A Biblical Worldview: Generosity & Faith
David gave this talk at Woodside Church (Bedford) in 2011, as part of their "A Biblical Worldview" series. Click here to download it.
We're currently in a series on Biblical worldview, and will be looking at Genesis to establish a Biblical worldview on issues including:
- Blessings and Curses
- Marriage and Family
- Individual and Community
- Honour Guilt Shame Anxiety etc
Worldview is the deepest level of culture, it's our deepest beliefs about life. If you haven't already, do listen and catch up with the first part in the series, A Biblical Worldview: Culture & Worldview.
Last time we looked at the subject of Biblical worldview regarding work and Sabbath. I had intended to use a story later in Genesis to illustrate one aspect of work, but didn’t do so because there wasn't enough time. Instead, I'm going to teach from that story today to show some other lessons.
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.
From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.
Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarrelling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.
So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarrelling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD. (Genesis 13)
Abraham had worked hard and been prosperous, he was a successful farmer looking after his livestock, yet lived by faith. He even sold his previous house in Ur and left to follow God in faith. Prosperous citizen/businessman, but lived by faith for the purposes of God. God had promised to bless him.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Gen 12:1-3
The idea of ‘blessing’ often though not always included being blessed materially and this was the case with Abraham at this stage – though he also had given a lot up. His nephew, Lot, had travelled with him. He had worked hard too and prospered. Because of famine both Abraham and Lot had visited Egypt. Abraham had given way to fear instead of faith – yet God still blessed him there and Abraham and Lot came out of Egypt with more possessions.
When they came out of Egypt, Abraham renewed his commitment to serve God. Called on the name of the Lord at the place where he had built his first altar. However because the land was occupied by many others, Canaanites (in towns), Perizzites (in countryside), so not enough land or water – not huge rainfall. Result was Abraham’s and Lot’s herdsmen quarrelled over the scarce pasture. Danger of quarrel at work and in the family, both relevant in this situation.
Abraham said to Lot – we are brothers – let’s not quarrel. Let’s go in different directions and you choose the land first – then I’ll go the other way. Lot saw that Jordan valley – towards Sodom (before Sodom destroyed and land became infertile) was really fertile – just like he had experienced in Egypt. So he chose that. So Abraham went the other way. God still blessed him and renewed his promises: "This whole land will one day belong to your descendants".
LESSONS FOR US
Attitude to prosperity
In general terms God does prosper obedience to him and made that promise to the people of Israel. “Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” 5:33. The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your forefathers to give you. Deut. 28:11. The opposite was also true for disobedience.
That has been worked out in recent history (last 400+ years) in what is called the “Protestant work ethic”. “It is based upon the notion that the Calvinist emphasis on the necessity of hard work as a component of a person’s calling and worldly success is a visible sign or result (not a cause) of personal salvation.” However while this is true generally it does not mean that my personal circumstances or wealth show God’s approval or my good works. Some of the most wicked people in the world prosper:
“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”. Psalm 73:2-3
The Bible also teaches the danger of wealth: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”. 1 Tim 6:10
The so-called “Prosperity Gospel” contains a number of falsehoods:
- False motive – wealth rather than living for God.
- False theology – that God always prospers.
- False view of leadership – prosper at expense of those receiving ministry.
- False hope to Christians in poor countries – “something might happen” – pandering to a worldview of “luck” in conditions of hopelessness.
- False interpretation of Scripture – e.g. Parable of the Sower.
Answer: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1 Tim 6:6-8
Attitude of Abraham to Lot
God prospered both Abraham and Lot in their work. We can look for this, but don’t envy prosperity. Both took responsibility for the quarrels of their staff, a good characteristic of a manager. Today, there is much avoidance of responsibility.
Abraham refused to engage in “office politics” and let Lot choose the best. An amazing attitude. Just like “the Sabbath” it showed Abraham trusted God for the outcome, if he showed a godly attitude. Often difficult in work context. Early in my career I lost sight of this, but learnt it later.
Abraham was working for God’s reward and as God’s representative, working in His image. We are God’s representative at work. Others would counsel – “Don’t let Lot walk all over you”, stand up for your rights.
Being generous is how the rich show their trust in God. Thinking of others – not true in today’s society. Bankers, care home owners in the news. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 1 Tim 6:17-18
Attitude of Lot
A righteous man – yet ended up making bad choices and had to be rescued twice from Sodom. “He rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard). 2 Peter 2:7-8.
Lost his radical vision for the promises and Kingdom of God. Maybe he lost it in Egypt – where Abraham was not a good example. Often a reason for disillusionment – but it's still Lot’s personal responsibility. He was attracted by material benefit more than living by faith. Mid-life, mid-career – or crucial points in life such as:
- Going to university.
- Just married.
- First children.
- Prospered in career.
- Things in church not worked out as hoped.
Lot was left with unfulfilled potential, having got as close to the world’s values as he could go. First he camped near Sodom, then eventually in Sodom. Lot shows that our choices have power - so let's choose generosity and faith.