In his letter to the Church in Rome, Paul remarked that the Old Testament Scriptures were written for our instruction [Romans 15:4]. So, it’s always worth reflecting on the characters as we read the Bible, especially in historical books. I’m currently studying the book of Genesis, and Lot, Abraham’s nephew, is one of those intriguing characters. He emigrated from Babylon (somewhere near modern-day Iraq) with Abraham and his grandfather, settled with them in Haran (somewhere in ancient Turkey) and then followed Abraham to the promised land [Genesis 11:31 – 12:5]. He even accompanied Abraham to Egypt when there was a famine in Canaan. Sticking to Abraham was a clever move considering the promises and prophesies upon his life, but shortly after an amicable dispute over pastureland, Lot moved away from his uncle [Genesis 13:5-13].
Lot’s story begins a negative spiral after that separation. First, he pitched his tent close to Sodom, a city of great sinners [Genesis 13:12-13]. Then, he became a prisoner of war after Sodom’s king rebelled against a king he’d served [Genesis 14:1-12]. Abraham subsequently rescued Lot and brought him back to Sodom. We don’t hear from him anymore for about two decades. The next time we see him, he’s sitting at the gates of Sodom [Genesis 19:1]. The prevailing thought amongst biblical scholars is that city gates were at the centre of city life. It’s where you found the leading men of the city. If this is the case, then Lot had become a prominent figure in Sodom.
The story of the judgement and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah features Abraham bargaining with God to spare the city from His wrath [Genesis 18:20-33]. Abraham began by asking God to spare the cities if He found fifty godly people living there, and then through a series of requests, Abraham reduced the number to ten righteous people, and God agreed. Yet, we know from the fate of the cities that God couldn’t find ten upright people living there to avert His justice. Although Peter points out that Lot was a righteous man [2 Peter 2:7-8], the story in Genesis 19 highlights that he didn’t influence anyone else with his righteousness, not even his family. In fact, the chapter closes with a sordid tale of incest and drunkenness that results in the birth of the Moabites and Ammonites, who would later fight Abraham’s descendants.
Contrast Lot’s influence with Abraham’s, who in his nineties was able to get several hundred soldiers in his household to agree to be circumcised so that they could partake of his covenant with God [Genesis 17:10-14,26-27]. Abraham, like all of us, had his flaws. But, his righteousness impacted others. Even Lot’s rescue from the fate of Sodom was on account of Abraham’s relationship with God [Genesis 19:16, 29]. We can learn much from Lot’s story, such as an inevitable slide into moral compromise if we don’t place guardrails in our lives. However, today, I want to focus on the impact of our relationship with God beyond ourselves.
In our hyper-individualised cultures, where it’s the norm to look out for number one, how much do we pay attention to the impact our faith has on our family and neighbours? Are others benefitting from or being influenced positively by your godliness? If you were in Lot’s shoes, would your community be spared from God’s wrath because you had raised nine other people to stand righteously before God? That’s an uncomfortable question because some of us may not have up to nine people in our lives whom we’ve discipled and taught to observe all that Jesus commanded His followers [Matthew 28:20]. Nevertheless, how much do we desire to be ambassadors God can use to make His appeal to the world [2 Corinthians 5:20]?
Jesus’s parting words to us were to make other disciples and teach them how to observe all He taught [Matthew 28:18-20]. I must confess that I only recently noticed the word teach in that command. Nonetheless, it makes perfect sense that teaching would play a significant role in making disciples. Elsewhere, Jesus also commanded His disciples to become His witnesses, starting from where they were to the ends of the earth [Acts 1:8]. That instruction goes hand in glove with the first because part of making disciples is modelling the Christ-like life. They ought to see Jesus in and through those who claim to be following Him [1 Corinthians 11:1].
The stories in the book of Acts illustrate that when we teach and live out the ways of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll bring many into a relationship with God. That’s the primary objective of every Christian. Not only does Jesus pledge to accompany us as we make disciples, but Scripture also promises that those who turn many to righteousness will shine like stars forever [Daniel 12:3]. God’s justice demands that a soul that sins must die [Ezekiel 18:20], but He doesn’t delight in the death of anyone [Ezekiel 18:32]. So, God made a way for His justice to be fully satisfied through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus, who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. However, Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose to life because He was the righteous Lamb of God. He defeated sin and death and imputed His righteousness to us [2 Corinthians 5:21]. So, anyone who believes in Jesus as the risen Lord is made righteous by their faith and won’t experience God’s wrath, like Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s good news! It’s the calling of every believer to share it [Romans 10:5-17].
Two questions as you reflect on Lot’s story: Who are your nine righteous? Is there a ripple effect to your righteousness in your community?