Loving Those Who Are Undeserving

Abram Rescues Undeserving Lot in Self-Sacrificial Love

A couple weeks ago I preached on Genesis 14 in two parts. In the first part I focused on verses 1-16 and the fact that Abram rescues his nephew Lot from the four eastern kings when he very easily could have had the attitude that he sort of deserved to be taken captive for his foolish and selfish decision to dwell near Sodom, a place that was notoriously wicked (cf. Gen 13:10-13). At this point in Genesis 14 he is now dwelling in Sodom when he and his family and all his possessions are taken captive by the foreign kings (Gen 14:12). But Abram walks by faith and love. He trusts God’s promises to bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you (Gen 12:1-3). He trusts that God will give him a people and the promised land in due time as he waits patiently for God’s good timing. And so, being fueled by God’s promises, he pursues Lot’s captors in order to rescue his “kinsman” (lit. his brother) in love (Gen 14:14, 16). In other words his love arises out of faith in God’s promises. Furthermore, his love is a love that is risky, inconvenient, costly, and towards one who is undeserving. And God ultimately wins the battle for him as he rescues his nephew/kinsmen with only 318 men against four kings and their military (Gen 14:14-16, 20). Abram is Lot’s kinsman redeemer. Christian, does any of this sound familiar?

Christ Rescued Us Who Were Undeserving in Self-Sacrificial Love

Abram is a type of Christ here. Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Heb 2:11). As Abram was to Lot, so Christ is to us. In the words of Iain Duguid, “Jesus did not sit idly in Heaven waiting for us to deserve to be redeemer. If he had, eternity would have gone by without our redemption. Nor was our redemption risk free and painless. Christ was willing to leave the glories of heaven and come down to us, taking the form of a servant in our midst” (Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham, 45).

Thanks be to God,that Christ left the glories of heaven to come after us! And as our servant-King he came and conquered all the powers that we were in bondage to. He conquered all the temptations of the devil by trusting God’s Word. He conquered all the desires of the flesh by never once sinning. He conquered all the temptations of the world by obeying his heavenly Father perfectly. All of those things which formerly enslaved us Jesus conquered on our behalf through his life, death and resurrection.

Once again Duguid writes, “Jesus was willing not only to take risks for the sake of his undeserving kinsmen, but also to suffer great agony for them on the cross. But there on the cross, as in the person of Melchizedek, righteousness and peace met. There we find not only the proof that Jesus loves us, but also the pain-filled means by which he powerfully delivered the undeserving people he had chosen for himself, even in the face of their estrangement and ingratitude toward him” (Duguid, 46).

How great is the love that God has shown us in Christ! In the words of Paul the Apostle, but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). And because of his perfect life, his sacrificial death and his glorious resurrection, those of us who look to him by faith alone have been freed from our bondage to sin and death and the devil. We are free in Him! We have been forgiven of all of our sins entirely. We have been given his righteousness through faith. We have been given his Holy Spirit as a gift so that we are enabled more and more to put to death our sins and live for God! And we have been given the hope of one day being delivered completely from all of our sins and sufferings in this life when he returns.

In Gratitude, We Are To Love Those Who Are Undeserving in Self-Sacrificial Love

How then shall we live in thankfulness to God for the salvation that we don’t deserve? Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34-35; 15:12-13). And what does that look like? Well we typically ask ourselves two questions when determining if we are going to help someone? 1. Does this person deserve my help? 2. Can I help this person without any risk or inconvenience to myself? (Duguid, 44) But how can we who have been saved eternally when we were so undeserving treat others this way? And how can we who were saved through the precious blood of the only Son of God only help others when it won’t bring any risk or inconvenience to us?

Who has God placed in your life right now who is difficult to love and is undeserving of your love? Is it a spouse, a son or a daughter, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker? No doubt it can be a great struggle to love certain people. But where we find strength is the same place that Abram found strength, relying on the Spirit’s strength given to us through the gracious promises of God in Christ. And so, we need to meditate every day on the fact that we don’t deserve God’s love and yet he has poured out his love upon us in Christ and nothing will ever separate us from his love towards us in Christ (Rom 8:31-39). These gracious promises must be the foundation of our life as Christians. And we especially need to hear them proclaimed every week in public worship on the Lord’s Day so that it fuels a courageous self-sacrificial love in us toward others.

No doubt there are times when we have to exercise great wisdom in order to know when to administer “tough love” or when to withhold certain things from someone so that we don’t enable that person to remain enslaved to sinful habits. But we must never forget that we are to love others as Christ has loved us. And so, may we love those who are undeserving. May we be inconvenienced for the sake of sharing the love of Christ with others. And may we always point them beyond ourselves to the one who first loved us. Amen!

(If you’d like, you can listen to my sermon “Loving Those Who Are Undeserving” or other sermons here at our church web-site)

Faith After Failure

Here is the first point of a sermon I recently preached on Genesis 13. The context is that Abram just failed a test of adversity in Genesis 12 when he forgot God’s promises and walked by sight instead of by faith. That got him into a worse situation but God came to his rescue and demonstrated his unchanging faithfulness to his promises. Here then is how Abram responded after that failure, a lesson that we all need to learn:

As Chapter 13 begins, we see how Abram dealt with his failure. And what’s the first thing that he did? He went back to square one. He didn’t mope around in Egypt or look for somewhere else to dwell. Rather, he returned to the Lord and retraced his steps. And so, we read in v. 1ff: Gen. 13:1  So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. . .3 And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD. So Abram returns to the promised land and calls upon the name of the LORD.

Beloved, what kind of faith do you have? Does failure lead you away from the Lord or does it cause you to return to the Lord in repentance and faith? Trust me, I know that after some moral failure it is easy to just spiral downwards, where you’ve sinned in some way and you are acutely aware of that fact and so it leads you to perhaps become depressed and to sulk, or it leads you to sin even more in the same way or in some other way. Either way, you feel so terrible that you avoid God altogether, as if that’s going to help. How many of you have ever been there?

I believe that David understood this feeling when he said in Ps. 32: 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. You see, when we are aware of our sins and failures we sometimes feel sick within and we just turn inward and avoid God which only makes it worse. But then David goes on to say: 5  I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. 6 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; You see, now is the day when we find God in forgiveness and grace in Christ. The opening of the Psalm says: 1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.

Our God is a gracious God. As we sang earlier the words of Psalm 103, “Good is the Lord and full of kind compassion, most slow to anger, plenteous in love; rich is his grace to all that humbly seek him, boundless and endless as the heavn’s above.” Beloved when you sin and fail like Abram did when he didn’t trust God’s promises, you need to remember that God is merciful and gracious. He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). It would be unjust for him not to forgive us in Christ, because Christ is our advocate and the propitiation for all of our sins (1 Jn. 2:1-2). And so, return to God in Christ without delay. He is like the prodigal son’s Father to us. He runs to us in forgiveness in Christ. Nothing will separate us from his love for us in Christ, even our own failures (Rom. 8:37-39).

And so, that’s the first thing that we learn from our text, that the life of faith after failure returns to the Lord to seek His forgiveness and to worship Him once again as our Lord. A genuine sign of maturity in the faith is how quickly you return to the Lord in repentance and faith after you have failed.

(If you’d like, you can listen to the rest of this sermon on Gen. 13, entitled “The Life of Faith After Failure,” here under “morning sermons”).

The Tragedy of Choosing Heaven over Hell but not Heaven over Earth

I recently preached on Genesis 13 where Abram faces a test that is just the opposite of the test he faced in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12 he faced a test of adversity, namely famine. There we see Abram struggling to walk by faith. After just receiving God’s amazing promises to him in Gen. 12:1-9, He fails to trust God’s promises and to call upon the name of the Lord when famine comes his way. It’s as if he has already forgotten those promises and immediately goes into survival mode in order to fix things himself. He walks by sight in Gen. 12 and gets himself into an even worse situation when the Pharaoh takes Sarai as his wife. But regardless of his faithlessness, God is faithful to his servant Arbam and the promises that he made to him. He brings him out of Egypt with his wife and family and incredible wealth. But then when he returns to the promised land he faces another test, a test of prosperity. Now he has too much stuff. The land where Abram and Lot are dwelling cannot support the both of them and so Abram gives Lot a generous offer to have a share in the promised land. But Lot looks up and sees that the Jordan Valley, which is either outside the promised land or just on the border, looks better than the promised land. And so, instead of choosing the promised land and trusting God’s promises, Lot now walks by sight and head’s towards Sodom and Gomorrah, while Abram remains in the land of Canaan trusting God’s promises by faith. Commenting on Lot’s choice in this episode, R. Kent Hughes writes:

“Lot was the kind of man who would certainly choose Heaven over Hell if given the choice, but not Heaven over earth. Material prosperity was the bottom line. He was the example of believers who choose professions for their children or encourage marriages that will elevate the family’s prosperity and power–with no thought of what it will do to their soul and the souls of their children. Lot’s descendants testify to this as they became enemies of God’s people.” (Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, 201)

It is indeed a tragic thing to see God’s covenant people in the church today making choices like Lot’s based merely on what they see rather than walking by faith and trusting God’s Word. Besides what R. Kent Hughes mentions, I think of those who move their family for a great job opportunity with no regard for whether or not there is a faithful church in that area for their family to worship at. Or I think of the person who takes a great job opportunity locally with no regard for whether or not it will allow them to attend to the public means of grace on Sunday. I also think of parents who allow their children to miss the means of grace on the Lord’s Day in order to play in a sports tournament. They’d rather be prosperous in this world than walk by faith and place their hope in the glories of the age to come. Instead of trusting God’s Word which tells us that we need to be at church every week to worship Him and to receive his grace for the trials of this life, they choose to place their trust in money, job security, and social status.

O that God’s people would learn the lesson of Lot! Lot went from dwelling near Sodom (Gen. 13) to dwelling in Sodom (Gen. 14) to sitting in the gate of Sodom, most likely a reference to his status as some kind of a noble (Gen. 19), to giving his daughters to the men of Sodom in marriage (Gen. 19). Sodom was a place where the people were “wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). But Lot saw (like Eve saw) that it looked pleasant to the eyes and was a prosperous place. And so, he took the bait and swallowed it hook, line and sinker. And the consequences for his family were tragic.

In what ways is God challenging you to walk by faith instead of by sight? The truth is that we all need to learn the lesson of Lot over and over again because we all still fight against our old sin nature even though we are saints in Christ through faith. Do you not know that, not only the sufferings of this present age, but also the prosperity of this age is not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed when Christ returns? (cf. Rom. 8:18). As John Newton once put it, “Savior, if of Zion’s city, I through grace a member am, let the world deride or pity, I will glory in Thy Name. Fading is the worldlings’ pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show; Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.” Amen!

(If you’d like to hear my sermon on Genesis 13, “The Life of Faith After Failure,” that inspired this post you can listen to it here under “morning sermons.”)