BY FAITH ABRAHAM OBEYED (1)
A Meditation on Genesis 12:1-4; Hebrews 11:8-10
The God of glory appeared to Abram, and the command was very clear, “Go!” This imperative had a three-fold requirement: Go from your country, go from your kindred, and go from your father’s house. The command increased in intensity as each requirement became more and more intimate. After all, it’s one thing to leave your land, but another to leave your relatives, and finally your own father.
Abram is called to go to the land God will show him. But when he first set out he didn’t have any idea where he was going. Abram was to trust that step by step God would direct his path. The writer of Hebrews informs us, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). Abram ventured forth in faith, despite the fear of the unknown.
Following God’s command with a three-fold requirement, came God’s promise with a three-fold blessing: “And I will make of you a great nation…I will bless you and make your name great…I will bless those who bless you…” (Gen. 12:2-3). God gave a command and then a promise of blessing. A.W. Pink commented on this connection, and the more I thought about what he said, the more I realized how profound it was, and how immense its implications were for preaching and living the Christian life. This is what Pink said, “The Lord’s commands are rarely accompanied with reasons but they are always accompanied with promises, either exprest or understood” (Gleanings in Genesis, p. 142).
It seems to me that this distinction between reason and promise is extremely important. When God commands His people to do something, what generally is our knee-jerk reaction? “Why, Lord?” And implied in that question is frequently that audacious demand, “God, give me one good reason why I should do what your calling me to do.” The modern trend in preaching, by some of the most celebrated pastors in America, is to show “the wisdom of God.” In other words, explain the rationale behind the commands of God, so people can see that these commands are sensible, and that any thinking person would really be a fool not to obey this or that command. So the appeal is made to our common-sense reasoning.
For example, the seventh commandment, thou shalt not commit adultery, might include this three point outline:
I. Do not commit adultery because you would hurt your spouse.
II. Do not commit adultery because you would hurt your children.
III. Do not commit adultery because you would hurt yourself.
In the course of this message the congregation (or audience, as they are often called) would be reminded of the brutal affects of adultery, such as a loss of trust with one’s spouse that could take years to restore. Mention would be made to the forfeiture of respect from the children. And of course there would have to be a reference made to STDs and AIDS. “So,” the modern pastor concludes, “avoid adultery like the plague; God in His infinite wisdom knows that profoundly destructive damage would come to your marriage, your family and your own person if you were to indulge in such behavior. God’s commands are rational and practical. Let’s close in prayer…”
Who can argue with such a levelheaded command? Even unbelievers can see “the wisdom of God”; even atheists can’t deny the validity of the pastor’s three points. In fact, the attraction of this type of preaching (or talk) is that it appeals to everyone, including unbelievers without faith. But remember what Hebrews 11:8 says? It doesn’t say, “By the reasonableness of God’s command Abraham obeyed.” Rather, it says, “By faith Abraham obeyed.” If Abraham had relied on reason or common-sense alone, do you think he would have obeyed? I doubt it. On the contrary, reason probably dictated that he stay put. After all, his business was already firmly established in Ur. His family was there. His wife’s family was there. All his security was there.
Part of the difficulty with showing “the wisdom of God” is that not all of God’s commands will seem reasonable. What good reasons could be given to unbelievers for tithing? What good reasons would you have given John G. Paton to go to New Hebrides, where the previous missionaries were eaten by cannibals? In Genesis 22 God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. What sound reasons would you have given to Abraham to obey that command—apart from faith? Our obedience to many commands will prove impossible without faith.
Pastor Wayne Christensen, www.foxlakechurch.org, October 18, 2015