Vol. 5, No. 9
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There are some interesting lessons one may gain as we meditate on the story in Genesis 11 concerning the tower of Babel. First, it may be noted that the first verse tells us that the whole earth had one language and one speech.
It was God's plan from the beginning that his people speak the same language. He meant for words to mean the same thing to all those who would follow him. It has always been true. When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:10, "Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you" he was not expressing a new idea. He never did mean for baptism to mean sprinkling to one person, pouring to another and immersion to another. He never meant for "sing" to mean "sing" to one person and "play" to another.
But they had a plan that was out of harmony with God's will. Notice some significant expressions in verse 4, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the earth." It has been a common tendency of mankind to "build ourselves" something.
How many times have we seen men who are not satisfied with finding what God wanted built and work toward that end, but rather want to "build ourselves" something. We most often discuss it in terms of various denominations. Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church" but men want to "build themselves" the church of their choice. Yet, we do not expect this to be read by many who call themselves by denominational names.
Are there any lessons for the rest of us? Is it possible that there are preachers who would like to be called "Gospel preachers" who are more interested in "building ourselves" something than building up the cause of Christ? Do you have a pet project that is more important to you than simply glorifying God? Would you like to be the president of some school that becomes more important to you than that for which Christ died? Would you like to be the owner or editor of a paper and "build yourself" a following? Would you like to be a writer that could manage to get your articles published as widely as possible so you can build yourself a reputation as the best, soundest, most prolific, most interesting or something else you desire? Would you like to be a minister or perhaps "The Minister" for a growing congregation, building it into twice the membership that it had when you got there? Is it possible that one might court the favor of some segment of that congregation, preaching soothing words that made them feel good in order to "build ourselves" something?
That thing they were going to build for themselves would have a tower with a top that would reach into the heavens. Some writers have suggested that this implied they were trying to get to heaven by their own efforts. Those words do not have that meaning. It does suggest that they had lofty ambitions. There is nothing wrong with having lofty ambitions and high aspirations. We think and plan too small. I urge men to intellectual ambition. Children, make as good grades in school as you can. Do not be satisfied with a "B" if you are capable of making an "A." Get as much education as you can properly handle. I urge men to material ambition. If you are in business, strive to make it the best and most productive you possibly can. I urge men to spiritual ambition. Try to say with Paul, "I count not myself to have attained; but this one thing I do, I press on." Pressing on for education, and even for material things is not wrong. Paul says we should labor, working with our hands that we should have.
The purpose of our pressing on, making bricks and building is the key to whether or not God will ultimately bless it. The thing that was wrong with them is that they were building for themselves. Their high aspirations had nothing to do with God's will or glory. If such great plans as to get a million Bibles in China or Russia are to get glory for those of us who are involved in those projects, they should have failed before they got off the ground. If they are to carry out the will of our Lord in the most effective and scriptural way, they deserve the support of every child of God.
The purpose of their building is in the next phrase, "Let us make a name for ourselves." I was involved in a large campaign several years ago in which much of the advertising to get the churches to contribute and participate sounded something like this: "The Church of Christ will be the first to use that facility. The Church will get great publicity, so the $50,000 (or whatever it was going to cost) will be well spent." We chartered busses from at least three states and encouraged churches to load them up with members who would fill the auditorium. I am not aware of any group that even tried to get alien sinners to the meeting. I think it possible that six persons already acquainted with the church may have responded during the campaign, and it was announced as a great success by those who planned it, for we "made a name for ourselves."
It is probable that those who planned it, and those of us who assisted in making it a great success had what we thought were the highest motives. We sought no personal gain or publicity, and if asked what it was about would have replied, "It is wonderful for the church to get the glory." We might have even quoted, misquoted or misapplied Ephesians 3:20 as if it authorized us to glorify the church, for it is the body of Christ. But there is nothing in those verses that suggest that the church is to get glory. Ephesians 3:21 says, "Unto him be glory in the church" but we are the church, and the church is to give glory, not get it.
Every preacher should try to preach in such a fashion that those who hear do not think, "What a wonderful sermon" but "What a wonderful Savior." Of course when we hear a sermon that makes us think, "What a wonderful Savior" our next thought may well be, "That makes it a wonderful sermon." It does, but there is a great deal of difference in one who determines to "make a name for himself" and one who incidentally makes a name for himself because he determines to preach nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). If you have stomach trouble, you might want to consider Acts 12:23 where a man took the glory that belonged to God and suffered the consequences. Josephus says, "And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life." (Antiquities, Book XIX, Ch. 8).
When verse 5 says, "The Lord came down to see," we must understand this to be an anthropomorphism. We must realize that when the Bible speaks of God's eyes, ears and hands, we are not to understand that they are like ours. We are not to conclude that if he had stayed "up" somewhere, he could not have seen. Proverbs 15:3 says, "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good."
Whatever tower we are building, it should be in the full assurance that Divinity will inspect it. Many years ago, I preached at a little country congregation in West Texas. Every Sunday for months they would sing, "There's an all Seeing Eye watching you." It is a timeless truth. We need to constantly be aware that God sees and knows whatever we do, or even plan to do, and is aware if it is for his glory or for some other purpose. Let us rise up and build, but let us make sure we do not build another tower of Babel.