Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
In the previous post in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we saw that at the end of everything God does is the purpose to reveal His glory, to show Himself glorious. And we saw that this means that mankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us.
In this post we hope to see the Bible not as 66 books that happen to be bound by one cover, but as one book. The Bible has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction is the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the body starts at Genesis 12 and goes through to Jude, and the conclusion is Revelation.
Do you read the Bible as a collection of 66 different books that are just collected and bound together? Or do you read the Bible as a single book with a beginning, the main body, and a conclusion?
Now, in a well-written book, the author will begin to reveal major themes in the introduction. One of the keys to the correct interpretation of the Bible is to detect these themes and follow how the author develops them throughout the book. It is silly to try to interpret the Bible without some idea of its emphasis and purpose. This post looks at two fundamental themes that first appear in Genesis 1:28.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The first theme is that God wants to bless His creation. In the context of the blessing, we discover the second theme, dealing with God’s purpose for the blessing which involves man’s responsibility.
The two themes are restated in Genesis 9:1 and further defined in Genesis 12:1-3. Before we go to Genesis 12, here is a summary of what happens in the introduction of the Bible.
This is the backdrop from which God calls Abram to leave his country and declares His covenant with him.
Genesis 12:1-3, which begins the main story of the Bible, outlines the covenant God makes with Abram. And as you might imagine from the introduction, there are two elements to the covenant. There is the blessing element and the responsibility element. Don Richardson, who wrote the book “Eternity in Their Hearts” calls these two elements the top line and bottom line of the covenant. The top line is God’s blessing and the bottom line is Abram’s responsibility.
So God promises to bless Abram by giving him land (v1), making him into a great nation (v2) and a great name (v2). But along with the blessing comes the bottom line, the responsibility. Abram was to be a blessing (v2) and that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (v3). And so the implication is that Abram is blessed in order to be a blessing. That’s the top line and the bottom line of the covenant God made with Abram. You will be blessed but you must be a blessing.
God later confirms His covenant with Abraham and repeats it to his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, giving clarification of its themes. Check out the following passages.
As you read the Bible you will discover the parallel nature of the two themes of blessing and purpose/responsibility. The danger is in failing to keep these two themes in their parallel tension. Our tendency is to see God’s blessings apart from our responsibility and His purpose for the blessing. That failure leads to an egocentric faith with ourselves at the centre of everything.
I want to challenge you to look at the following four stories and think about what God was doing in each instance. We will look more closely at these questions in the next blog post.
Oh sing to the LORD and new song,
sing to the LORD all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless His name;
tell of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvellous works among the peoples! (Psalm 96:1-3)
Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did God create men and
women? What is the chief aim of God? Not His only passion or motivation,
but His ultimate passion for which all other passions are subordinate. When
every other reason is eliminated but one, what is this one? This one
would be His ultimate design for creation and indeed for every action He takes.
As was pointed out in the introduction, there is a very real tendency to place ourselves (mankind) as the ultimate passion or motivation of God. We tend to think that this Christianity is all about us, as though we are the centre of God’s universe, and that our needs form the basis for His actions. We think that God’s ultimate purpose is to grant us salvation and enjoy us forever. And this perspective leads us to believe that the ultimate objective of missions is man.
As you look at the Scriptures in this blog post, ask yourself these questions: What does the Bible say is the ultimate goal of God? What is the ultimate goal of His activity in the world?
“He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6).
God created the natural world to display His glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1).
“You are my servant Israel in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3); “. . . that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory (Jeremiah 13:11).
“He saved them at the Red Sea for His name’s sake that He might make known His mighty power” (Psalm l06:7-8); “I have raised you up for this very purpose of showing my power in you, so that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Romans 9:17).
“I acted in the wilderness for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out (Ezekiel 20:14).
After Israel asked for a king “Fear not . . . For the Lord will not cast away His people for His great name’s sake (l Samuel 12:20-22).
“Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act [in bringing you back from the exile], but for the sake of My holy name…And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name . . . and the nations will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, 32). “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).
“Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy” (Romans 15:8-9).
“Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27, 28).
“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
“God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
“I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
“Whoever serves [let him serve], as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11).
“Immediately an angel of the Lord smote [Herod] because he did not give glory to God” (Acts 12:23).
“. . . when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marvelled at in all who have believed (2 Thessalonians l:9-l0).
“Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given Me, may be with me where I am, to behold My glory, which thou hast given Me in Thy love for Me before the foundation of the world” (John l7:24).
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
From these Scriptures, we can now answer the questions asked at the beginning of this post. Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did God create men and women? What is the chief aim of God in everything He does?
The answer is that the ultimate purpose and chief aim in everything God does is for the praise of His glory and His grace. God’s passion for His name and should be our central motivation in everything we do, including missions. God is not receiving the worship that is due His name; therefore, the mission of the Church is to call out worshippers from among the nations. Every church and every follower of Jesus Christ is called to participate in this global activity.
As author Joh Piper puts it in his book Let the Nations Be Glad, “God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshippers for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of His name among the nations. Therefore, let us bring our affections into line with His, and for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join His global purpose.”
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? What steps can you take to bring your affections more in line with His? What role could you have in the goal of gathering worshippers from every people, tongue, tribe and nation?
Leave a comment and let us know how you answer these questions.
Have you ever been convinced that you knew something? Have you ever had a discussion about what you thought you knew for sure? Have you ever argued with someone who disagreed with what you thought you knew for sure? Have you ever realized that what you thought you knew for sure, what you had argued for, turned out to be incorrect? Or incomplete?
I’m afraid this of the case for some of us who call ourselves Christian. We think we know what God is up to and believe that we are cooperating with God in His purpose and activities on earth. Everywhere you look in the Bible you see God’s all about blessing us. He loves to bless us and we love to be blessed. So let’s all enjoy the blessings of God.
What we have done is turned the Word of God into something that is all about us. But I don’t think that is true. The Bible is God’s Word and in it He reveals Himself to us and His purposes on the earth. And you know what? It’s not about us. We are in the story but the story is not about us.
We certainly are blessed, but it is not just so that we can be blessed. There is more to it than that.
How do I know? Because the Bible tells me so.
Let’s take a test. If I were to say the first few words of a well-known verse of the Bible, could you complete the verse for me? Here’s the start of the verse…
Be still and…
I expect that as you read these three words, other words came to mind and you easily said, know that I am God. Of course you did because we all know and love that verse. Psalm 46:10 is a favourite verse because it speaks of perhaps the greatest blessing that God has given to those whose sins have been forgiven. To know God is the very best.
There’s just one problem, though. You didn’t complete the verse. Be still and know that I am God is just ⅓ of the verse. So you were not incorrect, just incomplete.
Here’s the whole verse.
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10).
The first part of the verse is about us (if we have been born again). But the second part, fully ⅔ of the verse is about God. Without even thinking about it, we made a verse mostly about God into a truncated version that is about us. The blessing of knowing God has global implications, dealing with nations and the earth.
The major focus of North American Christian thought and practice may seem to be, “What can God do for me?” Our lives and our prayers reflect the belief that God’s ultimate priority is to make His disciples more comfortable. Don’t misunderstand me; I believe that God does want to bless us and that God’s desire to bless His people is a major theme of the Bible. But if we focus on the theme of blessing alone, we distort the truth and lose the context in which God’s blessings are given.
Over the course of eight more blog posts, I hope to create an awareness of one of the most ignored themes of the Bible - God’s global purpose: His desire and activity of redeeming mankind, the nations, to Himself. It involves the active pursuit of worshippers from all the peoples of the earth that will give Him the glory that is due His name. God’s blessings and His global purpose are beautifully woven together in the Bible. My belief is that in order to correctly interpret and apply Scripture, it is necessary to understand the connection of these two themes. To ignore either one leads to misinterpretation and faulty application. Ultimately, lives will be misdirected.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to the truth of His Word as you read and think on the next eight posts on this topic of God’s heart for the nations and that you will respond to His guidance in applying His truth.
Take a few moments to think of two or three people you know who might want to go through this series of posts. Share this with them. Maybe you would go through this together, as a group. If you do, please let us know.
And don’t forget to share this on your favourite social media channels as well. Let’s get the word out and then do the work of missions until there is no place left where Jesus is not known (Romans 15:23).