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"Can't We All Get Along?"

August 1, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: Genesis 25:19-26

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“Can’t We All Get Along?”

Genesis 25:19-28

August 1, 2020

Today, we leave Abraham and jump forward a bit.  I leave for your reading the first 18 verses of Genesis 25, which describes Abraham’s re-marriage after Sarah’s death, Abraham’s death, and Ishmael’s descendants.  After last week’s marathon, I thought you might be able to pick up those verses on your own.

When we get to the latter half of Chapter 25, Isaac had grown, married, and Rebekah was pregnant. That’s where we will pick up the story.

Read Genesis 25:19-28

This is the Word of the LORD.

Prayer of Invocation

 

And now, we come to one of the most uncomfortable topics for a preacher to discuss – even more uncomfortable than money: election.  God chooses.  Fair warning: this is going to be a bit of a heady sermon.

God chooses.  Not us, not me, not a committee, not a review board; God chooses.  It is not up for debate.  It is not a question of whether it should be this way; Scripture reveals it is this way.

We struggle to accept this because it suggests that we do not play any part in our own salvation.  What do you mean, we don’t choose?  I can hear some of you thinking right now, “I chose; I experienced it.  I chose – at least I think I did; am I making that up?”

We struggle to understand.  Just because it is difficult for us to understand, though, does not mean that we can dismiss it or ignore it.  John Calvin, author if the Institutes of the Christian Religion, entered into the discussion of God’s election this way, “[W]e should not investigate what the Lord has left hidden in secret, …we should not neglect what he has brought into the open, so that we may not be convicted of excessive curiosity on the one hand, or of excessive ingratitude on the other.”  Book III, Ch. XXI., Sec. 4.

The story is told of a group of theologians who were discussing the tension between predestination and free will.  Things became so heated that the group broke up into two opposing factions.

But one man, not knowing which to join, stood for a moment trying to decide.  At last, he joined the predestination group.  "Who sent you here?" they asked.  "No one sent me," he replied. "I came of my own free will."  "Free will," they exclaimed. "You can't join us!  You belong with the other group!" 

So he followed their orders and went to the other clique.  There someone asked, "When did you decide to join us?"  The young man replied, "Well, I didn't really decide--I was sent here."  "Sent here," they shouted.  "You can't join us unless you have decided by your own free will!"[1] 

Does that sound familiar?  Have you ever felt like that man?

When Rebecca was pregnant, it was revealed to her that God had chosen Jacob.  God chose Jacob.  As we consider what is the meaning of this passage, we should note the primary commentary on Genesis 25 is Romans 9.  Paul engaged in some rabbinical teaching to the early church in Rome.

…[S]omething similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac.  Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.”  As it is written, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.”  What then are we to say?  Is there injustice on God’s part?  By no means!  For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.”  (Romans 9:8-16 NRSV)

So, there it is: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  What do we do with that?  What do we know about election?

By the way, I am aware that a number of you are thinking, “Yeah, but…” as in “yeah, but what about verses like John 3:16 – ‘whosoever believes’; or that call for us to make a decision?”  Let me just say two things here: 1) Yes, those verses exist; and, 2) no, we are not going to resolve the tension between the two here this morning.  My hope is that we have the humility to recognize that certainty on this matter resides with God – and – that we recognize that God has commanded us to love one another through our disagreements.

John Calvin spends an extended time in Book III of the Institutes talking about election.  What I am sharing with you today will be a summary of some of that material because I think Calvin accurately teaches what Scripture reveals; and also because a good dose of Calvin is a blessing to the Presbyterian soul.

As Calvin describes in the Institutes (Book III, Chapters XXI through XXIV in a section entitled, “The Way We Receive The Grace of Christ”), there are three elements of election we need to consider: God’s choosing, the objections to the mystery of God’s choosing by those who reject God, and the gratitude and joy of those whose confidence is founded upon the blessing of God’s choosing.

  1. God’s Choosing

Scripture is somewhat redundant in making clear that God is God and humans are not.  It does not sit comfortably with us; yet, the facts are what they are.

Why is it important to know that God is God?  Why do I keep harping on this “sovereignty of God” theme?  I keep mentioning it because God keeps mentioning it; and I keep mentioning it because we – meaning I – keep forgetting it.  I often get to my car after a Sunday morning and think, “OK, I can check worship off the list for today; what else am I going to do with my day?”  My day?  And I am the preacher!

The days we are given are the days God has given us.  Psalm 139 says of God, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. …Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.  In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”

These are not our days; these are the days God chose for us to have.  The Psalmist concluded, “How weighty are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you.”

God has created us for a purpose – a purpose He chose.  It is God’s divine right to mold us like clay, to determine beforehand the things by which we will glorify Him.  As Paul pointed out, God chose Jacob over Esau in the womb, not on the basis of anything Jacob had done or would do.

God chooses.

  1. Objections to the Mystery of God’s choosing by those who reject God

Calvin enumerated five standard objections often raised to the mystery of God’s election.  It is basically an exposition of Paul’s Roman’s 9 argument:

“You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault?  For who can resist his will?”  But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God?  Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?”  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24 NRSV)

I have always found Mathew 20 helpful in understanding some of these things.  Matthew 20 has Jesus’ parable of the landowner who hired laborers at the first, third, sixth, ninth, and last hours of the day.  When the laborers lined up to get paid, the last hired went first and received a full day’s pay.  When those who worked the whole day received the same, they grumbled.  The landowner responded, “1) You were not cheated. 2) I am allowed to do what I want with what is mine. 3) Are you envious because I am generous?”

We are going to go through these five objections briefly, but they will be familiar, and you will see how Calvin’s emphasis on the sovereignty of a gracious God addresses them.  It is God’s freely given love that is the foundation for understanding who God is and who we are.

a.  Objection: The doctrine of election makes God a tyrant.

People ask what right does God have to become angry at his creatures who have done nothing to provoke him by a previous event?  In other words, what right does God have to decide whom to save and whom to commit to damnation?

The answer to this is in the question: God is God.  God is holy, pure, loving, and righteous.  We know from the mouth of Jesus that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  That “whosoever” believes in him does not cast an indiscriminate net; it specifies that God gives some grace to believe.

We know God’s character is good. We know God’s ways are different than our own; and we know that we can trust God to behave according to His character – righteous and just.

Ultimately, God’s holiness is the standard to which men are held accountable.  Our own observation demonstrates that all – except Christ himself – have failed to meet that standard. Instead of lamenting the fact that God’s standard is the standard, we rejoice because God has given us a savior to his glory.  Our inability to meet God’s standard drives us into the arms of Christ.

b.  Objection: The doctrine of election takes guilt and responsibility away from man

The second objection is that if God created some men while knowing they would sin, He cannot then hold them guilty.  What can they do; if they cannot fight against his decrees, why should they be guilty?

Here, the hard realization of God being the center of the story – and not us – confronts us directly.  As Calvin points out, in Proverbs, Solomon declared, “God has made everything for himself, even the wicked for the evil day.”  In other words, all things have a purpose including some who serve his glory by their own destruction.

God’s holiness remains the standard.  Our brokenness, sin, and guilt are the problem – we do not live up to God’s standard.  We deserve judgment.  We are not cheated.  Judgment is effected for all; the difference is that Jesus’ sacrifice bears the price for those who believe. God’s election is an expression of grace, addressing the guilt and responsibility that sinners bear.

c.  Objection: The doctrine of election shows that God is not fair; that God shows partiality to some

If God takes some and not others, does that not mean God is playing favorites?  This is the classic complaint of children, “Mom always liked you better.”

Scripture is clear that God does not show partiality to persons.  No one avoids accountability based upon any status they have.  Calvin asks rhetorically, “Do you think that there is anything in him who is taken that disposes God to him?”  In other words, is there anything at all in anyone which merits God’s approval over another?  The answer is - no.  As Paul wrote in Romans 9, “Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call).”

Judgment applies to all.  For those whom God has chosen and redeemed by grace through faith, judgment is satisfied through Jesus’ self-sacrifice.  For the rest, judgment is based on their own (lacking) righteousness.  Those who are angry with God seek the same punishment for everyone, rejecting that any should be saved by God’s grace.  Calvin quotes Augustine, “The Lord can therefore also give grace…to whom he will … because he is merciful, and not give to all because he is a just judge.  For by giving to some what they do not deserve, …he can show his free grace…By not giving to all, he can manifest what all deserve.” 

d.  Objection: The doctrine of election destroys zeal for an upright life

What difference does it make what you do if you are elect?  If you already have eternally life predestined for you, why would you bother trying to please God and not just please yourself?  If it makes no difference, why not “eat, drink, and be merry; what will be, will be?”  The argument here is that predestination eliminates any incentive for obeying God’s command.

This is nonsense.  On the one hand, election is not a label to wear proudly as if you have achieved something worthy of praise to your own account; it is a gift that you have received to the praise of God’s glory.  Election simply affords us the opportunity to tremble at God’s judgment and hold his grace and mercy in high esteem.  The consequence of the cross is not to cut you free to sin more boldly; the point of the cross is to cut you free from bondage to sin and to draw you ever closer to God.

But then, you will hear someone say, “What about the person I know who is really good, really trying to do the right things, who has touched all these lives.  Isn’t she just wasting time?  If God has not included her among the elect, how is it not cruel to have her go forward with these endeavors in futility?”

Calvin argued that no one is able to do those things outside of the purpose and direction of God.  We ought not presume to know another’s heart.  It may be God is grooming and cultivating that person for some purpose that will reveal His glory later on.

e.  Objection: The doctrine of election makes all admonitions meaningless (no point in evangelism)

What is the point of being vulnerable and sharing your testimony if God has already determined who is in and who is out?  Why go out and do mission work if everything has already been decided?

Calvin pointed to Paul.  Because much of Calvin’s understanding of election was found in the writings of Paul, it would make sense that Paul did nothing to go out and spread the gospel; right?  Except, we know Paul was a voracious witness for Christ, setting out on the road and enduring much hardship.  Paul wrote this about his ministry in 2 Corinthians,

Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I received a stoning.  Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.  And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.  (2 Corinthians 11:7-9, 21-33 NRSV)

The point is that Paul did not hesitate to proclaim the gospel in good times and in bad, in safety and in danger, in season and out of season – even though he firmly understood God’s election.

“But why,” Calvin quotes Augustine again, “should these have ears to hear, and those have them not?  ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?’ (Romans 11:34)  Must that which is manifest be denied because that which is hidden cannot be comprehended?” ]In other words, just because we do not know why God freely chooses to grant the hearing of the gospel to some does not mean we are excused from sharing the good news at all.

In short, God uses us as the instruments of effecting His grace.  Our urgency – like Paul’s – is due to the joy of our salvation by God’s grace and our wanting to share it with others.

  1. Gratitude and Joy founded on the blessing of God’s choosing

Whew.  Those were the objections.  Now, let me turn to the blessing.

Where did we start?  Oh, yes, with the birth of Jacob and Esau.  It seems like we went afar afield from our text; yet, it is the very mystery of God that we are encountering in their birth.  Go back and look at our text again:

“The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”  So she went to inquire of the Lord.  And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”” (Genesis 25:22-23 NRSV)

In this text we see God’s election revealed.  It is not always so revealed, and we should not presume to be able to determine where it is so.  This prophetic word frames the narrative for quite a while as the twins grow up.  We will see that in the next few weeks.  All does not go smoothly for Jacob, but the fact remains that he is the one through whom the covenant promise will flow.  He does not always act in the most admirable fashion, but it does not change the revelation of Scripture that God chose to use him.

There is incredible freedom found in God’s choosing.  Think about it: all the peer pressure, all the expectations, all of the anxiety we experience trying to control the situations in our lives – all of it is unnecessary.  By God’s grace, we who have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – proclaim with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts God raised him from the dead – for us there is a peace that passes all understanding: Jesus is the pioneer, the author, the inspiration of our faith.  Jesus also is the one who will perfect us, bring us to completion, and the one who will present us blames before the throne of grace.

We are strengthened in that peace through the gift of the Lord’s supper that we celebrate today.  Here, God has given us a tangible expression of his redeeming grace that he chose to give to us.  God was not obliged to send Jesus; no, there was no obligation, but God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.  He chose to do so.

Amen.

Questions:

The topic of God’s election can be divisive – why is so much invested in being “right?” Why does “God chooses” cause so much strife?

  1. What freedom results from understanding God’s election? How have you experienced or observed that freedom?

  2. How do you understand Paul’s missionary zeal in light of his understanding of God’s election? Have you experienced any similar urgency to share the gospel with others? When and how?

 [1] Today In The Word, August, 1989, p. 35.