Sunday, March 16, 2008
Righteous, But Not Salty
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." -- Matthew 5:13
Influence is an amazing thing. The word in English is derived from a Latin root, in the verb form meaning literally, "to flow in". The spring air that flows in through a window influences the whole house. Of course, we understand the word to have much deeper meaning than simply entering a place. Whatever influences us not only flows in, but changes everything it touches, for good or bad.
The teen whose heart is touched by the gospel as he hears it preached is influenced.
The same teen may also be influenced when he sees porn on a convenience store shelf.
The teen whose heart is touched by the gospel may very well influence another teen to be open to the same message.
The teen who delves into porn will almost certainly influence others to corrupt their minds as well.
Of course, it's not just teens who are subject to influence. It's everyone. Influence is powerful, and carries with it eternal consequences.
The story of Lot is a story of influence. Influence felt, influence squandered, and far-reaching results no one could have foreseen.
Lot was the nephew of Abram (later called Abraham), and his story can be found in Genesis, chapters 13-14 and 18-19. Lot's father, Haran, had already died when Abram was called by God in Genesis 12 to leave his country and move to a land God would show him. Lot accompanied Abram and Sarai on this journey, and remained with them until the time came, in Genesis 13, when Abram and Lot agreed to separate for the sake of their large flocks and herds, which had become so difficult to manage close together that the herdsmen were beginning to squabble with each other. Abram gave Lot the first choice of which direction to go, and Lot chose the best-looking land, the plain of the Jordan, and set the course for the rest of his family's life.
Lot's choice sets in motion a progression of influence that mirrors Psalm 1, which describes first "walking in the counsel of the wicked", then "standing in the way of sinners", then "sitting in the seat of mockers". This is the progression of someone who first finds himself in casual company with the ungodly, then spending more time with them and becoming more accustomed to their ways, before finally becoming one of them.
Genesis 13:12, 14:12, and 19:1, read in succession, reveal the same gradually increasing comfort level in Lot's life concerning his adopted hometown, the infamous Sodom. He first "pitched his tents near Sodom", then is found to be "living in Sodom", and finally is found to be "sitting in the gateway of the city". The final statement indicates some level of prominence in the community, as Lot has apparently become something of an important person in a city God will soon destroy.
When God's angels appear in Sodom to determine whether to destroy the city, Lot greets them at the city gates, and invites them to stay at his house. The "men" initially decline Lot's offer, stating they intend to spend the night in the open square. Lot strongly insists they not do that, but instead come into his house. Finally, the visitors accept Lot's offer and go to his house. Unfortunately, this is Lot's strongest display of will during his time in Sodom.
At nightfall, a bizarre and disturbing scene unfolds, as all the men of Sodom, "young and old", surround Lot's house and demand that he send his two visitors outside, "that we may have sex with them". Lot steps out to plead with his neighbors, saying, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing." Lot continues his plea, "Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man." (We later find out they are both engaged to be married.) "Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But, don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." The men of Sodom totally disregard Lot's plea, and scornfully label him an "alien", assuring Lot he will not be their judge, but will instead be treated worse than his visitors.
Interesting: "I'm going to do whatever I want, and how dare anyone judge me for it?" Does this philosophy sound familiar?
It is also interesting to notice how none of the accommodations Lot had made for the evil people around him were returned in kind. While Lot might have been thinking he would blend in and later on be able to influence his friends, his friends' sole assumption was that Lot approved of them, just the way they were. They were indignant when Lot tried to change that relationship. Despite all the room Lot had made for them in his life, there was no room in their lives for someone trying to please God. Lot proves what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Bad company corrupts good character."
A few questions for Lot:
1. Why are these men your "friends"?
2. Why is it you have no credibility with these men? After all, don't you sit at the city gates? Is this the first time they have
heard you speak out about the conduct your city becomes the name for?
3. Where do you find it within yourself to offer up your daughters to this mob? Surely not even the value of hospitality would
demand this of you. Why must these men be pleased?
4. And, why were you so insistent that the visitors come to your house, even after they declined? Was it just hospitality? Or,
was it that you knew what would happen to them in the open square? You didn't tell them it wasn't safe. You just insisted
they come to your house. Were you trying to hide the true nature of your city?
Perhaps we should not be surprised that Lot offered up his daughters to be raped and murdered by a crowd of maniacs he called friends. By living in Sodom, investing himself in that community, and agreeing to let his daughters marry men from Sodom, he had given them over already, without so much as a fight for their souls.
The story does not end well.
The angelic visitors warn Lot to get his family out of Sodom, as God is about to destroy it. it is then that Lot's lack of influence catches up to him. Lot cannot convince his soon-to-be sons-in-law to heed the warning: They "thought he was joking" (19:14). He cannot ensure that his entire family follows the angels' instructions about fleeing the city: His wife looks back at the carnage, and "became a pillar of salt" (19:26). Lot finally makes it to a cave with his daughters, who secretly concoct a perverted scheme to "preserve our family line" (19:32). On two consecutive nights, the girls get Lot into a drunken stupor and proceed to have sex with him, getting themselves pregnant by their father. The babies born are both boys, whose descendants become great pagan nations at odds with God's people: the Moabites and the Ammonites.
The Genesis account leads the reader to believe that Lot was a man of slim convictions and little courage. In reality, it may be that only the latter is true. A different side of Lot is portrayed in 2 Peter 2:7. In this passage, Lot is described as a "righteous man", who was "distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men"; and "that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard". This is an interesting take on the life of Lot, especially in the light of his failures so clearly seen in Genesis.
The question is: What good did Lot's righteousness do? What good did it do for his wife? His children? His community? His descendants? Who was influenced by his righteousness?
Of course, no person's righteousness can guarantee anything. But, we are called to be an influence. To be salt. To be light. To change our surroundings, not to allow our surroundings to change us. Lot's story is one that should cause every Christian to consider his influence. Lot is what Jesus spoke of, the salt that lost its saltiness. Despite everything he believed, in the end, no one in his life was influenced by his righteousness, though they could have been, had Lot been willing to make it a priority.
Consider Lot, and be salt.