The one thing you don’t have to teach in school is the art of making excuses. I’m not sure when we first master this skill but it seems like it is early in life. Have you heard the “Psychiatric Folk Song” by Anna Russell?
- I went to my psychiatrist to be psychoanalyzed
To find out why I killed the cat and blacked my husband’s eye.
He laid me on a downy couch to see what he could find,
And here’s what he dredged up, from my subconscious mind.
When I was one, my mummy hid my dolly in a trunk
And so it follows, naturally, that I am always drunk.
When I was two, I saw my father kiss the maid one day,
and that is why I suffer from kleptomania.
At three I had a feeling of ambivalence towards my brothers
and so it follows naturally I poisoned all my lovers.
but I am happy now I have learned the lessons this has taught:
Everything I do that’s wrong, is someone else’s fault!
It’s tongue in cheek but the point is made. We seem to have an excuse for everything. One of the most famous excuses of all is really a philosophy: “the end justifies the means”. It’s proclaimed in various forms:
- nobody was hurt
- everything turned out O.K.
- we made a profit
- we got elected
In our text this morning we see an illustration of what happens when we function by the principle that the end justifies the means. But let me caution you here . . . it is easy to sit on our “high horse” and look down at Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau. We must be careful because we are more like them than we like to think. We read a very human story here. Keep that in mind. I will show you the results of this principle in this situation and then some of lessons we can learn.
Before Jacob and Esau were born God declared that the older would serve the younger. God told Isaac and Rebekah that He was going to work through Jacob and not Esau. In our text Isaac is 140 years old, and he feels like life is almost over. (In truth, he would live another 40 years). He wants to “get his house in order” and decides that he is going to give the blessing to his oldest son, Esau. And that’s where the trouble begins.
First, we see A Family torn apart.
Look at some of the things we see in this family as a result of believing that the end justifies the means.
- v. 1-4 Isaac feels he needs to meet secretly with Esau because he knew that Rebekah would object to Isaac’s plan.
- v. 5 Rebekah eavesdrops on her husband. She was spying on her husband because she didn’t trust him
- v. 8 Rebekah and Jacob scheme to deceive their husband and father
- v. 19 Jacob tells a bold-faced lie to his dad
- v. 41 There was animosity between the brothers . . . even thoughts of murder!
- v. 43 There is separation in the family
- v. 46 There are marriages out of spite
Jacob got the promised blessing but look at the cost! A family is torn apart. Was it worth the price? No, No, No. When we don’t care how we get to a certain end we will inevitably leave casualties along the way. Instead of acting in faith, these people tried to take a shortcut . . . and it cost them.
Second, There was a Lack of Confidence in God.
- Isaac knew the blessing was for Jacob but (feeling God was mistaken?) sought to give him the blessing to Esau
- Rebekah feels she cannot leave the matter with God but instead concocts a scheme
- Jacob trusts the scheme rather than the promise
Do you see the assumptions here? The assumption was that God could not bring to pass what He had promised unless He got some help. Every one of these people panicked. Isaac was afraid his beloved son, Esau would be forgotten, Rebekah was afraid Jacob was going to lose what God promised, Jacob was afraid Esau was going to take his blessing. In each case, the idea was that God could not be trusted . . . and we had to “help him”.
I remember a values clarification exercise that was popular when I was in college. The question was this: Suppose you are a German who is aiding the Jews by hiding them in your home. A Nazi team comes to your door and asks you if you have any Jews in your home. What do you do? The dilemma is: do you lie or do you aid in the killing of the Jews in your home? The exercise was designed to convey that life is more valuable than honesty.
But the problem is that this is a “false dilemma”. In other words there is another option that is not presented. The third option is this: tell the truth and trust God. Is God able to blind the eyes of the team of soldiers? Is it possible that could send soldiers who were sympathetic to the Jews who would ignore their presence? Of course it is possible.
We don’t know what God would have done if Rebekah hadn’t intervened. But God would have done something. And I suspect what God would have done would have kept the family intact. But God was not given a chance to prove Himself faithful. Here’s the principle: God does not need our sin to fulfill His promises!
Charles Spurgeon writes,
Do right if heaven itself should grieve. If the skies should not be propped except by a lie, let them fall. Come what may, you never must in any degree or in any shape depart from the honest, the true, the right, the Christ-like, that which God commands, that which alone God will approve. [Spurgeon Metropolitan Tabernacle Vol. 61 p. 379]
True discipleship comes when we trust God no matter what happens. Real faith is shown by standing in God’s counsel and promise even when it seems that God is wrong and His counsel will not come to pass. Faith knows that God has a way. Faith knows that even though it may not come now . . . it will come in the proper time.
When we try to help God we may feel that we are being faithful. We may think we are acting as God’s agents. In reality, we are moving away from God.
There are some lessons in this passage.
Doing Good Things for the Wrong Reasons Gain No Reward
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven”. Then Jesus gets specific. He says if we give so that everyone knows how generous we are, we receive no reward from God. If we pray to impress people with our spirituality, it is empty devotion. If we fast in such a way that people will notice we are fasting it means nothing to God. Each of these things is good but they lose their goodness when they are done for the wrong reasons.
In Hosea 6:6 God said, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” God was not concerned with the outward . . . He was concerned with the inward. Jesus condemned the Pharisees again and again.
Matthew 23:27, 28 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
These guys looked great. They dotted their “i’s” and crossed all the “t’s”. They followed the regulations and were bold in confronting those who were not so diligent. But inside they were serving themselves. Inside they were trying to prove that they were good and deserved God’s blessing. In other words, they were seeking to “bribe God” with their actions.
Make no mistake . . . the world may applaud your actions but if they are not done for the right reasons they will be worthless when you get to Heaven. Others may applaud you as one who is faithful. Heaven knows the truth.
Good Results Achieved by the Wrong Methods Do Not Glorify God
Sometimes we may really think we are doing good. We may even be desiring to do good . . . but the methods we use are wrong. This is how “the end justifies the means” enters the church. Let me be paint some specific pictures,
Sometimes in our desire to get more people to our churches and activities and we resort to inappropriate means. We water down the gospel so the message will be more attractive. We don’t tell people about sin . . . we focus only on God’s love. We turn to entertainment or play to emotions to attract people. We tell people what they want to hear: “God wants you to be prosperous, powerful, and to have a good time.” But in doing so we forget that God is more concerned about character than our comfort. God wants us to come to Him because of who He is . . . and not because of what we can get from Him. We may get more numbers but we are not making disciples!
We sometimes use inappropriate means to raise money. Instead of encouraging people to give as an expression of love for the Lord . . . we ask them to give so they can get a free book, or so they can receive a material blessing. Several years ago Oral Roberts asked people to give so he could build a hospital. He said that God told him if he did not raise the money God would kill him! In other words, Roberts raised money by telling people if they did not send money they would be responsible for his death! Do we need to resort to such tactics? Is God unable to meet our needs on His own?
We sometimes resort to inappropriate means to influence our government. We use the tactics of the world. We enlist lobbyists, and seek to build political muscle, we tear down the opposition. But the result is that we become just another political faction. What happened to the power of prayer and the example of a godly life?
In our desire to “get decisions” we may manipulate people. We sing a song over and over until people are in a trance like state so we can get them to respond as we desire. We play on fear. We bring in celebrities that people may want to please. And what do we get? We get people who are not responding to Christ . . . they are responding to a stimuli. And the result is that we have people who have “made a decision” but have not come to Jesus Christ. They are convinced they are going to Heaven but are deceived.
Look at the way things sometimes get done in the church. We argue, we threaten to withdraw our funding, we threaten to move our membership. We gossip and slander. What happened to a church praying until they were of one mind?
Don’t mistake my motives today. I am not trying to tear down . . . I want to build up. I believe one of the reasons that Christianity is having such little effect in our country is that we have become superficial in our discipleship. The world has more influence on the church than the church has on the world. We need to learn the lessons of this chapter because we have a great God and we are living beneath our privilege.
We should be reminded of the need to give attention to the hidden parts of your life
We spend a great deal of time taking care of the outside of our lives. We pay attention to our appearance, we try to learn the appropriate manners, we are concerned that we present the right “image” to others. We want to do the right things in our faith as well. We come to worship and stand up and sit down at the appropriate times, we carry our Bibles, we learn the “lingo” of faith. We want to look like Christians. But here is the issue that we need to address: How much time are you taking to care for your heart? How much attention do you give to thinking Biblically? How must time do you give to developing character?
We need to see that rationalization is just a way to cling to sin
The idea of “the end justifying the means” is simply a smokescreen to keep from admitting our sin. And if we won’t admit our sin we can’t know the freedom of His forgiveness.
- we rationalize immorality with “but we really love one another”
- we rationalize our materialism with “we just want our kids to have the best”
- we justify our hatred by saying “someone needs to stand up to that person”
- we justify our lies with “I was trying to protect them”
- we excuse our absence in worship with “Sunday is our family day”
- we excuse our pride by calling it “positive self-esteem”
- we feed our minds with immorality and godlessness and excuse it with “It’s entertainment”
- we tear people down and say, “I was just having fun”
I caught myself rationalizing this week. I was speeding excessively the other night and excused it by saying, “but I’m going to the hospital”. It was a day or so later that I realized that what I was really saying was: God could not handle things until I got there. And, as we all know, the only thing you get by hurrying to the hospital was a longer time in the waiting room!
We do this all the time. In fact, we do it so much that we aren’t even seeing it anymore. It is like an unwritten rule. I won’t mention your rataionalizations if you don’t show me mine. And all the time we are erecting a barrier between us and God and we are making it harder for the world to see the true nature of our great Savior.
Notice that God loves imperfect people
It is not that God loves the fact that we are imperfect. He wants us to be holy. But He knows we are not. Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau were all rebellious. And yet God worked through Isaac and built the nation of Israel through Jacob.
When we see the reality of our sin we can despair, ring our hands, and feel guilty, OR we can turn to God for mercy and grace. Maybe you have made a mess of things. Maybe you know that you look good on the outside but are filled with the cancer of wickedness on the inside. If so, I say “Good”. Because if you admit your sin you will be able to see the wonder of God’s offer of forgiveness. Jesus came to give His life for our sin. And our salvation does not depend on our ability to EARN grace. It is tied to whether or not we RECEIVE grace.
You can begin again. You can be made new. You can know eternal life in Heaven. To do so you must do several things.
- You must face the truth about yourself. You must admit sin and eliminate all the excuses and rationalizations. Only when you see your need can you appreciate His grace.
- You must trust God’s provision of a Savior. We must believe that Christ came to bring us to the Father. He died to pay for our sin. He rose again to open the door of Heaven to anyone who would trust Him
- We must build our life on our wonderful Savior. It is not enough to know the truth . . . .we must commit to the truth!
Are you willing to turn to Jesus today? Are you willing to set aside your justifications and excuses? Are you willing to believe God when He says that anyone who comes to Him honestly will never be cast away? If so, then talk to God. Confess your sin. Don’t explain it, excuse it, or blame it on others. Face it squarely. Then receive the forgiveness and life that God offers in Jesus. Take God at His word.
And are you willing to trust God in your living? Will you trust Him without trying to help Him by your sin? Will you believe Him even when things seem to be turning the wrong way? In other words, are you willing to let God be God?
Yes, there will still be times when you will fail. There will be times when you foolishly try to “help God”. But hopefully as you grow and learn to trust there will be more times when you will be honest about your sin, attentive to your motives, and grateful for His grace.