ARE THERE EVEN TEN RIGHTEOUS AMONG US?
In Genesis 40, God makes it known to Abraham that he is about to judge Sodom and Gomorrah. Their sins progresssed beyond the tolerance of God. When we speak of God passing judgment on a people, it catches our breath and we want to question God. Is it that bad? Can it not be turned around?
Abraham was allowed to question God. Perhaps God made a mistake. God told him if 50 righteous people were found, he would spare the cities for their sakes. There were not 50 to be found. So, God continued to let Abraham negotiate. What about 45 or 30 or 20 and finally it was down to 10 people. If there were 10 righteous people God would spare the two cities. Not even 10 righteous ones could be found.
I am not thinking about the sins of the city. I am thinking of the measure by which God was judging or, not judging the cities. It was the presence of righteous that would have prevented God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. All it would have taken is just 10 righteous people. But not even 10 could be found, including Lot, Abraham’s nephew and his family who now lived in Sodom.
We should feel sadness just reading the story. It is a terrible outcome. But God is just and holy and there comes a day when human violations of God’s Law require a price. One might object and say, that’s the Old Testament. God was different then. But, that is not true. In fact, I suggest that thinking that way is a sinful act. It misleads us into thinking that somehow God does not view in the New Testament sin in the same way as in the Old Testament. But God does not change nor do the standards of God change. If one would read carefully the Old Testament, God causes nations to rise and fall, almost always as the result of sin. One nation is punished for its sin by another rising nation, raised up to power by God as his instrument of justice. I see no reason to think that God has stopped guiding the world in the same way.
Here in America, we have the attitude that God does not work that way. And anyone who says he does, must be a nut. I must be a nut. I do not think that we can ignore God for very long. God is patient with sinners until he has had enough. We can see examples of this in the life of Israel and Judea. Prophets and preachers come and go pleading with the people to return to God. The people did not listen. God’s patience eventually ran out and they were judged. God’s people then were defined by a state boundary, an ethnic people belonging to one nation, which became divided into two nations. And both nations eventually fell, acts of judgment by a holy and just God.
Today, the church is God’s people, not defined by national boundaries, but defined by those who come to faith in Christ and confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. I believe that the condition of the people of God has strong influence over the fate of a nation. It is especially serious in nations where there is the claim of a national foundation based on the things of God. The United States was founded on Christian principles. Most European nations go even further, they have national churches and make the claim to be officially Christian nations.
If Christianity acts as a preservative to a nation, what happens when Christians stop being Christians? What happens when churches stop being churches? The story of Sodom and Gomorrah holds serious implications for the West. God would have not judged these cities-states (this is what they were, they each had a king), if only a few righteous people had been found there. What if God looks at us in the same way? Let’s admit it. Our society is thoroughly corrupt. Recently a sex club changed its name to a church and demands that the city of Nashville allow it to function as a church, though it is still a sex club. I doubt that, in years past, many people would have imagined that this could occur in a city that is the headquarters for several Christian denominations. Just read the news. It is depressing how far we have gone. Sodom and Gomorrah have nothing on us. We have invented new ways to sin. We are destroying families and our children and leaving them a world with no moral boundaries. We are a nation of corrupt politicians. Money drives almost everything, including churches. It is not a question anymore of how far we have fallen or how deep is our sin. The question is, will God judge us?
On the basis of the history of Sodom and Gomorrah, the question we must raise, are there any righteous people left? A lot of people play at Christianity. I see it on Facebook where all sorts of warm an fuzzy pictures are posted with inspiring little sayings. Or, little pep talks of positive thinking, implying a positive mind will overcome anything. I see all sorts of Christian claims by folk who do not carry out the very basics of the Christian faith in everyday life. Why is it that the piety of social media is not expressed in real life? I think it is because we have become so narcissistic that they think God revolves around them. Thus anything they do should be acceptable to God.
When I was a boy, a bunch of us were in a neighbor’s garage without permission. I don’t know how we got there. It is almost as if we popped in, but we all know that does not happen. We cleaned it up, swept the floor, and straightened things out as if it made it all right or the owner would be so glad he would let us use it as a hangout. In our childish mind, we presumed a lot. But, we also knew that we really were not supposed to be there, we were trespassing.
Christians have the childish notion that they can violate God’s basic rules and do what we please but if we clean it up, look sweet, do good deeds, then it will be just fine with God. We all have a conscience and even though we seek to cover it up, we know the truth. In Luke 17, Jesus had been talking about temptation and the lack of faith. Beware of our sin or the sin of a brother. The lack of faith is really a sin. But then Jesus added this powerful statement, it is a rude awaking to our modern idea of the Christian life.
7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?
8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?
9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?
10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Lk. 17:7-10 ESV)
God is not our servant. We are God’s servants. We serve our God. This is the baseline of the Christian life. Whatever gift that God may give or blessing that he might pour on us, we are always obligated to do our duty. Our baseline of existence is that we are God’s servants. We are always obligated to fulfill the basics of the Christian life. Our responsibility is not to please ourselves or seek out our own pleasure. Our first duty is to do the will of God. I know this is not very warm and fuzzy. I know it is not exciting and world shaking. But it is the truth.
We really have a need, in our world of polluted religion, to understand that we owe God. God does not owe us. We owe him everything, our lives, our families, our very being. If we do not get this part right, everything else we do will be out-of-order. This is the theme found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon discovers that everything is meaningless, worthless, vanity, unless one spends his or her time-serving God.
What is man’s first obligation? It is to worship God. Ecclesiastes puts it this way, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl. 12:13 ESV) The word for fear means to be afraid, to respect and to honor. This is what we do in worship. It is the beginning of all that we do in the Christian life. It forms the foundation of our Christian living. Worship is the life blood of our spiritual walk and without it, we dry up. Worship implies both private and public worship. The New Testament shapes the contents of our public worship. It should not be forsaken. In other words, we should worship as the Body of Christ. In that assembly of believers we are accountable to each other and we bear each other’s burdens.But above we worship together. Our worship is centered on the hearing of the Bible read and preached and, sung and prayed. Our hymnody, our prayers, our reading, and our preaching must all emerge from Scripture.
Modern Christians do not seem to believe this. Church worship seems to be optional. There is the belief that one can find God anywhere, why go to Church? The simple answer is, it is our obligation, our duty to assemble for worship. God does not have to give any other reason. The reason is our first duty is to worship God. I know the word duty does not feel all that good or fun, or spiritual. It is strange to me that when we talk about our patriotic duty to serve our nation we get all kinds of warm feelings. But when we talk about our duty to serve God, we say that is so cold and lifeless. We are we not eager to fulfill our duty to love God. Shouldn’t those who are redeemed, who are restored to the ability to worship be excited to do so?
Yet, church services are declining and pastors are turning church into entertainment centers to get people to come. It is about giving the people what they want. Those obligations to fear God and to keep his commandments seem to be long gone. I do not think it is possible for the average church to please God if we have forgotten the basics, our duty to God, to fear him and keep his commandments. If these basics are not obeyed, can it be said that we are a church?
So, Sodom comes back into focus. Are there 50 righteous, 30, 20, even 10? If we are not going to do the things of God, if we are not going to keep his commandments, then we occupy a house that is not ours. No matter how much we fix it up, we do not belong. We can be creative and professional, we can sing beautiful songs and preach funny and interesting sermons, but if we do not do the basics, we have trespassed into God’s house.
Do I think there is more than our basic obligation? Oh, yes. We have been invited to be family members. God the Holy Spirit is given to us. We have the great promise of eternal life. But does it mean anything if we do not first love (fear, respect, honor, worship) God and keep his commandments?