After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.Genesis 15:1-6
“You cannot lead someone whom you resent.” I wish I had known that years ago. In my earlier years of ministry, I carried way too much resentment toward certain people – even within the church I served! Sadly, the feeling was sometimes mutual. Some of those people resented me. Maybe even first. It was not a good situation either way. Resentment erodes trust. Trust makes true leadership possible. Add an attitude of mutual respect and humility, and you’ve got a powerful combination. The stuff that moves mountains.
We’ve shared this important principle with church leaders through our teaching in PLI. I’m not the only one who needed to learn that lesson. It seems a bit more prevalent among younger church leaders (my experience is mostly with pastors). Perhaps it’s a matter of insecurity. Maybe it’s the dangerous belief that one has all the answers that comes from an intensive study of Scripture and the church’s teachings. Whatever the cause, resentment, and it’s twin brother hubris get in the way of all too many leadership opportunities.
Abram may have been beset with this malady as a young man. We don’t know one way or the other. But he doesn’t display resentment here. His questions of God are sincere and straight forward. He asks God how it will be that he will become the father of many. He put it to God simply and directly: I’ve got no heir. How will I gain this reward that you’ve promised?
God answers him with a repeat of this promise that he would be the father of a great number of descendants. God calls him to look to the heavens and imagine that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the heavens.
Abram’s response was to believe God’s promise.
God’s response to Abram’s faith was to reckon him as righteous.
Here we have in the very first book of the Bible the idea of justification by faith. Long before Moses was given the 10 Commandments. Long before the ceremonial laws and requirements were set. Long before the Jewish teachers added their 613 rules that were to assure the 10 were not violated. Longer still before St. Paul would write: “By grace you have been saved, through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8).
James warns that one may believe that God is one and yet not have faith (James 2:19). Faith is far more than having a correct understanding of the nature of God. Don’t get me wrong: we need to embrace what God has revealed of himself in Scripture. But it is vital, too, to remember that we know precious little about God. But the remainder of that statement is vitally important as well: The little we know is precious.
Abram knows that God has made a promise. He realizes that God is serious about that promise. He also hears the promise again. And he believes the promise. Abram considers God worthy of his faith. He imputes goodness and faithfulness to God’s character. God imputes righteousness to Abram.
This is another thing I believe better than I can explain: Faith is all about God, and our assessment of his nature and being. If we’re wrong about that, we are in grave danger. Thankfully we’ve been shown the nature of God in Jesus of Nazareth. We see grace and truth perfectly married in his life and being. And we have the promise that if we believe in Jesus, we too will be counted righteous. That’s not something we gin up within ourselves. It’s something that God inspires by the revelation of his grace and truth, goodness, and righteousness.
Abram was shown the stars of heaven and he believed. We’ve seen the One who made the stars, nailed to a cross for us. Raised from the dead. Promising that he will return in glory. I believe in him. How about you?
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