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A Generous Faith in A Generous God

Date: 21 April 2024, 9.30 am

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong  Sermon Text: Genesis 13:1–14:24 CLICK HERE to join in our Livestream service on Youtube

21Apr24 Herald
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For my grad trip at the end of my university, I went to Thailand for about a month to teach English in a village pre-school. And I lived in a children’s home, while I was there. It was run by a Christian couple. And they told me about the children and how they came to be there.

Some of them where literally picked up from the streets. Some of them were sold by their drug addicted parents to drug syndicates in exchange for more drugs. And they were made to beg in the streets for the syndicates.

And when they were brought into the home, they found hard to adjust to this Christian, nurturing, loving environment which was so foreign to them. One of them would take a knife from the kitchen at night to put it under his pillow because he lived in constant fear of being abused, even as he slept. One common behaviour amongst the children was to steal food from the fridge and hide it, or to snatch food at mealtimes from other children to eat. Most of them had lived their lives in constant hunger, in constant need, without protection, without provision, without love from adults. Competing with others for food and fighting for survival was all they knew. They have had no one looking out for them.

So, the Christian couple had to teach them, you don’t have to steal, I will feed you. You don’t have to sleep with a knife under your pillow, I will protect you. You don’t have to struggle for survival. I will take care of you, provide for you, love you.

It wasn’t easy to win their trust, the children still stole, still fought, still feared, but by and by, they began to believe in this couple, they learnt to trust in their love, rely on their provision, and stop stealing and stopped fighting, and they stopped fearing for survival. Their lives were transformed through the faith that they had in the loving generosity of this couple, who took them from the streets, into their home and into their hearts.

Could this not serve as a parable for the Christian life? The bible tells us that we were once separated from Christ, having no hope and without God in the world. But in Christ, we have been brought near, we have become members of his household, children of a loving heavenly Father who has promised to take care of us, protect us, provide for us, because he loves us.

What might it look like if we, Christians, we grew in trust, in confidence and in assurance that we truly have such a Father in God. A good Father. A loving Father. A generous Father. A father who loves us, who knows our needs, and has promised to take care of us, if we only seek first his kingdom? How might our lives be transformed?

How would we be living, if we truly are believing in a generous God? What would our faith look like? Friends, our text today tell us that it would look like a generous faith, for it rests in a generous God. God’s generosity liberates to be generous people.

When my godson Kian was younger, like most kids his age, he didn’t like to share his stuff with others. What happens if I share my train set with my cousin and he breaks it? What happens if I share my jellybeans with others and I don’t have enough left for myself?

And I told him, so long as I am around, I will make sure you will never lose out from sharing. If you share your train set and it breaks, I will buy you a brand new set. If you share your candies and you run out, I will buy you twice the amount the next time. I promise you, you will never lose if you share.

Friends, our text this morning assures us of quite the same thing. God’s character, his loving generosity ensures us that we will be okay if we give in to others, if we give to God, if we give up some things; it will be fine. At the end of the day, we will not lose.

That’s the example of Abraham’s faith that we will see today – a generous faith in generous God.

Let’s get into the text.

GENESIS 13:1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

The Negeb is the desert – a place of scarcity, where there is little water and vegetation to be found. And this sets up the backdrop for the tension that is to come.

GENESIS 13:5-7 5 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6 so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7 and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock.

At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

There was strife between Abraham and Lot because the land was unable support the needs of both households.

So what did Abraham do? He said, “Lot my nephew, this is the Promised Land. Do you know who it was promised to? Right, me. Abraham. My name is on the title deed, so I’ll go ahead and live here, not sure where you’re going, but I guess this is good bye and good luck.”

That’s one way of resolving the strife, don’t you think? What can Lot say in response? The land belongs to Abraham and his descendants. Not to Lot. Abraham was well within his rights to tell Lot to leave the land.

But hear what Abraham says.

GENESIS 13:8-9 8 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

That is another way to resolve conflict. By giving in. Lot, you choose where in this land you would like to live. If you want me to move, I’ll move. You get to choose. Instead of asserting my rights, I will simply take what’s left. Abraham gave up his rights in order to give in to Lot.

GENESIS 13:10-13 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.

Lot made his choice. And it was selfish, self-seeking, and self-gratifying. And as the text indicates, his choice was a mistake, for all was not as it appeared on the surface. Sodom may have looked good. But it conceals a great and dangerous evil.

The problem was, Lot walked by sight. Walking by sight grants no perception evil and does not take God's plan into consideration.

Consider what James says:

JAMES 3:13-15 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Lot had a single decision making criterion – a land which looks good to my eyes. He did not consider the interests of his neighbour, nor did not seek the will of God, he did not walk by faith, he simply walked by sight. Lot had the right of choice, but he did not choose rightly.

GENESIS 13:14-17 14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15  for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16  I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”

The Lord told him, lift up your eyes. I will give the land to you, I will give it to you.

Contrast this with Lot’s actions:

And Lot lifted up his eyes

So Lot chose for himself

Abraham was able to give in to Lot, because of what God had promised him. He is able to rest in God’s promises and know that even if he gives in, he will by no means lose out. He will not lose one square inch of what belongs to him, if he simply walks by faith. What belongs to him is secure in the promises of God. He will not have to fear, he does not have to fight. He can go forth in faith, and entrusting his fate to the God who has promised to be his shield and very great reward.

Now how was Abraham able to rest so easily on God’s promises? The promise is intangible, the land is right before his eyes, how did he manage to overcome his temptation to walk by sight, and walk instead by faith?

Well, this is how the story of the conflict with Lot concludes.

GENESIS 13:18 18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

We have seen this before, in verse 2-4, at the beginning of this episode with Lot.

GENESIS 13:1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

GENESIS 13:2-4 2 Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 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, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.

This episode is framed by Abraham building altars to the Lord. It is a story framed by worship from beginning to end. Abraham’s altars indicated that he brought God’s reality and presence with him wherever he went.

Whatever he did, the reality, the person, and the promises of God are ever before him. Without that perspective, all we have to rely on to make decisions is our human, earthly sight.

This is the reason why, unless you sleep throughout from Monday-to-Saturday, coming to worship once a week on Sunday is grossly insufficient. It is necessary to carry with you, the presence of God, wherever you go, It is necessary to be reminded of the promise of God, each day of the week, which means daily devotion is not a bonus, but essential, which Christian fellowship outside of Sundays is not so much a good to have, but a must to have.

Otherwise you will lose sight and confidence in a generous God, and fail to live out a generous faith. Otherwise, instead of giving in, you will find yourself, like an orphan, always fearing that you’ll lose out, struggling for survival, fighting to win all of the time.

The church of Corinth did not fight over who had the better land. They fought over who had the better pastor. Some were boasting that they had Paul, others Apollos, others Peter.

Here what Paul says:

1 COR 3:21-23 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, 23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

What’s all this fighting about? It’s yours, they’re all yours, everything is yours, even the world to come. Which means what? That as his people, in this world, we can give in, and we will not lose out. The future is ours. Nothing will be taken away.

If we believe in this, we can in humility count others more significant than ourselves. We can afford to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.

PHIL 2:4-5 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, And how do we know we won’t be shortchanged at the end of the day if we live this way?

Because Christ’s example shows us that losing, emptying, giving in, is the way the Christian wins.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by 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. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God is glorified in raising up the humble, rewarding those who give in, he did it for Christ as an example to follow, he will do it for us also.

Faith is willing to give in, because it rests on the promises of God. That’s our first point.

Next, faith is willing to give to. Or give away.

GENESIS 14:8-9 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddimwith Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five.

There is war going on, five kings from the East, verse four kings from the Jordan Valley. So the victors raided the cities of the losers, which included Sodom, where Lot had been living.

11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram's brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

Notice, by the way, the emphasis on possessions. The spoils of war are prominent and significant.

GENESIS 14:13-14 13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

Abraham was notified of Lot’s captivity and so he went in pursuit of his nephew. And he won.

GENESIS 14:15-16 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah,north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.

Notice again, the repetition of possessions. This is why wars are fought, for possessions. That was point of this war. The possessions are the main thing.

And this is what happens in the aftermath.

GENESIS 14:17-18 17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)

After his victory, interesting, Abraham was met by two kings. The king of Sodom and the king of Salem.

And we are told this about Melchizedek, the king of Salem. He was priest of God Most High. He is the priest of Abraham’s God.

And Melchizedek pronounces a blessing on Abraham.

GENESIS 14:19-20 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High,Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High,who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

In his benediction, Melchizedek not only blesses Abraham but reminds Abraham of the source and reason for his victory over the 5 kings.

That is, God Most High has delivered your enemies into your hand.

And Abraham responded by giving Melchizedek a tithe of all the spoils of war.

What is Abraham doing? Abraham is worshipping.

That’s what we commonly say in Hermon during our offertory. Let us continue to worship God with out tithes and offering.

It’s an act of worship to the God who delivered Abraham’s enemies into his hand.

Did Melchizedek ask for a tithe? No, Abraham willingly, independently, worshipfully gave to God.

The tithe indicates that you desire God to be with you.

The Israelites tithed to the Levitical priesthood in order to upkeep the tabernacle and the worship of God in their nation. You tithe so that the house of God can be maintained, and the worship of God can be sustained. And this important because you believe that God is the one who sustains you, and gives you victory over your enemies.

If you don’t believe that, if you don’t think you need God with you, then forget about upkeeping the temple. Save your tithes, let it be. In other words, tithing is a reflection of how important you believe God is, to your life.

Are you aware, that you don’t go to jail if you don’t pay your water bills? All they do it restrict your water flow, so you only get a trickle.

About 10% of households in Singapore are in arrears of their water bills. We have about 150 people here. So statistically speaking, at least 5. Raise Hand.

Just under 1% of households are in arrears of their electricity bill. You also won’t go to jail. You just get minimal electricity. Maybe shower halfway, only cold water. Sleep halfway, wake sweaty, aircon not working. Handphone charge halfway, stop charging. Watch Netflix halfway, no wifi. That’s what happens.

But you don’t have to be afraid. Not a crime if you don’t pay your utility bills. You just get very little water and very little electricity. Knowing this, how many of will go home today and reconsider whether or not to continue paying utility bills?

None of you. Why? Because water and electricity is vital, essential, fundamental to your way of life. You want ready access to water and electricity whenever you need it, however much you need of it. You won’t consider, you cannot envision life without water and electricity. Even if you can, your kids won’t allow it.

Now, what if I told you that if you do not tithe, it is not violation of God’s will. It is, by the way, just to be clear. But hypothetically, what if. What if tithing is no longer a biblical practice to observe, no longer a demand of the law, no longer a requirement for the Christian?

Would you re-consider tithing? December going for expensive holiday, I think maybe don’t tithe in December. Wah, this month fridge breakdown, need to buy new fridge, I think cannot afford to tithe this month.

If that thought would occur to you, perhaps that is because the church and its ministries, not least its worship is not essential, and vital, and fundamental to your way of life, as much as water and electricity is. So tithing becomes, not critical, but optional somehow.

But faith in a God who graciously shields you, protects you and delivers you from your enemies is a God you would want to have with you always, his house and his worship will be essential to you. Giving to God is easy, because God has given you all things.

1 TIMOTHY 6:17-19 17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Faith is willing to give, because God has richly given, that’s our second point.

We come to our final point: Faith is willing to Give Up.

Now it is turn for the king of Sodom to speak, and he simply says

GENESIS 14:21 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.”

And Abraham replied, “Thank you very much, don’t mind if I do.”

Not exactly. This is what he says.

GENESIS 14:21-24 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”

Abraham says, thanks but no thanks. Why?

Because he concerned for the glory of God. He did not want to be enriched by the grace and generosity of the sinful, pagan king of Sodom. He wants to be able to say, if I am rich, if I am blessed, it is because God has given me, not you.

Straightaway, if we were in Abraham’s shoes, we would connect the dots, and justify it this way: Ah, but God is blessing me through the generosity of the king of Sodom. So can take.

This text warns us against making such easy assumptions. The king of Sodom is wicked and sinful, and Abraham understands that he must not fraternize with him, not create any bonds with him. He is not of God, he is of the world.

When I was in army, I couldn’t wait enter university and you know, recover a sense purpose and meaning, and an orientation towards an actual life goal. Because NS is like limbo, it’s not my career, it’s not getting me anywhere.

So I told myself, the moment I entered university, I was going to go full on, study like mad, because finally, I get to do something of worth. And that’s what I did.

In my first year in SMU, I studied day and night. Yea, I attended Christian Fellowship, and I came to church, I was leading worship, teaching in Sunday School, leading the Young Adults. But school was where my heart was. My focus was not on being the best Christian I could be, but the student I could be. That was my heart-orientation.

At the end of the first year, one evening, a coursemate texted me to say, “Hey the results are out!” And I was so nervous, I went to my computer to check my grades. In my first year of uni I ended with straight As, with a few A+s thrown in for good measure.

And I instinctively knelt down to pray, to thank God for blessing me with straight As. But I knelt and I closed my eyes and I bowed my head, but the words would not come out. Something in me said, “Luwin, were these grades obtained as a result of your relationship with God, such that you can attributed to His blessing, or were they obtained at the expense of your relationship with God, so the grades are merely a reflection of your relationship with the world rather than God’s blessing.”

And I knew, I knew, these grades were obtained through compromising and sacrificing my devotion to Jesus. I had blessed myself.

Abraham was willing to give up any blessing from anyone else other than God. So that at the end of the day, he can say, if I am blessed, it is because God has blessed me, and no one else, not the king of Sodom.

So let us think a bit about our “blessings” in our lives, and the source of these blessings.

It’s common to hear Christians say, God has blessed me with a good career, with a big house, with a nice car, with a fancy holiday. They’ll put it up on social media, “flying first class on SQ, legs up on the reclining seat, caviar on the tray table.” #blessed “Medium rare wagyu tomahawk at Cut by Puck, with two wine glasses in the frame” #blessed.

How do we know these things are a blessing from God, and isn’t simply a successfully attempt by Satan tempting us to indulge in our comfort and luxury, without regard for God’s will for our money? In other words, how do we know that it is God in heaven, rather than the King of Sodom who has “made us rich”?

Again, it’s convenient to say, “but all things ultimately come from God’s hand”. True. But Abraham made a distinction between the instrumental hand, and so did Jesus, when Satan offered him all the kingdoms of the world.

Abraham’s example calls us to be more circumspect with our supposed blessings in life. We do not need to live poorer than what God has blessed us to be, but we need to take care that we do not live larger and richer than what God has blessed us to be.

It calls for us to eat and drink, and travel and play, and shop and spend, in a way that we can say, “all for the glory of God”.

Faith is willing to give up, because God must be glorified.

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