The penalty for this is death forever in a place called hell. This isn’t a place where we just cease to exist, but a place of eternal conscious torment. Jesus, God’s own Son, provided the way for us to not have to go there by paying the penalty Himself. When we put our faith in him, transferring our trust from ourselves to Him, leaving our sin behind, we enter into His rest. We don’t have to earn our way to heaven by what we do. And one day, after we die, we will live with God forever.
So what is our takeaway from this? Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything which means that God owns everything and controls everything. You are worshiping the God who made all things and is worthy of your worship on that fact alone, but He has done even more in saving your soul, something we will explore in the weeks to come.
Cassuto, U, A commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part One, Varda Books
Ross, Allen Creation and Blessing, Baker.
Waltke, Bruce Genesis: A Commentary, Zondervan
Image by Walkerssk
Genesis isn’t the introduction of the Bible. Genesis is the introduction of everything. As such, it needs careful study and reflection as we read the rest of the Bible. It is in this book that we are introduced to the Bible’s main Character, God. Rather than simply giving us information about God like a theological textbook, Genesis gives you a much richer approach. If you read a theological textbook, it will be a series of statements that are designed to impart to you information about God, much like a resume would tell you about an employee. Fact one: God is powerful because He made the world. Fact two: God is faithful because He keeps His promises. This has its place, but Genesis does something more. Genesis works like the next stage in the hiring process, the face-to-face interview. A good interviewer will say something like, “Tell me about a time in which you faced a difficult situation at work and creatively solved it.” The employee is then prompted to give the manager a narrative that paints a picture about how they operate.
Genesis is God’s face-to-face interview. Remember the context of the original audience. The Hebrews, God’s chosen people, have just been set free from four centuries worth of slavery in Egypt. They have seen signs, wonders, plagues, and miracles, and now, from the pen of Moses, they are going to be introduced to the God behind it all, and so will we. The knowledge that they (and we) will encounter in this book is going to set the stage for how they (and we) should view everything else.
This face-to-face interview is going to reveal to us a number of things, and the way that I have structured this series is by dividing Genesis into four parts. The first part is chapters 1-11 that I titled, “Who is the King of Glory?” I see this as the introduction to God Himself. Obviously in the first couple of chapters we behold His creative power. With just a word, stars, planets, oceans, fish, crickets, and subatomic particles suddenly exist. Without our aid, He did us make, as the Psalm says, which demonstrates the awesome quality of a God who needs nothing. This is going to be summed up in our two points today: God is powerful and God is faithful.
God is powerful
Chapter 2 tells the story of God entering into a relationship with the highest of His creatures, human beings. We find that He is a gracious God who can make an entire universe and then decide to pay attention to the smallest corner of it. More than paying attention to it, God loves it. Indeed, God binds Himself to humanity in covenant promising immortality to humanity if they would obey a single command in the midst of amazing kindness and provision.
Chapter 3, unfortunately tells the story of humanity’s rebellion. While God’s creatures, including Man, were made holy and without sin, they were liable to corruption, and so they disobeyed and plunged the world into chaos. Disease, decay, and ultimately death enter into God’s good creation. God, in right response to injustice, must punish, but He does so in mercy. Instead of simply executing the newly made humanity, He allows them to keep their work, tending to the ground and multiplying, but now it will be done with struggle and pain. But these hardships won’t be forever. Even in the midst of punishment, God makes a promise, another one, a new one, that all things will be set right. This promise we will need to keep in mind as we go through the study of this book. This is going to come up as the term “covenant.” We will see these promises made in chapters 2, 3, 9, 12, 15, and 17, and then we will see them alluded to and even advanced in 26, 35, 37, and 49. This is a critical concept to get because a lot of Scripture overall is going to be structured by the promises that God makes to His people ultimately being fulfilled in Christ. One of my old professors, Allen Ross, points out that blessing and cursing are concepts that will show up again and again in this book (Allen Ross, Creation and Blessing, 65).
As this section goes onward, we will see humanity get worse and worse. The first murder is already committed by chapter 4, but only two chapters later, humanity has multiplied and their sin has multiplied exponentially. Now humanity is so evil that every intent of their heart was only evil continually. What a far cry from a humanity created with only the possibility of evil, to now their only possibility is evil. As such we get a look into God’s capability of judgment. God is merciful, but God will only be merciful for so long. In chapters 6-9, we see God execute judgment on a planetary scale. A flood is going to consume the world such that there is nowhere for man to hide from God. Scale the tallest mountain, and behold, God’s waters are there. Run to the deep, and behold, God’s waters are there, too. Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
But God is merciful, and humanity is reborn and begins to re-multiply. Unfortunately, sin didn’t die in the flood (Paul House, Old Testament Theology, 69). The people didn’t trust God’s promises, nor obviously obeyed His command to multiply and spread out over the Earth. They gathered up in their tower, ready to reach up to heaven. We find God isn’t limited to one trick. God comes down and confuses their languages, and now they are forced to cover the face of the earth.
From there, we will notice a device that this book uses to structure itself. You know all of those “begats” in your Bible that people tend to skip through? So and so begat this unpronounceable name who went on to beget this other name? Well it turns out that those are rather important. In fact, according to one of my old seminary professors, Kenneth Matthews (we will be hearing a lot from him. He’s handled the Dead Sea Scrolls!), sees these begats as the hinge points in the book (Kenneth Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, NAC, 34). These begats are going to show us the bloodline of the people of God. We will see this bloodline seem to be in danger of confusion and obliteration, but we will see the faithfulness of God preserving His people through many dangers, toils, and snares.
God is faithful
Now, you might think that these chosen people, this protected bloodline, will be easy to see as the good guys. In American media, we like to present the hero and the villain insultingly clearly. The physically attractive hero enters the screen to dramatic lighting, triumphant music, and an obvious and uncomplicated moral code to execute. The villain is often done the same way in reverse. In fact, in the opening scene of Star Wars, the bad guy, Darth Vader is introduced. He is dressed in all black and enters to scary music. You know immediately that that is the baddie of the film.
Genesis doesn’t really work like that. We find that God’s people are actually extremely complicated and inconsistent people. The first section of Genesis 1-11 I called “Who is the King of Glory?” In this one, 12-26, I have titled it, “God is Faithful to the Scared.” This is the story of Abraham. God calls Abraham (called Abram when we first meet him), out of all the other people on Earth, to go out to a land that he doesn’t know, to have kids that aren’t biologically possible, to become the Father of many nations that don’t exist yet. This promise in Genesis 12 is of a land, a seed, and a blessing, something that is going to come up again and again. Incredibly, he goes! He goes through harrowing fights, rescue missions, and border crossings, but, after going though all of that, is scared that someone may think his wife is pretty in another country and kill him. He lies and puts his wife (rather than himself) at risk not once but twice! Even after God has not only protected them from that fate but actually enriches them because of it, when Abraham doesn’t immediately see God’s promise of a son arrive, he decides to force the issue and gets one of his servants pregnant. This will lead to all kinds of problems later, but God eventually comes through and grants the son He promised in the way He promised. Abraham is a complicated character, but on balance, he seems to surpass his failings with a great faith that is even willing to sacrifice his own son if God commands it in the end.
Jacob, his grandson, is much more complicated. Genesis doesn’t spend much time with Isaac and instead focuses on Jacob, taking up chapters 27-36. I have titled this section “God is faithful to the Scoundrel.” If you didn’t know the whole story, you would simply assume that Jacob is actually the bad guy! In contrast to his brother, the strong, skilled hunter (traits admired in a culture like that), Jacob is a soft, beardless man who likes to hang around in the tents, make soup, and, you know, occasionally, constantly undermines his entire family by taking advantage of his brother, and tricking his old, blind father with multiple lies and with help from his mother. Once all of that has taken place, Jacob continues his deception appropriate to his name with his uncle to get a bunch of animals and wives. Eventually, Jacob finds himself with four wives and family dynamics that could rival the Kardasians, and yet still, he is part of the bloodline, the line of blessing. In fact, he was chosen by God, over Esau, in spite of what Jacob would become. By the time we get to the end of his story, we find him, like his grandfather before him, renamed Israel and remade into the father of the twelve tribes of Hebrew people. The promise of a land, seed, and blessing is still transmitted even through the scoundrel.
One of his sons, Joseph, dominates the rest of the book of Genesis in chapters 37-50. Unlike the rest of the cast we’ve seen so far, Joseph looks pretty moral. He might not have the best discretion at the beginning of the story (telling his dream that everyone in the family bows to him when he is for some reason unpopular already with his brothers), but other than that, you’d be hard pressed to find anything this guy does wrong. In fact, if you were just reading Genesis, you might think that this is the one promised in Genesis 3 to put the world back together. If anyone deserves the promise of a land, seed, and blessing, it is Joseph.
Yet almost nothing good happens to him for the first half of his story. He goes out in obedience to his father to check on his brothers, when they decide to kill him! Only by the quick thinking of one brother, do they only decide to “just” sell him into slavery instead! He gets trafficked all the way to Egypt where he is sold to Potipher. After making the best of his situation, Joseph becomes the focus of the unwanted attention of the mistress of the house, and for his honor, he is thrown into prison. After helping people in the prison who are able to free him, he is forgotten for, you know, just a couple years, before finally he is lifted from the prison to the throne with a plan to save the world from a global famine, which he does.
This is why I titled this section “God is faithful to the Suffering.” Because He is.
I would imagine that the newly-freed Hebrews could see themselves in each of these stories, and so can we. And what we find is how God interacts with each of us in these stories.
Of course, there is so much more to see in this book than what I have just briefly laid out here. In this book we have the foundations to marriage (Gen. 1-2), government (Gen. 9), and our approach to the created world, especially each other (Gen. 9). We see God’s design for sexuality, gender, and even the gospel. We will see the surprising depth of human sin, the awesome height of God’s mercy, the mystery of His sovereignty, and God’s unabashed freedom to elect who will be the inheriter of His promise.
Of course, we are also reading this book as not just the introduction to the Old Testament, but the introduction to the New Testament as well, a fact John acknowledges in the opening of His gospel by going back to the beginning. All these threads that start in the book of Genesis will find their culmination in Christ living, dying, and rising again to defeat sin and death. Further, we will see allusions to Genesis as far away as Revelation when we will see The Tree of Life first offered to Adam and Eve now opened to all those who are weary, heavy laden, poor in spirit to buy without price and rest in the open arms of Christ.
That is what we will be studying over the next couple of years together. I hope you will join me.
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This passage stands as one section in the midst of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In it, Jesus has laid out what the Christian life looks like, how a citizen of the Kingdom is to be. It began with a laying out of the Beatitudes, a portrait of Christian character. We then move seamlessly into an explanation of what taking the commandments to heart looks like. It isn’t about externals only, but obedience that goes down to the level of one’s thoughts and desires.
In chapter 6, we saw that we are called to be generous to others, laying our treasure in heaven and to be prayerful rather than anxious about our needs. In seven, Jesus closes with a warning to those who don’t put their trust in Christ but instead build their house on the sandy foundation of their own wisdom.
In the middle of all of that, we find this prohibition, so often repeated in our culture: “Don’t judge.”
What does it mean to judge? In a legal sense, it means to compare someone’s behavior against a standard to see how it should be reacted to. If, for example, the standard punishment for theft is prison time, when someone steals, we judge them deserving of jail time.
Saying that there is a standard that we all stand or fall on is becoming increasingly out of favor. It has now gotten to the point that there are hardly any standards at all. In fact, the only thing you can do wrong in our world is to tell someone that they are wrong. The only thing that you can be judged for is judging. When we live with that mindset around us everywhere, we can easily think the same way. We can believe that it is wrong, unloving, to call people to a standard. Besides, who among us has ever really felt comfortable doing that? Doesn’t it feel wrong to tell people they are wrong? After all, is it really our business, and even if it is, we’re not worthy to do it! We’re not without sin, so we can’t throw stones.
When we bring all of these thoughts to this text, we can read this first line as “Don’t be judging, because, if you do, you will be judged for judging!” In fact, there are other places in Scripture that would seem to support this line of thinking! Look at James 4:12, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” It would seem pretty clear from a surface reading of these passages that we are simply told to mind our own beeswax, and let God sort ‘em out in the end.
But is that what Jesus, and by extension the rest of the Bible, has in mind?
Indeed, James says later in chapter 5:19-20 that we are supposed to turn people away from their sin. That sounds like we need to 1) recognize the standard and 2) hold people to it. Sounds like judging! Paul also doesn’t hold back against the Corinthians in their sin in 1 Cor 5 just a few paragraphs away from chapter 4. He tells them to remove someone who was sinning sexually. That sounds rather judgy.
Well, what about Jesus in Matthew 7? Is He condemning judgment? Well, if He is, then there are some other passages that will be hard to square with this line of reasoning. For instance, what would we do with passages about training children? Telling our children what to do and punishing wrongdoing (Ephesians 6:4) sounds like the essence of judging. And it isn’t just children subject to this! In Matthew 18, as we already covered at the beginning of this series, we find the process for church discipline. That whole procedure requires judgment at a lot of levels. In order to confront a believer for their sin, then you need to be able to judge that what they are doing is in fact sinful! Especially at the end of the process for the unrepentant, there is the call to put them out of the church! I don’t know of something that would sound more like judging than that!
Further, back in Matthew 7, in this same chapter, we are told that we will know false teachers by their fruits (requires judging), and in fact, just a few sentences after “judge not” we find in verse 6 that we aren’t supposed to give what is holy to dogs or pigs! How on earth are we to be able to make such determinations without judging?
Obviously, Jesus must not be giving a blanket ban on judging, at least the way we typically define it, but we still have a command not to judge lest we be judged. What are we supposed to do? In our two points today, we are going to see we are called to live a holy life and we are called to lovingly help others live a holy life.
Let’s take a close look at Matthew 7. When we see this command “judge not lest you be judged,” Jesus doesn’t then switch to a new topic as if He has said all He has to say on this topic. The next sentence explains why. Jesus tells us that what we judge others for, we better make sure that it doesn’t come back on us!
We see an illustration of that from King David’s life, don’t we? He was all mad about a story of a rich man with lots of sheep stealing from a man who had only one lamb. He said that that man deserved to die, only to find out that the story was about himself. He judged harshly for stealing, forgetting that he had actually done a worse thing by taking another man’s wife.
So Jesus is being very practical with us. If we are going to say, “This person is in sin!” We best make sure that we aren’t in that same boat. He uses a striking image to illustrate this. He imagines a guy with a bit of dust in his eye that does need to come out. The guy who has taken it upon himself to remove it, has a house beam sitting in his eye! The obvious point we are supposed to draw from this is, goodness! if you have a house beam in your eye, you need to be thinking about getting that out, not worrying about other people! One Scholar put it this way, “Therefore, Jesus does not forbid all moral judgment or accountability. Rather, he forbids harsh, prideful, and hypocritical judgment that condemns others outright without first evaluating one's own spiritual condition and commitment to forsake sin.” (Eric J. Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 30). It turns out the word “judge” has a range of meanings. If we judge based in love from the standard of God’s Word, that is appropriate! If we are just roasting people for the same stuff we do, all of what we have discussed above applies. Don’t do it!
Now, unfortunately, this is where many people stop reading. People will understand that Jesus isn’t telling us that we don’t judge sin, but they don’t want to be the ones to do it. They will say, “Well, I’m no better than that guy, so there is nothing I can do. See this log?” But that isn’t where Jesus finishes. Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, if you got the log in your eye, there’s really nothing that you can do.” No! Jesus says, “You got a log in your eye? Well, then get that thing out of there, SO THAT YOU CAN HELP YOUR BROTHER.” Jesus is not actually against speck removal. In fact, because Jesus wants that speck out of your brother’s eye, He calls you to live a holy life to make that possible. One commentator put it this way, “How can someone whose vision is totally obscured render a just assessment of another person's minor vision problems (7:3), let alone attempt the delicate task of correcting the problem (7:4)?” David Turner, Matthew, 206). Jesus calls you to log-free living. It isn’t just so your eyes are out of pain, but so that you can help others.
That brings an entirely different motivation for holiness, doesn’t it? Have you been motivated to stop a sin so that you can help others stop that sin? You can absolutely help someone out of an addiction without having had that addiction, but boy there can be something helpful about having been there.
This isn’t about not judging, this is about being in a place to help. If you are doing the same thing, there is nothing helpful about pointing out others sin. I’m going to have a hard time quitting cigarettes if my doctor smokes. We need to recognize the position that we have calling ourselves followers of Christ.
We are called to lovingly help others live a holy life.
This position is not used to stand above and condemn, but to come alongside and encourage. As we talked about in Matthew 18, the heart of God is one who pursues after the sinner to cause them to return, and the same is true of our fellow church members. As one writer put it, “Since we have been commissioned to proclaim a message of repentance and faith to those outside the church who need to hear the good news, certainly we need to proclaim the same message of repentance and faith to those inside the church” (Eric J. Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 30).
So how are we to do this? One, we need to have a firm grasp on our own need for the gospel. That’s one of the reasons why we have a confession of sin in our worship service. I need to read that confession just as much as you do. I need that time of personal confession just as much as you do. We all need the gospel, and none of us stand as inherently holier than another. We all need Jesus. Second, we need to have experience with repentance. People who are good at confronting are good at confessing. Good rebukers are good repenters. This is the case because they live what they are telling you to do. A life well-lived has weight. Three, you need to love those you confront. People can tell. Even if you can’t love them for their own sake, love them for Jesus’ sake. They’re in your life, so reach them. Christian criticism is always constructive, not demeaning and condemnatory (David Turner, Matthew, 205).
But what about when people simply won’t receive constructive criticism? What if by correcting someone, you are exposing yourself to violence? Here is where verse 6 comes in. As one commentator put it, “Jesus's disciples must not be censorious (7: 1 – 5), but neither must they be oblivious to genuinely evil people” (David Turner, Matthew, 206). There will be times in which having warned people, there is nothing more you can do with them. I think Titus 3:10-11 is an example of this “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” However, we need remember a critical point that I think Craig Keener, one of my commentators, put best, “[Matthew 7:6] does not allow one to pre-judge who may receive one's message (13:3-23), but does forbid one to try to force it on those who show no inclination to accept it…” (Craig Keener, Matthew, 244). What he’s saying is, we don’t get to look at someone and go, “Nah, I don’t think that guy is going to believe the gospel. Just look at him!” I mean, who would have thought that Paul would become a believer? The guy was basically fresh from killing Stephen, the Church’s first deacon, when he was converted. But if after giving the gospel, the person goes, “No, don’t ever bring this up again” you are free not to force the issue. Tremendous wisdom is always required in these sorts of situations, and the decision to say, “I can’t help this person anymore,” is one that should be very slowly and prayerfully come to. And just because you aren’t able to help that person, doesn’t mean someone else can’t.
In summary, what Jesus is condemning here is harsh, hypocritical condemnation of other people’s sin that you also take part in. The world is often harsh and wrong in its criticism of churches, but more often than we would like to think, we condemn the world for sin while allowing it to exist unchecked in our midst. We rightly criticize the sexual revolution taking place in our country, but we wrongly participate in it through pornography (Eric J. Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 28). A life of holiness will give us a life of freedom, a life that can point people to a better way. We are never going to be perfect; we don’t claim to be! But we do point to a Savior who has not only forgiven our sin, but is making us new. He is not only saving us from the log in our eye, but He is removing it from us that we may see clearly.
Do you want a promise from God that you will be able to do anything that you set your mind to? Wouldn’t it be a great thing, even a humbling thing, to hear that Christ will promise to be the one to give you strength to parent, preach, fix that leaky faucet, or win that championship football game? This would take the focus off of ourselves and onto Jesus as He gets the credit for every good thing accomplished and every victory won! Enter Philippians 4:13. Many have claimed this verse as they set out to do something, and I have particularly seen this in the athletic community. One NBA star would write this verse on his shoes, and in my youth ministry, would see things like that all the time.
Like most of the verses that we have studied so far, the popular interpretation isn’t too far off the truth. Indeed, the only way that we are able to do anything is because God preserves us. I am not the one keeping my heart beating. I’m not the one who keeps my body going. Anything that I do is because God preserves me. David recognizes this in Psalm 139. In another Psalm, specifically 104:14, we see that God’s control of the Earth extends even to the growing of grass. I’m currently reading through a 700 page book going through all the Bible verses that talk about God’s sovereignty over all things. It is true that draining the game winning basket, catching that touchdown pass, preaching a good sermon, or training up good kids is all credit due to God.
But that is not typically how we use the verse. Because it is also true that when we miss that critical basket, the sermon doesn’t land, or the kids don’t turn out the way we expect, God is overseeing that, too. If we use this verse simply to say, “God is going to empower me to win here based on this verse,” when we don’t win, we can end up disappointed, or at worst, disillusioned with God (Eric J. Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 109-110).
What if I told you that the promise God is actually making here is better than victory? What if the promise that is made here will still empower you, even, in fact especially, in defeat? It turns out that Paul has a secret about how to do that, and a lot of us, me included, often miss what that is.
It turns out that the secret that Paul has is contentment. True contentment is probably, from the world’s perspective, the weirdest of Christian virtues. The ability to be satisfied with whatever you have whenever you have it and even when you don’t have it, strikes against the core of everything that our culture preaches. We are a culture of more is more. Newer is better. Whole industries are built on discontentment. I have been recently introduced to the phenomenon of fast fashion. We will produce clothes that are designed to only last a season! That shirt you bought in the spring is totally out of date in just a few months. The tech world (where I live a lot of the time) is no different. Honestly, I think Apple does this better than anyone. We need to crank out a new iPhone every year that is only incrementally better than last year’s. We didn’t even know that we wanted a phone to do this, that, or the other thing. Tool manufacturers do the same things. The Pyramids were built with hand tools, yet Milwaukee finds a way to make us need the new stuff.
The list can go on with nearly every hobby, and if we are honest, we have all fallen into this trap even over good things.
Hopefully today, we are going to be looking at a verse that will give us the power to stay out of that trap, or at the very least, show us how to get out of it when we do. Today, we are looking at our two points: Everything that we have is a gift from God and Contentment is possible.
Everything that we have is a gift from God
Let’s begin by reminding ourselves, as always, of context.
Paul is writing this letter to the Philippian church from prison. He has a lot to say to them, which I found summed up in these words by one writer: “Paul desires to see them grow spiritually and serve God faithfully without any attachment to the world. He wants them to be unified, experiencing the joy that is found in Christ. In fact, the words joy and rejoice are used no less than 16 times in the book's four chapters” (Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 111). That is a pretty wild letter to write from prison! Talking about joy and rejoicing when there is suffering going on seems confusing. I have a hard time writing about having joy when things aren’t joyful for me!
But it turns out that if we think that way, then we just don’t understand how joy and contentment work. Thankfully, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, does. When we look at the context of the passage, in this case, just a few verses up, we find that Paul has found the secret to being content in all situations in life. This isn’t a case of Paul just led a more rugged life than we do and just doesn’t know what he is missing. Apparently Paul has abounded before. He’s been full and hungry. Needy and satisfied. One scholar put it like this: “Such contentment springs from complete readiness to accept whatever God gives. The apostle makes no distinction between the necessary and the superfluous, but simply gives thanks for everything. He can accept both abundance and want as a part of his life, and he gives thanks that he has received both as a gift, together with God's gracious forgiveness and quickening power. (Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 72).”
Did you catch that? He was saying that Paul accepts everything from God as a gift whether we view that thing in and of itself as a win or a loss. You air-balling the final basket in your highschool championship game, losing the match to the boos of the crowd is just as much a gift from God as is scoring the game winning shot to wild cheers. Now, there is no denying that certainly one feels like a gift and the other doesn’t, but both are from the same gracious God. Missing the shot can be a test from God to grow you in satisfaction with Him alone, but if we choose to turn that into an occasion for bitterness against God, then we make it a temptation to sin. Look at Job. He was a successful man in every single sense of the word, and in a couple of days lost literally everything: business, family, and personal health. What does he say in response? “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” He worships God—praises Him—in the midst of life’s deepest sorrows. That’s what contentment looks like. This doesn’t mean that Job didn’t grieve. He did. Tearing your clothes indicates intense grief, and in all of that the Bible says he didn’t sin, but he praised God in the midst of his grief because, in that moment, at least, he trusted that God was good and just.
Trust in God is the key concept here.
Contentment is possible.
Let’s return to Paul. Many sources that I read pointed to the passage in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul is in the midst of a discussion about how much God has given to him in terms of spiritual insight and heavenly visions. When we get to verses 7-9, we find that Paul was given some sort of heavy hardship that even Paul found difficult to bear. He asked God three times that it would be taken away, and God’s answer was, “I have given you enough. My grace is sufficient.”
We can apply this lesson directly to what Paul is saying here in Philippians. One scholar put it this way: “This verse is about having the strength to be content when we are facing those moments in life when physical resources are minimal. This is about having faith in the God who provides – the God who is sovereignly in control over every circumstance in life, the God who sees and knows our needs and has promised to meet them in Christ!” (Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 114). Do you see what he is saying there? Paul is telling us how to have contentment even when there is nothing, and the key to that is trust in God.
Trust God? That’s it? That’s the big secret? It sounds so familiar, that it is almost disappointing to hear that the key to contentment is trusting in God. We trust that God will work things out, and we look to Christ to give us the power to be content even when things aren’t going our way. So why are we so discontent so much of the time? If it truly is that easy and understandable that we trust that God is good and rely on His power as the key to being content, then why aren’t we?
I think the reason why is because we live in a world that tempts us with the possibility that contentment is just one more purchase away. One writer put it this way: “It's tempting to think, When I get a raise, I will be settled and secure, or As soon as I get married I'll find contentment at last. But these sorts of things are smoke screens for the believer in Christ.” (Bargerhuff, 115-6). Have you ever had those thoughts? What happened once you got them? We got discontent again! It’s like we have amnesia! I’ve done this while preparing this sermon! I’ve been trying to get some things fixed up around the house, and I’ve thought to myself, “Ok, as soon as I get this thing fixed, I can finally relax.” No sooner do I say this that I will see something else that needs attention. I think that the reason we aren’t content is not so much that we don’t trust God but because we think that we can eventually trust something else, and then we don’t have to trust God anymore! We are like the lottery players, buying just one more ticket, because this one has got to be the one! We’ve seen others win (even though if we follow their story through, everyone ends up worse, and more dissatisfied than before they played), so our turn is just around the corner. Yes, we will “trust” God until then, but really we are just biding our time until the real security comes along. And it’s a lie. It’s a false god. It will always leave you disappointed. It will give you just enough satisfaction for a little moment to hook you in and then leave right when you need it. I’ve talked to wealthy people, and it doesn’t provide lasting satisfaction. Does it make some aspects of life easier? Of course, but it doesn’t give you contentment.
Contentment can only happen in the present. There is no such thing on Earth as contentment in the future. If you find contentment feelings while thinking about something in the future, that’s worship. And unless that object is God, your sinful heart will never be satisfied.
But here is where we get the good news. To borrow one last time from Bargerhuff, “What a joy it would be to come to the place in our lives where we know that we could trust in Christ to provide and rest in his strength for any and ‘all things.’ To have that kind of spiritual strength would be amazing. Monumental. And according to what Paul says, absolutely possible” (114). Philippians 4:13 promises that by relying on Christ’s power to strengthen you, you can be content regardless of the situation in front of you.
So practically, how do we do that? When you find yourself dreaming of a future in which ______ difficulty is removed or _______ joy is achieved, bring your hopes, dreams, and fears to Christ. Tell Him what you are going through, ask His help on it, then rest in the promise that His grace is sufficient for you. Contentment isn’t sitting motionless, cross legged on a mountain with no desires. It’s actually more profound than that. It means that whatever you are going through, despite your desires, you find your satisfaction in God. It doesn’t come from your circumstances.
Now, if you are in a bad situation, you don’t have to stay in it in the name of contentment if you can remove yourself from it. If you are able to improve your circumstances, do it, but do so with the goal of God’s glory in mind. Paul was about to be unjustly whipped in Acts 22, and he used his status as a Roman citizen to avoid that. This wasn’t a sin. He didn’t, in the name of contentment, go through trouble he didn’t have to, and neither do you. If you are facing abuse in your marriage, that isn’t something that you have to take. In fact, to do so is allowing your spouse to sin. You can seek help. That’s ok. Even if by changing jobs you can provide better for your family, then do so, as long as there is no sin involved. If you want to be married, and you have the opportunity to marry as God would have you do, then do so!
Nevertheless, in all of this, do so with the realization that your ultimate hope doesn’t lie in achieving something in your life. Do so recognizing that you can be content in Christ even if God tells you, “No.” You will need to lean on Christ for this. You may need to tell yourself hourly that true contentment is found in God. Focus on the gospel that one day, like we discussed last week, all things will be made right. Rest in that future promise, and rely on Christ’s present strength. Ask Him. His grace is sufficient. One last quote: “The New Testament version of manna is grace. God will give you all the grace that you need today. But He’s not going to give you all the grace you need for tomorrow, because if you had manna for the next week, you would trust in your storehouse and forget about God.” (David Powlison). Keep close to God, have Him always in your mind, and you will discover that you already have all that you need.