‘The Challenge of Living in the Environs of Sodom’ – Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) 2013 GA

The Moderator’s Address was delivered to the 2013 General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) on Tuesday, 21 May 2013. It is based on the Scripture text Ezekiel 16:46-59.

It is an honourable custom that this Assembly should commence with an address. With the Lord’s help I will speak to some of the trials that the church faces in these days. It is amazing how similar our present circumstance is to the challenges faced by righteous Lot in Sodom. Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world. In every generation the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is comprised of a faithful remnant and also of multitudes who have contempt for faithful doctrine and who conduct their lives in a shameful manner. When we consider the breadth of the whole church in our day, we observe great diversity. A few are like Elijah in the wilderness, thinking we alone are left. Then there are those of the ilk of the ‘seven thousand who have not bent their knee to Baal’ who still live faithfully in the midst of a corrupt society. And sadly there are the professors of faith who are hardly distinguishable from the world – confessing Christ but by word and deed denying Him. No, our situation is not new! I would now draw our attention to the words of the prophet Ezekiel as the Lord our God reproves His church for excesses that dwarf the sins of Sodom and Samaria. I would submit to you that in Ezekiel 16 the Lord clarifies the sins of Sodom and highlights the challenges that we face in our own day.

I. The Sins of Sodom
The immoral behaviour of Sodom was shameful. Consequently, through the centuries to our own day, the word ‘sodomy’ has been used to identify the type of sexual perversion practised there. As we face a resurgence of paganism in our own day, we will do well to note the broader societal decadence that accompanied the practice of sodomy in ancient Sodom. The sin of Sodom was not, as many may think, solely the practice of sexual intimacy with persons of the same sex. Let us give careful heed to the Lord’s condemnation of ancient Sodom proclaimed by His prophet Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 16:49-50, we read: ‘ Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me’.

Consider briefly the difficulties facing ancient Lot as he and his family maintained their residence in the city of Sodom. What does the Lord tell us through His servant Peter about the emotional struggles of Lot in 2 Peter 2:7-8? It tells us of ‘just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds)’.

The Lord tells us that Lot saw and heard the unlawful deeds of the inhabitants of Sodom—their open practice of wickedness. How the decadence of Sodom troubled him daily! Surely the intermarriage of his children with members of this ungodly society must have tormented him. Are we to assume that Lot’s wife died merely because she looked back at the city? Did not Lot’s wife perish looking longingly back at Sodom? Had there never been household and marital conflicts over the popular practices of perversion in their community? Is there not cause to believe that the intensity of Lot’s anguish was multiplied by the impact that Sodom was having on his family? Lot himself was not unscathed by the decadence of this city. Did he not offer up his own virgin daughters to the sex-crazed mob who clamoured to molest his angelic guests? How many of his children and perhaps grandchildren perished in the flames of Sodom’s destruction? We are not told.

Listen to the sad account of the attempted rescue of Lot’s married children in Genesis 19:12-14: ‘And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place: For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it. And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law’. The minds and hearts of Lot’s daughters and their husbands were blinded by pride, fullness of food, abundance of idleness, indifference to the plight of the poor and needy, and the sexual abomination that was practised in their city. Presumably this gross immorality had overtaken them by indiscernible degrees as the proverbial frog boiled in a pot by subtle increases in the temperature. Pride had blinded them to God’s standards of godliness and rendered them indifferent to God’s judgment to come. Fullness of food had made them complacent and utterly content with this world. The abundance of idleness blinded them to the true reason for their existence and any sense of divine calling. Their indifference to the plight of the poor and needy blinded them to their own need for God’s grace. When Lot came warning his sons-in-law of the impending destruction of Sodom, the threat of God’s judgment seemed but a joke to them and apparently so to Job’s own married daughters.

Does this not seem all too familiar?

II. The Sodom-Like Environs in Which We Live
Are not our hearts grieved like ancient Lot? How many covenant children has the church lost to the enticements of our present-day Sodom? We agonise as we see our children mesmerised by the pride of atheistic thinking, by gluttony and the listlessness of hedonism, and the passions of sexual perversion. Government schools entice our children to think of a world without accountability to a Creator. Sex-education classes teach our Copy of 'We_Love_Our_Daughter_and_Her_Wife'children either explicitly or implicitly that they can enjoy sexual immorality without risk of venereal disease and without the burden of parental responsibility. We too, like righteous Lot, are vexed from day to day with the unlawful deeds of sodomites. Recently I read of little schoolgirls being ordered by their teacher to ask another girl for a kiss. The aggression of Sodomites within our culture demands not only acceptance of their immoral and unnatural behaviour, but they seek to criminalise the practice of Biblical morality. Like their ancient attack on Lot’s home, they seek to demand our submission to their way of life. Our society’s leaders subvert God’s prohibitions against sexual immorality. Like Lot’s children, is it any wonder if your children think you are joking when you warn them of God’s impending judgment?

Oh, what challenges we face as citizens of heaven living in a hedonistic world! What common sins do we share with Sodom? Are they not the very same that Ezekiel identifies: Pride, fullness of food, abundance of idleness, neglect of the poor and needy, and abomination?

1. Pride
Today, haughtiness and arrogance prevail against the commandments of our God. Here in Great Britain, government leaders keep pushing for the acceptance of immoral behaviour — Sabbath-breaking and acceptance of sexual perversion, to mention just two. In America, in many places God’s commandments have been banned from display in our courthouses, even though they are carved in stone in our Supreme Court building. In court ruling after court ruling, those who sit in the place of God in the judgment seats of our lands, who have been given authority by God’s decree to reward good and punish evil, seek to ban the very foundation for the rule of law. How can there be justice when proud judges have no respect for Biblical truth, when civil courts forbid the use of Christ’s name in public prayers, when the story of God’s creation is banned from the state-run classroom and replaced with evolutionary theory, a tenet of the religion of atheism? How can there be justice when courts declare good evil and evil good? The new world order is atheistic and anti-Christian and built on pride. Do your children know the God who created them? Are they so nurtured in the faith of our Lord Jesus that they know with surety that they serve a living God who hears and answers prayer? You believe, but do they?

2. Fullness of Food
Gluttony is rampant. People are obese. In the UK it is reported ‘Two out of three men are overweight and one in four people are obese’ and, in the US, over one third of the population is overweight and this statistic is expected to rise to 42% by 2030. There is fullness of food. Today like ancient Sodom, many live to eat. For multitudes, their god is their belly.

3. Abundance of Idleness
Far too many of the Lord’s people live for their next dose of worldly pleasure. When will the Sabbath be over that we may sell and buy grain? The Lord’s Day has become ‘Family Day’. The pleasures that many find on this day are not the things of the Lord but of this world. The church often panders to the hedonistic interests of the people. Worship of God has been replaced with seeker-friendly entertainment. Yes, there is a sacred idleness that is to be commended—meditation on God’s Word is greatly needed. However the godly pastor Richard Baxter rightly commented, ‘Idleness is a constant sin, and labour is a duty. Idleness is the devil’s home for temptation and for unprofitable, distracting musings; while labour profiteth others and ourselves’.

Christians are often willing to buy into a three-day working week. A Biblical work ethic is too often seen as legalistic’. We forget the words of our Saviour in Matthew 25:30: ‘Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness’. In the words of that godly pastor, Thomas Brooks: ‘An idle life and a holy heart is a contradiction’. Idleness is the devil’s playground. In the idleness of some government housing estates drunkenness, crime, and wickedness abound. In the ‘environs of Sodom’, the ‘godly poor’ are few in number.

4. Neglect of the Poor and Needy
Sadly, many of the churches have surrendered to the state their responsibility to care for the poor and the needy. Self-seeking politicians prey on the poor and seduce them to ungodliness offering them aid without responsibility for the able-bodied to labour if they wish to be fed. Politicians propose legislation to take from the wealthy to care for the poor. And the poor close their eyes as their political champions line their own pockets and retirement accounts with the booty from their political empires.

5. Abomination
In the luxurious setting of Sodom, why would sodomy develop? Perhaps it occurred as it has in our own day. First, the church learned to wink at fornication. Then, prostitution, adulterous affairs and the dissolving of the marriage covenant became tolerated. In a hedonistic society where God is not acknowledged or thanked, reprobate minds will multiply. The Holy Spirit warns us in Romans Chapter 1 of the outcome of not acknowledging God and being thankful to Him – homosexual behaviour.

How will a homosexual believe that there is hope in God’s mercy, when the church condemns the ‘gay community’ but fails to address the greatest sin of all?

6. A Greater Wickedness
Like ancient Judah, we must not overlook that God through Ezekiel speaks of a greater wickedness than that of Sodom. What a travesty it is when a nation covenanted to God abandons that covenant. It is a wickedness when a people who, having professed faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, go back on their covenant and trample underfoot the blood of the covenant and despise the ministry of the Spirit of God. This sin dwarfs the perversion of sodomy and the decadence of Sodom. This is a sin against grace! That nations which once bent their knee to King Jesus would now cast off their allegiance to God and His Anointed is the greatest travesty of all. Ezekiel 16:59 states, ‘For thus saith the Lord God; I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant’.

God will not tolerate the practice of wickedness forever. His glory will depart from a people who have turned their backs on Him. ‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God’ 1Cor.6:9-10). Both Scotland and the United States once professed allegiance to Christ as Christian nations. Oh, how far we have fallen!

III. Meeting the Challenge with the Hope of the Gospel
How are we to live in the environs of Sodom? Are we to despair? Has the Day of Judgment arrived? Not yet, we hope! The church has a witness to bear in the environs of Sodom! ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’ (Ps.33:12). The British Isles were once before under the ravages of a pagan culture and the Gospel came and brought hope and The Challenge of Living in the Environs of Sodomtransformation. This nation has a Godly heritage. May this nation’s present Queen hold fast a Christian testimony to the people and to those who will follow her on her throne when she enters into the presence of the Almighty. God has promised if men will not correct themselves, He will. A day of judgment is coming! Many will not find a place in the coming Kingdom of our Lord. They will hear Christ’s words: ‘Depart from me, I never knew you!’ When we speak of the danger of hell, many will think we are joking. Let this not deter us!

The church must never fail to learn from righteous Lot. No matter what way society may choose or even our beloved family members, God’s holy standards must govern our ethics and direct our hearts’ affections. The church must continue to bear witness to the truth no matter what suffering it incurs. It must seek to bear a persuasive witness to minds perverted by the deceptions of wickedness. We must continue to offer the most powerful hope to a sinful world. The Lord will open the hearts and minds of many who have learned the misery of sin. Many sinners have tried to give up their sin and they cannot. They understand that they are in bondage, but they feel hopeless. They need the message of hope that those who are united to Christ in His death are raised with Christ in His resurrection to newness of life. They need to hear the word of hope: ‘Sin no longer has dominion over you’. The gay community needs to hear a message of hope, a message of hope for ‘all’ sinners. They must hear that ‘some of us’ in Christ’s church, in the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), were once: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners. And they must hear the glorious words of hope uttered in 1Corinthians 6:11: ‘And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God!’ The world must hear that God cleanses, justifies and sanctifies sinners by His Son our Lord Jesus Christ and by His Holy Spirit, and that we are examples of God’s grace. We must lay aside our pride that infers we are better than others and that hides our own wicked past, and tell what God has done for our souls! It is time for those who have been truly redeemed by God to tell the world of God’s power to free from the dominion of sin. The environs of Sodom in which we live must be able to see the lives and hear the voices of those who have been transformed by the grace of God. There ‘is’ hope for sinners who turn to Jesus Christ! I for one will testify that I was addicted in my youth to sexual lust and enslaved to life dominating sin and have been set free by the power of God’s redeeming grace. My sin was paid for by the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross and I am being transformed from glory to glory by the power of the Spirit of God. Sodomites must hear that sodomites can be forgiven and set free from their lust by the grace of God! And yes, proud, hedonistic covenant breakers who once graced the doors of the church must still hear that there is forgiveness with the Lord! The church must arise to the challenge of living in the environs of Sodom!

Image via Wikimedia Commons