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"Blessed - to BE a Blessing"

Relief & Development Sunday Oct.27/13

Gen.12:1-3; Gal.3:6-14

UNPACKING "BLESSING"

We are truly rich to the extent that we appreciate our blessings. William Ward said, "The more we count the blessings we have, the less we crave the luxuries we haven't."

Often I'll end an email or conversation with the words, "God bless" - but what do we really mean when we say that? Early in life we may have heard others who are pretty or have an attractive physical appearance described as "blessed" - but those qualities can cause vanity and pride. Or we may describe somebody else as "blessed" with wealth or material goods - but those can be enemies of the soul, leading a person to be discontent and envious, or they can be symptoms of greed and selfishness. So some of these obvious things we associate with "blessing" may be more of a curse if they lead our soul to temptation and shipwreck.

Jesus' definition of "blessing" in the Beatitudes can catch us off-guard. Lk 6:20 "...Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." POOR? How can that be a blessing?

How does the dictionary define blessing? Concise Oxford: "consecrated, revered, fortunate, in paradise [ie of the deceased], blissful, bringing happiness." Some modern translations of the Beatitudes render "Blessed are those who mourn" as "Happy are those who mourn", for example. (Now there's a paradox!)

The dictionary defines "blessedness" as "happiness; enjoyment of divine favour." The New Bible Dictionary refers to the Hebrew word 'barak' and Greek 'makarios' in the original text - "denotes a state of happiness", as in Psalm 1:1 "How happy...[are they who do not walk in the counself of the wicked, etc]!" It notes, in the New Testament, "blessing" is given a strong spiritual content (in contrast with the more material sense in the OT), eg Ac 20:35 [Paul recalling words of Jesus] "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Or James 1:12 "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." There blessing can be had even when undergoing trial; it doesn't require what we'd call "happy circumstances".

NBD adds, "The word seems also to contain a congratulatory element, as a not in Weymouth's New Testament suggests: 'People who are blessed may outwardly be much to be pitied, but from the higher and therefore truer standpoint they are to be envied, congratulated, and imitated.'"

ABRAHAM'S BLESSING: SECURITY, SIGNIFICANCE, SOURCE

We count Abraham the patriarch greatly blessed: but how much did he have to GIVE UP? Gen 12:1 "The LORD had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.'" Relinquish all the comforts and familiarities of country, tribe, and family connections. That's asking a lot! And how old is Abraham when this call comes? 75! Most people have settled well into retirement at that point. Nope, pick up everything, leave all those 'knowns' behind, and venture on with Me to a totally new environment where you'll be basically like a refugee, a foreigner, with no 'say', no helpful 'ties' or history. 12:4f "So Abram left, as the Lord had told him" - taking his wife, nephew, "all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan..." Can just imagine Sarai asking her hubby, "So - have we got to that 'blessed' part yet?!" Must have been a very uprooting experience.

What can we detect from God's promise about the meaning of "blessing"? First, it implies Yahweh's SPONSORSHIP or backing. In vv2-3 we find the word "will" 7 times: "I will make you into a great nation...I will bless you...I will make your name great...you will be a blessing...I will bless those who bless you...whoever curses you I will curse...all peoples on earth WILL be blessed through you." Through repeating what "I will" do for you, God's assuring Abram He'll be Abram's sponsor, backer, guarantor.

There's a definite note of SECURITY inherent in this blessing. V2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you" - that implies land and people and Gross Domestic Product. In 15:5 God takes Abe outside, tells him to look up and count the stars (if he can!) - "So shall your offspring be."

There's a note of SIGNIFICANCE associated with the blessing: God says, "I will make your name great" - Abraham will have an awesome reputation, he's still honoured to this day amongst Jews, Muslims, and Christians all over the world.

Sponsorship, security, significance - these are all things we receive from outside, they're conferred upon us, external somewhat from the core of who we ARE. But God adds one more thing - SOURCE: "and you will BE a blessing." V3 "...and all peoples on earth will be blessed THROUGH YOU" - brought into contact with divine favour through Abraham. God CHANGES those who believe in Him to BE a blessing, to bring His blessing wherever we go, "sanctifiers", agents conveying God's divine touch and goodness.

How broad is the scope here? "ALL PEOPLES ON EARTH will be blessed through you." This has global ramifications, it's a promise affecting the whole planet. Much of the Old Testament focusses on Israel, the Jewish nation, but from the very start God's range of concern is beyond the Jews to include Gentiles, too. Jews proudly considered themselves the "Chosen" race, but they were chosen to be a witness to all nations, pointing others to Yahweh. Jesus reminded them of this; He seriously rankled the prejudices of the hometown crowd in Nazareth when He pointed out in Luke 4(25ff), "I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed-- only Naaman the Syrian." Luke notes, "All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this." They wanted to make Yahweh into a tribal god, but His purpose was much broader - planetary.

REDEEMED IN ORDER TO BLESS

In the first century, the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Galatia reminding them that faith (or reliance), not works, is the key to right standing before God. See how often words like 'belief' or 'faith' are found in Galatians 3: v6 "believed God - credited as righteousness"; 7 "those who believe are children"; 8 God would "justify [lit.'make righteous' - same Greek root as 'righteousness'] the Gentiles by faith"; 9 "those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith"; 11 "the righteous will live by faith"; 14 "by faith we...receive the promise of the Spirit." So, believing or having faith in God is essential for anyone who would connect with God, enjoy 'right standing', right relationship with Him. For a parallel expression for faith note vv9-10: "those who have faith...All who RELY ON observing the law..." Faith / believing / trusting is a "relying upon" God rather than our own merits or works or achievements. Faith is a gift, part of the 'blessing'. Our NEED not our merit qualifies us for God's blessing; Mt 5:3New English version, "How blest are those who know their need of God." CEV "God blesses those people who depend only on him." When you come to the place where you realize you've GOT to rely on God alone.

Verses 10 and 12 describe the burden of law-keeping: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to DO everything written in the book of the law...The man who DOES these things will live by them." Someone has said, "In other religions, it is 'DO'; in Christianity, it is 'DONE'." Not our works as if they would ever be enough to earn God's favour, but Christ's work on the cross, paying our penalty. Or, to put it another way, it's not "D-O" but "D.O.G." - Depend On God. The believer in Christ realizes and appreciates how much we have RECEIVED, been graced way beyond what we deserved. We're not burdened or in doubt trying to earn our way to heaven as if we could ever do enough good works; it's all about Christ's work, already completed and credited to our account.

Whose initiative is it? V13 "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us..." V14 "HE redeemed us..." How? He volunteered to become a curse for us (3:13). Why? What was Jesus' and the Father's PURPOSE in all this? Note the 2 little purpose clauses in v14, "in order that" / "so that": these pick up the theme from earlier on in v8 - "all nations will be blessed through you" / v9 believers "are blessed along with Abraham." Read carefully God's underlying PURPOSE in all this: v14 "He redeemed us IN ORDER THAT [purpose clause - what's the divine mission driving at here, what's the goal?]...IN ORDER THAT the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus..." See that? We're right back in God's blueprint or vision shared with Abraham, "I want to bless the whole world through you!" Doesn't that sound like a wonderful plan to get swept up in?

But we're not done v14: it continues, "SO THAT [purpose clause again] by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." Wow. So, what's the best 'blessing' God could possibly give us? Himself! The Holy Spirit. Jesus living in us; "...I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal 2:20) Jesus described it to Nicodemus as being 'born again / born anew'; Paul talks about us being "a new creation" when we come to trust in Christ (2Cor 5:17).

To be 'blessed', then, is much more than having externals like possessions or health or reputation. It's more than security and significance, though God grants us those too. It's more than what we HAVE, it's about our BEING, who we ARE at our core - the Lord works a miracle in our lives to take out 'the old man' and give us a new heart, new spirit, so we become His SOURCE for others with whom we come into contact. By grace we are changed in our essence so we become 'blessers' / sanctifiers / connecting people with God's touch; thus they experience His goodness through interacting with us.

RELIEF AND DEVELOPMENT: OPPORTUNITIES TO BLESS IN CHRIST'S NAME

Often they experience that blessing, God's goodness, as we demonstrate love for our neighbour through being generous with our material goods. We are freed up to share because our ultimate security doesn't depend on possessions any more, but on our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lou Geense, EMCC Director of Global Initiatives, reflects on God's promise to Abraham this way on page 2 of this year's R&D handout: "We, the Church, are now the chosen people of God.The promises and the mandates of God's Word are for us.If all the peoples on the earth are to be blessed, then the Church will need to be about this task.Jesus' words concerning our responsibility are very clear: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Lu 12:48b)

[...review opportunities for impact in other countries through 2013-14 R&D projects]