Friday, August 17, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 22: Abraham's Spirituality

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 29th July 2007 in Newton Life. GRIIS had memorial service for the Late Rev Amin Tjung so did not have preaching on this series on this date.

Passage: Genesis 18

Sarah had witnessed a lot of God’s miraculous works therefore God had more demand on her and rebuked her when she laughed in unbelief. Faith sees what cannot be seen in nature and enables us to transcend nature.

Our difficulty in believing comes because our doctrine of God is not correct. When we understand who God is, we will be able to transcend the constraints of nature. The demand of God then becomes the standard of faith. Based on what did God demand such faith? It was based on the principle that there is nothing impossible for God. In another word, all problems can be solved when we understand who God is.

When we have the wrong foundation of theology, everything we think of God, of faith and of revelation would all be stained. Sarah was a rational and normal person who depended on her personal experience, therefore she could not believe in the promises of God. But we should not accept things only based on physical phenomena. God’s response to Sarah was, “Why do you laugh?”. Based on the sovereign will of the Almighty God, His promise must be fulfilled.

As Christians, do we lose our faith because we have more knowledge and experience? Why do we see phenomena where uneducated pastors are more fervent than the educated ones? It is as though the more we know, the more we lose the basis of our faith.

The orthodox theology has lost its status as the firstborn because we have made secondary the value system that the apostles gave to us and depend on what our eyes can see. But church building is the least blessing and has not much value in itself. The greatest gift of God to the Church is the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Triune God who continues to do His work in the Church. And though our faith in His Son we have victory. When we lose these important tenets of faith, we become a gathering of ignorant people whose existence are not very important. Not only we cannot witness, but we also lose our power in life and in ministry.

Sarah denied that she laughed. Physically she did not laugh so in a sense her denial was true. But she forgot that the Almighty God searches our heart. God would not debate with us and His statement is final, as He responded to Sarah’s denial, “You did laugh”.

The three visitors got up to leave and Abraham walked them out. This is a great courtesy done by an old man. Many young people today do not have such manner anymore. They think they know better than all the old people and that they already do big favor if they talk to them.

While Abraham walked the visitors out, something special happened on the way. One among the three visitors spoke as God Himself in first person. He is not an angel, but God Himself, manifested in human form. The other two angels turned away and walked towards Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Scripture records that God said to Himself, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham would certainly become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children ad his household after hi to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him,” (Gen.18:17-19). The matter was about God’s pending judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and it did not concern Abraham directly because he did not live there. But God was not willing to keep from Abraham what He was about to do because God considered Abraham as His friend so He wanted to share the secret of His heart with Abraham.

The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was grievious and God was about to pour out His judgment wrath upon them. They were cities with hundreds of thousands of people. Abraham had a very great heart. He was actually hoping that the city could be spared if 50 righteous people could be found inside. God said that if He could find 50, He would spare the city. Abraham then continued to intercede and the number went down from 50 to 45, 40, 30, 20 and finally stopped at 10. This was the progression of Abraham’s intercession prayer. In faith, he asked for more. But later on it was discovered that there were not even 10 people found righteous so the cities were destroyed. Only Lot, his wife and his two daughters were rescued from the cities. How many righteous people are there in Singapore? Why is it not destroyed? Many evil people think that even God could do them no harm. But they do not realize that it is because of the few righteous that they are still spared to this day.

However, Abraham was still thinking of good and evil based on numbers. Moving to the New Testament, particularly in the book of Rome, it becomes very clear that in the eyes of God nobody is righteous. Only one person, Jesus Christ, is righteous. All of us deserve hell and eternal death.

In the intercessory prayer of Abraham, he spoke of the foundation of the principle of justice. He first declared that the Judge of the whole earth would judge righteously. God who made all of creation, who know who is righteous and evil, surely would not do wrong. The principle of judgment would be in righteousness. So God would not destroy the good and the evil together.

This principle was spoken 4000 years ago and still stands until today. The best legal system invented by human beings cannot be compared to this. Even Hammurabbi, the greatest tablet of law made by men, cannot see this principle. The law of Hammurabbi speaks about fairness in trade and justice in court judgment. It says one cannot have two kinds of weights in measurement and it has “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” principle in legal system. This black tablet of Hammurabbi is kept in a museum and is one of the earliest finding of the law in ancient civilization. It is indeed a very wise standard.

However, there is qualitative difference when it is compared to this passage in Genesis. Abraham saw God’s character as the foundation in the principle of justice. Whether good or evil, all will be judged. The Judge of the earth will judge right. Abraham is the first person who saw a lot of important elements in the doctrine of God. On the understanding of God’s nature, judgment and righteousness, not a single person can compare with Abraham in the ancient world.

Why was Abraham so anxious about Sodom and Gomorrah? Because he was a great man with a great heart. He spared thought for his nephew Lot who was living there. Despite all the unfair treatment, he never hoped retribution should come upon Lot. Although it would sound theologically right and spiritual if Abraham had said God was just to finally allow judgment to fall upon Lot who had left him earlier, his motivation would not be right.

Many people who look and sound very spiritual outwardly actually have very bad motivation inwardly. Many people are kind to others, but the motivation is because they know it is good for them. Some people work very hard in ministry, but it is because in doing so they are trying to build their own kingdom. Many people pray very hard and fervently, but it is all curses in disguise. Indeed people who look and talk spiritually often do so out of wrong motives.

But Abraham is different and is a very good example for us. In times of trouble, he interceded for his nephew. His spirituality is very good. When others do not treat us nicely, it is our opportunity to display our spirituality and turn the person around with our goodness. When people criticize us, we need to give thanks to God. There is no need to hate people. When others oppose our enemies, we should not be happy to oppose them as well. We need to learn. Love will cover our emotional feelings. We should gain victory over our hurt with love. If we only care for our feelings and hurt, God is not our Lord, but our emotion is. It is others’ problem if they are not good to us, so we should not lower our spiritual standard because of them.

Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are two philosophers in France with very different views. Rousseau believed all literature should be destroyed and men should get back to primitive state. He believed that without all this education, a child will become a good person who is not stained by civilization of hypocrisy. But Voltaire opposed Rousseau’s view and said that if France followed his advice, everyone would return to the jungle and be back to ancient civilization.

Rousseau wrote a book titled “Social Contract” later on. In the book he stated that everyone was all born equal and accused tradition to have brought about inequality. In his conclusion he said that unless everyone agrees, nobody has right to rule over anyone else. He was persecuted because of that book.

Voltaire wrote to Rousseau something to this effect, “I now speak for you in the court. They have no right to stop your publication. I am most against your book being banned. Though I am against your thought, I will fight for your right to express your views.” This is an amazing statement. Similar to this, Confucius also once said that a true gentleman know how to bring harmony in differences. As Christians, all the more we need to learn to have a big heart towards others, even those that oppose us.


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