Agree with One Another

 

Week of August 28, 2011

 

Bible Verses:Genesis 13:1-12; Romans 12:16-18; 15:5-6.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson highlights the command for believers to live in agreement with one another. The biblical account of the conflict between Abram and his nephew Lot is presented as an example of how to work toward solutions in the midst of disagreement.

 

Reality of Disagreements: Genesis 13:1-7.

 

[1]So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. [2]Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. [3]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, [4]to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD. [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.[ESV]

 

This incident presents a contrast between Abram and Lot. Let us begin by looking at Abramís spiritual state at this time. Abram had been in Egypt through a lack of confidence in God and had suffered humiliation there as a result of his unbelief. He had begun by doubting God. He left his place of worship. He grew self-confident. One sin led to another, and his own sin spread. He suffered the temporary loss of his wife. Finally, he was rebuked by Pharaoh. It was a sad, and no doubt greatly subdued, man who eventually led his little company back to Canaan. Yet Abram was wiser. He had doubted God once and had seen where that had led. As we read the opening verses of Genesis 13 we get a picture of the patriarch moving restlessly on until he reached Bethel, where he had been at first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord [4]. What did Abram do when he called on the Lord? Undoubtedly he confessed his sin and was restored to full communion. He had sinned and gotten into trouble. But he was willing to admit that it was sin and confess it to God. Abram had tasted the fruit of sin and did not want to repeat the experience. Now, whatever else might come, he wanted to be served at the table of the Lord. This was not the case with Lot, Abramís nephew. Lot probably reasoned that the sin in going down to Egypt was Abramís, not his, and he probably disassociated himself from Abramís humiliation. But in thinking himself better at this point than his uncle, he failed to recognize his own sin and therefore began to sow seeds that were to grow up into contention with Abram and lead eventually to his own sad decline. Who was Lot? He was the son of Abramís brother Haran, who had remained behind in the land of the Chaldeans when Abram went to Canaan. One might expect that Lot would have remained with his father. But either caught up in the enthusiasm of Abramís decision to be a pilgrim or else merely desiring a change or a bettering of his condition, Lot went with Abram. He was swept into the current of Abramís faith. He would have thought that he was as much in earnest about spiritual things as Abram. But he was mistaken. Consequently, when the real tests came he chose the world and its rewards, thus escaping destruction with nothing but his soulís salvation.

 

Seeking of Solutions: Genesis 13:8-12.

 

[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." [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.[ESV]

 

The fact that Lotís failure came from a lack of principle and not from a deliberate selection of evil is evident in the account, for the test at which he fell came indirectly. Lot and Abram had prospered. They had much livestock and many servants, some of whom had come from Egypt. So when they got back to the hill country from which they had set out, they found that the land that had been able to sustain them when they were less wealthy was now inadequate, and quarreling inevitably arose between Abramís herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. Whose flocks should have the choice pasture? In a situation like this, the petty quarreling between the servants of the two men was bound to affect their own relationship. So Abram, the wiser of the two, determined to nip it in the bud. He suggested that the two should part company [8-9]. Here was a mature and sensitive move on Abramís part. As the older man and the leader in the entire adventure, it was his right to have first choice. But he had learned something important. When he had gone to Egypt, he had chosen for himself and had gotten into great difficulty. Now he was content to leave the choices with God and to trust God for his future provision. Therefore, since he was sure God would provide, he held the things of this world loosely. If God gave them, that was all right. Abram would hold them in trust from God and use them for Godís glory. But if God took them away, that was fine too. For Abram had God and, having him, had the only thing that ultimately mattered. Poor Lot! His life was shallow, and confronted with a choice like this, he could not help but choose what seemed better materially, regardless of the company he would have to keep in order to have it. He looked from the heights of Bethel to the plain of the Jordan, saw that it was well watered and chose the Jordan. You may think that you are different from Lot. But if you have put your job ahead of your familyís spiritual life, if you have put your social advancement ahead of a proper association with Godís people, if you have let your choice of a home keep you from a church in which you can grow in faith and worship Ė you have moved from the highlands to the plain of the Jordan. It is significant that this is the first place wealth is mentioned in the Bible. Notice that although both Abram and Lot were wealthy, each had a different relationship to his own wealth. Abram had the flocks, but they did not have him. On the other hand, Lotís flocks possessed him. Consequently, Abram became the father of the faithful, while Lot became the father of all who are possessed by their possessions and who are saved, if they are saved, only as through fire [1 Cor. 3:15]. Lotís wealth became the occasion of quarreling, and since he was a believer, he had to learn by losing it all. A faithful God saw that they were taken from him. Chapter 12 describes the downward path of unbelief illustrated in the case of Abram. There is a downward path for Lot too. Only, Lotís fall is worse. Abram fell through lack of confidence in God, but Abram had not put anything in place of God. Lot had. He chose things over God, and the results were terrible. The first step in Lotís fall is that he looked towards Sodom. This looking was not a mere looking with the eyes, for Abram himself would have done that. Abram as well as Lot knew that there was a fertile plain along the Jordan River and that the cities of the plain were in it. Lotís looking was a looking with the heart, which was a longing. He was in the hill country with Abram. He had been prospered by God, as had Abram. But he was not satisfied with that. He wanted the things he imagined he was still missing. He wanted what Sodom represented. So with covetous eyes he looked in that direction. Second, he pitched his tents near Sodom. Lot wanted to live near enough to Sodom to enjoy its supposed advantages but not get caught up in its life. As time went on, however, the same spirit that brought him to the valley brought him to the city, and the third step in Lotís fall took place [14:12]. There is one other stage, the fourth, in Lotís ruin. We are told that Lot sat in the gateway of Sodom [19:1]. That is, Lot had become one of the elders of the city, one of its political and business leaders.

 

Grounds of Agreement: Romans 12:16-18; 15:5-6.

 

[16]Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. [17]Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. [18]If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

[15:5]May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, [6]that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.[ESV]

 

[12:16-18]The transition from verse 15 to verse 16 is a natural one: the mutual sympathy that Paul calls for in verse 15 is possible only if Christians share a common mind-set. The one another language of verse 15 picks up the same theme from verse 10. Paulís first exhortation uses language that he uses elsewhere to denote unity of thinking among Christians: harmony with one another. Paul is calling us to a common mind-set. Such a common mind-set does not mean that we must all think in just the same way or that we must think exactly the same thing about every issue, but that we should adopt an attitude toward everything that touches our lives, that springs from the renewed mind of the new realm to which we belong by Godís grace. As Paul recognizes elsewhere (see Phil. 2:2-4), the biggest barrier to unity is pride. Therefore, Paul next warns us about thinking too highly of ourselves. Our overly exalted opinion of ourselves, leading us to think that we are always right and others wrong and that our opinions matter more than others, often prevents the church from exhibiting the unity to which God calls her. The positive antidote to such pride, Paul says, is association with the lowly. It is not certain what Paul means by this positive exhortation. The adjective lowly could be neuter, in which case Paul might be urging Christians, in contrast to being haughty, to devote themselves to humble tasks. But lowly could also refer to persons, in which case Paul would be exhorting believers to associate with ďlowly people,Ē that is, the outcasts, the poor, and the needy. A decision between these two options is impossible to make; both fit the context well and both are paralleled in the New Testament. The word wise in the final exhortation continues Paulís use of the root word for thinking in this section of verses. The quality denoted by the word is a positive one. It becomes negative only when the standard by which we judge our wisdom is our own. It is this subjectivity and arrogance that Paul warns us about here: Never be wise in your own sight. After two verses that exhort Christians about their relations to one another, Paul concludes his description of the manifestations of ďgenuine loveĒ [9] with admonitions about the attitude Christians are to adopt toward non-Christians [17-21]. As in verse 14, where Paul first touched on this topic, his focus is on the way Christians are to respond to non-Christians who persecute and in other ways do evil to believers. Thus the prohibition of retaliation in verse 17 expands on Paulís warning that we are not to curse our persecutors in verse 14. Here again, Paulís dependence on Jesusí teaching is clear. For not only did Jesus exhort us to love and pray for our enemies; in the same context he also warns us not to exact an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth [Matt. 5:38]. In a pattern similar to that in verses 14 and 16, the negative prohibition is paired with a positive injunction. Doing good to all is something to be planned and not just willed. Paul wants us to commend ourselves before non-Christians by seeking to do those good things that non-Christians approve and recognize. There is, of course, an unstated limitation to this command, one that resides in the word honorable itself. For Paul would certainly not want us to have forgotten that the good that he speaks of throughout these verses is defined in terms of the will of God [2]. The close relation between the exhortation in verse 18 with the last one in verse 17 is obvious: both urge Christians to pursue behavior that will have a positive impact on all people. Paul assumes that Christians are in conflict with the world around them. Paul acknowledges that much such conflict is unavoidable by adding to his exhortation to live peaceably the double qualification if possible, so far as it depends on you. But Paul does not want Christians to use the inevitability of tension with the world as an excuse for behavior that needlessly exacerbates that conflict or for a resignation that leads us not even to bother to seek to maintain a positive witness.

[15:5-6]Verses 5-6 contain a prayer of intercession that Paul offers to God and records for the benefit of the Roman Christians. By sharing the contents of his prayer with them, Paul uses it as an indirect means of exhortation. With this prayer, then, Paul returns to his central concern throughout 14:1-15:13: restoring the unity of the Roman church. Paul links his prayer to verse 4 by addressing God as the God of endurance and encouragement. God alone is doubtless the author of patience and of consolation; for He conveys both to our hearts by His Spirit, while using His word as the instrument. Paul signals his intent to begin bringing his exhortation to the strong and the weak to a conclusion by using a second person plural verb to address the entire community and by introducing the one another theme that occurs at crucial junctures in the exhortation. Paul prays specifically that God might give to the Roman Christians the ability to live in such harmony or ďto think the same thing.Ē In light of Paulís insistence that both the strong and the weak respect one anotherís views on the debated issues, we must not think that Paul prays that the two groups may come to the same opinion on these issues. He is, rather, asking God to give them, despite their differences of opinion, a common perspective and purpose. Paulís concern is not, at least primarily, that the believers in Rome all hold the same opinion of these ďindifferent matters,Ē but that they remain united in their devotion to the Lord Jesus and to His service in the world. The unity, therefore, as Paul prays, should be in accord with Christ Jesus. Unity among the Roman Christians is important, and Paul uses many words seeking to encourage it. But this unity has a more important ultimate object: the glory of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only when the Roman community is united, only when the Christians in Rome can act with one accord and speak with one voice, will they be able to glorify God in the way that He deserves to be glorified. Divisions in the church over nonessentials diverts precious time and energy from its basic mission: the proclamation of the gospel and the glorifying of God.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What did Abram learn from his time in Egypt? Why is 13:4 a key verse in this section that shows us what Abram learned? How does Abram put what he learned into practice concerning his relationship with Lot?

 

2.†††††††† What do we learn about Lot in these verses? What serious mistakes does Lot make?

 

3.†††††††† List the seven commands that Paul gives in 12:16-18. Ask God to enable you to be obedient to these commands so that the unity of both your local church and the global church can be enhanced. Memorize the prayer in 15:5-6 this week.

 

References:

Genesis, Volume 2, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.