Self-Preservation: An Enemy to Faithfulness

abrahamThis sermon is based on Genesis 12:10-20.

One of humanity’s daily efforts is to preserve and even prosper life. Death is the great enemy of those efforts and it has many weapons in its arsenal, including famine, disease, and violence. Abram was threatened by these very weapons. God had promised Abram that He would make him to be a great nation, that He would make his name great, that He would provide him with great protection, and that through him others (all the clans of the world in fact) would be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3). Then famine came and threatened Abram’s life and with it the promises of God. Abram sought refuge in Egypt, where the Nile’s fertile grounds promised food and life. Crisis was seemingly averted and the covenant remained intact. Then the combination of Sarai’s beauty, Abram’s refugee status, and Pharaoh’s anticipated cruelty to Abram threatened anew the promises of God. Hence, Abram’s plan to deceive Pharaoh, whereby he seemingly preserved the hope of covenant promises fulfilled once again. Then the LORD afflicted Pharaoh with great plagues because of his sin with Sarai, causing Pharaoh to bring blame against Abram. Once again the covenant was in danger. Death was a potential, if not likely, outcome. Except… the LORD!

Was Abram being faithless when he journeyed to Egypt rather than staying in Canaan? The text is silent, offering no judgment one way or the other. Was Abram faithless when he concocted his plan of deceiving the Egyptians in order to preserve his own life, thus preserving the covenant? The text gives us no explicit reference to a negative judgment from God against Abram, though he is rebuked by Pharaoh. The text does seem to imply that Abram’s actions were lacking in faith in God. That being said, whether you believe Abram was or was not being faithless, Genesis 12:10-20 leaves no doubt about God’s faithfulness to uphold His covenant promises. Abram went to Egypt threatened by famine and violence. His own best efforts to preserve his life nearly failed. But the LORD provided great protection, as He had promised Abram (12:2-3). Abram was rebuked by Pharaoh, but received exile rather than execution for subjecting Pharaoh to the sin of adultery (v. 20). He experienced an increase in material prosperity, leaving with the bounty that Pharaoh bestowed on him for Sarai (v. 16). Sarai, though taken as a wife by Pharaoh, remained barren, preserving her womb to one day bear the covenant child, Isaac. Abram and his people returned to Canaan, the land of promise. This occasion puts the gracious faithfulness of God on display, for even when we His people are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Timothy 2:12). It shows us that the “infidelity of God’s people is always subordinate to the faithfulness of Yahweh,” (R. Pratt).

We too act out of fear at times, rather than out of faith in Christ and His promises. Physical death, social insignificance, material poverty, career failure, and other concerns arise and we are tempted to take control ourselves. But there is a promise we have been given that emboldens us to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58) even in the face of life’s hardships, even death itself. We have hope in that promise and know that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in creation will separate us from Jesus and His love for us (Romans 8:38-39). We take courage in our bodies, whether by life or death, counting all manner of things as loss because we have gained Christ, and in Him the glorious life everlasting (Philippians 1:20; 3:7-9). That promise, which is ours in Jesus, is the Resurrection. Christ has conquered sin and death once and for all, so being in Him we too are more than conquerors. In Christ, barrenness is hard but not victorious. Betrayal by a loved one is difficult but not insurmountable. Famine, whether physical or spiritual, brings suffering but not defeat. Career failure is a hardship but does not define our being. Disease may stop our heart from beating but it cannot put an end to our life in Jesus. Even our own doubts, fears, and incidences of faithlessness do not cause us to forfeit the promises of God, for they are conquered by His grace, by the blood of His righteousness.

Discuss and Pray

  1. What doubts and fears are you facing these days that threaten your faith in Christ and His promises?
  2. How do the promises of eternal life in Christ embolden your faithful living in the here in now? Your servanthood toward others? Your evangelism efforts?
  3. What hope does it give you that when we are faithless, God is faithful? Share about a time when the undeserved faithfulness of God was made evident in your own life.