Issue #65 -------
August 27, 2003
I hate a fellow whom pride, or cowardice,
or laziness drives into a corner, and who does
nothing when he is there but sit and growl;
let him come out as I do, and bark.
--- Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
The apostle Peter characterized the inhabitants of Sodom as "oppressive" and "ungodly," engaging daily in lawless deeds and improper conduct (2 Peter 2:1-9). Jude, the brother of our Lord, informs us, in Jude 7, that they indulged themselves in gross immorality, seeking after "strange flesh" (a reference usually interpreted to mean homosexual perversion). Traditionally, this sexual excess is regarded as the sin of Sodom which ultimately led to its destruction. Indeed, the word "sodomy," which refers to any abnormal sexual act, is named after these very people. There is no question but what they were known for some very deviant sexual appetites (Genesis 19). Perhaps the best summary statement with regard to Sodom, however, is by the Lord Himself in a statement to Abraham just prior to the city's destruction: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their sin is exceedingly grave" (Genesis 18:20). An indicator of the seriousness of this sin is seen in the fact that God promised Abraham the city would be spared destruction if only TEN righteous people could be found within it (Genesis 18:32). They could not be found!
Was homosexual perversion the "exceedingly grave" sin of the people of Sodom? Was this the specific reason why God chose to destroy this city, along with Gomorrah and their environs? Or, were there other more serious sins for which our God rained down the fire and brimstone from heaven? Without a doubt, the gross immorality of the people was an abomination to our God, and certainly was a factor in their ultimate destruction. But, Scripture informs us they were displaying attitudes and engaging in activities far more deplorable, despicable and distasteful in the eyes of God, and it was for these sins they were destroyed by the eternal fire from His presence.
Most people are very surprised, and even shocked, when they first learn the true nature of the sin of Sodom. It is eye-opening to perceive what God regards as abomination deserving of nothing less than utter destruction from the face of the earth. We need to pay close attention to this revelation from His inspired Word, for we, as individuals, communities, and nations, are too often guilty of the same offences. We must awake from our spiritual stupor before we find ourselves facing the same fate as Sodom.
In Ezekiel 16:46-48 the Lord informs the people of Judah that they are sisters to Sodom! Indeed, He declares, "you are worse than Sodom!" They must have wondered, "How can we be worse than the inhabitants of Sodom?!" Perhaps they thought of the sexual perversions of the Sodomites and argued, "But, we're not doing that .... so how can we possibly be worse?!" It is then that God enumerates the fatal failings of the people of Sodom. Notice them carefully:
If the Lord God had merely stated, "They committed abominations before Me," we would all probably never suspect any other sin than the sexual perversions of the Sodomites. Certainly those transgressions are included in the "abominations" that were committed before God, but our God has listed failings that He regarded as far more indicative of the true character of these people. It should also be pointed out that the word translated "abominations" in the above English rendering is actually, in the original text, the word for "acts of lawlessness." Thus, the passage literally reads, "they acted lawlessly before Me." This was a general term that could encompass a great many different detestable deeds. In our text we see what five of those "lawless acts" were.
This was to serve as a warning to the people of Judah. They may have felt comfortable in their relationship with God because they were not the "perverts" they perceived the Sodomites to have been. However, God informs them they are even more perverted in their attitudes and actions. We also must take warning from this message! If we walk in the way of Sodom, we too can expect to face the eternal fire one day! Let us notice, therefore, the five fatal failings of the people of Sodom as perceived in Ezekiel 16:49-50.
#1 --- An Attitude Of Superiority
The first sin listed in the passage under consideration is pride or arrogance. In the Septuagint this is the Greek word huperephanos, which means "to assume yourself to be above others; superior to or better than anyone else." It is an arrogant, disdainful attitude; the sin of a superiority complex. When a person regards himself as better than others, he will soon begin to look down upon others. They will become a source of irritation to him. They will never measure up to his expectations, and, in time, will be considered incapable of measuring up. Those things which others do accomplish, could have been done much better, or more efficiently, or more correctly had the superior person done them! No one else is ever good enough, or smart enough, or capable enough, or righteous enough. YOU have arrived .... they are perceived as much farther back on the road than you (if they are even deemed to be on the road at all).
Such arrogance will always eventually lead to oppression of those whom you disdain. Nehemiah 9:9-10 tells us that Pharaoh and the Egyptians acted arrogantly toward the Jews, and the result of that arrogance was affliction of the very people they regarded as inferior. Their attitude of "We are better than you" led to hundreds of years of cruel slavery and abuse. In our own nation, some regarded themselves as superior to "the black man," and this nation has still not recovered from the resulting abuse and misery inflicted undeservedly upon these people. Such manifest arrogance is a people's shame.
Numbers 15:30 declares that any person who does anything out of a sense of "I'm superior to you" is guilty of blaspheming God, and he will be cut off from among his people! In Deuteronomy 17:12-13 God says that the man who regards himself as superior to the priest or judge, and who will not listen to them, will die! "In this way you shall purge the evil from Israel; and all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act arrogantly or superior again."
Understanding that oppression always follows on the heels of arrogance, the writer of Psalm 119 prays, "Do not let the arrogant oppress me" (vs. 122). He says those who feel superior to him have "utterly derided me" (vs. 51) .... they "have forged lies against me" (vs. 69) .... they had also tried to undermine him (vs. 78). When we feel superior to another, we will feel no qualms about seeking to afflict and even destroy them. By ridding humanity of their presence, we do humanity a service ... or so we mistakenly, and arrogantly, assume.
The people of Sodom, it seems, were filled with this hurtful attitude of regarding themselves as superior to everyone else. This is clearly seen in their attitude toward the strangers that came in among them (Genesis 19:9). They demanded they be brought out to them so they could do as they pleased with them. They had no respect or regard for others. Why should they? After all, they were superior to these strangers! All others existed solely for their amusement and pleasure. They could be dealt with as they pleased.
Such arrogance also leads to such declarations as: "We're right, all others are apostates!" "My way, or no way!" "We are the only ones right before God." "We are the only Christians on the face of the earth." "We are the only ones going to heaven." "We are the one, true church, all others are godless denominations." And why shouldn't we say these things?! After all, we are superior to all others; alone favored of God. Right?! "God, I thank Thee that I'm not like other people!" So said the Pharisee in Luke 18:11.
Such arrogance and pride makes God sick! It caused Sodom to "undergo the punishment of eternal fire" (Jude 7). In the Apocryphal work Ecclesiasticus the writer states, "Neither spared He the place where Lot sojourned, but abhorred them for their pride" (16:8). We had better learn this lesson ... and quickly!
#2 --- Abundant Boasting
Let's move down to verse 50 of our text and notice a second sin of the citizens of Sodom; one which is very similar to the first, which is why we're considering it out of its given order of appearance. God characterizes the people of Sodom as haughty. This is the Greek word megalaucheo, which means "abundant and great boasting." James 3:5 says "the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things." When one is filled with arrogance and pride -- when one feels himself to be superior to all others -- boasting is never far behind. Again, the Pharisee in Luke 18 comes to mind. Right after thanking God he was not like other men, he immediately boasts, "I fast twice a week and pay tithes of all that I get" (vs. 12).
One with an arrogant attitude will always seek to draw attention to himself. "Look at me ... see what I've done ... aren't I wonderful?!" Arrogance leads to boasting, and, in the case of Sodom, both led to destruction! In contrast, Jesus taught, in His Sermon on the Mount, not to do anything in such a way as to be noticed by others. Practice your righteousness before God, not men. "Otherwise," says Jesus, "you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1).
#3 --- Fleshly Indulgence
A third sin of the Sodomites, as perceived in Ezekiel 16:49, is "abundant food" (NASB). The NAB (St. Joseph edition) reads, "sated with food." The NIV renders it, "overfed and unconcerned!" This is not to suggest it is sinful to have plenty to eat, nor is it suggesting it is sinful to be filled and not be hungry. Rather, the Lord is focusing on sinful attitudes here. These were people who had an abundance of the material possessions of this life, and yet they were completely unconcerned that there were those about them who had nothing. They were unwilling to share of their means with those less fortunate. We will notice more about this when we examine the fifth sin of Sodom.
The Sodomites were a people who insisted upon indulging the appetites of the flesh. The phrase "fullness of bread" in the biblical text -- or, more literally: "gratification of bread" -- can mean a number of things. Not only does it signify an abundance of bread or food (as can be seen in Exodus 16:3 where the Jews in the wilderness desired to return to the slavery of Egypt where they "ate bread to the full"), but it can also refer to a fullness of any of the necessities of life. It is a phrase which can also mean "to indulge fleshly appetites; to gratify the demands of the physical body." Paul used this word in Colossians 2:23 in speaking against "fleshly indulgence."
The sin of the people of Sodom was that they had become obsessed with gratifying the desires of the flesh, whether those desires were for food, or other material possessions, or even for sex. Their obsession had driven them to constantly want more than what they currently had. What they had was never enough, even though it was sufficient to meet their needs. They wanted more! A dissatisfaction with what one has not only leads to a desire for more, but in time a desire for something different, as well; something new. This thirst for gratification eventually led them to seek something new even in the sexual experience. Thus, they went after "strange flesh."
Genesis 19:4 informs us that when the men of the city heard that two new men were in town, all the men of the city, both young and old, from every quarter of the city, surrounded the house of Lot. Here was something new with which to gratify the flesh. They didn't want the daughters of Lot; this was nothing new and exciting to their tastes. But something different got their attention. New "flesh" had arrived in town .... and the whole city turned out!! The Sodomites had such an abundance that they had become perverse in their desires .... and it eventually destroyed them! This also contributed to the fall of Rome, as students of ancient history well know. Unless we repent, it may well lead to our own ruin as a nation, for we are walking the same pathway of perversion as the Sodomites!
#4 --- Wanton Well-Being
The fourth sin of Sodom goes hand-in-hand with the third. The RSV describes it as "prosperous ease." It comes from two words in the original which simply mean "to flourish or prosper in great luxury." The Sodomites had become a society of people with everything ... and then some! They were like the rich man, in The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, who "gaily lived in splendor every day" (Luke 16:19). What they failed to perceive, however, is that many of those who choose to live this way are "dead even while they live" (1 Timothy 5:6). Too many who prosper materially soon become impoverished spiritually. When one gets caught up in the pursuit of the material world, whether it be business, money, power, pleasure, fame, or whatever, that person begins to wither and die inside. This pursuit is deadly.
Daniel 11:21 informs us it blinds one to the danger which is all around; one can't even see the approaching destruction. Those who live a life of ease become scoffers and contemptuous of others who have less than they (Psalm 123:4). They become hostile toward their brethren, spouses and children (Deuteronomy 28:54). It destroys relationships, and it will ultimately become a cause of their own destruction .... just as it did with Sodom. "You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for a day of slaughter" (James 5:5).
#5 --- Neglecting To Render Aid
All four of the above failings of the Sodomites --- a sense of being superior to everyone else, a boastful attitude, over-indulging the desires of the flesh, living in idleness, ease and luxury --- contributed to the fifth and final failing of these people as enumerated in Ezekiel 16:49. This was the sin of unconcern and neglect; the sin of apathy.
All about them people were hurting and in need, and they didn't care! They felt nothing for others because they were consumed with self. In spite of the great potential for good that was theirs because of their abundance, they "did not help the poor and needy." The word translated "help" in this passage is really two words in the original. It simply signifies: "to lend a helping hand; to extend the hands." The Sodomites were so intent upon grabbing up everything they could for themselves that their hands were not free to reach out to others.
The apostle John wrote, "But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17). The rich man in Luke 16 had Lazarus begging at his gate for crumbs from the table, but instead of reaching out a hand to help, he let him die on his doorstep. Paul says, "We must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus who said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35). He further commands us, in 1 Timothy 6:18, to "be generous and willing to share." A disciple of Christ is urged to "work in order that he may have something to share with him who has need" (Ephesians 4:28). This the people of Sodom refused to do.
In the Ezekiel passage, God tells us there are two types of people we must help:
Both of these groups of needy ones we have with us today. The homeless would fall into the first category; people who have absolutely nothing; the destitute. But, there are also those who are honestly trying to make ends meet; who are working -- maybe even more than one job -- but who simply are struggling to get by. Paul says if one is able to work, but refuses, then neither let him eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). But, the people under consideration in Ezekiel, in the second category, are working; they are genuinely trying. They just need some additional help. We are to help such people, just as we are to help the destitute.
Leviticus 25:35 says being gracious to the needy honors God. Proverbs 28:27 declares, "He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes to them will have many curses." The worthy woman of Proverbs 31 was considered worthy, at least in part, because "she extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy (vs. 20). I would encourage the reader to also examine Deuteronomy 15:7-11 and Acts 2:44-45. These are divine directives and principles the Sodomites obviously failed to perceive ... and it cost them their lives.
The people of Sodom had been abundantly blessed. They were prosperous, had plenty to eat, and lived well ... and there is nothing wrong with any of that. God desires for us to have the abundant life and to prosper -- physically, materially, emotionally and spiritually. John wrote, "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 2).
The problem in Sodom was that the prosperity and the good life had become an end in itself. They couldn't see past their prosperity to the good use to which they should be putting these blessings. They had become so absorbed with themselves, and with the gratification of their every selfish desire, that any concern and compassion they should have felt for others had died within them. This lack of regard for others eventually led to acts of hostility and depravity against those they deemed inferior.
God told the Jewish people prior to their fall and captivity, through His prophet Ezekiel, "You are worse than Sodom!" I wonder what God would say to us if He were to send a prophet our way? As He looked upon our abundance, and how we administer this trust ... as He looked at our numerous daily opportunities to reach out a helping hand to others ... as He looked inside our hearts to see if there was any compassion left for those less fortunate ... would He say, "well done, good and faithful servant," or would He say, "You're worse than Sodom!"?
Many, I fear, will one day stand before the Lord and hear the dreadful words, "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me" (Matthew 25:41-43).
Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6 inform us that Sodom has been made an example to all those who would live ungodly thereafter. We have noticed in this article what God regards as "ungodly living." May we take this message to heart, individually, congregationally, and as a nation!
From a Reader in Kentucky:
Al, Regarding When An Elder's Wife Dies, it was, as always, a well-done article. I truly appreciate your writing style and your attitude. A legalistic church where a friend currently preaches underwent a split about a year or two ago regarding this very topic. This preacher took the position that an elder should remain an elder even though his wife died. I was totally shocked that he took that position (most legalists go the other way). I later found out why he took the position he did. He claimed there was no "command, example, and inference" for an elder "stepping down" in such a case. The Bible is "completely silent" regarding an elder "stepping down" when his wife dies. Thus, he found "no authority" for an elder "stepping down" after such an event. Silence prohibits this action, according to him. Our hermeneutics are so interesting (and sad), are they not?!
I am happy because of brothers like you and others who are helping legalists come out of their legalism. Having spent ten years in the Non-Institutional faction, I find myself especially close to those who have emerged from legalism. It is so nice to have this freedom, Al. There are three people who have helped me most come out of legalism. In no particular order of preference, those men would be: Cecil Hook, Dallas Burdette, and of course, Al Maxey! All three of you have been such a resource to me in the last 1 to 1.5 years. Your writings were a great inspiration during that time. I would ask for your prayers as my wife and I still struggle with our legal heritage.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Brother, I enjoyed this article. I remember well a study we did at Bear Valley on the Pastoral Epistles. Brother Tharp always had us read and study in the Greek. I noted then (20+ years ago) that in 1 Timothy 3 the literal Greek says "one woman man," and also in 1 Timothy 5 when speaking of the widows who are widows indeed .... that they be "a one man woman." How could a widow be a "one man woman" without a husband, and then the same language mean something different for the man who is to be a leader for the flock of God?! Just some thoughts from the Ozarks.
From a Minister in Oklahoma:
I write to tell you how refreshing it is to hear a Church of Christ minister be sensible on this issue. I write a daily devotional that goes out to about 65,000 readers, and have taken a beating from a few in the Churches of Christ .... some have just been downright Pharisaical with shallow, mindless arguments. Grant you, the CofC has no exclusive claim on that, though! I have been ripped apart by all different churches, as I'm sure you have. By far the worse are the KJV-only folks, who have passed me off as Satan's spawn. It is amazing to me how a group that can be so vicious and hateful can still make claim to being God's ONLY true people! It is the fate of all who stand on the Truth publicly to get persecuted for it.
Anyway, I appreciate your sensible and honest conclusions on this matter regarding elders, and frankly I admire you because I know you are going to take a beating by a lot of CofC brethren for hinting that a divorced and/or remarried person might POSSIBLY still be suited to shepherd. I agree totally with your conclusion, however. Thank you for your ministry!
From a Deacon in Alabama:
Your recent article entitled When An Elder's Wife Dies reminds me of the inconsistencies and subjectivity of pattern and legalistic theology. I agree with your analysis of the intended principle of "one woman man," and I'm pleased to have seen in our own congregation an elder remain an elder even after his beloved wife of many years died and then when he later remarried. Nevertheless, the same people who would wisely look for the principle intended by Paul in this matter choose to view other issues from a legalistic viewpoint. The same people who say it would be okay to give to the church on another day besides Sunday adamantly espouse that the Lord's Supper can only be observed on Sunday. The same people who insist the bread must be unleavened, because that is what Jesus used, argue that the fruit of the vine can be fermented or unfermented, no matter what Jesus used. I've seen so many people who have these tendencies, and I love them, but I wish they would see their own inconsistencies.
From a Preacher in Georgia:
I am glad someone has had the fortitude to address some of the ridiculous positions churches take when an elder's wife dies. I am still having to think some about what position a man is put in if his wife divorces him on grounds other than adultery. Does he qualify as an elder? I have to think about that issue further. Thank you for the article, all of it.
From a Reader in Indiana:
Brother Al, Just a note to let you know how much we really enjoy your Reflections. It is really a blessing to read and study these. Please keep up the work you are doing with the Reflections. We look forward to every one of them. This world needs them now more than ever! I know you will be put down for a lot of the work you are doing, but please don't stop! The Bible needs to be explained; it has been hid too long in the church. There is a lot of teaching that needs to be corrected. May God bless you in your work, in every way.
From a Reader in Texas:
Bro. Al, Thank you for When An Elder's Wife Dies. I had never considered that situation before, and agree completely with what you had to say about it. But since qualifications are given for elders' wives also, might that suggest she has an active role to play in his shepherding of the flock? Not for a minute do I think that her death would disqualify him, but if he thought her absence hampered his fulfilling his role as elder, he might choose not to continue to serve. Just a thought. Very interesting question. I appreciate your scholarship and your deep probing of the Scriptures.
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