Cultivating Faith: A Man of Self-Denial
The story of Abraham and Lot is a story of two roads which diverge. It is a story filled with choices. While the eternal destination of both men is the same, the ways in which they lived on this earth become a stark contrast.
As we enter Genesis 13, both men led their families side-by-side with unity of purpose. As long as the interests of both men aligned, they maintained unity. But a point came when their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together (Genesis 13.6). The result was strife leading to separation. The separation became necessary in order to promote stability and peace. The diverging directions of both men teach us some very important principles.
It is possible to trace the choices of both Abraham and Lot under two main headings. Both men represent diverging philosophies of could be termed as separation and infiltration. Abraham separates from the world (Sodom and Gomorrah); Lot infiltrates the world – slouching toward Gomorrah to borrow Judge Robert H. Bork’s title from his 1996 book. First, Abraham represents the choice of separation…
Choosing to separate leads to the path toward God (Genesis 13.1-9).
“Please separate from me …they separated from each other …the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him” (13.8, 11, 14).
The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace.
“If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will take the left” (13.9).
Abraham knew well the wisdom of his descendant Solomon who wrote, “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17.14). Once water is released, the breach widens as the water erodes it away. It moves so rapidly that there is nothing we can do to stop it. Therefore, stop contention before it starts. Once it begins, you’ll never know when or how it will stop.
Abraham desired peace with Lot. That governed the choice he made. So we have his words, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren” (Genesis 13.8). Abraham was a peacemaker not a peacekeeper. The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace. Our endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace necessarily separates us from the world to God. If our family and friends choose the path to Gomorrah, they will be walking a different path. But make no mistake: They have left the narrow way for the broad road.
The path to God leads away from self-assertion and toward self-denial.
It should be clear that Abraham is the elder and Lot the younger. Abraham the uncle and Lot the nephew. Abraham was called out of Ur, and Lot came along for the ride and the blessings. Wouldn’t you think that as soon as Abraham gave Lot the choice of the left or right that Lot would have deferred to his uncle out of respect? Shouldn’t he submit to Abraham and not the other way around? Abraham could have asserted his rights, but he practiced self-denial.
People in the world lord their authority over others. This is the way it is and the way it will be with unbelieving people. But as Jesus said, “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.26-28).
The path to God leads away from self-assertion toward self-denial. How can there be strife if one party denies self and assumes the role of a perpetual servant? How can the self-assertive and the self-denying walk the same path?
The path to God leads away from greed and toward generosity.
Abraham should possess at least as much as Lot if not more than Lot. But Abraham was a sieve. He simply allowed wealth to flow in and out. Abraham gave; Lot took. Abraham knew that the plain of the Jordan was fertile, lush land. He simply deferred to Lot.
Faith reasons that God will take care of us and fight for us. So if a man demands my cloak, I’ll give it to him along with my tunic also. If he demands I walk with him one mile, I’ll walk the one and then another mile as well. If it is within our power to meet a need, we should meet that need.
But greed leads to spiritual deadness. The heart set on things below is more concerned with the comforts of this life. Pure and undefiled religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1.27). It is truly more blessed to give than to receive.
A choice to cultivate a life of faith means a choice to separate, which leads us along the path toward God. Lot chose differently and serves as a warning to us…
Choosing to infiltrate leads to the path toward Gomorrah (Genesis 13.10-18).
The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.
“Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan …Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan …Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom …They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom” (13.10-12; 14.12).
We can’t be sure when Lot placed his faith in the God of Abraham. We know that when Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, he is a righteous man. Perhaps his conversion is a result of the problems caused by this divergent path that he took toward Gomorrah. But believer or not, he took the path away from the eternal and toward the temporal.
We don’t know for certain, but it does seem that Lot has no problem with separating from Abraham. Such separation would expose him to the temptations of Gomorrah. He would be able to infiltrate that world, and gratify his desires. Perhaps greed and ambition were two of the top desires for him.
Lot saw comfort in the well-watered plains of the Jordan. The text tells us that the fertile land resembled the Garden of Eden itself. Worldliness includes a fixation on the temporal and comfort that we desire right now in this temporal life. Covetousness and a desire to fulfill temporal desires govern the heart of a person slouching toward Gomorrah. We will learn that Lot gets a position as a judge and leader in Sodom. His temporal desire far outpaced eternal interests. The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.
The path to Gomorrah leads away from the spiritual and toward the physical.
- The days of Lot are characterized as days when “they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built” (Luke 17.28).
- “On the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17.29).
- “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17.32).
- ‘The LORD turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, and made them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and “delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2.6-8).
Lot certainly came to understand what the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were like. Their sin was out in the open for all to see. The Bible is right: “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15.33). Lot left Abraham and moved toward Gomorrah with little or no regret that we can determine from the text.
We lose so much when we sacrifice spiritual benefit for physical comfort. We endanger our churches, families, and ourselves when we make this exchange. We fail to feed on the Word of God and grab at the crust of bread we find in the world. That crust of bread is a counterfeit form of life. We need to be brought to repentance when living for this world. God is merciful enough to do it.
Guard against a love for this world. You must separate from it not infiltrate it if you are to cultivate a life of faith.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2.15-15).
Lot’s love for the world led to choices that nullified his testimony within it. Lot only had the world for a little while. In the end it was all taken away from him. If you live for the present arrangement of things, then your life will be empty.
Cultivate a life of faith through a compassionate, self-denying spirit. Look to the Holy Spirit. Be grateful to God because He has enabled you to sacrifice your own interests for the interests of others.
- “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12.10).
- “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2.4-5).
Follow the faith of Abraham. Walk the path to God instead of slouching toward the destruction of Gomorrah!