Over the past two weeks, we have seen a common theme come up. Evangelism is necessary for those who wish to live as God’s image. This idea speaks boldly about the state of many churches in the modern world. Conflict is prominent in too many congregations. Churches are split. People cannot get over their disagreements. Such is the way of our society. Most homes are divided (and I am not talking about college football). Divorce rates are high. Children are rebellious. Parents are domineering. Employers are selfish and employees are spiteful. Why is this the case? Why do we experience such grief, especially in many of our churches today? What in the world does evangelism have to do with conflict? What are some reasons God might allow our lives, health, and hard work to fall apart?
As we continue through the book of Genesis, we arrive at a popular story: the Tower of Babel. Many will read this as a story that was written to try and explain the existence of many languages upon the earth, but as we read together, my hope is that we will read with a renewed mind. The story is not primarily about the existence of multiple languages, and it only makes sense within the context of chapters 1-10 (specifically concerning what we have discovered about being God’s image).
Genesis 11:1-9 HCSB
At one time the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. As people migrated from the east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let us make oven-fired bricks.” They used brick for stone and asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
Then the Lord came down to look over the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If they have begun to do this as one people all having the same language, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name is called Babylon, for there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth, and from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Image and purpose
Over the last two weeks, as we have been in Genesis together, the purpose that God has for humanity has been stated in the text of Scripture and then stated again and again. At this point in the text of Scripture, there should be no doubt in our minds concerning the purpose God gave humanity. People were created in God’s image by God. God instructed people to multiply and fill the earth, specifically with His own image and with worship to Him. In worship to God, people were to cultivate the earth.
Adam and Eve became selfish and pursued God’s knowledge on their own. They marred the image of God within them and God took it upon Himself to restore them. God covered their shame and re-established His purpose for their lives, they were still to cultivate the earth. Every worldly tendency became wicked and selfish in God’s eyes. God chose for Himself one family and saved them through a great flood. When the flood subsided, God, again, re-established His purpose for humanity. Noah and his family were instructed to multiply and fill the earth, and to cultivate the earth for the worship of God.
The people of the earth always turned to themselves, always tried to gain for themselves, and always tried to build their own kingdom on God’s earth. God, in His grace and mercy, chose to restore those who would walk with Him. When we get to the story of what took place at Babel, we see people coming together and building a city in order to make a name for themselves and keep themselves together. At first glance, this seems like such an innocent action. What could possibly be wrong with being productive, advancing society, creating culture, and bringing unity to a people? What could God possibly have against progress on this earth?
Since it might not be so obvious and since so many people bring in the presumption that Moses wrote, here, to explain the existence of other languages, I might describe it plainly for us. God gave people the purpose of multiplying and filling the earth. People wanted to stay in one place. God gave people the purpose of multiplying His image and worship to Him upon the earth. People wanted to make a name for themselves. God gave people the purpose of cultivating the earth for God’s glory. People forsook cultivating the earth in God’s name to build a city for themselves. When Adam and Eve did this, God removed them from the Garden. When all of humanity was like this, God flooded the earth. When this people gave into the same sort of human pride and selfishness, God scattered them over the earth according to His original purpose, and He confused their languages so that they could not accomplish their goals in their own name. Without God’s direct intervention, people would have remained self-serving and would not have filled the earth with God’s image or cultivated the earth for God’s glory. God’s intervention drove people to fulfill their God-given purpose.
Image vs. tendency
This tendency is still alive and well within the human spirit. God has given people a purpose, yet we still try to create purpose for ourselves according to our own design. We try to build kingdoms for ourselves here on God’s earth while neglecting God’s purpose for our very existence as human people.
Keeping our purpose in mind, to multiply God’s image (through both reproduction and now evangelism) and to cultivate God’s earth for His glory, we can consider the tendency of many people (including many who refer to themselves as Christians).
- Just like the community at Babel, we build our own kingdoms rather than fulfilling our God-given purpose. As evidence I might simply ask two questions. First, how many people devote themselves to a job rather than plugging in to a local body of believers to serve in God’s kingdom? Second, how many parents and couples neglect family time with God in favor of watching television or because of busyness? We have a tendency to build our own kingdoms rather than be a part of God’s kingdom. All of the sudden, choosing to make less money and live more simply sounds like a necessity if we want to fulfill the purpose that God has given rather than the purpose we have given ourselves.
- Just like the community at Babel, we focus more on bringing people in than sending people out. At this point, the church is operated like a corporation instead of like hospital. We hire staff to provide their services. We hope that services rendered will draw people in. Never in Scripture do we see the command for God’s people to draw others into the organizational church. Never do we see God measuring success by numbers gained or seats filled. In fact, we see quite the opposite. When people are concerned with gaining numbers in Scripture, we also see God directly opposing those people and scattering them. If we want to see dissension and conflict within the local church, let’s focus on numbers! If, however, we want to see God doing a great work, we need to go out and share the Gospel with the community that God has entrusted to our care. In-reach is good. Tending the vine is necessary. Outreach and evangelism, though, is the very purpose for our existence and the existence of the local church. It is not enough to invite people to come. In fact, it is a sin to limit ourselves to this. We must go to where sinners are and share with them the Gospel of our Lord.
- Just like the community at Babel, we tend to serve our own body at the neglect of God’s purpose. This is the very definition of in-reach to the neglect of outreach. We are concerned much more with being served than with contributing according to the purpose that God has given. This is when many local churches become nothing more than social clubs or concert centers. This is the point at which families neglect God’s purpose for them in the interest of unity. It is the point at which we are more concerned with our own needs than with the purpose that God has given. With the community at Babel, God is actually the one who brought division. Might it be the case, also, that God could bring division to churches, families, and even the heart of the individual when we are concerned more with filling our perceived needs at the neglect of God’s purpose? God did this at Babel and God does not change. Sometimes this division happens as a natural consequence of selfishness. Sometimes God actually scatters us.
- Concerning the natural consequences of human selfishness: “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires” (James 4:1-3 HCSB).
- Concerning the separation of those who focus on being served rather than serving, or being comfortable rather than fulfilling God’s purpose: “The Lord said: “Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time? That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded. I tell you the truth: He will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten. But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more. “I came to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already set ablaze! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how it consumes Me until it is finished! Do you think that I came here to give peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided: three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:42-53 HCSB, in the context of doing the master’s work).
- Just like the community at Babel, our goal is often to create a name for ourselves rather than cultivate the earth for God’s glory. Do we work for the glory of Eastside Baptist Church, or do we work for the glory of God? Is our goal to have the perfect human relationship or is it to follow Christ in His purpose? Are we more concerned with making one another happy or with living according to our God-given purpose? Do we care more about meting the expectations that others have for us or about pursuing God’s calling on our lives?
What I find as I think deeply about these tendencies is that when one is true, most often all are true. Many times, we are just like the people at Babel. God intervened with them. He ruined them so that He could be seen. When His people today need re-orientation, God often ruins what they have built, humbles them, and re-establishes His purpose in their lives. Ultimately, God is concerned more with our good than with our happiness.
Image and sanctification
Considering, then, the story of what God did at Babel, we can ask our question again and answer it biblically: What are some reasons God might allow our lives, health, and hard work to fall apart?
There are three causes that might bring about hardship in our lives. One, hardship is a natural byproduct of living in a sinful world. Health problems are often the result of living in a world that has been devastated by the sin disease. Two, hardship is brought about by a person’s own selfish decisions. Three, as we learned today, God sometimes scatters people to re-orient them to His purpose.
What we find, here, is that God does not promise perfect health, longevity, unity, happiness, or material prosperity on this earth. We have quite a few homebound members who have served God and have now come to a point in their lives where they are sick and cannot do anything. This is simply the result of living in a sinful world. Instead of promising earthly prosperity, God promises everlasting rewards beginning with eternal life. When we lose everything, we still have God. God uses this hardship to orient our hearts to Himself.
Furthermore, when churches, families, and individuals become more focussed inwardly and on their own purposes or expectations, God actually scatters or ruins His people in order to re-orient their focus. Some churches fall because God is reorienting His people. Some families experience conflict because God is reorienting His people. Sometimes we have what is called an existential crises because God is reorienting us as His children. Sometimes God absolutely ruins what we are building for our own glory, our own name, and our own purpose in order to reorient us to Himself. I have a feeling that many reading this need to experience a reorientation. Are we concerned with the purpose that God has given, or are we concerned with a purpose that we have either manufactured for ourselves or adopted from the culture at large? God please keep our churches, homes, and lives from the sin of Babel. Our purpose: fill the earth with worship to God and cultivate the earth for God’s glory. When we lose sight of evangelism or work for personal gain, God scatters His people in some way in order to reorient them.