Transformed by Grace
Scripture: Genesis 28:1– 29:30
Transformed By GraceGenesis 28:1-29:30
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith
I love the fall. It is probably my favorite season of the year. I love the crisp nights. I love the smell in the air. I love the start of the football season. I love the absence of tourism. And I love the transformation of the leaves from green to bright orange and yellow and red.
If you look around even right now you can begin to see some changes taking place. Yet while you notice leaves not looking as they did a month ago, you can't observe the transformation happening before your very eyes. It's slow and it's gradual, but we can witness the change. Transformation happens according to God's direction for trees. It will happen.
The same can be said for the life of a Christian. Over a hundred years ago, Pastor J.C. Ryle remarked, "Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness - all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God's saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible."
The very split-second we give our lives to Christ, the Holy Spirit takes control and begins to transform us into the beautiful image of Christ. The death of Christ is our provision to be delivered not only from the penalty of sin, but also now the power of sin. Once our hearts are made alive they are being reshaped by the living God. We begin to bear spiritual fruit that is attractive. This is what grace does in the life of a Christian. We call this the doctrine of progressive sanctification. Transformation happens according to God's direction for His people. Like the color changes in leaves, it will happen.
In 1853 John Angell James boldly called out all professing Christians that are not growing. "Why is it that so many professing Christians make no spiritual progress, and indeed make no efforts to grow in grace? Why? Because they care nothing about it! To take up a "mere profession" is all they desire; but to proceed from one degree of piety to another; to grow in grace - is no part of their desire... Is it possible to be a Christian and yet destitute of this desire to grow in grace? No, it is not! I tell you, it is not! If you have no concern to grow in grace - there is no grace in you! You are a piece of dead wood - and not a living branch! You are a spiritual corpse - and not a living man! In this state there can be no growth - for dead things never grow!"
Last week in chapter 27 we witnessed the spiritual state of Isaac's family. It wasn't pretty! We specifically talked about Jacob. He was the spoiled mama's boy that ran around scheming ways to sinfully manipulate and abuse people for his advantage. Like all sin does, it promised joy, but brought heartache. Jacob learned this the hard way. His brother Esau plotted to kill him. So Jacob runs away. In chapter 28 Jacob enters the place he will later call Bethel (Gen. 28:19). God met him there in dramatic form. Many scholars claim this is the time Jacob was saved. Transformation is now expected and this is what we will see.
In Genesis 29 we come across another familiar and dramatic narrative. What I'd like to do this morning is extract three principles that relate to Jacob's spiritual growth. Let's remember, we are not into self-reformation or producing moral people. Our Savior held out His greatest condemnation for these individuals. We are into spiritual transformation that comes from God because of a relationship with God on the basis of grace. As a leaf will naturally change to its appointed color because it abides in the branch, we too as Christians will naturally change into our appointed Christlikeness because we abide in Christ. So let's note three observations of what God does in the life of the once despised Jacob to gradually transform him into a person that reflects the beauty of God's own heart.
I'll give a brief explanation of the text in chapter 29, and then when I approach them, camp out on the three points of interest.
So in verse 1, Jacob is on the run to distance himself from his brother Esau. After traveling for about four hundred miles, he arrives in Laban's hometown (his uncle). You will remember that Laban, a crooked man himself was the brother of Jacob's mother, Rebekah. Immediately in verse 2 he meets some shepherds and three flocks of sheep near a well. He realizes through conversation that this is where Laban lives and by verse 9 he sees Laban's daughter, Rachel, approaching. I love verse 10, "When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his mother's brother." Thousands of years later and the times haven't changed. You want to impress the girl: lower the voice, stick out the chest and lift something heavy! So after he pulls every muscle in his body moving the stone, verse 11 says he kissed Rachel and wept (many interpretations of what that meant). Verse 12, Jacob says who he is and Rachel runs off and tells her father, Laban.
We have learned about Laban. He's the conniver; the opportunistic, greedy individual always looking to make a buck off someone. Last time when Abraham's servant approached, the servant came with tremendous wealth. Laban is no doubt thinking the same. So, verse 13 Laban "ran" to meet Jacob. He "kissed him and brought him to his house." They talk. Laban discovers that Jacob is a runaway with no job and only possessing the clothes on his back.
Verse 13, "Then he [Jacob] related to Laban all these things." I'd love to know what things. If it was the biological similarities, Laban's comment in verse 14, "Surely you are my bone and flesh" means one thing. If it was the con-man similarities, "I deceived my father, my brother wants to kill me and I am running for my life as a fugitive," Laban's comments in verse 14 means quite something different. "Surely you are my bone and flesh" (wink, wink). You are my kind of guy!
Jacob has now been serving Laban and sometime into it, it dawns on Laban that it might be nice to pay his nephew. Verse 15, "Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?" Laban is up to something! Verses 16 and 17, "Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah's eyes were weak [cross-eyed? no sparkle in her eyes?], but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. You know where this is going. Jacob has no money for the bride price so he extends an offer to Laban that Laban can't refuse. It is a strict business deal. Verse 18, "Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, 'I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.'" And then our first observation, a great verse, verse 20, "So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her."
1. Transformation to Love Others
Our first point regarding spiritual transformation is that God's grace enables us to love other people.
Up until this point everything we learned about Jacob was that he was a greedy conniver that thought only of himself and took advantage of others. Yet here we actually see the opposite. He loves Rachel and he's willing to sacrifice himself in basically slave labor for seven years to receive her.
It's rather sad how much we do for ourselves. When it is something we want for ourselves we go through tremendous lengths, don't we? The hours we can spend pursuing hobbies or researching and purchasing a product we desire. We have little problem using our free time in activities we find pleasurable. The effort we put forth to make ourselves attractive from diets to gym memberships to clothing choices. I am not saying all this is wrong. I am only trying to make a point that without Christ all people find it rather natural to think about and primarily serve themselves. We don't need to be taught this. What we need is to be broken from this!
In Ephesians 5:28 Paul commanded husbands to "love their own wives as their own bodies." The point is not to love ourselves more so we can then love others. The point is that we already love ourselves too much, and if we can exert that same attitude and effort for our wives that we do for ourselves, we'd have much better marriages!
We are born experts at self-focus and self-esteem and self-love, but when we come to Christ, the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives. Galatians 5:22, "The fruit of the Spirit is love" - love for others. We begin to see the needs of others. We experience sympathy and compassion for them. We pray for them and look for other tangible ways to serve them all for the glory of God. It's basically becoming more like Jesus who "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45).
Are we who profess Christ walking in the spirit of Christ's footsteps - leaving the glorious worship in heaven, taking on human flesh, persevering with disloyal followers, enduring painful hostility from His opponents, dying a horrific death for the ones He came to save? This is pattern of sacrificial love that Jesus lays out for His followers. Ephesians 5:2, "Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." Call yourself whatever you want, but according to 1 Corinthians 13 if you are not being transformed to love like Jesus, you are "nothing."
Before we move on, ask yourself, are you like the greedy and selfish old Jacob who used others or are you like the new Jacob willing to love others at your own expense? How are you sacrificially loving the Lord? How are you sacrificially loving your family? How are you sacrificially loving your church? How are you sacrificially loving your enemies? Like Jacob, are you growing? Are you continually witnessing a progressive change of your heart to love others by your actions?
Thomas Watson, the Puritan, said, "The right manner of [spiritual] growth is to grow less in one's own eyes."
So Jacob serves his seven years and in verse 21 asks for his wife. You know the old con-man Laban has something up his sleeve. Beginning in verse 22 Laban throws a wedding feast and then when it's dark and the bride was veiled and Jacob may have been a little intoxicated, he pulls the switcheroo and substitutes Rachel for Leah.
Jacob consummates the marriage and then we have verse 25: "So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah!" I would have loved to see the look on Jacob's face, and can just picture him as white as a ghost, storming out of his tent in his pajamas with the mixed emotions of despair, outrage and shock. Verse 25 captures his heart much better than I can even impersonate it! "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?" Jacob said to Laban. Laban, while he sipped his coffee and looked up from his newspaper replied, verse 26, "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn," without batting an eye!
This is interesting! First of all who does Jacob think he is calling anyone a deceiver! And second, Laban declares that in their culture we always honor the older. Jacob's jaw must have dropped. How did Jacob honor his older father? How did Jacob honor his older brother? Was this set-up Laban's scheme from the start, knowing he could treat Jacob as he treated others and Jacob could have nothing to say in his defense? Jacob met his match in Laban. The deceiver was deceived.
That takes us to our second observation about spiritual transformation: Christians learn from their trials.
2. Transformation to Learn Trials
Just because you come to Christ does not mean you will not experience suffering. Christians and non-Christians suffer with similar trials. The difference is not in the nature of the trial, but rather the way in which we respond to the trials. You see, the world needs things in their life to go well to stay happy. Therefore they are continually up and down based upon their circumstances. Christians however know that God is sovereign over the trials they experience. They know the trials are specifically customized to their lives sent from the wise and loving hands of God. They are not sent to rob us of our joy. They are sent to refine us and make us more like Christ. Therefore it is our responsibility to by God's grace remain under the trials until they perform in us the work designated by God. Knowing and believing this, we can have deep joy even in the worst of times because we know God's refining process is the best thing we can ask for for spiritual transformation, Christlikeness.
James 1, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (Jas. 1:2-4).
God is forever sending these customized trials into the lives of His children to burn off the rough edges and progressively make us shine like the glorious image of Christ. Jacob had some rough edges. The biggest one we've witness was his scheming personality. So what does God do? He connects him with another schemer and allows Jacob to personally witness the pain from being schemed that he brought upon others from his scheming.
I have witnessed this happen frequently. People with the same character defects are brought into our lives to provide for us a mirror of our own impurities. So often I have seen this in interpersonal conflict. Two Christians not getting along often is not because they are different from each other, but because they are exactly like each other! And instead of submitting to the trial, observing one's own weaknesses in the other and repenting, it's much easier in our fleshly states to critique a person for the flaws, flaws that are obvious to us because we are presently demonstrating the same ones ourselves!
There is another trial that Jacob needed to learn from in this situation as well. Remember when Abraham's servant approached Laban in chapter 24 seeking a bride for Isaac? Remember how he repeatedly prayed and sought the Lord's will? Remember how he repeatedly thanked the Lord for His blessings? Do we see any of that with Jacob in his selection of a spouse? The name of the Lord is never mentioned in this account. Jacob simply took matters into his own hands, and between the two women, chose the woman based not on character as the servant did when he chose Rebekah, but simply based on the best physical appearance. How did that work out for the man? We'll find out!
Too often we as Christians make decisions exactly like the world. We claim to love God, but then act as an atheist when it comes time to make a decision. We conduct our lives as if God does not even exist. I believe God will continually send trials our way to bring us back to the basics when we veer off course. And what are the basic for the Christian? Jesus is Lord of my life. He is first-place in everything. My goal in life is not to seek my will or even my will made possible with Him, but His will in all things. The flesh is forever pulling us away from this scenario, but God is faithful often using trials if necessary to continually pull us back to Himself to keep the transformation process going. Trials are God's means to that end.
John Piper once said, "I have never heard anyone say, 'The really deep lessons of life have come through times of ease and comfort.' But I have heard strong saints say, 'Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God's love and growing deep with Him, has come through suffering.' Samuel Rutherford said that when he was cast into the cellars of affliction, he remembered that the great King always kept his wine there. Charles Spurgeon said that those who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls" (Desiring God, p. 222).
So Laban now with the moral and negotiating high ground says, verse 27, "Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years." Seven more years of free labor from Jacob! Jacob finally gets Rachel and he now has two wives (sisters of each other) that acted too much like their dad which will bring about many more trials that we'll see in the weeks ahead.
3. Transformation to be Faithful
But before we depart, let me show you a third observation that comes about when God transforms hearts. And if you know me, this is a big one in my book and sadly one that is overlooked or marginalized by many Christians. Before Christ by nature we are selfish witnessed with the way we manage our time and talents and treasures. But when we come to Christ, we progressively learn through the Spirit to be faithful with the resources God has entrusted to our stewardship.
I want to believe Jacob learned from this trial. He knows that his awful predicament was his own fault, reaping seeds that he personally chose to sow. I don't see him complaining. I don't even see him scheming anymore. He didn't grab Rachel and run off to Vegas. He accepts his responsibility and he works hard for the other daughter with great faithfulness. Even though Laban was disingenuous, he keeps his end of the bargain. He finishes the deal.
Christians are faithful. We keep our word. We arrive on time. We return borrowed items. We work hard when employed. We stay with our spouses. We use the gifts and talents God has given us faithfully. We are reliable, trustworthy and dependable.
Jesus is faithful. Leah will testify to His faithfulness at the end of the chapter. Could you imagine if Jesus was not faithful? It's a beautiful attribute in Christ and if we are in Christ, He is transforming us to be faithful like Him.
God's faithfulness - that's the point of this story. This chapter was written by Moses to show the Israelites that God is faithful to His promises. It's not seen through the choices of godly individuals nor is it seen through dramatic miracles in this chapter. It is simply God's unseen hand, His providence, which guided Jacob to Laban's home to find that spouse so that he could have the descendants that were promised him.
And all this leads to God carving out a nation for Himself (Israel) and then spiritual descendants so that His children would indeed outnumber the stars in the sky (Christians). And He did this not through the choices of humanity, but His own providence, so quietly that it was missed by many. Jesus would come exactly as promised. And Jesus would die for the sins of people as promised. And God would adopt into His family those who have faith in Jesus just as it was promised.
I don't know how many prayers you have prayed or how many aisles you have walked. My question simply is this: Is your life presently being transformed? If not, you need to come to Christ by believing in Him and His work on the cross. It is free grace that saves us from ourselves and the wages of our sin, an eternal hell, and it is free grace that then transforms us into the beautiful image of Christ so that God's child will progressively look more like their Father.