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One might considerthat the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are an unlikely subject for an exhortation prior to partaking of the emblems commemorating the death and resurrection of our Lord. Certainly their sins were base and distasteful to contemplate. However, the prophet Ezekiel gives a broader perspective of the overall behavior of these people — a consideration of which can be helpful: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom. She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezek. 16:49,50, NIV).

We see that, in addition to the “detestable things”, the reason for the destruction of these ancients was their lack of response to those around them. They had great wealth and abundance, but with regard to suffering they were blind and turned a deaf ear to the cries of the needy. Overfed and proud, they thought only of their own comfort and gratification. Is there not an echo of this situation in the society in which many of us live today?

Similar problems in Israel

Interestingly, the reasons for God’s judgments against HIS people are remarkably similar: “And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother: and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear… therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 7:8-12). In common with Sodom and Gomorrah, Israel refused to care for the disadvantaged, thinking only of their own pleasures even in religious practices.

Along with most of the nations in the area, the population of Sodom and Gomorrah had long ago spurned their Creator and had been given over to their reprobate minds. It was different for the Hebrews who, after being led out of the darkness of Egypt, were recipients of God’s laws and loving kindness. In the Law were specific instructions for the nurturing of the aged, fatherless, widows and even interested strangers. The Lord God of the universe had demonstrated a father’s love in His care and protection of the children of Israel, and He demanded a reflection of that love in their behavior. Not only had they failed in this respect, but they also had deliberately plotted and schemed, devising evil against their brethren.

Isaiah shows the same ungodly behavior was prevalent in his day: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless” (Isa. 10:1,2, NIV). Is it any wonder the assessment of God through Ezekiel was that Israel’s wickedness exceeded that of Sodom and Gomorrah: “As truly as I live, says the LORD God, neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done” (Ezek. 16:48).

Liberty rejected

Punishment of wayward Israel was imminent as the dreaded Babylonians laid siege around Jerusalem. It is interesting that, at this time of crisis, the leaders and people met in the courts of the temple and made a solemn covenant to free all slaves. (Over the years, the law requiring liberation of slaves at the start of every seventh year had been ignored. The Sabbath year was to bring rest to the slave as well as to the land, serving to remind the people that they had been released from slavery in Egypt.)

Whether this action was initiated by direct commandment from God through Jeremiah, or rather was an attempt to utilize the pent-up energy of freed slaves in the defense of the city, is uncertain. What is clear, however, is that when the siege was temporarily lifted, the Jews thought the danger was over and immediately reinstated the slave status, incurring the wrath of God: “Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight. Each of you proclaimed freedom to his countrymen… But now you nave turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free… you have not obeyed me… so I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the LORD, ‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine…” (Jer. 34:15-17, NIV).

What irony — serious wrong concerning individual slaves could have been corrected at the eleventh hour, but the nation’s disobedience destroyed any hope of a continuing national freedom, and resulted in 70 years of slavery in Babylon!

Beware of sowing discord
Paul explains that those who submit to baptism are freed from ‘Master Sin’ and become the servants (slaves) of righteousness (Rom. 6:18). In God’s mercy, along with Israel of old, we can anticipate the future Sabbath rest prepared for the faithful.

As adopted sons and daughters of God, we have a responsibility to show compassion and concern for the vulnerable in our midst and to build each other up in a spirit of harmony. Our heavenly Father will not countenance discord, especially when its seed is sown deliberately, as is shown at the end of the list of seven things that He hates: “…he that soweth discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19). It is a sin to cause discord, disharmony and strife within the brotherhood; we must be constantly aware of how easy it is to be the instigator of such a situation.

Positive action

Let us now concentrate on positive action. Expanding the teaching of the law, Jesus taught: “Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, thou shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement… If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:21,23,24). This is a salutary lesson. We may have prayerfully prepared our minds and approached the Lord’s table in reverence, eager to partake of the emblems in his memory. But it is all futile, if a member of our body has something against us that is a cause of concern or resentment. Whatever it is (and how hard we try to justify our behavior), we have an obligation to heal the breach. Such action is part of the love we are expected to show for each other.

A life of sacrifice

Our Savior was very specific in this regard: “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Not only in his death did Jesus lay down his life, but he also dedicated his whole life as an ongoing sacrifice, giving every ounce of effort, thought and energy to the redemptive work desired by his Father in heaven.

We may not be called upon to lay down our lives literally for the brethren. But we can give of ourselves by forsaking the practice of putting self first and by focusing upon the wellbeing and needs of others: “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-28, NIV).

There are many ways of showing our love. We express our love for others when we share with them our knowledge of the purpose of God through His Son, and the wonderful hope of eternal life in the kingdom on earth. Another important aspect is the outward working of love demonstrated in our treatment of each other.

Practice good works

Although metaphorically we have been led out of the darkness of Egypt, we are surrounded by those who practice the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. How easy it is, in such a culture, to become arrogant, overfed and unconcerned for the welfare of the disadvantaged. The apostle’s words ring down the centuries: “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9,10). Remember the Lord said: “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42).

Josh Gallagher, San Francisco

Suggested Readings
Most of this special issue tells inspirational stories of the impressive growth of our community around the world. A few of the articles discuss preaching methods that have run their course and need to be updated or replaced. Another article reviews common reasons churches die and emphasizes how critical adapting to change is to stay alive.
It is the prayer of the Tidings Committee that the launch of the EcclesiaSafe program in your ecclesia will not only result in a program to prevent abuse but will also help to generate healthy dialog among us about the care of one another.
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