Does Yahweh Show Favouritism?
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 28 July 2001
The subject of my sermon today is: Does God show favouritism? Very often when we hear of the miracles that new believers experience and we look around at the seemingly spiritual 'quiet' lives of those who have been Christians for a very long time, and we ask ourselves: "Is that fair?" Recent converts often tell stories of dramatic answers to prayer whilst those of us who have been in the Household of Yahweh for a long time struggle under the weight of difficult problems which sometimes we feel God could have lifted from our backs long ago.
The other day I was talking to a 16 year old girl from England who was just bubbling over with the joy of Yah'shua (Jesus). Whoever she met she would tell them how much Yah'shua (Jesus) loved them and was eager to share how He had rescued her from a life of drugs and abuse. She was quite simply overwhelmed by joy. And then I hear others tell of their lives of sacrifice and struggle for the Kingdom who never seem to get a break.
So why, we might ask, does a Heavenly Father of limitless resources seem tight-fisted with some of His children whilst being so open-handed with others? Is it because we 'oldies' have annoyed Him in some way? Or is it because there is no God and that everything is a matter of chance or luck? Or is there a purpose which we have to learn in the way the Most High treats us? Why does a Heavenly Father who is everywhere at all times seem to withdraw from some while walking so closely with others? Is God like a parent who creates havoc in the family by playing favourites? Could it be that He is like the patriarch Jacob who so obviously favoured his son Joseph above all the other boys, spoiling him in the presence of his brothers?
If we think that Yahweh is like a human being then we are going to miss an important lesson. Nothing that God does is unrighteous, and nothing without purpose. Indeed, we will see a very interesting pattern as we closely study the history of the Nation of Israel. And what we in fact discover is that Yahweh relates differently to new-borns than to adolescent and adult children.
When the Father of Israel delivered His new-born nation from the bricks and whips of Egypt, He did so with great style and drama. With the fireworks of a great storm exploding in the Egyptian sky, and with the persuasion of mounting plagues, Yahweh tightened His grip on the throat of the Pharaoh until the self-proclaimed sovereign of Egypt slumped in grief and angry defeat.
Just as Yahweh gave the infant children of Israel this impressive display of His power, so He often welcomes new-born believers into His family with a clear and present sense of deliverance from their sin. He may give them real and vivid experiences to show He is a God who is everything His children need Him to be.
New believers at this stage often give encouragement to the whole family of God as they describe with fresh awareness and enthusiasm what Yahweh has done for them. In telling of their experiences, however, they are not yet aware that ahead of them are mountains to scale, swamps to wade, and seasons to endure.
As the children of Israel walked out of Egypt, they breathed free air for the first time in centuries. There were no whips. No confining fences. No crops to plant. No bricks to make. Their food was delivered daily. Water gushed out of rocks. The possibilities for the future seemed unlimited.
Then came a change. At the foot of Mt. Sinai, God have His children rules. In time, someone counted the rules. 613 in all. 365 negative commandments like "don't ignore the plight of an overloaded animal". 248 positive ones like "return lost property to its owner."
The school of Sinai represents the line-upon-line education that is needed by all children. The God who miraculously rescued His children from bondage teaches us the principles of freedom. But with the benefits of relationship come the boundaries of family rules.
At first the rules seem overwhelming. Do this. Don't do that. No. You're going to get hurt. Ouch! That's why we warned you! And so, ever so slowly, the period of Yahweh's supernatural intervention is eclipsed by a new period of learning. As Yahweh provides for us, He wants us to learn that trust is not just a passive experience. Trusting Him on His terms means being willing to do what He tells us to do. And so the struggle begins.
Forty years later the Israelites stood at the edge of the Promised Land. After years of preparation in Yahweh's presence, they were ready to move into their own homes. As they stepped into that new land, the miracle of food from heaven stopped. Instead of living under the obvious evidence of Yahweh's protective shadow, they would not have to plant their own crops, cultivate the soil, pull up weeds, and prayerfully wait on God for rain. He was teaching them a new form of trust. Now His miracles, though just as real and just as many, would be hidden behind the curtain of unpredictable weather and natural problems.
Gradually, lovingly, God teaches us the disciplines of trust in ways that give us a chance to live by faith rather than by sight.
In the centuries that followed, Yahweh remained present with His people. On occasion he gave them dramatic miracles of provision. As a rule, however, the wonder of His presence and His provisions was clothed in the natural cause-and-effect relationships of life. He still provided daily, but He did so in increasingly subtle ways. Sometimes we become confused by the apparent absence of God in our lives. But honest reflection shows us that Yahweh is absent only in the sense that he is not giving us everything we want, when we want it. He still constantly provides for us, or we would not survive the need for another breath. But like a seasoned football coach, a loving parent, and a wise teacher, He has gradually given us the impression that we are on our own. Does He do this so we will have to provide for ourselves? No, he does it so our trust in Him will grow, not diminish.
We see from this pattern in the history of Israel that Yahweh treats us differently depending on our spiritual age. First He shows us His grace, as He did to the children of Israel in leading them out of Egypt. They didn't have to obey many rules - all they had to do was do what Moses told them, just as a small child is expected to do what a parent says unconditionally. Then came the Sinai experience when Yahweh gave the 10 Commandments and 603 other regulations. As a child gets older, he becomes aware of house rules and is expected to obey them. We, in our turn as Christians, having experienced the wonders of God's grace and love, are expected to take responsibility for our lives more by living according to the Torah, Yahweh's Holy Law. Obeying rules is not always a pleasant thing for stubborn, rebellious human pride but it is absolutely necessary for our safety and well-being. We challenge God's commandments at our own peril, for God is not pleased when we wilfully disobey Him. Finally, we come to the Promised Land, which is like growing up and leaving home. No longer does father provide for our daily bread, no longer does mother cook it for us - the time has come for us to provide for our own bread and to cook it ourselves, until we find a husband or a wife, whence the load is shared. Similarly, a young Christian must learn that the time to just feed off older and wiser Christians must end and they must serve themselves. The time comes for them to accept the responsibilities of the Deaconate and, as they become wiser, the Eldership. Heavier responsibilities devolve upon them until they too become spiritual parents.
This is the way that Israel grew up. This is the way that we grow up in families. And it is the way we mature in the Fellowship of Believers. So we see that nothing is accidental, and that although the methods change, the purpose remains consistent. We are here to learn, obey, and then assume responsibility for leadership ourselves.
But coming to the Promised Land was not the end of Israel's journey. New problems awaited them. And the story still isn't over. Just as children often rebel against their parents and suffer the consequences, so adults often rebel against God and suffer too. Israel's history is not a particularly happy one. It had its good moments, but basically the people preferred to listen to Satan and imitate the way of the world. Since the majority of them were doing it all around them, they thought that they had the right to too. How wrong they were.
The result was that they got kicked out of the Promised Land - first the northern Kingdom of Israel, and finally the southern Kingdom of Judah. Judah returned briefly after a short but insincere repentance, and has been wandering the world ever since. The 12 tribes to this day remain scattered throughout the nations, deprived of their homeland and the blessings of Yahweh because they would not do it Yahweh's way.
There's a country called "Israel" today but it's not Yahweh's Israel. There are a few Jews and others who are true Israelites, but the majority aren't. And it's the same in the Churches around the world. Millions of people are gathered under the banner of "Christian" but only a few of them are the genuine article. They want grace but no rules, and certainly no responsibility. They are like Israel in the wilderness of Sinai only they don't know it - they think they're rich but they're in spiritual rags. And the home isn't much better. The state has taken away the authority of parents at home, and threatens them if they dare to discipline their children, just as Satan has robbed the Church of its power by preaching love without obedience. The parallels are only too striking, aren't they?
No, Yahweh does not show favouritism - ever. He is utterly impartial. He tells us that He is no respecter of persons. He looks at men's hearts and their deeds, not their importance or stature in the world. He doesn't care whether you're rich or poor, famous or unknown, well educated or poorly educated, so long as you have an upright heart. He is looking for men and women who will live up to their high and holy calling as the redeemed of Israel, who will put aside children's clothing when they have come of age, and become grown-up men and women. And He shows us, in the history of Israel, that He never gives us everything on a plate - we have to work for it. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, He didn't just hand over Canaan, did He? It had to be conquered and then taken care of. We, in our turn, have got to overcome our fallen natures through repentance and faith in the atoning blood of Christ, and then we have got to work, taking the Promised Land inch by inch. Unlike the Israelites who made treaties with the locals against the express will of Yahweh - who later became Israel's enemies and caused them no end of trouble - we in our turn must not compromise with worldly values at any cost because they will, in the end, corrupt and destroy us. If we do, we shall wander without a spiritual home - churchless and Fatherless. The price of rebellion is simply too high.
God gives us different responsibilities at different ages at home, and different responsibilities in Church as we spiritually mature. We should look forward to these things rather than be afraid of them, for with more responsibility come more blessings and privileges.
In thinking about what I should talk to you about today, the Lord lead me to an interesting scripture in the Book of Exodus which I'd like to share with you. It reads:
"Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: 'No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.' And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to so all the work" (Ex.36:6, NIV).
The background of this passage is as follows. Moses had sent word to the children of Israel that Yahweh wanted all those who were skilful to submit themselves for service in the building of the Sanctuary, God's mobile temple. He also made a plea for freewill offerings - gifts - to supply the materials for its construction.
The response was overwhelming. People kept giving and giving. They forget themselves so much that before long Moses had all that was needed to make the Sanctuary. So generous had the people become that the prophet had to say: "Stop! No more! Thank you, we have all we need now!"
When a nation, a church, or a family is living in such a way that they are giving so much of themselves in terms of their time, talent and resources, that the King, or the Pastor, or the Father has to say: "Stop! No more! We have more than we need now. Thank you" then - and only then - is that nation, local church or family doing all that it should be doing. But when a King, or a Pastor, or a Father has to keep on ordering, nagging or begging the people to do this or that, then there is something very seriously wrong in the nation, local church or family. It means that the individual citizens, church members or family members are too selfishly absorbed in themselves to be of any use to anyone. And it was in part this problem that led to the destruction of the ancient nation of Israel, is destroying churches today, and is destroying the integrity of families too.
Great Britain is very proud of the way in which the people of that nation pulled together during the crisis that was the Second World War. That people of so many different backgrounds, classes, and temprements could pull together for the common good was a remarkable achievement that has probably never been seen before. But once the national emergency was over, the people returned to their former selfish and divisive ways. And the result in the year 2001 is a nation in the very abyss of moral decay. It is the same everywhere.
No nation, church or family should ever need to wait for an emergency or a crisis to pull together for the common good if it is truly serving the living God. It's attitude should be the same as those Israelites who responded enthusiastically and positively to Moses' call for service and offerings. It is no accident that Yahweh has ordained that the world should operate out of these three basic units - nation, local congregation, and family - for they are the reason we are here, beginning with the family and ending with the nation.
It is written a little earlier on in the same passage: "Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses' presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the Lord ..." (Ex.35:20-21, NIV).
It is one thing to obey because one is forced to - that is the response of immaturity - but it is quite another to response because that is the desire of one's heart - that is the response of maturity. If our hearts are unresponsive to the needs and welfare of the family, the local church and our nation, what is the reason?
The reason, quite simply, is that we are out of touch with the heart of God. A heart which is linked to the heart of Yahweh is filled with a desire to forget self and reach out to serve at home, in church, and at work. If the state has to force us to work so that we don't steal welfare when we don't need it, if the church has to beg for its members to be generous in their tithes and offerings and in the giving of their service, and if a family has to threaten or beg its members to serve the needs of the family, then something is wrong with the hearts of the people. And it is the surest sign that they have lost fellowship with God.
I end today with a saying by Kahlil Gibran which I hope will impress you as much as it did me:
"Said a sheet of snow-white paper, 'Pure was I created, and pure will I remain for ever. I would rather be burnt and turn to white ashes than suffer darkness to touch me or the unclean to come near me'. "The ink-bottle heard what the paper was saying, and it laughed in its dark heart; but it never dared to approach her. And the multicoloured pencils heard her also, and they too never came near her. "And the snow-white sheet of paper did remain pure and chaste for ever - pure and chaste - and empty."
If our lives are to have meaning then the lives of others, with all their faults and shortcomings, must be written on the paper of our lives - at home, in church, and in the work place. And we in our turn shall write the stories of our lives upon them - lives of sharing and giving in the holiness of Christ. Or we can remain to ourselves - unspotted and useless. Something to think about.
The theme for this sermon was inspired by a letter from Mart De Haan, RBC Ministries, Sep-Nov 2001
This page was created on 18 October 2001
Last updated on 18 October 2001
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