Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Beginning of Sin

Part 6 of The Beginning, a series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 3:1-7

You can listen to this sermon here.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (v. 6). 

Good Rules from a Good God

In Genesis 3:1-7, we read about the beginning of sin in the human race. What is sin? Sin is disobedience to God’s commands. (We are commanded to do what is good, and we are commanded to not do what is evil.) God gave to Adam and Eve only one command. He said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (2:16-17). But Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and sinned.

Back when I attended Bible college, I was in the school choir. At the end of each year we went on a choir tour. One year our choir tour was in Ontario, and we visited Niagara Falls—the most powerful waterfall in North America. While we were at Niagara Falls a few of the choir members and I went to an attraction called the Journey Behind the Falls.

The Journey Behind the Falls is a series of tunnels that go behind the falls. There are a few places in the tunnels where there are openings that allow you to see the water crashing down. At one of these spots, a male choir member—for reasons unknown—jumped over the fence. He took a couple of steps and then slipped on the wet floor. Fortunately, he’s still alive today. But if he would have slipped a little farther, he would have fallen off the edge of the opening and down the waterfall.

This week I watched a YouTube video of the Journey Behind the Falls to refresh my memory. I noticed in the video that two warning signs are posted at the entrance to the tunnels: (1) “Do not climb over railing. Stay within designated area.” (2) “CAUTION: Floor slippery when wet!” If that choir member were here today, I’m sure he’d say that it would be wise to do what the sign said: “Do not climb over the railing.”

God’s commands are always for our good, so we should always obey him. 

A child’s obedience to his parents would improve if he believed that his parents’ rules were for his well-being. Instead, children often say to their parents, “You don’t want me to have any fun!”

Foolish Disobedience

Have you ever wondered why God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Maybe the fruit itself was harmful to Adam and Eve. This is unlikely since Eve “saw that the tree was good for food” (v. 6). Maybe God’s command was a test of Adam and Eve’s obedience. That’s possible, but would it be right for God to make up an arbitrary rule if there was no good reason behind it? Maybe the fruit was good but was not intended to be eaten by Adam and Eve until later. Perhaps eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was like driving a car. Driving a car is not wrong, but it is wrong for a child to drive a car. A child has to wait until he is 16 before he can drive.

The serpent (identified as Satan in Rev. 12:9; 20:2) tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit by telling her that God was withholding something good from her. He said to her, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5; cf. 3:22). Temptation makes disobedience to God’s commands seem reasonable, but sin is always foolish.

1. When we sin, we are acting as though we know better than God what is good for us. 

Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (v. 6). Think about the last six of the Ten Commandments (honor your father and mother; do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not covet). By sinning, we are saying that living according to God’s commands will make us less happy. But disobeying these commands will not make us (or those around us) more happy (at least in a lasting way).

2. When we sin, we are acting in ways that will be bad for us. 

When Adam and Eve sinned, their eyes “were opened, and they knew they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (v. 7). So if we know that sin is bad for us, why do we continue to sin? We sin because, in that moment, we think it will make us happy.

God Didn't Give Up on Us 

God is like a parent who never gives up on a wayward child. Even though Adam and Eve sinned against God, he still was committed to their well-being (though there were consequences to their sin). An example of God’s continued goodness to Adam and Eve was his provision of clothing for them (3:21). (In order for God to give Adam and Eve “garments of skins,” an animal had to be killed. This might be a foreshadowing of the death of Christ.)

The cross is the proof that God is committed to our well-being. 

The apostle Paul writes, “The law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20-21). Our sin is great, but God’s grace is greater.

A child’s obedience will be best when he not only understands that his parents’ rules are for his good but also loves his parents and desires to obey them. This is how we should view God’s commands.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Beginning of Marriage

Part 5 of The Beginning, a series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 2:18-25

You can listen to this sermon here.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 18). 

Happily Ever After?

It could be said that Genesis 2:18-25 describes the first wedding ceremony (“[God] brought [the woman] to the man,” v. 22).

One of the mistakes that some couples make is that they spend so much time planning their wed-ding and not enough time planning their marriage. (In 2013, the average cost of a wedding in Canada was over $30,000.) 

There may be such a thing as a perfect wedding, but there are no perfect marriages. Only in fairy tales do the bride and groom “live happily ever after.” Marriage is not easy.

In confusion, people ask, “What is marriage is supposed to be?” (Marriage is being redefined.) In frustration, people ask, “How is it possible to have a successful marriage?” (Those of us who are married know how difficult marriage can be.)

Because God created marriage, we must understand and follow his design for marriage. 

God's Image in Our Marriages 

What is marriage supposed to be? The Trinity helps us understand what marriage is supposed to be. (In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us [the Trinity?] make man in our image, after our likeness.” Marriage allows us to resemble our triune God.) How?

First, like the Father, Son, and Spirit, husbands and wives are relational beings. “It [was] not good that the man should be alone” (2:18; cf. 1:31). When God brought the woman to the man, Adam was filled with joy: “This at least is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23).

Second, like the Father, Son, and Spirit, husbands and wives are equals. Both “male and female” were created in God’s image (1:27). That God made the woman by using a rib from Adam’s side, not a part from his foot (inferiority) or head (superiority), might also suggest equality.

Third, like the Father, Son, and Spirit, husbands and wives are one. In marriage, the two become one. Marriage is (1) a preeminent union (“A man shall leave his father and his mother,” 2:24); (2) a lifelong union (“and hold fast to his wife,” 2:24; cf. Matt. 19:6); (3) an intimate union (“and they shall become one flesh,” 2:24); (4) a sacred union (2:22; cf. Pr. 2:16-17).

Fourth, like the Father, Son, and Spirit, husbands and wives have different roles. The woman was made to be “a helper fit for [the man]” (2:18, 20). The Hebrew world for “helper” is often used to describe God. It is also used to describe military help (e.g., reinforcements, without which a battle would be lost). For a wife to “help” her husband is to make up for what is lacking in him. Kathy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage says that a wife is to be a strong helper and a husband is to be a servant leader.

The Gospel in Our Marriages 

How is it possible to have a successful marriage? (Because of the Fall, there is conflict in marriages.) The gospel helps us follow God’s design for marriage. How?

First, the gospel changes the hearts of husbands and wives. In Ephesians 5, before the apostle Paul writes about the God-given roles for husbands and wives (vv. 22-33), he says, “Be filled with the Spirit” (v. 18). “The ramifications of being filled with the Spirit literally reverse the effects that the curse has on the relationship” (Jeff VanVonderen, Families Where Grace Is in Place, 91). We are living in the time that God foretold in Jeremiah 31:33: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” Those who have been saved by God’s grace have the Holy Spirit living within them. He gives us the desire to obey God. We obey because we want to, not because we have to.

Second, the gospel provides a model for husbands and wives. Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus is a servant leader (a model for husbands). “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Jesus is a strong helper (a model for wives). Kathy Keller writes, “In this passage we see taught both the essential equality of the First and Second Persons of the Godhead, and yet the voluntary submission of the Son to the Father to secure our salvation. Let me emphasize that Jesus’s willing acceptance of this role was wholly voluntary, a gift to his Father. I discov-ered here that my submission in marriage was a gift I offered, not a duty coerced from me. As I personally struggled with understanding gender equality within gender roles, it was this passage that entirely took the sting out of the subordinate role assigned to the female sex” (The Meaning of Marriage, 175).

Acting Like Jesus in Our Marriages 

“Have this mind [the attitude of Jesus] among yourselves” (Phil. 2:5). What does this attitude look like in our lives? “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).

This week, let Jesus be your model for how you interact with your spouse. (We can apply this to all of our relationships.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Beginning of Work

Part 4 of The Beginning, a series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 2:1-17

You can listen to this sermon here.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (v. 15). 

Work Is Good

In Genesis 2, we read that God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Many people think that one of the perks of paradise was the absence of work. However, if you read Genesis 2 carefully, you’ll discover that work was a part of God’s original “very good” creation.

If your job is getting you down, you might want to think about some of the messy, gross that some people do for a living: professional smeller ($39,000 a year), pet food taster ($40,000 a year), crime scene cleaner ($600 an hour), frog pickler, professional patient ($15 an hour), roadkill collector ($25,000 an hour). Many of us struggle with the difficulty or the dullness of our work. (I’ve had some jobs that I didn’t enjoy.) Someone has said, “I hate how Monday is so far away from Friday and Friday is so close to Monday.”

In Genesis 1-3, we find several truths about work. (These truths can be applied to both paid and unpaid work.)

  • Work was a part of God’s original plan for humanity. God “put [Adam] in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Work is also a part of God’s plan for the future (“they shall beat their swords into plowshares,” Isa. 2:4). 
  • Work brings personal fulfillment. We were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), and work gives us the opportunity to imitate God (e.g., by being creative, by enjoying the fruit of our labor, by doing good for others). 
  • Work became difficult after the Fall. After Adam sinned, God said to him, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:17-19). 
  • Work is not to be devalued by laziness or overvalued by workaholism. God’s seven days of creation show us the importance of both work and rest (Gen. 2:1-3; cf. Ex. 20:8-11). 

Worshiping as We Work

We should not view work as merely a means to an end (e.g., working for the weekend, providing for my family). Every type of work should be viewed as an act of worship. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Col. 3:17). All work is spiritual. (The English word “vocation” comes from a Latin word meaning “a calling.”)

God created us to work, and we are to work to glorify him.

We exist to glorify God (“whom I created for my glory,” Isa. 43:7). God deserves to be glorified because of his work on our behalf (creation, providence, redemption).

We are to work from our acceptance in Christ, not for our acceptance (see Eph. 2:8-10).

Glorifying God in Our Work 

When you show up at your job, you’re there for the glory of God. How can we glorify God in our work? There are at least three ways we can glorify God in our work.

1. We can glorify God by doing excellent work. 

God is not glorified when we don’t do our best (e.g., continually arriving late to work). The apostle Paul said to slaves (without condoning slavery), “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). Paul himself was not afraid of hard work. He made tents to support himself (Acts 18:3) and said, “We work hard with our hands” (1 Cor. 4:12).

2. We can glorify God by doing ethical work. 

God is not glorified when we do dishonest work (e.g., stealing money from the company). Paul writes, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands” (Eph. 4:28).

3. We can glorify God by doing evangelistic work. 

If we are not doing excellent and ethical work, effectively sharing the gospel with co-workers will be almost impossible. How we do our work is a part of evangelism.

Jesus the Laborer

It’s interesting to find out about the not-so-glamorous jobs of famous people. Bill Cosby shined shoes and worked as a stock boy at a supermarket. Beyonce Knowles swept up hair in her mother’s salon. Mick Jagger worked as an ice cream salesman and as a porter at a hospital. Warren Buffet worked at his father’s grocery store and at J. C. Penney. Jimmy Stewart painted lines on roads and spent two summers as a magician’s assistant. Brad Pitt dressed as a giant chicken to promote a restaurant.

Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was about 30 years old. What did he do all those years before he became a teacher? He was a carpenter (“Is this not the carpenter…?”, Mark 6:3). Jesus knew what it was like to do difficult work.

The creator of the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) was a carpenter. Jesus prayed to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). In all of his work—whether it was his work as a carpenter, his work as a teacher, or his work as a Savior dying for the sins of the world—Jesus glorified the Father.

May we as Christ’s followers see that we were created by God to work. And may we glorify God in our work.