Worthy Worker (Part Two)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

Pastor at the Construction Site_v03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      I want to start by asking you to put on your thinking caps.  I’m going to read a variation of the classic “Trolley Problem” and ask you to record your response on your bulletin.

You are part of a seven man crew working on a section of railroad track.  You happen to be standing at a switch and notice that a out of control train barreling down the track. Directly ahead on the tracks are five of your coworkers who do not see the train that is headed straight for them. On a side track is one of your crewmates who has his back to the oncoming train.  There is no time to warn them as they’re all wearing noise-cancelling headphones.  If you pull the lever right next to you, the trolley will switch to the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the train to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the train onto the side track where it will kill one person.

You have to decide in a split second what to do.  What is the right thing to do?  Write a one or two on a piece of paper.  We will come back to this situation later.

For now, we’ll complete our look at being a Worthy Worker by observing that discerning right from wrong and choosing to do right is very much at heart of our worthiness.  God finds people of true faith to be useful to Him in the work of expanding His Kingdom.  This passage tells us how.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. Two examples of unworthy workers. (16-19)

Be alert: evil can grow in a church just as it can anywhere.  In v. 16, Paul warned THOSE WHO INDULGE IN [GODLESS CHATTER] GROW MORE AND MORE UNGODLY.  GODLESS CHATTER feeds negativity and encourages divisive sins of the tongue like gossip, complaining, and back-biting.  As we said in part one, CHATTER may sound harmless, but it is not.  It results in greater ungodliness.

In v. 17, Paul wrote that UNGODLY TEACHING WILL SPREAD LIKE GANGRENE.  GANGRENE is a flesh-rotting disease (one form of which is fatal in 48 hours), so Paul could hardly have chosen a more repulsive image to describe the effect of UNGODLY TEACHING.  He identified two people who were among the UNGODLY in Timothy’s church: HYMANAEUS and PHILETUS.  Who were these people?

In 1 Timothy 1:20 Hymaneus was one of two people whom Paul HANDED OVER TO SATAN TO BE TAUGHT NOT TO BLASPHEME (Alexander was the other).  This probably meant they were put out of the church in Ephesus for serious errors in their teaching.  PHILETUS is not named in 1 Timothy 1:20, nor anywhere else in the Bible.   He apparently joined Hymaneus and Alexander in their error and suffered the same penalty.  Putting them out of the church is somewhat similar to the treatment for GANGRENE; surgical removal of the bad tissue, usually in the form of amputation.  For the survival of the body, the bad parts have to be cut off.

Their sin was to HAVE WANDERED AWAY FROM THE TRUTH.  The word WANDERED is an unfortunate choice for translation of the Greek word that means “missed the mark, deviated, or went astray.”  “Wandered” allows for an accidental deviation when Hymaneus and Philetus chose to believe an error, and worse, talked others into believing the same error.

Specifically, their false teaching was stating THAT THE RESURRECTION HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE.  Paul does not explain their false teaching, merely noting that it attacked the most central teaching of the Christian faith: resurrection.  (See 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, where Paul vigorously defends the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our personal resurrection, and the importance of these doctrines.)  What they did with this false teaching and how many people were taken in by it are details we are not meant to know.  It is sufficient for us to know that it was false and that it had a negative effect on the church in Ephesus.

The effect of their falsehood was to DESTROY THE FAITH OF SOME.  The word DESTROY can also be translated as “overturn.”  It meant that the false teaching had so affected some people that they ceased to believe the truth.  The health of the entire church was threatened, even though only SOME of the members fell in with Hymaneus and Philetus.

The good news is, though evil people and other circumstances can challenge our faith, the FOUNDATION God has set remains SOLID.  This FOUNDATION is the undeniable facts of God’s existence and His reward of those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

There are two promises of God’s protection of His people.  These promises are etched in the foundation like a cornerstone.

The first promise: THE LORD KNOWS THOSE WHO ARE HIS (Numbers 16:5).  God knows false teachers like Hymanaeus, Alexander, and Philetus.  While they may fool SOME of the people some of the time, they never fool God. God also knows everyone whose faith is real and based on the truth.  Remain faithful, and He will help you overcome and reward you when you do.

EVERYONE WHO CONFESSES THE NAME OF THE LORD MUST TURN FROM ALL WICKEDNESS. Here Paul paraphrased Numbers 16:26.  Though we do not do good in order to be saved, we do good in order to demonstrate our salvation, the change Jesus has made in our lives. A commitment to discipleship is part of the faith that saves.  As we learned again last week, turning away from wickedness is half of being a worthy worker.  The other half is pursuing good. Sometimes TURNING FROM ALL WICKEDNESS involves separating ourselves from people and sometimes it requires us to avoid places or circumstances that tempt us to do wrong.

  1. An illustration with household items. (20-21)

Paul contrasted two kinds of household items.  In order to understand the illustration, we must first see the LARGE HOUSE is as a symbol of the world in which we live.  In this world, people are either living for the Lord or not.  God made all of them, but not all of the people in the world are useful for God’s purposes. In many of our homes, we have one set of dishes for special occasions and another set for everyday use.  All the dishes are useful for serving food, but some of them are reserved for special uses.  The contrast between noble and ignoble ARTICLES (pots, bottles, pans, etc.) is a contrast of spiritual status and resulting usefulness to God.

The ones used for NOBLE PURPOSES are made of GOLD AND SILVER.  They are less numerous but more valuable in the sight of the Lord.  In the world, some people are “gold and silver” because they have faith and are obedient to God’s will.  Timothy is an example of a “noble article.”

The ones used for IGNOBLE purposes are made of WOOD AND CLAY.  These are common, worldly, and less valuable pieces.  They are not useful to God because they refuse faith and practice disobedience.  Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus are examples of “ignoble articles.”

Paul used similar imagery in Romans 9:21 = DOES NOT THE POTTER HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE OUT OF THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY SOME POTTERY FOR NOBLE PURPOSES AND SOME FOR COMMON USE?  The phrase THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY indicates that we share a common humanity.  Tragically, we do not share a common destiny.  As Jesus observed in Matthew 7:13-14, there will always be more people who do not refuse faith and service to the Lord.

Like a handy kitchen gadget, a follower of Jesus becomes a fit INSTRUMENT FOR NOBLE PURPOSES when he has, with God, cleansed himself from IGNOBLE PURPOSES.  NOBLE refers to doing what God has called you to do.  It is NOBLE to be obedient to God.  IGNOBLE refers to doing what you selfishly want to do, or what the world wants you to do; all kinds of disobedience.  Moreover, IGNOBLE refers to sinful acts because Paul wrote that the worthy worker must be CLEANSED of it before he is useful to the MASTER.

Having been cleansed, the worker is MADE HOLY and is thereby USEFUL TO THE MASTER AND PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  In this world household items never CLEANSE themselves (wouldn’t it be great to have dishes that washed themselves?!) and neither do people – not on their own, anyway.  God cleanses us from sin and its effects, but He waits for us to repent and ask His forgiveness.

This cleansing is part of what Paul means when he says we are to be MADE HOLY.  Moral purity is part of holiness and the other part is being set apart from worldly and ungodly things to spiritual maturity and godliness.

People who are MADE HOLY are then USEFUL to God, just as clean pots & pans are useful to a cook.  People who are MADE HOLY are PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  Truly good works begin with holiness.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Let’s return to the train problem.  You may be interested to know that this is not merely an intellectual exercise, In 2003 Union Pacific dispatchers in Los Angeles, CA had to make a decision very much like this one.

Did you choose #1?  Five people are dead.

Did you choose #2?  Only one person is dead and you are among the 90% of people who made this choice when presented with this problem.

Did you make no choice or want to know more about the six people on the tracks before deciding?  Then five people are dead because you hesitated too long at the switch.  Not deciding is making a decision.

My point here is that everything you’ve done, every choice you’ve made, everything you believe goes into making that decision about the switch.  Life doesn’t always conveniently present us with choices that include a lot of time for research and weighing out values and deciding on priorities.

Spiritually maturing people will know God’s leading before the train starts barreling down the tracks.  They will have studied the word, been faithful in prayer, and experienced in good deeds.  In so doing, they will have replaced sinful instincts with godly ones and are better equipped to do, as Paul promised, every good work.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

 

Worthy Worker (Part One)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

Construction Minister_v03Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      First there was the refusal to shake hands.  Then there was the tearing of papers.  It was a rough morning in Mrs. Marple’s kindergarten class!  Say, what did you think I was talking about?!

Today we’re talking about being a “worthy worker;” a follower of Jesus who lives out the faith God has given.  Speaking of work: picture two factory workers talking. The woman says, “I can make the boss give me the day off.”

The man replies, “How would you do that?” The woman says, “Just wait and see.” She then hangs upside down from the ceiling.

The boss comes in and says, “What are you doing?” The woman replies, “I’m a light bulb.”

The boss then says, “You’ve been working so much that you’ve gone crazy. I think you need to take the day off.”

The man starts to follow her out and the boss says, “Where are you going?” The man says, “I’m going home, too. I can’t work in the dark.”

We’ve gotten pretty well acquainted with the church in Ephesus.  A young man named Timothy was the sole employee of that church and the Apostle Paul loved him so much he wrote Timothy a couple training manuals.  We’ll see this morning what the second manual says about the kind of workers of whom God approves. This ought to be a big concern to us, because one day we’ll stand before God for our biggest job performance review ever, and we REALLY want that promotion!

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. V. 15 sets forth the goal for our daily life: being approved workers.

DO YOUR BEST proves some effort is required on our part.  The word means to “make haste, make every effort, be zealous or eager” to receive God’s approval.  God graciously supplies us with all we need to live holy and fruitful lives and He forgives us when we sin.  Our part is to exercise our will, to put for the effort, to make the right choices; to do our BEST.

Seek God’s approval by avoiding evil and pursuing good.  This requires CORRECTLY HANDLING THE WORD OF TRUTH.

Given the repeated emphasis on sins of the tongue, (QUARRELING, CHATTER, ARGUMENTS), Paul was evidently concerned about the church’s attention being diverted from approved doctrine to false teaching.

CORRECTLY HANDLING meant to plow a straight furrow, lay a direct road, or quarry a symmetrical stone.  It is handling God’s word in a straightforward way, letting it speak for itself, not trying to bend the word to fit one’s preferred meaning.  Indeed, the best use of the Bible is to use it at as close to the literal words on the page as possible.

Skeptics accuse the Bible of being unreliable as interpreters have bent it to support a variety of teachings.  We have to be careful to not give them evidence that is true.

A benefit of being approved is not having to be ASHAMED in this life and especially not on Judgment Day when all worker’s projects are tested (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).  It’s embarrassing to claim to understand God’s will and then be proven wrong.  It’s much, much worse to be judged as wrong by God on Judgment Day, when it’s too late to do anything about it.

  1. Worthy workers in God’s kingdom avoid evil and do good.

Paul supplied five examples of evils to be avoided. The first is QUARRELING mentioned in verses 14, 23, 24.  QUARRELING was condemned as being of NO VALUE.  It is like “empty calories” or “junk food,” it does nothing to sustain or improve life. It is worthless and wasteful.

Worse, it ONLY RUINS THOSE WHO LISTEN (often the innocent bystanders, not those arguing).  Disputes over words cause divisions which unsettle people, turning them away from God and turning them on one another.

There are two kinds of people who are prone to quarrel.  One kind is the Know-it-alls.  Because they refuse to concede there’s something they don’t know better than you, they will argue. The other kind is the Drama Queens who like to quarrel because it’s one way of creating some drama.  We see a great deal of QUARRELING on social media and in relation to Washington politics.

GODLESS CHATTER (16) is the second example of evil to be avoided.  Chatter can feel as if it is the least evil of all the sins of the tongue.  Sure it’s superficial and wastes time, but where’s the harm?

The Apostle Paul would allow none of that; he use the word GODLESS to characterize CHATTER properly: as evil.  To me, cable news networks and talk radio are two modern examples of chatter.  The Worthy Worker has no time to waste on typically sinful verbal fluff.

Third, Paul called on Timothy, a young man, to FLEE THE EVIL DESIRES OF YOUTH (22).  We might think of sensuality, impatience, arrogance, and self-centeredness as usual YOUTH sins.  I prefer to see this as Paul’s condemnation of immaturity.  Immaturity is understandable when you’re young, untrained, and inexperienced.  However, when you’re old enough and taught better and don’t do it, that’s a sin.  However you define the sins of youth, we are to FLEE from them.

The fourth example is strongly worded: DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH FOOLISH AND STUPID ARGUMENTS (24).  These inevitably lead to having the QUARRELS mentioned in verse fourteen. This reference to arguments makes me think of trying to prove whose football team is better, or comments left on websites that make letters to the editor look tame by comparison.

The fifth example to sins to NOT be RESENTFUL (24).  In our Adult Bible Study we’re finding out about the toxic nature of grudges and all forms of unresolved anger.  Resentment is a self-inflicted wound.  The person at whom we are needlessly angry is very likely to be unaware of their offense or care about it.  Why should we?

To complete the moral picture, God gave Paul five examples of good to be pursued.  The first is a set of four virtues found in verse twenty-two: PURSUE RIGHTEOUSNESS, FAITH, LOVE AND PEACE.  The word PURSUE means we’re not waiting for these virtues to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head like a cartoon anvil.  We must take an active role in cultivating them.

What challenged me this week was the commentator who pointed out that these virtues are exercised in relationships.  You can’t know that you have these virtues or develop them on your own.  We need the church and our families to do it.

The second example of pursuit-worthy virtue is to CALL ON THE LORD OUT OF A PURE HEART (22).  To CALL ON THE LORD is a reference to prayer.  As the Bible teaches, God hears the prayers of those who are PURE of HEART.  This is a moral state, but also refers to sincerity; single-mindedness.

The third virtue is kindness: BE KIND TO EVERYONE (24).  In recent national events we’ve seen that tolerance, patience, and gentleness can be in short supply. Isn’t this a place where the Church could show leadership in our culture?

Whatever one’s position in the church, home, or society, kindness is a virtue that is supposed to distinguish us from unbelievers.  I know how tempting it is to want to win arguments and votes, but the urge to win can never replace kindness.

The fourth virtue is to be ABLE TO TEACH (24). Some believers have a Spiritual Gift of teaching, but all believers are teachers.  All parents are teachers; that’s God’s plan.

Being ABLE TO TEACH requires first that we are learners.  We never want to be the “old dog” who refuses to learn “new tricks.”

Then we must develop our skill in teaching as we gain experience passing along what we know in all the virtuous ways we’ve discussed.  It’s no accident that teaching is listed between kindness and gentleness.

Fifth, GENTLY INSTRUCT those who OPPOSE you (25-26).  Gentleness is always appropriate, but is especially needed when instruction is given, and most of all, when instructing opponents.

Note the chain of reasoning. The HOPE motivating our offering instruction is that GOD WILL GRANT THEM REPENTANCE.  Then their REPENTANCE will lead them to a KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.  The TRUTH will cause them to COME TO THEIR SENSES. (Literally, “return to soberness.”)  Becoming sensible, the opponents of faith will ESCAPE THE TRAP OF THE DEVIL, WHO HAS TAKEN THEM CAPTIVE TO DO HIS WILL.  It’s impossible to escape a trap when you refuse to recognize you’re in one.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Today is “Church Vocations Sunday,” where we’re supposed to encourage people to consider careers in full-time Christian ministry.  As I am currently working on a letter of recommendation for a young lady who aspires to be a chaplain, we’ll call this a successful Church Vocations Sunday and expand the topic to do what Paul did; use work as a figurative way of explaining what it means to be a Christian.

So here we go: a Christian’s job description.

#1 – Show up for work.  The believer’s workplace is wherever there is someone who can be helped with an act of service or witness.  How many times do we fail to act on opportunities to talk about and demonstrate our faith?

#2 – Follow the boss’s instructions.  Our boss is God, the founder of the company.  He’s put instructions in our hearts and in the Bible, so no excuses.

#3 – Cooperate with your coworkers.  Whether they’re in management or on the floor, your fellow Christians deserve your very best love and treatment.

#4 – Wait patiently for pay day.  The best rewards for a job well done come after “retirement” from this company.  You can trust the Boss to keep track of your hours, but because He is generous, your envelope will contain something extra.

Show yourself to be a worthy worker!

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle

Symbols of a Working Faith

vets day

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

Please read 2 Timothy 2:1-7 in your Bible.  I use the NIV (1984).

From a sermon by Jeff Strite, “Til Death Do Us Part” 2/15/2009: “Every year, hundreds of Civil war buffs get together and put on mock battles. They don uniforms that soldiers of the North and South would have worn back then.

“During one reenactment, it was a hot sweltering day. The civil war buffs are sweating as they maneuvered into position for their battle, facing the usual frustrations involved in setting up such a display. However, one of the ‘Rebels’ got so tired, hot, and frustrated he threw in the towel and headed for the refreshment tent. As he tugged off his wool uniform he was heard to grumble: ‘I quit. We’re not going to win anyway.’

And, of course — he was right! Here was this civil war buff — who knows HOW everything is going to turn out. He’s tired, hot, and discouraged. He KNOWS his side isn’t going to win anyway… so he quits.”

Christian, we are in a similar situation.  The Bible tells us (as we learned last Sunday) who will win the war of good versus evil.  God wins!  How can we consider giving up when we know we’re on the winning side? I know from our vantage point it may appear we’re losing this particular battle, but the outcome of the war is not in doubt.  God calls us to soldier on.  That was Paul’s message to Timothy, too.

The passage begins with Paul calling Timothy to be STRONG, but not in his own strength, in the strength that God’s GRACE provides.  In this way – only in this way – will Timothy be able to keep his calling as a pastor.  His task is to pass along the faith to those who are spiritually mature and share in his work of preaching the truth about Jesus.

Paul uses three illustrations to show Timothy that endurance, obedience, discipline, and perseverance are going to be required to accomplish this work.  If we will faithfully exhibit these marks of integrity God will faithfully make our work fruitful.

  1. Two things distinguish a soldier’s work: endurance and obedience (vs. 3+4).

The first virtue exemplified by a soldier is Endurance.  The phrase ENDURE HARDSHIP is a new word created by Paul, combining the Greek words for “suffer,” “bad,” and “together.”  Normally, we think of endurance as being something we do solo, gritting our teeth and getting through.  Enduring together is a better and more godly way of thinking about it.

The second virtue illustrated by a soldier’s life is Obedience.  A GOOD SOLDIER’s priority is pleasing his COMMANDING OFFICER.  All followers of Jesus have God the Father as our COMMANDING OFFICER. This Greek word literally meant “the one who enlisted us as a soldier.”

In Philippians 2:25 & Philemon 2 the word for GOOD SOLDIER is translated as FELLOW WORKER, referring to Paul’s associate ministers of the Gospel.

With that priority, a GOOD SOLDIER avoids getting INVOLVED IN CIVILIAN AFFAIRS, which are “business, occupations.”  A soldier temporarily sets aside interest in a career as it would distract him.  Instead, he focuses on being a soldier, fulfilling his CO’s orders.

  1. One thing distinguishes an athlete’s work: discipline (v. 5).

His priority is receiving the VICTOR’S CROWN.  This is stephanos, the crown made of laurel leaves that was given to the winner.  It was a kind of “key to the city,” as the one wearing it was treated like a hero all day.  The word for the kind of crown worn by royalty was diadema; headgear that gave the wearer a different kind of celebrity.

With that priority, an athlete COMPETES ACCORDING TO THE RULES – that is – he exercises discipline.  An athlete demonstrates discipline while preparing for competition, devoting time and effort in training.  When he competes, an athlete who truly wants to win competes within the rules of the game.  We’ve seen lots of notorious examples of people who cheated and ultimately lost the big prize.

Self-discipline is difficult, but it is always more satisfying and easier than discipline exerted on us by others.  Paul specified what self-discipline meant for pastors in vs. 23-24.

  1. One thing distinguishes a farmer’s work: perseverance (v. 6).

His priority is receiving a SHARE OF THE CROPS.  In fact, Paul wrote that the HARDWORKNG FARMER deserved FIRST SHARE OF THE CROPS he raised.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:18, THE WORKER DESERVES HIS WAGES.  As a culture, we’ve gone from being farmers to being gardeners to ordering our food delivered to us.  In these transitions we’ve lost our personal connection to the land and the patience that working the soil demands.  We have to turn to the remaining farmers to learn perseverance.

With that priority, the farmer works hard; he demonstrates perseverance.  Seed does not grow overnight and it will not grow as productively if it is not tended.  The farmer plants the seed with the hope of a good harvest to follow.  While he waits, the farmer tries to reduce the effects of things he can’t control (weather) by doing things he can control (seed selection, weed control, irrigation).  In the field, there is no such thing as “fast food.”  It all takes time.

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

At the end of our passage (v. 7), Paul did not over-interpret these figures of speech, but instead called on Timothy to REFLECT on them, certain that God would supply him with personal INSIGHT into their meaning.  Similarly, when any of us read the Bible, we need to take time to pray and think about what we’ve read to gain a personal application of the truth.

A chaplain was speaking to a soldier on a cot in a hospital. “You have lost an arm in the great cause,” he said. “No,” said the soldier with a smile. “I didn’t lose it–I gave it.” In that same way, Jesus did not lose His life. He gave it purposefully.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/10716/christian-disciplines-by-paul-fritz?ref=TextIllustrationSerps

RESOURCES:

Sermon #534

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

The Daily Study Bible Series

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Right from the Beginning #7

(Please read Genesis 3:7-24 in your Bible.  I have used the (c) 2011 NIV for these remarks.)

Jesus calls us to be people who live in present-tense.  This is not human nature.  An average person’s anxiety is focused on :
40% — things that will never happen
30% — things about the past that can’t be changed
12% — things about criticism by others, mostly untrue
10% — about health, which gets worse with stress
8% — about real problems that will be faced
Stop trying to grapple with the what ifs¨ and let God take care of it. You simply make that long term investment in God’s kingdom day by day.
While touring Italy, a man visited a cathedral that had been completed on the outside only. Once inside, the traveler found an artist kneeling before an enormous wall upon which he had just begun to create a mosaic. On some tables nearby were thousands of pieces of colored ceramic. Curious, the visitor asked the artist how he would ever finish such a large project. The artist answered that he knew how much he could accomplish in one day. Each morning, he marked off an area to be completed that day and didn’t worry about what remained outside that space. That was the best he could do; and if he faithfully did his best, one day the mosaic would be finished.
<This information was found in Today in the Word, September 5, 1995, p. 32.  It was retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-paul-fritz-stories-anxiety-guilt-10217.asp on 11/10/16.>

The difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood is as crucial today as it has ever been.  Consider the devastating consequences of false guilt and untrue anxiety on the human personality.  And there are larger, theological and philosophical issues at stake: we need a macro-narrative in this culture that exalts micro-narratives and is bent on extreme individualism.  Post-modernism may be a fad but people of faith need authoritative answers that set human nature in its most true – most biblical – roots.  To this end we have delved into Genesis 1-3 and complete this series with this seventh installment

  1. What was the people’s offense (3:6)?

They both ate fruit from the forbidden tree.  This verse does not describe the trees, but it does name two of them.

– The Tree of Life.

– The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

On the basis of the information given, I imagine that they were all the same kind of tree.  This would mean that, to Adam and Eve, God’s command seemed arbitrary; there was no visual reason for setting these two trees aside as special.  I believe this detail is implied in the text to reinforce the fact that our understanding of God’s commands is not required, only our obedience.  If we trust God, we obey immediately and fully.

It’s worth noting repeatedly that v. 6 shows Adam had been there all along and did/said nothing.  Though it is a detail easily overlooked, the text makes it plain that Adam was there all along: HER HUSBAND, WHO WAS WITH HER.

Are you surprised or not to note Adam’s contribution in vs. 1-5?  It was nothing.  He said and did nothing during the whole exchange between the WOMAN and the SERPENT.  He did nothing to stop her from taking fruit from the tree and eating it.  Worse, when the situation turned to him, he joined the WOMAN in her disobedience; HE ATE IT.

  1. What were the consequences of their sin (3:7-24)?

Shame (7).  Whereas in chapter two their nakedness had been a sign of their innocence, Adam and the WOMAN’s sudden knowledge of evil turned their nakedness to shame.

FIG LEAVES are the only description of the trees in the account.  Could it be that the garden was populated with fig trees? That is the reason for my earlier imaginative interpretation that there was only one kind of tree in the garden.  Later in the Bible the fig tree is used as a symbol of Israel, the people of God.  What’s important here in verse seven is that they attempted to hide their nakedness with roughly made garments, composed of what was at hand.  They must’ve been desperate for a cover-up.

Fear (8-10).  Hiding becomes a coping mechanism; they attempted to conceal themselves entirely from God.  Maybe they thought their leaf wardrobe would be like “camo” and help them blend into the trees.  Notice how the writer sets the scene of shame and a frantic cover-up in contrast to the idyllic paradise: when God arrived on the scene, He walked IN THE COOL OF THE DAY.  God called out to our parents; not because He didn’t know their location, or what they had done (He appeared immediately after their sin), but to call to them personally, in a loving, non-confrontative way.

Adam offered a lame explanation and in the process exposes his moral failure: “I WAS AFRAID BECAUSE I WAS NAKED.”  Of what was Adam AFRAID?

– Embarrassment?  It’s possible.  I know I would not be comfortable standing before God with only a salad around my hips.

– Wrath?  Adam had never known wrath – it had never been necessary before.  So, unless this came with the KNOWLEDGE gained from the fruit, I can’t see a fear of wrath motivating him.

– Most likely, death.  In 2:17 God had warned Adam that he would die if he ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Surely that was on Adam’s mind as he tried to hide from God.

Division in relationships (11-13).  God confronted Adam with the truth. Again, “WHO TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE NAKED?” is not a question asked for information’s sake, but to draw Adam out and allow him to be responsible for his mistake and ask God’s forgiveness.  Likewise the third and fourth rhetorical questions God asked.  If we understand God’s three questions as being opportunities for Adam to repent, he failed miserably.  Sin had already driven a wedge between him and God, so when he blamed the WOMAN, he not only failed to repent, but opened the world’s first experiment in “the blame game.” So instead of fixing his relationship with God, he makes matters worse by offending his wife as well!

The WOMAN followed Adam’s lead, and blamed the SERPENT.  Comically, the SERPENT has no one left to blame and soon it will have no fingers with which to point!  This leads to rhetorical question #4; “WHAT IS THIS YOU HAVE DONE?”  (The same question God posed to the first murderer, Cain, in 4:9-10.)

Curses (14-19).  By being at the end of the line, the SERPENT lost the Blame Game and is cursed first; it is cursed to groveling & enmity (14-15).  In part 6 we theorized that the SERPENT was an animal unlike any of the other animals of creation, given powers of speech and reason but not the IMAGE OF GOD.  The divine curse also sets it apart from all the other animals created on Day Six.

Groveling.  Micah 7:17 depicts God’s wrath on pagan nations as causing them to “lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth.”  In the Bible, this is a way of describing total defeat.  Crawling and eating dust will be the way of life for the SERPENT for the remainder of its life.

ENMITY means that all the OFFSPRING of the SERPENT and the WOMAN will forever hate one another.  Some people have seen the last part of verse fifteen as a prophecy, predicting that Jesus would gain the final victory over Satan.

The curses on the WOMAN included painful childbirth and masculine authority (16).  Being fruitful and multiplying will come at a high cost for the WOMAN from that moment on.  God says this twice, so we know it’s important.  “YOUR DESIRE WILL BE FOR YOUR HUSBAND AND HE WILL RULE OVER YOU” is clearly not a description of God’s plan for husband-wife relations, it is a curse.

Some object that this statement is putting words in God’s mouth, trying to justify the paternalistic culture of the Bible writers.  That’s just nonsense.  God is exercising His wrath on the WOMAN for her role in this whole awful affair, not rewarding the man.  As the text makes very plain (2:24), God created the marriage relationship to be a special blessing, the two becoming ONE FLESH.  Now sin has entered the picture and marriage becomes a tug of war, a struggle for dominance with the WOMAN the loser.

The curses on ADAM were toilsome labor & death (17-19).  We’ve observed that God intended from the beginning that His people should work (2:15).   While it is a four-letter word, work itself is NOT a curse.  Instead, God’s wrath on ADAM was to make his work frustrating – it will become toilsome – hard labor and sometimes unfruitful.

More importantly, death enters the picture: “FOR DUST YOU ARE AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN.”  As we’ve seen, Adam will not immediately die, but as long as he had access to the TREE OF LIFE, he would have lived indefinitely.

Male authoritarianism is revisited in v. 20 as Adam named Eve.  This is the first of the curses we see coming to pass.  Up to this point, she was simply called THE WOMAN (2:23); she had no personal name.  But in v. 20 Adam named her; this is the first exercise of the male authority God warned the WOMAN would be her due for disobedience.  The act of naming the WOMAN eve is an extension of what we saw in 2:19-20; God delegated part of His authority to ADAM when He tasked the man with naming the animals.  He is exercising the same authority here in 3:20.

A change in the function of animals: they became a resource for human beings (21).  Since FIG LEAVES do not make a very good garment, God took the skins of animals to make our parents a nice set of leather clothes.  Fancy. Formerly, animals existed for their own sake; now they exist to sustain people.  This act would draw an obligatory protest from PETA (had it been in existence) but nicety gives way to necessity.

Going back to death again, God explained in v. 22 two reasons for exiling our parents from paradise.  They now had knowledge of evil and were forever changed by it.  They could not be allowed to be LIKE God in that way and remain in the Garden.

The man was cursed with death.  If he were allowed to remain in the Garden he could continue to eat from the TREE OF LIFE and thereby avoid death.  This is NOT saying that our parents were created to be immortal and lost it – just the opposite – they were created mortal and needed access to the TREE OF LIFE to be immortal.  And so we read in Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25, THERE IS A WAY WHICH SEEMS RIGHT TO A MAN, BUT ITS END IS DEATH.  No doubt many tombstones could be marked with an epitaph that reads, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”  Like Adam and Eve, we were tempted by the appeal of sin, but failed to weigh its consequences and suffered them just the same.

A final consequence is loss in relationship with God; in this case taking the form of banishment from the garden (23-24).  V. 23 indicates that Adam would immediately begin the toilsome work God indicated in the curse: TO WORK THE GROUND FROM WHICH HE HAD BEEN TAKEN.  What irony!  The very stuff from which his life had been made would now frustrate and exhaust ADAM!

In case they had any notions of sneaking back in, God put them to rest by stationing angelic guards at the entrance to the Garden, armed with a FLAMING SWORD!  What they had lost because of sin, Adam and Eve would never regain.  This put them at a physical distance from God; there would be no more walks IN THE COOL OF THE DAY (8).

  1. What the New Testament has to say about the Fall.

– Regarding Adam = Adam’s sin brought death to the human race.  (See Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.)

– Regarding Eve = Eve’s daughters are subject to Adam’s sons.  (See the Apostle Paul’s use of Genesis to support gender roles in the First Century Church in 1 Corinthians 11:7-12, 2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  These passages present a challenge for moderns.  Working out a biblical and useful interpretation takes courage, wisdom, and a commitment to dialogue.)

One mom was out walking with her 4-year-old daughter when her girl picked up something from the ground and started to put it in her mouth. The mother tells what happens in her own words:
“I took the item away from her and I asked her not to do that.” My daughter quickly asked, “Why?” “Because it’s been lying outside, you don’t know where it’s been, it’s dirty and probably has germs,” I replied.
At this point, my daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked, “Wow! How do you know all this stuff?”
I thought quickly and said, “All moms know this stuff. It’s on the Mommy Test. You have to know it, or they don’t let you be a Mommy.”
We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, as she pondered this new information. “Oh…I get it!” she beamed, “So if you don’t pass the test you have to be the daddy?”
I smiled and replied, “Exactly.”
<From a sermon by Mark Opperman, Mothers: Guardians of the Heart, 6/19/2012, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-humor-mothersday-82154.asp on 11/10/16.>

You see how misinformation gets started?  But seriously, it has been our objective throughout these series of messages to correct misunderstandings and get Genesis right from the beginning.

With that goal in view: in case we missed it in 2:4, let’s review and reassert the point of view of the author of Genesis: THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH WHEN THEY WERE CREATED, WHEN THE LORD GOD MADE THE EARTH AND THE HEAVENS.  He is writing with the purpose of accounting for, or explaining how what is came into being.  There is nothing in his mind about symbolism or allegory or other such stuff and nonsense as modern writers apply to Genesis.  Moses wrote history.  He wrote it as it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.

That is another reason we have approached our study of Genesis as a study of facts, not symbols.  We have seen time and again that when we don’t let scientific arrogance or modernism get in the way that the facts do speak for themselves.  They present a coherent and consistent development of the origins of the human race and the world in which we live.

Right from the Beginning – #5

(Please read Genesis 2:1-3 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his book Grace, told the following story:
“One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had.

“’I don’t get it,’ he said. ‘Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.’

“‘But you didn’t notice,’ said the winning woodsman, ‘that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.’”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/5615/i-was-sharpening-my-ax/ on 10/27/16.>

This little parable tells us that constant activity is not a guarantee of success.  Workaholism is no more noble an addiction than any other addicted behavior.  To be faithful and successful, periods of work must be alternated with periods of rest.

In our study of Genesis, we have arrived at the final day of creation, a day when God did no more creating.  It is so significant that the creation account ends in this way and yet it is probably the most under-utilized passage of Scripture in the Church.  God set for us an example we are to follow by taking a day of rest following His six days of work.

In Jesus’ time, God’s people went to crazy extremes of legalism about keeping the Sabbath.  There were hundreds of interpretations of what it meant to cease from work.  In our time, God’s people have pretty much gone to the opposite extreme, where keeping a Sabbath is something virtually ignored.  We think that keeping the Sabbath is accomplished by spending an hour or so in church once a week.  In the process of cheating God, we’ve cheated ourselves out of the blessing of knowing what a Sabbath is and how to observe it in a way that pleases God.

For a year now, I’ve had an “infographic” on my desk that shows religious observation in the United States.  The data was assembled by the Gallup organization and has limited usefulness, but offers a snapshot of the religious life of our nation.

The data shows the total WEEKLY attendance of a church, synagogue, or mosque in 2014.  The state with the highest attendance was Mississippi, which notched 47%.  The state with the lowest attendance was Vermont, with just 17%.  South Dakota is smack in the middle of those extremes at 31%.  Just one third of peoples of faith honor the Sabbath on a weekly basis.  Never mind which faiths or which day of the week, lump them all together and that’s the best we can come up with.

Did God intend His people should take the Sabbath seriously?  The answer is yes.  In Exodus 20, it is the fourth of the Ten Commandments and easily the lengthiest Commandment.  In Exodus 31:14 the LORD said, “OBSERVE THE SABBATH, BECAUSE IT IS HOLY TO YOU.  ANYONE WHO DESECRATES IT IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH; THOSE WHO DO ANY WORK ON THAT DAY MUST BE CUT OFF FROM THEIR PEOPLE.”  Sabbath violators were to receive the death penalty.  I’d say it doesn’t get any more serious than that!

While we as Christians are not bound to the Law of Moses in the same way as our Jewish forebears were, the command to observe the Sabbath remains.  We are not free in Christ to ignore the Sabbath, but we are free to observe it in ways that are appropriate to us individually.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2).
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5).
  3. Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).
  4. Day Three: Separating the sea and the land; growing plants on the land (1:9-13).
  1. Day Four: Creating heavenly lights (1:14-19).
  2. Day Five: Creating animals for the sea & sky (1:20-23).

NEW

  1. Day Seven: Instituting the Sabbath (2:1-3).

GOD HAD FINISHED THE WORK HE HAD BEEN DOING (1).  God declared His creation VERY GOOD (1:31).  Part of what that means is that it was complete.  It was finished.  One of His purposes in instituting the Sabbath was to give His people a weekly reminder that we are creation, He is our Creator.  He is worthy of our worship and devotion.  The Hebrew word for WORK here occurs three times in this passage and is the usual word for our ordinary operations.  It’s ironic that such an ordinary word is used to sum up the supernatural work of creation, but creation is what God does.

ON THE SEVENTH DAY HE RESTED FROM ALL HIS WORK (2). The Hebrew word sabbat (“rest”) is qualified by the phrase FROM HIS WORK.  It means that He ceased the creative labors.  God stopped doing what He had been doing.

We noted last week that one of the eight things about the creation of humans was that He created us to work.  On the 7th day we learn He also created us to rest.  REST involves several things:

– Ceasing from our usual labor.

– Being inactive long enough to restore health; getting enough sleep.

– Restoring balance to our lives.  We are not just workers and this world is not our home.  We need to be reminded of our true selves and rightly ordered priorities.

– Finding a place of safety.  We make take adequate food and shelter for granted, but not all people do; observing a Sabbath reminds us to be thankful.

– Sabbath activity must serve only sacred purposes.  We have six days to live in the world; we need one to cleanse ourselves of the world’s influence and reset.

– Get back to nature: pay attention to creation, and, by association, our Creator.

THEN GOD BLESSED THE SEVENTH DAY (3).  In 1:31 God declared creation was VERY GOOD.  Of all the days of creation, this is the only one God BLESSED.  This makes it special and worthy of note.

AND MADE IT HOLY (3).  HOLY in this case means set apart to be used for divine purposes only.  Of all the days of creation, this is the only one God MADE HOLY.  That also makes it worthy of note.

BECAUSE ON IT HE RESTED FROM ALL THE WORK OF CREATING THAT HE HAD DONE (3).  One of the things we did not talk about related to the IMAGE OF GOD is assumed in this passage: one way we function as the IMAGE OF GOD is by following His example.  In this case, Sabbath-keeping is one of the ways we follow God’s example.

Half of observing the Sabbath is ceasing from doing all the other stuff that is part of our typical work week.  Here’s what God said on the subject: “FOR SIX DAYS WORK IS TO BE DONE, BUT THE SEVENTH DAY IS A DAY OF SABBATH REST, HOLY TO THE LORD.  WHOEVER DOES ANY WORK ON THE SABBATH DAY IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.” (EXODUS 31:15).

Our Sabbath observance is taking time away from our regular stuff in order to repurpose it as a gift to God.  We cease our usual labors in order free up time.  We spend part of that time resting, more of it in righteous activity.

Our observance of a weekly Sabbath is for Rest and Righteousness.  (The BEST kind of “R&R.”)

As God RESTED, we are to devote a day to rest. This means to CEASE from the labors that occupy us during the rest 0f the week.  In every way you care to mention, we need at least a day a week to get away from all the stresses and labors that are typical to our lives on the six non-Sabbath days.  Part of the wisdom of observing a Sabbath are the benefits we derive from it.

As God declared the day to be HOLY, we are to devote a day to righteousness. Righteousness is, in part, activity that draws us closer to God, to one another, and to a better understanding of ourselves.

Righteous activity is NOT the worldly entertainments and occupations we practice the other six days of the week.  We observe a Sabbath by ceasing what usually holds our attention to give it to God instead.

I’ve had to limit my remarks to this one passage and not the subject of the Sabbath because there is a lot of biblical material on the subject and a mountain of interpretation, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic, on what it means to keep the Sabbath.  This message serves to only begin a conversation by scratching the surface. Let’s review what we take away from this text alone.  Here are the “talking points.”

– Our practice of observing the Sabbath is based on the historical fact that God Himself rested one day out of seven.

– Of all the days of creation, God deemed the seventh most important because He BLESSED the day and decreed it to be HOLY.

– Observing the Sabbath requires we plan to REST and engage in RIGHTEOUS activity only.  To REST means ceasing from our usual labors.  To be RIGHTEOUS we replace time usually spent on our labors with time spent on ways that draw us closer to God, closer to His people, and into a more godly view of ourselves.

The experiences and teaching of the New Testament persons, especially Jesus, is that making Sabbath-observance a law just doesn’t work.  In the same way you can’t force anyone to love, you can’t force anyone to keep the Sabbath.  If it’s not there in your heart to begin with, it won’t be genuine.  If it’s not genuine, it’s not worth doing.

On the other hand, we need structure.  We need a place to start thinking about how we can really set aside an entire day for only two things: Rest and Righteousness.  While the following will sound legalistic, it’s not: it’s only a suggestion.  Our human nature is such that we need to make a rule and follow it until we do it because we love it.

STEP ONE: DEFINE YOUR SABBATH DAY

– You must set apart a definite period of time, not just “Sunday.”  Be sensitive to job and family demands.  Make it a time you can keep every week.  Make it 17-24 hours long.

– Some suggestions:

Sundown Saturday to Sundown Sunday.

Midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday.

Noon Saturday to noon Sunday.

– Specify, notify the people around you, especially your family, and ask them to help you stick to it.

STEP TWO: PLAN YOUR SABBATH DAY

– “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”  That’s human nature. Make an hourly plan of how you’ll spend your Sabbath.

– Your plan must include only activities that meet 2 criteria.

The activities must be restful or righteous; they must not be worldly or secular activities.  Let me elaborate on those criteria.

As God RESTED, we are to devote a day to rest.  This means to CEASE from the labors that occupy us during the rest 0f the week.  Suggestions: in your plan, include times to sleep.  Plan to get a good night’s rest AND take a nap.  We’re planning activity and INactivity!  Rest is more than sleep; it’s a refraining from physical activity in order to do mental/ emotional/

spiritual activity.  So, prayer, Bible study, reading and meditation are all appropriate as restful activities, especially in connection with sleep.

As God declared the day to be HOLY, we are to devote a day to righteousness.  Here we are planning the more active hours of our Sabbath.  If you are going to do manual labor, make sure it isn’t the kind you do through the week and that you are praying or serving others while you do it.  The Bible says that we are to work the other six days.  Part of our planning is to get our work done before our Sabbath so we’re not distracted by leftover work.

The primary kind of righteous activity draws us closer to God.  This would include worship, stewardship, prayer, Bible study, fasting.  The secondary kind of righteous activity draws us closer to one another.  This includes worship, fellowship, service, discipleship, witness; things that center on meaningful conversation and relationship-building.  Face-to-face encounters are to be preferred, but anything that facilitates conversation is great.  Give church and family priority.  The tertiary kind of righteous activity helps us understand ourselves and our place in creation.  This includes solitude, private prayer, exercise, journaling, Bible study, hobbies, reading, and meditation.

Refraining from all worldly entertainments and activities is one of the simplest ways to be righteous on the Sabbath.

STEP THREE: KEEP YOUR SABBATH DAY

Start with prayer, end with prayer.  Keep a record of your plan, how you did, and what you did.  Give yourself plenty of grace, but learn from your mistakes.

(If you would like to see and hear this message preached, look us up on YouTube at EBCSF.)

 

 

 

Right from the Beginning – #4

Please read Genesis 1:24-2:25 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

“Taxonomy” is the science of classifying plants and animals into various groupings.  If I were to ask you which animal you think of that defies scientific classification, what might you say?  Would you mention the duckbill platypus as an example?

The point simply is this; science has its own challenges.  There are plants and animals that overlap different categories and/or have exceptional features; classifying them can be difficult.

In studying Genesis one and two, we face a similar problem.  If we study the creation account with the intent of systematizing it, we are going to be thwarted by details that overreach our system or do not fit it precisely.

And yet, we – by faith – understand that there is a unity present, a coherent system of thought with a message God has intended for us to receive.  So we start with the fewest preconceptions possible and do the careful work of allowing the text to have its own voice first.   After we have heard Genesis as it original listeners (and readers) received it, then we adapt our preconceptions to fit what we have learned.

For example, we retain the preconception that God created.  It is, after all, a central tenet of our faith.  What we pitch is that the Bible and science have to agree.  We set aside the notion that “Creationism” must be proven (with all the politico-social baggage accumulated by that movement) and learn what we can from the text about God’s creation of the world.  We accept that the “How?” question will never be as important as the “Who?” question, and less important than the “Why?” question.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2).
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5).
  3. Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).
  4. Day Three: Separating the sea and the land; growing plants on the land (1:9-13).
  5. Day Four: Creating heavenly lights (1:14-19).
  6. Day Five: Creating animals for the sea & sky (1:20-23).

NEW

  1. Creation, Day Six: Creating life on the land (1:24-2:25).

First, creating animal life on the land (1:24-25).  Verse 24 reads; LET THE LAND PRODUCE LIVING CREATURES, just as it said that THE LAND produced plant life in v. 15.  That sentence made a lot more sense in verse fifteen as we all know plants grow out of the ground (generally speaking), but we’ve never planted a dog and had puppies grow in the spot.  But – look ahead – what did God use as raw material for the man?  Dirt.  Also, as science informs us, animal bodies are, chemically, minerals and water.  As we noted previously, the term LIVING CREATURES includes all animal life, whether its habitat is land, air, or water.

ACCORDING TO THEIR KINDS (24+25) develops this thought a bit.  As is usual in this passage, these three divisions of animal kind is a functional one.

– LIVESTOCK = domesticated animals.

– CREATURES THAT MOVE ALONG THE GROUND = undomesticated animals that are prey.

– WILD ANIMALS = undomesticated animals that are predators.

Second, we come to the real focus of the creation narrative: creating human life on the land (1:26-2:25).  The text relates eight important truths about the human race.

#1 = We were created in God’s image (1:26).  The Heb word for IMAGE was defined as a physical representation of something that had no physical form. This was contrary to idol-worshippers who believed superstitiously that their idols not only represented the physical form of their gods, but also contained some of their spiritual essence.

As with the rest of the Genesis account, the emphasis is on function; the function of the IMAGE is for us to represent God in creation.  God is a spirit and wants to be present in creation in a physical way, a way tangible to the five senses He gave us.  So, being created in the IMAGE OF GOD means that you and I were created to represent God in our bodies.  We are to reproduce, in daily life, the character and nature of God.

Theologians have haggled over the exact meaning of this word.  (For example, In Genesis 5:3, Adam’s son Seth is described as the IMAGE and LIKENESS of his father.  Since this is said about Seth at birth, this must refer to a physical resemblance; any similarity of character or personality would not be known for several years.  Does this assert that the IMAGE is a physical resemblance?)  I believe it’s not necessary to be specific or precise in or definition of this term any qualities that human beings possess but the rest of creation does not may be considered part of the IMAGE OF GOD.

The IMAGE is God’s intention that human beings be the part of creation that represents the Creator.  Isn’t that enough of a responsibility?  Paul linked the IMAGE with the “new self,” the life of a believer, and saw it as our responsibility to make God known.

– Epehsians 4:24 = …put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

– Colossians 3:10 = …put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

#2 = We were created to exercise dominion over creation (1:26, 28-30).  This is a delegated authority.  We do not, by virtue of being human, have any “rights” that make us rulers of creation.  Like everything else, this is a gift from God.  Though it has been misused by some people, being given RULE over creation is not an excuse for mismanaging it.  Instead, it puts us in a managerial position, responsible for taking g0od care of the environment.

The blessing “BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY” is pronounced on all LIVING CREATURES, not just the human race.  God blessed all the creatures he put on Earth; His plan was for the prosperity of all creation.

#3 = We were created from dust (2:7) and from a rib (2:18, 21-2).

The man was created from DUST.  This Hebrew word refers to dry dirt; the loose, granular stuff you and I would call “topsoil.”  It may seem contradictory that something given the honor of bearing God’s IMAGE should come from such humble beginnings: mere dirt.  I should think that’s exactly the point.

However, this “earthen vessel” was not alive in that instant.  The text tells us that the man became alive as God put His BREATH OF LIFE into it.  This phrase always refers to the breathing that all living people do, implying what God did with Adam is not just a one-time event, but is how God bestows life to all of us.

The woman was created out of Adam’s rib.  The Hebrew word for RIB is not anatomically precise.  It can refer to a single rib, the entire rib cage, or a hunk of flesh and bone from the upper torso.  Fortunately, we don’t need it to be precise because we’re not writing a book of anatomy.  The point is that part of the man’s body was used to fashion the woman.  As we will see, the stress is on their similarity, not their difference.

#4 = We were created to live in paradise (2:4-6, 10-14).  The word translated as GARDEN is used to refer to a paradise.  In our culture, the word “park” would be a more accurate translation; it is a place set aside for trees and other landscaping to create a peaceful nature refuge. The most prominent feature of any park is the trees and this one has two tree identified as being special.  We’ll talk about them next month.

In the ancient world, kings spared no expense in creating these kinds of spaces.  In fact, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The name EDEN is more than a point of geography; it means “abundant” and modifies the word GARDEN in the sense of “a garden of abundance.” The fact that the GARDEN is well-watered by four rivers that flowed out of EDEN is the explanation of its abundance.  What we’re to learn here is God put the man in an ideal place; of all the places on the surface of the earth, this was the best habitat possible.

#5 = We were created to work (2:15, 19-20).  Adam was not to just live in the GARDEN, he was to work in it.  He is God’s partner in nurturing the life of the GARDEN, both plants and animals.  This is evidence that it has always been God’s plan that work is central to human life.  God didn’t simply provide for the man; Adam was active, working to grow and collect his own food.  God commissioned Adam to name the animals.  This served several purposes, one of which is to show that not all work is manual labor.  God created us to do mental and manual work.

The Hebrew word for WORK is most often used in connection with labor done in service to God; in fact, some commentators would rather see this word translated as “worship.”  We need to remember that we’re all created to work and that nearly all work can be a form of service to God.  In our culture, we split work and discipleship, which often leads to a double standard; we have one set of behaviors for the workplace and another set for the church.  This distinction is somewhat false and does not express God’s plan.

#6 = We were created to choose to obey God (2:16-17). God created people with the ability to choose; “free will.”  This is also a delegated authority and the responsibility that goes with it is to choose to obey God.

We won’t go into any detail here, but will note only that God gave the man commands about work/worship and about one tree in particular; he commanded the man to leave it alone.  This was not a complicated set of commands to keep.  God’s plan was not to leave His people alone and let them figure things out for themselves.  He identified obedience as the thing that leads to life. Jesus taught that obedience is the way we demonstrate our love for God (see John 14:15, 23-24).

# 7 = We were created for companionship (2:18-25).  Another purpose God had in giving Adam the job of naming the animals was he would see that there were a male and female of each.  But the text says twice for Adam THERE WAS NO SUITABLE HELPER to be found.  The phrase “suitable helper” is one of those details I warned you about.  It is hard to interpret as it is found only here in the Bible.  The task has been complicated by centuries of misuse by persons trying to prove a paternalistic world view.

However the word HELPER is found repeatedly by itself in the Bible and is most often used in reference to God as our HELPER.  Obviously, there is no diminished status associated with this word.  A HELPER is not a second-class person.  The word SUITABLE actually means “opposite.”

So a SUITABLE HELPER in this case, is the opposite sex.  As all the animals had male and female genders, Adam needed a counterpart, a female, to be a completed species. This is true biologically, emotionally, and spiritually.  The text give a rare commentary in verse 24 when the writer sums up God’s purpose in making Eve as a counterpart for Adam: THAT IS WHY A MAN LEAVES HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND IS UNITED TO HIS WIFE, AND THEY BECOME ONE FLESH.

In case we miss the fact that God created both male and female people, the text makes it perfectly obvious in 1:27, SO GOD CREATED MAN IN HIS OWN IMAGE, IN THE IMAGE OF GOD HE CREATED HIM, MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM.  Both men and women bear the all-important IMAGE OF GOD.  In this detail alone, but also in all of the creation account, the book of Genesis shows far more respect for women than the creation myths recounted in other ancient cultures.  God wants us to know right from the beginning that male and female people are two sides of the same race.

Adam affirms this truth in v. 23.  First, he emphasized the similarity of the sexes when he said Eve was BONE OF MY BONE AND FLESH OF MY FLESH.  Second, he approved her suitability as his counterpart: SHE SHALL BE CALLED ‘WOMAN,’ FOR SHE WAS TAKEN OUT OF MAN.  Of course there are differences between men and women that continue to this day; we’re not aiming at being so “PC” that we deny what is obvious.  But those differences are matters of degree, not destiny.  Men and women are to manage creation together.

#8 = We were created pure, without any reason to be ashamed.  No less than four times (2:25; 3:7, 10-11) the account mentions Adam and even being NAKED.

In chapter two, Adam and Eve were NAKED but without shame.  The point here is their innocence.  As we observe with innocent children, nakedness is not a cause for shame.

In chapter three, Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness after they chose to disobey God.  The first sin brought the first sense of shame along with it.

Different Hebrew words are used in chapters two and three.  In chapter three, the word used for NAKED is elsewhere used as a punishment, a sign of being abandoned, a penalty for sin.  Of course, that comes after the disobedience of Adam and Eve and implies that their nudity was no longer a sign of inn0cence, but something they despised and felt was a punishment; a shameful thing.

The account of Adam and Eve speaks to our personal lives.  Their experience is a symbol for what all of us experience as we grow up, the loss of innocence as we deliberately choose to do what we know is wrong.

Finally, the text revisits the creation of plant life on the land, elaborating that it was created to be food for the LIVING CREATURES (1:29-30: 2:5-6). Yes, I suppose this does imply that all animals and humans were vegetarians in the beginning.  But be of good cheer – God later approved meat for our diet (see Acts 9:9-16)!

The GARDEN depicted in today’s text was a literal place that carried a function similar to that of the tabernacle, temple, and church; it was a place to meet God.  It was a sanctuary where God’s people could go to worship Him.  In fact, what’s clear in this creation account is that the human race is the primary part of creation.  The details we’ve examined all week show that God created with human beings in mind.

God made people to take care of that sacred space and to dwell with Him there.  God said that creation was GOOD and He blessed all the LIVING CREATURES He created to live in the world.

The one thing about it that was NOT GOOD was for the man to live alone in the GARDEN.  God fixed that with the creation of the woman and everything was fine until sin entered the picture in the form of the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve.

Let’s not get ahead of the text.  The second chapter ends with the affirmation that the week of creation ended with God’s plan perfectly in place.  All was prepared for creation to work as a habitation for people.  Adam and Eve lived and worked and served God, all without any SHAME.

PREVIEW

  1. Creation, Day Seven: Instituting the Sabbath (2:1-4).

I’ve been LABORING on a Book Report

 

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A BOOK REPORT on WORK: A KINGDOM PERSPECTIVE ON LABOR

Ben Witherington III, Eerdmans, 2011

 

            There’s a couple incidentals that stand out about Witherington’s book that I want to mention at the outset and then move on to the meat of the matter.  The first is that the reader should read the final section of the book (aptly named “Overtime”) both first and last.  That chapter is a very apt summary of the book and it would serve the reader as an overview before reading and a reminder after reading of what the central issues are.

            The second is that Witherington states more than once that we need to form a theology of work.  I want to ask, “Shouldn’t that be your job?  Why are you asking us to spend 166 pages with you if not to set forth a theology of work?” It seems that Witherington is more concerned about identifying the issues and surveying some of the answers others have given than creating a theology of work.  This is not to say that a theology of work does not present itself within the pages. Perhaps the author means to call us to the table, to do the work of deciding what God wants us to know about this essential but by no means all-important aspect of our lives.

            Personally, I found Witherington’s theology of play to be the most edifying part of the book.  He sets forth good reasoning for a call to balance between work, rest and play.  Of the three of these, play is the most neglected aspect of life in Christian theology and it is both instructive and refreshing to see Witherington ably support the need for play.  Balanced living knows that life consists of work, rest and play – not necessarily in that order.  Pathological lives are those that are imbalanced in any one direction.

            On a related note, Witherington ventures – in not so many words – that laughter may be part of the Image of God. I believe the “Image” is everything that distinguishes human life from the rest of creation – the aspects of humanity that are not found anywhere else in creation.  While animals play, none of them – even hyenas – can really be said to laugh.  It is a fascinating thought and certainly deserves more attention.

            A reviewer can and typically dose, insert themselves into the book to reflect on its comments.  I have already done some of that.  But it’s also important to let the author speak for himself.  To that end, I offer what I’ve identified as “key thoughts,” expressions of the core of the author’s teaching.

            “One of the major problems with the extant exercises in biblical theology on the subject of work is that they work forward through the Bible, rather than backward, and the end result is that in most cases they never get to an eschatological or Kingdom perspective on work, that is, work in light of the in-breaking Kingdom, which is the contribution of this particular study.” (p. xvi)

            “On closer inspection, it is perfectly clear that God’s good plan always included human beings working, or, more specifically, living in the constant cycle of work and rest.” (p. 2)

            “And since the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit enables persons to imitate the behavior of Christ in what they do, including their work.  This automatically eliminates certain jobs for Christians.” (p. 37)

            “In terms of vocation, every Christian has a primary obligation to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  This is ‘job one.'” (P. 46, emphasis his.)

            “The making that we do, whether we call it work or not, is culture making, as it remakes our world – both the world out there, usually called ‘nature,’ and the world within my mind.” (p. 104)

            “Christianity, in order to be truly Christian, has to go public, has to become a shared public good, not merely a private self-help program for the already convinced.”

(THAT’S a zinger on p. 106.)

            “Ideas and worldviews alone don’t change the world; behavior and hard work do.  Cultural change happens when a new way of doing things displace the old way of doing things.” (p. 110)

            “This is why it is good to have personal discipline about how much one works, how much one rests, and also how much one plays.” (p. 143)

            “The question we should be asking ourselves honestly is this: Is my sense of identity so bound up in what I do that I have become a compulsive workaholic just to validate my existence and give myself a sense of importance, worth, and value? If we can plead guilty in this charge, then it is clear that what we need in our lives is not merely a more biblical sense and understanding of work, but a biblical understanding of self as well.” (pp. 155-156)

            “…an adequate amount of rest, play, and worship provides the boundaries for work and the reminders that work is not the be-all and end-all of our existence.” (p. 158)

            It is an aspect of the Fall, not Creation that we have goofy ideas about work.  Generally speaking, God has loftier ideas about work than we do.  Witherington surveys the literature on the subject but also introduces his own conclusions. At times the book seems like a stream of consciousness, with Witherington switching subjects and not doing us the courtesy of showing the reader how the parts sum up to the whole.

            While the chapter on callings versus vocations might be a tad esoteric for the average reader, I found Witherington’s book to be accessible and potentially useful in a classroom setting; if your aim is to produce a theology of labor.  It would be helpful in a church setting as a needed defense of the virtue of balance of rest, play, and work, but that’s just chapter seven.  The chapter on work as culture-making (chapter six) was also potentially useful as a lesson on the role of the believer in our culture.

            THE BOTTOM LINE – the strength of this book is in its last three sections.  I recommend it all as a study of the topic of labor, but the last of it is the most serviceable for a general audience.