ďCommon GraceĒ†††††††† Deuteronomy 2:1-19†††††††††††††† January 17, 2010

 

SI:Last week we started a study of the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy has been called the Romans of the Old Testament.

†† And it is a lot like Paulís letter to the Romans in a number of ways.

 

Deuteronomy is a book about Godís grace.

Itís about the grace of God being poured out on us freely and undeserved,

†† and then the life of faith and obedience we give to God in response to his grace.

Another way Deuteronomy is like Romans is that itís a very doctrinal book.

†† It presents some of the great big doctrines of the Christian faith

†† for us to ponder and wrestle with and apply to our lives.

Weíre going to look at one of those big doctrines this morning.

 

Before we read, let me set the stage again.Moses is speaking to the Israelites.

Not the generation that came out of Egypt.

†† They all died in the wilderness for their failure to trust God.

†† These are their children, the second generation.

They are standing on the brink of the Promised Land,

†† and the Lord tells Moses to give them the law a second time.

 

But before he does, he reminds them of the history of Godís relationship

†† with Israel.In this reading, he recounts how God led them through three

†† pagan nations on their way to the Promise LandóEdom, Moab, and Ammon.

As we read, I want you to notice how God protected those pagan nations.


 

INTRO:When I had the privilege of visiting India two years ago,

†† we drove through one of the holy cities of HinduismóTiruvannamalai.

Right in the middle of the city was huge Hindu temple complex.

†† There were stone towers and walls and gates, all covered with ornate carvings.

We didnít stop, but as we drove past, I looked through one of the gates,

†† I saw magnificent colonnades leading to courtyards and shrines.

 

I felt conflicting emotions.On the one hand I was repulsed by the paganism.

†† These were idol temples and people entering them to worship were enslaved.

†† They had no forgiveness, no salvation, no Redeemer.

But on the other hand, another part of me was saying, Wow, this is beautiful.

†† How did they build such a structure?Look at that ornate stoneworkó

†† the order and complexity of it was amazing.

 

Has it ever bothered you that unbelievers who donít know and love the Lord

†† are able to make and do wonderful things?

We love to see a Tim Tebow because that seems so right.

†† A young man who loves Christ and talented and does great things.

But you know that there are many athletes, in fact, many of the very best,

†† who are proud and godless.We hear their boasting, see their extravagant

†† lifestyles, sometimes see their crimes and immoralities, and you want to look

†† away from themóyet they do wonderful things on the field or court.

How do you categorize that as a Christian?

 

Many years ago there was a movie called Amadeus.

The main character is a composer and musician named Salieri.

†† Heís a believer and he wants to write and play music to the glory of God.

†† And he has some talent and he works hard.

But there is this other composer and musicianóWolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

†† Heís a partier, a womanizer, heís profane, heís crudeóand heís a musical genius.

†† His music is truly great and completely eclipses Salieriís best efforts.

And the movie is about Salieriís struggle with this.Why Lord, can this heathen

†† make such music, when I, your servant, canít even come close?

 

How is it that pagans can build beautiful and useful thingsónot just temples,

†† even whole cultures that are orderly and productive?

And how is that on an individual level, there are often unbelievers

†† who have more talent and greater intelligence and better marriages

†† and more well-adjusted children than many Christians?

And when you do see crime and corruption and dysfunction in lives of unbelievers,

†† and in non-Christian countries and societies, why is it not worse?

†† Why does there always seem to be some sort of restraint?

Hereís the answer:Common grace.

 

Common grace is not saving grace.

†† Itís not the special grace God extends only to his people through Christ.

Itís not the grace that is the great theme of the Bibleó

†† Jesus giving himself for his sheep and saving his people from their sins.

†† That grace is particular, itís salvific.

Common grace is for every single person, it also extends in a sense to animals

†† and to the rest of creation.Itís not limited to the people of God.

And it does not save.But in many ways, short of salvation,

†† God shows kindness to all people and nations.

There is a dramatic example of it in this passage.

 

The Israelites were making their way to the Promised Land.

†† They had to pass through three countriesóEdom, Moab, and Ammon.

These were three wicked countries, full of idol worshippers.

But the Lord says, I have given them their land as an inheritance.

†† And for now, I am preserving their place in this land.Iím caring for them.

So as you are passing through their land, donít provoke them, donít harm them.

†† And when you consume their food and water, you have topay for it.

 

That seems especially strange when right after this the Lord tells the Israelites

†† that after they cross the Jordan River that he wants them to destroy the Canaanites

†† and take their land as Israelís possession.But weíll get to that later.

The point is that God cared for the pagan Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites.

†† He cared enough to preserve their lives and fortunesóthatís common grace.

The Lord extends it even to people and nations that reject him.

 

The Bible says that the mercy of the Lord is over all his works.

†† It says that the Lord is good to all, and has compassion on all he has made.

Thatís common grace.And it covers three big areas:

†† 1.Godís care for creation

†† 2.Godís restraint of sin

†† 3.Godís gifts to mankind

Letís look at each of these as we ponder this passage and doctrine.


 

MP#1The first aspect of common grace is Godís care for creation.

Every place we see the regularity of nature, and the balance of nature,

†† the cycles of nature that uphold life on earthóthatís Godís common grace.

 

Way, way back after Noahís flood, God spoke and said, in spite of the fall,

†† in spite of the curse, never again will I destroy the whole earth with a flood.

Then he said:

†† ďAs long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest,

†† cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.Ē

He made a promise to uphold all of the regular cycles of nature

†† for the preservation of life on the earth.

 

Thereís a stanza in the hymn ďGreat Is Thy FaithfulnessĒ based on that verse.

†† ďSummer and winter and springtime and harvest

†† Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,

†† Join with all nature in manifold witness,

†† To thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.Ē

Thatís an affirmation of common grace.

 

Psalm 104 is the most magnificent statement of this aspect of common grace.

It describes Godís control of the weather and rain,

†† and how he oversees the growth of plants and the preservation

†† of the animal kingdom and the world of men.One verse says:

ďHe makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivateó

†† bringing forth food from the earth:wine that gladdens the heart of man,

†† oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.Ē

Itís not just for believers, it not just for human beingsó

†† itís Godís care of all his creation.

 

There is that very thought-provoking verse in Jonah, when Jonah is angry that

†† God has not destroyed Nineveh for its sins.And the Lord says that he cares

†† for the city because it has more than 120,000 little children, and many cattle.

One of the reasons the Lord was patient with Nineveh was that he didnít want

†† to destroy the cattle.Thatís interesting.

 

I have a distinct memory as a boy killing birds with my BB gun and my mother

†† telling me that God allows us to kill animals for food or if they are pests,

†† but that it is wrong to needlessly kill the creatures God has made.

That surprised me because my parents werenít pet people or animal lovers,

†† but Godís common grace care for creation part of their thinking.

You might ask, What about times when God doesnít seem to care for creation?

†† What about the earthquake in Haiti, for example?

†† Whereís Godís care for creation in that?Or in droughts or floods?

Natural disasters are part of living in a fallen world.

†† God allows them occasionally for his own mysterious purposesó

†† but the fact remains that most of the time he and most places he preserves life.

And overall he upholds the processes in nature that make life possible.

 

Jesus talks about this aspect of common grace in the Sermon on the Mount.

†† ďHe causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,

and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.Ē

He says that Godís goodness to his creation is so broad, that it not only extends to

†† animals and human beings, but even to those in open rebellion against himó

†† the evil, the unrighteous, get sunshine and rain just like everybody else.

 

We see a hint of that in this passage.

Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites were idolaters but blessed with agriculture.

†† The had food and water enough to feed the Israelites as they passed through.

†† That was Godís common grace, even to his enemies.

 

This is, I think, the most important application for us.

Because of Godís common grace goodness to all people,

†† we should be compassionate and caring toward all people,

†† even those living in rebellion against our heavenly Father.

Thatís exactly what Jesus tells us.

 

He makes a simple point.Imitate your Father in heaven.

†† He is kind to his enemies.We must be as well.

†† He is good to those who despise him.He is generous and caring,

†† even to the people who give him no thoughtówe must do likewise.

This is what it means to love your enemies.

†† It doesnít mean warm, affectionate emotions towards them.

†† It means to be kind to them and bless them.

 

One way you get the strength and motivation to do that impossible task,

†† is to open your eyes to how much God himself is pouring out his goodness,

†† constantly, daily on his enemies.They depend on his mercy daily and they

†† donít even know it.

When you see that, will inspire you to show them the same patience and generosity.

MP#2The second aspect of common grace is Godís restraint of sin.

Every aspect of human nature has been corrupted by sin.

†† But people arenít as bad as they could be because of common grace.

God restrains sin in individuals and in countries and societies.

†† If God didnít restrain sin, life would be impossible.

†† Sin is destructive.Itís irrational.Itís viciously self-centered.

†† People would destroy themselves and each other.There would be no society.

God restrains sin in several different ways.

 

There is the internal restraint of the conscience.

Paul says that even those who do not have the lawótalking about Scriptureó

†† do by nature what the law requires, because the law is written on their hearts.

By Godís common grace fallen people retain a conscience.

†† It tells them the difference between right and wrong.

Not that people always follow their consciences,

†† or that their consciences are perfect guides, but they do restrain evil.

†† Most people donít do everything they would do because of conscience.

 

Another way is the external restraint of the civil government.

The civil authorities have been instituted by God to maintain order and punish

†† wrong-doing.Even though governments can be corrupt and unjustó

†† they are called ministers of God.

The threat of getting caught, the threat of punishment keeps

†† many people from committing crimes.Thatís common grace.

 

Another restraint is what we might call the law of sowing and reaping.

Often, even in this life, there are consequences for actions.

†† I think of those horrible billboards that show the person before and after meth.

†† Obviously those donít restrain some people, and never change the heart.

But for many people, the knowledge of consequences keep them

†† from indulging in destructive practices that they would otherwise do.

 

Of course, people still do horrible things and whole countries descend into chaos.

But that in no way reflects poorly on Godís common grace.

†† It just gives us a glimpse of what could happen if it was removed.

†† In most places, Godís common grace is actively restraining sin.

Society functions.People generally trust each other.

†† Edom, Moab, and Ammon functioned as countries and societies only because

†† the Lord restrained their viciousness.That came out in later years.

Their sexual immorality and child sacrifice and hatred of Israel

†† that eventually destroyed them as a people.

But for a time, the Lordís common grace restrained those sins.

 

As Christians we must be concerned about the restraint of sin in individuals

†† and in society because our God is.Itís an expression of his kindness,

†† and itís important for the spread of the Gospel and the health of the church.

The more coarse and degraded a society is, the harder it is for the church

†† to carry out its mission.

 

The hard thing is that Christians are divided about what we should do

†† to restrain sin.Just look in our own town at the way Christians are divided

†† over the wet-dry issue.Some say that being dry is a way to restrain some

†† of the more blatant societal ills and others say it does no such thing.

Or take abortion, which horrifies Christians.

†† Some say that if you really cared you would picket to raise consciousness.

†† Others say, best thing is to vote for representatives who protect the unborn.

 

As Americans, our knee-jerk response is that we have to be involved

†† politically, and get a law changed.And that brings in politics and leads

†† to all sorts of disagreements.Not that the political and legal does not

†† play a role.God restrains sin through government.

And there is a place for Christians to play in that.

 

But let me make two suggestions.

First is to live an exemplary life and have the courage to challenge public sin.

†† When you are dealing with individuals, itís different.Lead with Gospel.

†† Wanting to change hearts.Times when sin public, destructive to society.

You may have to say something just to try to cut it off.My example is my mother.

†† On several occasions Iíve seen her challenge people who were cursing in public

†† and taking Godís name in vain.One time at an Alabama football game,

†† said to two men behind us and said:Please, do not take the Lordís name in vain.

Everybody around heard.And the shut up.Sin was restrained.Atmosphere lifted.

†† Thereís a kindness in doing that.Less guilt people heap on themselves the better.

 

Second, Bible does tell us this:Pray for kings and those in authority over us,

†† that we may lead peaceful lives in all godliness.Pray for government leaders.

†† Iím sure we donít pray enough for, them.God uses to restrain sin.

In spite of political differences may have, Godís minister of common grace.


MP#3The third aspect of common grace is Godís gifts to mankind.

This is what I focused on in the introduction when I talked about

†† that beautiful Hindu temple, and great athletes, and Mozartís music.

Every human achievement in every field of human endeavor

†† is only possible because of Godís common grace.

He generously spreads good things all around the human race

†† with no preference to Christians over non-Christians.

 

Advances in medicine and technology are because of Godís common grace.

†† Safe neighborhoods, families that love each other, thatís Godís common grace.

†† You find those the world over, among the redeemed and unredeemed.

He gives gifts and abilities and successes even to people who hate him

†† and claim all the glory for what they have accomplished.

He endures wickedness and idolatry and cruelty and doesnít destroy

†† people and nations when they deserve it but allows them to live and flourish

†† and build things.

 

The Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites were recipients of Godís common grace.

†† Even though they were idolaters, at a crucial time in their history,

†† he preserved their land and inheritance.

He did not allow them to be pillaged by the Israelites.

†† He gave them a precious gift, even though they didnít acknowledge him.

 

As Christians, we should be the first to see and enjoy and praise God

†† for all the good we find in the world.

I asked you earlier if it ever bothered you that people you donít know

†† and love the Lord can make and do wonderful things.

 

I hope that has bothered you before, at least once,

†† because you should want Jesus to get the glory.

Not this pagan who is claiming it for himself.

†† And thatís the pleasure when you see a person who is incredibly talented

†† and a Christian.Itís not just that heís on your team,

†† itís that he gives glory to Jesus Christ.

 

Well, common grace enables us to see and enjoy and praise God

†† for all human talent and accomplishment, whether the person is a Christian or not,

†† because we see that those gifts ultimately came from God himself.

Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary, expresses it this way:

ďI donít know whether Barry Bonds is going to end up in heaven, but I think God likes it when he sees him hit a really fine home run.

†† (This was written back in 2002 before the steroids scandal.

†† But Iím sure you see his point.He continues.)

 

And I donít know whether Tom Hanks is going to end up in heaven, but I do believe that when I take delight in a good acting performance that Iím taking delight in something God wants me to, that God himself delights in.And so, while I care deeply about whether these people are going to be saved, my interest in them cannot be exhausted purely in salvation terms.I can enjoy good musical performances, good pieces of writing, good ball games, because I think God takes delight in them, because the God who called his creation good, on occasion looks down on the works of an unbeliever and says, Thatís good.Ē

 

Goodónot in the sense of spiritual good that pleases God.

†† Or good that will stand on the Day of Judgment and be rewarded.

†† That good can only come from the lives and hearts of redeemed people.

But good in a common grace sense, good in its affirmation of Godís gifts

†† to mankind and the use of those gifts in a way that produces wonderful things.

 

Because of common grace Christians should be creation-affirming people.

†† We should affirm that Christians glorify God in every vocation

†† as they do their work wellówhether it is work in business, or medicine,

†† or athletics, or teaching or homemaking.Not just church work.

Bringing the lost to Christ, sharing the Gospel is of utmost importance.

†† Itís the Great Commission that the Lord gave the church.

†† It must be in the front of our minds.

 

But the Great Commission happens within the older and bigger commission

†† that God gave us in the Garden of Eden, to take dominion over all creation.

That mandate still stands, even in a fallen world.

†† This world is not heaven.But itís not hell either.

There is considerable goodness of a certain measure.

†† In most places people are able to live with a tolerable amount of trust in others.

†† In most places people are able to take the gifts of creation and make and do

†† good and helpful and sometimes even beautiful things with them.

 

All of that is because of Godís common grace.

 

 

CONC:

One old Dutch theologian summed it up like this:

ďIt curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making orderly life possible, distributes in varying degree gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men.Ē

 

Common grace does not save.Itís not redemptive.

†† Itís not an expression of Godís saving love to his people,

†† itís an expression of his general love to all creation.

But without common grace there could be no salvation,

†† because there would be no material for God to work with.

There would be no people to save, and no families, and no nations.

†† There would be no ability to communicate the Gospel or sing his praises.

 

God preserves and blesses the world in its fallen state

†† because it provides for him a canvas on which he can work out

†† his great redemptive purposes in history.

God preserved the Moabites, wicked as they were, so that one day,

†† 400 years later, he could save a Moabite woman named Ruth,

†† who would become a mother of the faithful and great-grandmother of Christ.

 

And itís even bigger than that.

One day the glory and honor of the nations will be brought into the New Jerusalem.

†† Christ has purchased men for God from every tribe, language, people and nation.

Godís common grace, preserving creation, blessing human race,

†† provides the material, the people and the accomplishments

†† with which he will be glorified.

 

Cooperate with him in this.Appreciate and affirm his common grace.

Be kind to all people, even your enemies, just as your Father in heaven,

†† gives sunshine and rain to the wicked and the good.Just as he was good

†† to those three pagan nations.

Be concerned about the restraint of sin in the world.Live an exemplary life

†† and speak against it when you can.Pray for our leaders.

And enjoy and praise God for all the good you see in the worldófor truth,

†† and beauty and excellence wherever you see it.Encouraging your fellow

†† believers in their vocations.Hoping and looking for places where

†† God can be glorified.