Accompanying Bob Deffinbaugh sermon: How to Find a Godly Wife
Accompanying Ray Stedman sermon: Here Comes the Bride
I read through both of the above sermons and it was interesting to note how differently they approached the text.
Stedman first acknowledges that the telling of the story of Rebekah and Isaac is a picture of Pentecost:
Here is Abraham standing for God the Father sending his unnamed servant into the far country to take a bride for his son -- to invite her to come, to call, to woo, and to win her -- to bring her back at last to the Father's house where the son is waiting to claim his bride for himself. How beautifully that portrays how God, at the Day of Pentecost, sent his Spirit into the world! It is the Spirit's job to call out a people for God's name, to win a bride for Christ; he has been at this task for almost 2,000 years now, and the Son is waiting to receive that bride. We read in the book of Revelation of the wedding supper of the Lamb, and of the Lord coming to claim his bride for himself, (see Revelation 19:7-9).
However, he then points out that though this is a general application of this passage, there is an important individual application as well. Every Christian is obviously the bride in this story, called by the Spirit of God into relationship with the Father. But, as we read this story, we realize that Rebekah is not really the central character of this story, the servant is. We've already recognized that the servant is a picture of the Spirit's work, but we also know that God very often chooses to work through human hands. We are the servant in this passage, and this story becomes a picture of personal evangelism.
I confess that I have never thought of this story in that light before, but after reading through Stedman's sermon, it makes perfect sense.
In our passage, Abraham sends the servant to find the bride and binds him to the task with an oath. From an evangelistic perspective, God has asked every Christian to commit to this task. It is not optional, it is not a suggestion. We are commanded by the Father to find a wife for His Son.
Abraham did not allow the servant to bring Isaac along, a restriction that definitely seems to increase the difficulty of the task at hand. Similarly, Jesus is with the Father, and we are to evangelize in His absence. We know, however, that this actually does not make the task more difficult - the disciples were often confused in the presence of Jesus and His teachings, but their hearts and minds were illuminated when the Spirit did His work in them. Jesus is not coming back until the appointed time, and He has put His Spirit within us to empower us in this awesome responsibility. God has given us a command, but He also given us the resources in the Spirit by which to do it.
We then see five stages in evangelism outlined for us.
First, there is the expectation that God will work in the hearts of those we are to minister to, just like the servant expected God to assist him in his task.
Second, there is the confirmation that God will indicate who it is that we are to minister to, just like the servant expected God to point out the right girl for Isaac. We don't need to ask for a sign or put out a fleece, but if we pray expecting God to give us an opportunity to witness for Him, we know that He will give us that opportunity if we are willing to see it.
The third stage is preparation. When the servant recognizes that Rebekah is the one, he doesn't immediately begin to list off Isaac's wonderful qualities and immediately press her for a commitment. Instead, he arranges a private conversation, allowing some time to make proper contact. Neither should we bash someone over the head with their sins and demand an immediate conversion. First, we need to do at least some preparation, some small talk or "get to know you" questions on a plane, or an invitation to dinner for a neighbour, instead of a 5 minute gospel presentation the first time you yell hello over the fence.
The fourth stage is the presentation itself. The servant is forthright and candid, laying everything out on the table. He starts by talking about the inheritance of the son, he gives his personal testimony along the way, and ends by presenting gifts from Isaac as samples of the riches she was being offered. Similarly, our job is not to get people to stop sinning, our job is to win them to Christ and He will take care of the rest.
Finally, there is the actual invitation. This is not an easy choice for Rebekah. She is being asked to leave her family, her home, her country; and go to a place she has not seen with a man she has only met a few days before to marry a man she has never met. Similarly, becoming a Christian is no easy choice. They need to be willing to give up the sinful life they know, and put their lives under the control of the Son whom they do not know. It is a huge decision, and one we should not sugar coat. They need to understand exactly what they are committing to in order for the decision to be genuine and result in a permanent life change.
In the end we need to bring them to the Son. Personal testimony is good and has it's place, but we need to point them to the Son as it is Him with whom they will be relationship.
The work of the Trinity is evident throughout this story. It begins with the command of the Father, proceeds with the cooperation of the Spirit, and ends with the communion with the Son....
But look at the servant standing by. Can't you imagine him grinning from ear to ear, registering the joy in his heart at the fulfillment of his mission in bringing a bride for Isaac.....We can expect the same brimming of joy in our own hearts as we watch someone join together with his Lord in new life.
Deffinbaugh focuses more on the marriage aspect of the story and what we should look for, or teach our children to look for:
- only considering marriage when it seems to be God's purpose for us, He does call some to be single
- only considering marriage in God's timing, and not marrying just anyone in the mistaken belief that anyone is better than no one. It would be far better to be single, than to choose wrongly for a lifetime.
- looking for a godly mate in the right place. We are far more likely to find a godly mate at a Christian college or a church singles group than at a bar.
- if you're wanting a godly mate you need to look for godly qualities. Attractiveness is all well and good, but godly character is far more important to a successful marriage.
- being willing to heed the counsel of older and wiser Christians.
- being willing to put emotional feelings last.
Do you notice that love came last, not first, in this chapter? Isaac learned to love his wife in time. Love came after marriage, not before it. That leads me to a principle which many Christian counselors often stress: ROMANTIC LOVE IS NEVER THE BASIS FOR MARRIAGE—MARRIAGE IS THE BASIS FOR ROMANTIC LOVE.
Here we see a good reason for a Christian making the decision never to date an unbeliever. A Christian should carefully screen any person before he or she would even consider going out on a date with them. Dating frequently leads to emotional involvement and physical attraction. Romantic love is a wonderful emotional feeling, but it will never sustain a marriage. Do not put yourself in a situation where romantic love can grow until you are certain that you want it to grow.
It is important to choose wisely when searching for a mate. We want to marry "the right one" and we should absolutely encourage our children to marry "the right one", and have numerous discussions about what to look for in a spouse. After all, aside from salvation, it is the most important choice we will ever make that will impact our lives the most. But perhaps the most important thing to realize is that once you are married, your spouse now becomes the right one, regardless of whether or not it was originally the right choice. If we choose wisely, and both parties are godly people who are determined to make the marriage work, it will. But if we choose unwisely, we must not despair - there is still grace, and His grace is sufficient.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Genesis 25