It was the great theologian and sometimes tennis player Martina Navratilova who once said that the difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. In ham and eggs the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.
In the life of every Christian it is important to move on from being involved with God to being committed to God. And the life of the Patriarch Jacob gives us a picture of how this can happen in practice.
We have seen God at work in Jacob’s life. To begin with Jacob was rebelling against the God of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. Cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright. Lying to his father to obtain the special blessing of the firstborn son. But then God revealed himself to Jacob in a dream of a stairway to heaven and opened Jacob’s heart to faith. Jacob recognised that God exists and that God was with him and he took a first step towards commitment.
Genesis 28 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’
Jacob acknowledged that the God of Abraham and Isaac would be his God too. In the years that followed God revealed himself to Jacob several times in dreams. And last week we saw God break into Jacob’s life in a very dramatic way as they wrestled together. Jacob wrestled with God in human form, and would not let go until God blessed him.
Genesis 32 26 Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’
27 The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’
‘Jacob,’ he answered.
28 Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’
…. 30 Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’
We might see this as Jacob’s moment of conversion. After years of rebelling against God, Jacob had been drawn closer and closer by God’s grace. But this is the point when God gives Jacob a new name, a new identity, a new character. He will be Israel, the father of all the children of Israel and the tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people.
But this dramatic event was not the end of Jacob’s life of faith. In a way it was only the end of the beginning. And the beginning of God’s relationship with Israel the Patriarch. Becoming a Christian is not the end of our relationship with God but only the end of the beginning. What follows will be a life-long process of moving on from being involved with God to being committed to God. And in Jacob’s life from Genesis chapter 35 we can see at least three steps in this road to complete commitment.
Step 1 – Purification
35:1 Then God said to Jacob, ‘Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.’
2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.’ 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.
In those days, perhaps 1800 years before the birth of Jesus, the tribes in the Ancient Near East worshipped many different gods. They had all kinds of appalling practices, including sacrificing children in the fire. But Jacob had realised that the God of Abraham and Isaac was the only true god. So Jacob commanded his household to purify themselves from anything associated with the pagan gods of the surrounding tribes. Any idols or objects used in pagan worship had to be destroyed. God’s chosen people had to belong to God alone.
And the same is true for God’s people in every age. An important step in moving from involvement to commitment is to turn our backs on all of the false gods of this age. To reject any influence of money, sex or power. To free ourselves from the grip of entertainment and celebrity and any of the false gods of the occult in its different forms. The only true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, calls us to worship him and serve him alone
We saw this in our Tuesday Bible Study last week from Paul’s letter to the Colossians
Colossians 3 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Here is a vital step towards Christian commitment – purifying ourselves from anything which would distract us and hold us back from following Jesus. Committing ourselves to becoming holy as God is holy.
1 Peter 1 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’
Then in Jacob’s life we see a second step to commitment
Step 2 – Seeking after God
For Jacob that meant obeying God’s command and building an altar to the one true God.
3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.’ ….
6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.
Up until now time after time we have seen God taking the lead, revealing himself to Jacob. God making promises and making covenants with Jacob. Now more and more we see Jacob seeking after God on his own initiative. Here we see Jacob actually wanting to meet with God and setting aside a special place to do so. Jacob was not meeting with God because he wanted or needed something. He was meeting with God because he actually wanted to worship. For Jacob that involved a special place and an altar. But for Christians it is different. We know we can meet with God anywhere at any time. But we still need to make the effort to seek after God. There are different ways we can do this.
Setting aside time for worship. Being with the Lord’s people in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day. Meeting with other Christians for Bible study and prayer and fellowship and encouragement midweek.
Hebrews 10 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Spending time alone with God in prayer every day. Reading Christian books or blogs, watching Christian TV and DVDs.
God wants us to seek after him and spend time with him. Indeed it is a indication of how committed we are to God just how much of our lives we dedicate to seeking God. Pressing on to get to know God better and better.
“Day by day, may I see you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly.”
Jacob was richly rewarded when he did so!
9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.’ So he named him Israel.
11 And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.’
So the covenant God had made with Abraham and repeated with Isaac is made again with Jacob, the father of the children of Israel. And then we see another step Jacob takes in his commitment to God.
Step 3 – Giving Offerings to God
Genesis 35 14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.
Jacob made an offering to God pouring out drink and oil. This simple offering was a symbol of Jacob offering not only his worship but also his life and all his possessions to God. Remember also the vow that Jacob had made in Genesis 28:22. As well as promising that the God of his fathers would be his God, and that he would set up an altar in that place, Jacob had also promised, of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’
When we commit our lives to God, that means we are giving everything to God. Everything we own. Everything we have. Everything all comes from God in the first place anyway – we are simply giving back to him that which belongs to him. In the simple parable of the king going to war, Jesus calls us all to count the cost of following him.
Luke 14 31 ‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Jesus invites us to commit our lives to him. He is not looking for just involvement – but for commitment. Giving up everything we have to be his disciples. To give up our lives to worship him and serve him. To tell others about him and freely give everything to him. By purifying ourselves. By seeking after God. And by offering ourselves to Him. Commitment is signing your name at the bottom of a blank sheet of paper and leaving God fill in whatever he chooses above it.
Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Living sacrifices. Involvement or commitment? The great opera singer Luciano Pavarotti explained commitment like this.
“When I was a boy, my father, a baker, introduced me to the wonders of song,” he said. “He urged me to work very hard to develop my voice. A professional tenor took me as a pupil but I also enrolled in a teachers college. When I graduated I asked my father, ‘Shall I be a teacher or a singer?’
“‘Luciano,’ my father replied, ‘if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.’ Now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book—whatever we choose—we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key. Choose one chair.”
Steps to commitment. Purifying ourselves. Seeking God with all our heart. Giving ourselves to God. It’s the difference between ham and eggs. Are we involved? Or are we committed?