Jacobís Character Development Provides Christians Lessons Even Today.
Sermonette Ann Arbor, MI UCG-IA 5-11-02
What is the real purpose of life? What is the ONE thing that you can take with you when you die? What is perhaps the most important thing God so earnestly desires of us? Whatís Godís purpose behind allowing trials and tests for His people? Why not get it over with as soon as we in faith accept Jesus as Savior, if thatís all that God wants of us?
What God wants of us is mature Christian character. Character is an attribute of the mind and emotions, and consists of properly disciplining and controlling both. For Christians, this control is to be done in accordance with the dictates of Godís law. A person having it not only knows right from wrong, but will choose to do what is right and avoid what is wrong. He will do so habitually even when under pressure to do what is wrong from others or from oneís own desires.
Now, as we look at the lives of the Patriarchs of Genesis as commented on by the Bible Reading Program the United Church of God has instituted, what lessons are there for us to learn. After all, Jacob lived and died before the institution of these Holy Days? When we look at the life of Jacob we see a process of character development. As the events surrounding his seizure of his brotherís birthright shows, he clearly was the most conniving, scheming, and manipulative of the Patriarchs. But he clearly changed for the better as he got older.
S.P.S. The story of Jacobís character development in Genesis tells Christians today how they should be developing in spiritual maturity also.
The material for this sermonette is based upon the United Church of Godís Bible reading program. Itís interesting since it can teach us new angles on what seem to be old stories to us when weíre feeling ďdull of hearing.Ē Itís why we should consider reading what it says and following its program.
Of course, in a message this short there isnít time to properly cover all the aspects of Jacobís life. But how would we characterize Jacob before he left home? He valued the birthright blessing that his father Isaac was entitled to much more than his brother Esau, so with his motherís assistance, he deceived his father into giving it to him. This incident shows he leaned on his own abilities and wouldnít wait in faith on God to deliver it to him should Esau disqualify himself. But how was Jacob later on?
In his maternal uncle Laban, Jacob had met his match, a man who could match deceit for deceit and manipulation for manipulation. The trials of his relationship with Laban ultimately had encouraged him to look to God, not to his own abilities, as v. 33 helps to reveal.
He was willing to depend on God in faith, and not to engage in trickery to get what he felt he was entitled to. He didnít try now to trick Laban back. By wanting to stand on his righteousness in Godís sight, he was no longer relying on his own strength and ability as a conniving manipulator to get his way. Jacob now realized prosperity and protection depending on righteous conduct before God.
Are we this way ourselves, as Jacob learned? Or are we like Jacob when younger, trying to get what we want regardless of whether its part of Godís plan for our life at that time? Have we submitted our choices of a job or career, a school or college, a boyfriend or a girlfriend (as a potential mate), to God in prayer and seeing if the pressure of circumstances as signs to indicate whether our choices are the right ones? What seems to be rational, doable, or logical may not necessarily be Godís will for us at a given point in our lives. He may expect us to wait or to do something else entirely different rather than seize apparent opportunities that enable us to get what we want then immediately. Jacobís theft of Esauís birthright was an example of doing things out of time against Godís ways. He might even have received it in Godís time if and when Esau had disqualified himself for it.
Here Jacob defends his righteousness, and describes his trials in working for Laban. He gives credit to God in v. 42 for not being successfully ripped off by Laban. Jacob attributed his material success to God, not his own abilities.
Here is a dangerous trap to avoid, especially for us Americans. We tend to attribute financial success to ourselves, and donít give real credit for God. It isnít just the peopleís hard work or even rational calculations that makes us in America so blessed and (say) Afghanistan so cursed. God has blessed us to make us different, using material and intellectual means in the past to make this all possible.
Do we give real credit to God, realizing (like Job) that our material prosperity can be suddenly taken away? Is the motto on Americaís coins, ďIn God we trust,Ē or billboards post 9-11, mere boilerplate for true Christians practically speaking?
Jacob humbled himself before God. He realized that he needed Godís blessing to have success in the impending showdown with his brother. Real prosperity, security, and peace depended on having righteous conduct. He reminded God of His promises, but he saw himself as not deserving them, as not entitled to them. He saw himself as depending on Godís mercy and undeserved grace.
Hence, as we see, Jacobís character improved in the two decades following his theft of his brotherís birthright. He learned to depend more on God in faith, trusting in living righteously as the way to be blessed materially. He learned not to depend on his own strength and abilities to get what he wanted. Have we learned similar lessons over the years since God called us? Or are we still trusting in what we can get on our own by our own efforts? So brethren, are we developing the holy righteous character God wants to see in us before we enter His Family? Or are we stuck committing the same sins with the same frequency and the same intensity we were committing one, two, or three decades ago? May we strive to be like Jacob as he got older, and to depend on God in faith instead of strictly on our own abilities to get what we feel weíre entitled to.