Friday, March 21, 2008

Humanity in Sin Part 46: Joseph’s Integrity in Potiphar’s House

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 2nd March 2008 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 39

Genesis 38 recorded evil deeds of Judah’s sons, and Judah’s sin in prostituting with his daugher-in-law. God’s word is pure and like a mirror it shows how sinful we are. Genesis 39 records an incident that has happened in every generation and could happen in our lives. It becomes a great teaching for all generation, especially for the young people. The response of this young man is very different from what common people would do, so he becomes an example for all young people. But in preserving his purity and clear conscience before God, his action landed him in jail.

There is one same thing mentioned in the beginning and end of the chapter, that is that God was with him and prospered him in everything he did. Why did Joseph suffer so much? Many people do not believe in God because they see a lot of sufferings, so becoming atheists. When we discuss atheism, it is more important to discuss their motivation first before discussing their content.

However, the more Joseph suffered, the closer he was to God. This is a lesson for all Christians. When we suffer and call on God and there seems to be no answer, we should not abandon our faith. We need to learn from Joseph. In the midst of sufferings, he still did all his duties faithfully and lived a holy life as a young person. Joseph and Daniel are the only two people with no moral blemishes recorded in the Bible.

In His providence, God sent Joseph to Potiphar. Potiphar was able to see that Joseph was a trustworthy person. If we are trustworthy, we can solve the greatest crisis. Potiphar entrusted everything to Joseph so he became the chief steward Potiphar’s house. Potiphar was often out of the house. Other than his food at home, he did not need to care about anything else because he could trust Joseph in everything. Such a young person is a rare jewel. He was away from his family, his father who loved him so much. He was hated and sold by his brothers. But he was so faithful in the midst of sufferings that he earned the privilege of such trust from his master.

But the devil would not let him go. As Joseph was young, well-built and handsome, the master’s wife started to like Joseph. Man often could overcome everything, but fail at the temptation from a woman. This seduction is very difficult to overcome, especially when she offered herself freely. Many women make such mistakes when their husbands are not around. This is not only man’s weakness. When women are filled with desires, they would volunteer themselves.

But Joseph’s reply is a very important declaration in human history, “With me in charge, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house. He has withheld nothing from me except YOU, because you are his wife. How then can I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” This is a remarkable response for such a young man in sufferings. He made two important points. First, he knew his position in the house as a steward who had been entrusted by his master. The second is that he recognized that adultery as wickedness against God. He did not say that is a sin against her husband, but a sin against God.

The woman did not stop tempting Joseph. One day when nobody was in the house, she caught Joseph by his cloak. Joseph left his cloak and ran out of the house. Her unfulfilled desire turned into hatred. And hatred led her to harm Joseph. She lied that Joseph wanted to violate her and she screamed so he left. Joseph had to suffer false accusation because of his righteousness.

Do such great young men exist today? Why is the pulpit so powerless? Why is it that people are not willing to listen to Christians? If we are not living a holy life, we have no power in ministry. Holy lives would manifest the presence of God because God is holy. When we present ourselves as Christians before the church, we need to remember how we present ourselves when temptation comes. May God preserve us in His ways.

Humanity in Sin Part 45: Joseph Sold by His Brothers

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 24th February 2008 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 37: 12-36

Is love active or passive? Do we love someone because we choose to or because it just happens outside our control? This is a very complex issue because it goes beyond rationality. When we love someone disproportionately, we might end up planting a bomb that would explode some day. Jacob had a few wives although that was never his plan. Fulfilling his duty as a husband, he had 10 children from women he did not really love. God finally gave him a son through Rachel, the only woman he loved. His special love for Joseph could not be hidden among his other sons.

They were jealous and the matter was made worse when Joseph told them he dreamed he became lord over all his brothers. They hated him enough to kill him but was constrained from doing so.

This is an illustration of God’s common grace. The grace God distributes to both believers and unbelievers is called common grace. Jesus spoke of this grace when He said that Father in heaven gives rain and sunlight to both the evil and the good. Common grace consists of many aspects, including the universal ethical concepts we have. Abraham Kuyper built up this concept further. The advancement in all aspects of society came from God. Though all receive common grace, the responses and feelings towards common grace are different between believers and unbelievers. Believers acknowledge their blessings as from God and would give thanks for common grace.

Common grace also stops us from sinning too far. Sinners do not sin to their utmost because there are constraints such as the existence of law, religion, and punishment. The sense of shame, the accusation of conscience and the knowledge of the consequence of our actions also act as constraints. These constraints bring about social stability. But they are not eternal. Cornelius Van Til said that as God slowly withdraws His common grace people would be more decadent and daring in sinning. In modern days, things that used to be done in closed doors are now done publicly without shame.

Through this understanding, we can see deeper principles in the Scriptures and the hand of God in history.

When God gave Joseph special revelation, even Jacob resisted it. But he still put it in his heart, not knowing what to make of it. The rest thought of Joseph as a self-centered and abnormal person. When there is conflict between the will of man and the will of God, there would be struggles.

Jacob sent Joseph to check whether his brothers were safe, resulting in danger for Joseph’s life. When his brothers saw him, they called him the ‘dreamer’. They still held a lot of grudge regarding his dreams. Joseph’s brothers said, “Here is the dreamer, let’s kill him and see what will become of his dreams.” This is frightening as they did not realize that they were going against God’s will. We need to be careful in our decisions, lest we find ourselves fighting against what God is bringing to pass. There is also no need to over-react to claims. If it is from God, it will come to pass. If it is not, nothing will happen.

Human relationships have one common problem. Everybody in the world has become paranoid in always thinking of themselves as victims. We use this psychological response to look at others. We lost our youthful innocence and when we meet people, we think we meet the devil. We are always suspicious.

There needs to be a balance. We also cannot over trust people. Some people are not as good as we think. We will be at a loss when we think of others as too good. And we will also be at a loss when we think of others worse than they are.

Joseph would not have imagined that his brothers want to kill him because of his dreams. They looked at Joseph and his dreams as a threat to them. They felt he was arrogant. But he was merely sharing the dream God gave him. Many people react to the truth in this manner. They think that proclaiming Christ as the way to salvation is arrogant. They felt this is a threat. But this is not a threat, this is grace that would save them.

The brothers sold Joseph, and took his robe, tore it and put goat blood on it to convince their father that Joseph had died. Human beings will spin more stories to sustain their belief as the foundation of their peace. Subsequently it would be quite convincing when they tell it. One example is man’s reluctance to believe in God’s existence. In response to that, they have to find different ways to explain nature and soon theory of evolution or aliens emerge.

Jacob was a deceitful man, but his children were even more deceitful. This is the plea of humanity. Good virtues do not get passed down to the next generation, but the bad things get passed down really quickly and gets worse with each generation.

Initially, the brothers wanted to kill Joseph so that his dreams would not come true. But God had another plan and nobody can thwart God’s plan. In the end they decided to sell Joseph for 20 shekels of silver, so Joseph lived on and his dreams really came to pass.

Our decision and our judgement is not the final. The final comes forever from the One who sits on the throne of Heaven. Do not think of ourselves as the final solution or determinant of anything. If we are treated unjustly by others, do not take vengeance for yourself. God’s final judgement surpasses all our human wisdom.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Humanity in Sin Part 44: Joseph the Favorite Son

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 17th February 2008 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 37:1-11

The rest of the book of Genesis from this chapter onwards shifts its focus to the life of Joseph, Jacob’s firstborn from Rachel, the only woman he ever loved. Joseph is a great example for young people of all generation to follow. Among all Jacob’s sons, Joseph was a man who truly feared and honored God and who suffered great injustice in his life.

Everything in the life of Jacob seemed to be passive ever since he went to the house of Laban. He did not plan to have multiple wives but it happened to him, and from 4 women 12 sons were borne to him. When Joseph was born, however, Jacob became active again. He loved Joseph actively, and loved him more than he loved all his other sons.

Jacob’s favoritism towards Joseph bred hatred among his siblings. Fair treatment is the most basic expectation that children have towards their parents. Parents need to be careful and sensitive to the psychology of their children. Unfairness led to another injustice, where Joseph was hated by his brothers not because of what he had done, but simply because he was specially loved by their father.

As though God was putting him on trial, Joseph had dreams regarding the future. He received special revelation from God. His dreams had special significance in the Old Testament as it unveiled God’s plan for Israel. When he told his dreams to his brothers, they hated him all the more as it seemed to put him at a superior position than all of them. His brothers were not willing to accept it because of their selective perception, although what Joseph told them was revelation from God. They looked down on Joseph because he was younger and could not accept that one day he would rule over them. Jacob, however, kept the matter in his mind. As Christians, we need to learn to listen to the truth even when it causes a lot of discomfort. If we cannot understand it now, we can keep it in our mind, which might prove true and important some time in the future.

Among our sins there is one that we always ignore. That is self-confidence in our self-righteousness. We continually seek reasons to justify ourselves. This is horrifying. We do not know where we have gone wrong and treat wrong things as right and continue to find reasons to support our theory. So the more we think, the more right we think we are.

From this short passage, we should learn not to despise the young and be open to God’s ways which are often beyond our imagination.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Humanity in Sin Part 43: The House of Israel

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 10th February 2008 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 35:16-29

Rachel passed away in this passage. Rachel was the woman Jacob truly loved. He met her for the first time and loved her for the rest of his life. But Jacob cannot control a lot of things that happened in his life. It was as though he was passive in all those events. It was not his intention to marry more than one wife. It was not his will that Dinah should be violated. He could not control the wicked thing his son Reuben did. The woman he loved was barren and the woman he did not love kept giving birth.

Eventually Rachel gave birth to a son and his passivity became active. Special milestones in our lives awake us to action. The sufferings we go through make us rethink the meaning of our existence and give us motivation towards new direction. Jacob kept working mechanically. When Rachel finally had a son, his entire life changed and he decided to leave Laban.

Jacob loved Joseph more than all his children. This favoritism later caused a lot of problems in his family. Children do not blame their parents for being not handsome or ugly. And few children grumble about the condition of their family. But they suffer greatly when they perceive unfair treatment by their parents.

Sometimes we love someone so much that we end up hurting them. This is the side effect when emotions are not properly applied. Life should be treated solemnly. Life is both lovely and scary. In the progression of life, life goes in one direction without return. We can regret forever because of the wrong decisions we made. This happened several times in Jacob’s life. Many families seem to be floating around passively in the wheel of time. This passage told us of the birth of his last son, Benjamin. And Rachel passed away after that.

Joseph was treated as the firstborn son of Jacob. Hence his name is not in the tribes of his Israel, instead it was replaced by the names of his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. This is because Joseph received a double portion of inheritance. But in Revelation, the tribe of Benjamin disappeared. Benjamin tribe was rejected because they no longer worshipped the God of Israel. Although Benjamin was historically Jacob’s son, he was removed from the tribes of Israel.

The 12 tribes of Israel represent the kingdom of God in Old Testament while the 12 apostles represented the Church of God in the New Testament.

All the apostles were directly appointed by Jesus Christ. Judas was rejected because he betrayed Jesus. Judas had no place in eternity although in history he was appointed by Jesus Christ. He was removed because of unbelief. The mistake he made was a demonstration that he never had faith. While all the apostles called Jesus Lord, Judas called him Rabbi. Jesus was never Lord in his heart.

The church drew lot and appointed Matthias to replace Judas. But Judas’ position was actually replaced by Paul. Jesus appeared before Paul on the road to Damascus and directly appointed Paul as His apostle. This is from God’s point of view.

In the house of Israel, there are many tribes. In the Church, there are many denominations. When denominational spirit dominates, the house of God will be neglected. Joseph is not the most special tribe although he received double portion. God called His people Israel, referring to the entire kingdom of God.

We should serve with kingdom concept although we have our own denomination. We cannot treat heretic as denomination, but should welcome all denomination as brothers. Reformed system is not for reformed churches alone. Its existence is for the entire Church of God.