Sunday, October 21, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 30: A Wife for Isaac (2)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 7th October 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Genesis 24:10-67

In the entire Scripture, Genesis 24 is the only chapter dedicated entirely to one event, that is, on how Abraham prepared a wife for his son Isaac. There have been billions of marriages in history, so is it worth writing so much detail on one marriage? This marriage is not a special one. It is not simply about the need to get marriage after a certain age. It is not simply about the need to start and raise a family. It is about the building of an entire nation that would be a blessing to the entire world. God’s plan for the world is to be accomplished through Abraham.

Nowadays we think that matters relating to sex and marriage are things related to this generation only. Often times we treat important things as unimportant and vice versa. Here we see that Abraham is very clear and responsible about the marriage of his child. And he has a very faithful servant. A good master will have good servants. Christian employers should look at their relationship with their employees more than a matter of profit and loss.

Abraham taught his servant not only to be responsible before him, but also before God. This elderly servant has a very clear mind. He prayed to God that when he asked a woman God has chosen for water, she would give water to his camels as well.

He is an old servant. The other person is a beautiful girl. Why would a beautiful girl serve an old man and so many camels? So his prayer to God was to draw out the girl’s character. Was she a good woman? Would she serve others or herself only?

Rebecca immediately gave this old servant drink and prepared for his camels as well. A lot of times we tend to suspect people’s motivation first and as a result we miss out a lot of opportunities to do good.

But what is good? True goodness is done for its own sake, not in order to achieve some personal gain. It is true that we will be blessed when we do good, but it is very important to get the order right. Receiving blessings should not be the motivation for good works. When we do good for the sake of gaining something in the end, we are not doing true goodness.

Christians often get challenged by others that they believe in Jesus because they want to go to heaven. They do good because they want God’s blessings. How do we respond to these? It is not because we want to go to heaven that we believe, but we have faith in the truth because truth itself is believable and dependable. Going to heaven is the result, not the reason, for believing. And we do good because God Himself is Goodness and we are made in His image and likeness, so we can reflect His goodness naturally in our lives. But shouldn’t we get rewarded for doing good? Yes, because this is God’s principle of righteousness. We will indeed be rewarded for doing good. But it should not be the motivation, rather it is the natural by-product. And indeed it is not true goodness when it is done for personal gain. We need to have clean motives. The Scripture says to guard our heart because it is the wellspring of life. Only when our motives are pure, we can be God’s witnesses.

The servant was focused on the purpose of his journey. When he found that the woman was from the family of his master Abraham, he worshiped the God of Abraham and praised him for making his journey successful. Abraham worshipped the one true God. Isaiah said when Abraham was alone, God called him. He is the ancestor of monotheistic belief. After Abraham, the world is segregated into two kinds of religions, revelatory and non-revelatory. Christianity is a revelatory faith. Revelatory religions have deep reverence towards God and their relationships with men is based upon their understanding of God.

Rebecca told all her family background and genealogy to the servant. The servant was not willing to leave but waited for the girl to come back after telling his family. He asked if he could stay over at her house. After entering the house, the servant told them he wanted to take the girl away. The family wanted Rebecca to stay another 10 days. But the servant refused to compromise. He said since it is God’s will, it should not be delayed. He said not to detain him, because this is what God has set for the son of his master Abraham. This is a very important principle. A lot of people know that God sent them but they kept delaying. When we are clear of the guidance of God, we should not delay.

When they saw that he was so genuine, the did not know what to do. They asked the sister if she wanted to go. She said she would go now. It seemed so easy. But the fact is that Isaac had been single for 40 years. The Scripture said that Rebecca was very beautiful. When Isaac saw her, immediately he loved her and took her as his wife. Since the mother’s death, Isaac was finally comforted by Rebecca.

Is it difficult to get married? Is it complicated to fall in love? When God’s time has come, everything fits in well. In this chapter, we see how marriage is predestined. If God gives it to you, nobody can take it away. If God does not give it to you, you cannot keep it. Often times we find things in life very complicated and difficult because you are not willing to pay the price to establish your relationship with God. If we truly struggle before God, every day becomes very restful. We enter into God’s rest.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 29: A Wife for Isaac (1)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 30th September in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 24:1-9

In Genesis 23, Abraham was not willing to get the land for free to bury Sarah. Today’s young people have very different mentality. They are not willing to sacrifice, work hard and pay price. They think the best is to have everything easy and free. As a result whatever their words and their life have no power.

Genesis 24 talks about about how a godly father Abraham worked hard to get a good daughter-in-law for his son. He had only one son who is given by God and he took his son’s marriage seriously. All our possessions belong to the materialistic realm, but our children came from our life. Our wealth is expandable but children are heritage from the Lord and we have to give an account to God on how we raise them. The material world will pass away, but like us, if our children do God’s will they will live forever. Our children will stand before God’s judgement too. So how should we take care of our family and teach our children to be accountable to God?

Our attitude towards our children is very important. Today, many parents are busy making money and neglect their children. This will end in tragedy. Socrates said that if we labor hard to dig for every single gold but lose our children, we have no gain.

After Sarah’s death, Abraham started to make preparation for Isaac’s marriage. Isaac was already 40 years old. Abraham called the oldest chief of the household to him to swear before God. Abraham is a great man because he had faithful servant who worked for him for life. It shows that he took care of the future of his servant. Today, in our company, how do we deal with our workers? When we hire someone, do we plan for their future? For many companies, they just hire what they need and just fire when they do not need them. Only when you are a good master, you are worthy of good servants and they will serve you long term. The Bible recorded that Abraham had over 300 people in his house. Many were born, raised and trained in his house. All these servants under the protection of Abraham loved him very much. In this matter, Abraham also set an example for us. This chief of the household took care of everything in his house.

Abraham entrusted his chief servant with a very important task. He wanted to send him to his original hometown Mesopotamia to get a wife for his son. Because Abraham worshiped the one true God while the Canaanites worshiped idols, Abraham did not want his son to marry a foreigner. It does not mean that a lady from his hometown is definitely good, however there is at least a continuity in tradition and culture.

If we are being commissioned to do a big task, how should we respond? We should not be over-confident, deceive ourselves or run away from it. We should think through the possible problems and bring them out. The chief servant asked what to do if the lady refused to come, whether he should bring Isaac there.

Abraham immediately refused. He is fully committed to the calling of God. Today we do not have the same attitude towards God. We do not really sever ties with our past. But Abraham had a very genuine heart. He said that God had called him out of his homeland so in his obedience he would never return. He left when he was 75 and he died when he was 175. For 100 years since God called him, he never returned to his homeland. He never built himself a house but lived in tents. Why would his wife Sarah follow him for so many years living in tents? But Sarah did follow Abraham in this manner until she died. The obedience of Abraham to God and the obedience of Sarah to Abraham is our example. Abraham knew his calling and never changed his direction. So he told his chief servant never to bring his son back to his hometown. At the same time, he walked as a sojourner in Canaan but would not let his son intermarry with the people there.

In this situation, it is very easy to compromise if he could not get the right wife for the son from his hometown. But 4000 years ago, Abraham treated the marriage of his son very seriously. We are so much advanced today but we are so messed up in our marriages. In the past there were far less divorces. When civilization get too easy with their marriages, it will collapse.

Why did Abraham get an old servant to go? Why would a woman want to follow an old man back? It is a difficult task. But Abraham was firm in his faith so he would not compromise. He said if the woman refused to come with the chief servant, he would be released from the oath. Here Abraham brought an important principle, that is to do first and not to be to preoccupied about the problems and escape our responsibility. We should just do first and see how God leads us.

To be in God’s ministry is to watch how God works. As we work, we will realize that actually it is not us working, but it is God working through us and we give all the glory to God. When God gives us instructions, He seldom frightens us by letting us see all the problems we might face. He would lead us step by step to see His sovereignty. Abraham told his servant that God would be with him and make his journey successful.

Did the chief servant manage to get the right woman for Isaac? Later development of history would influenced by this. If we do not honor God in our marriages, how can we lead our descendants? If we do not pray for them, how can we guide them to understand God’s will? Abraham took care of his son and prayed for his son. Our attitude towards our marriages and children need to be solemn.