Read: Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 42:1, 6-7
The blessings God gives us are intended to be shared with all, beginning with the inestimable blessing of salvation from sin and including all the other good things the Lord has given to us.
I know that I have been greatly blessed. Perhaps you have too. So many of us have been given so much: material goods, adequate incomes, families, friends, jobs, homes. And that’s just for starters. If you’re a Christian, then whatever your circumstances, you’ve been given the greatest gifts: faith, hope and love. And you have been blessed with the means of grace and the hope of glory. If you have Christ, you have been given everything that is eternally worthwhile. So the big question is “Why?” Why have I, why have you, been so blessed? The answer to that question is found in Genesis 12:2-3.
“I Will Bless You, You Will Bless Others”
In the opening verse of Genesis 12 the Lord tells Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.” Abraham went, and God blessed. But this isn’t the whole story. For that you need to read the rest of the sentence. Here’s how it continues: “I will bless you,” God says to Abraham, “and you will be a blessing. . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3). God’s promise to bless Abraham is accompanied by a further explanation. His blessing of Abraham is just the first step in a much bigger plan to extend that blessing through Abraham to all the earth’s peoples.
Think in the first place about what this statement says to us regarding God’s intentions. The fuller expression of God’s promise points to his greater plan for the world. God certainly intended to bless Abraham and his descendants, but he never meant his blessing to be exclusive. God singled out Abraham (and later his physical descendants, the nation of Israel) as a first strategic step in what God always determined would be a world-embracing plan of salvation.
In other words, God’s selection of Abraham (and Israel)—his choosing them out of a mass of humanity who had drifted far from him—was a tactical move. It was a means to an end, rather than the end itself. The theological way of putting this is to say that election is for the sake of mission. The biblical way of saying it is found in a passage like Isaiah 42:1, 6-7:
Here is my servant . . . my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. . . . I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness . . . I will . . . make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
The role that God assigned to the Old Testament people of Israel was a crucial one. They were the first recipients of God’s gracious promises. To them belonged the covenant, the wonderful agreement by which God first established a relationship with a community of people from among the estranged human race. God gave Israel the law, the revelation of his holy nature, of his character and expectations. Supremely, Israel was the instrument God chose to give his Messiah, his Servant, to the world, his Chosen One, who would be the means of salvation for everyone. As the New Testament makes clear, these promises of blessing that God made to Abraham ultimately point to Jesus Christ and find their fulfillment in him (Gal. 3:16).
So this promise shows us God’s heart. It reveals that God’s love has always been for the whole world, and his plan was always to offer salvation to all the world’s peoples. I’m afraid that many Christians think of missions as a sort of add-on to the church’s work, as though the Great Commission to “go into all the world and make disciples from every nation” were an afterthought. It’s as if Jesus paused just before going back to heaven and exclaimed, “Oh, I almost forgot; I want you to go into all the world now and preach the gospel to all nations.” Many Christians don’t seem to think that doing this is all that important. But Genesis 12 shows that from the very beginning God’s purpose to bless and save has always had a universal scope.
If you want to know what God has really been up to from the start, here it is. God, you see, is not chauvinistic. Even with Abraham the Lord was not forming an exclusive club for the private enjoyment of his blessings. God is not a tribal deity, the God of one particular race or nation to the exclusion of all others. He has never intended to bestow his love upon just one chosen group while shutting out all the others from his favor and barring them from his presence.
It’s our natural tendency as human beings to think of our own nations or ethnic groups as the best and most important people on earth. For example, the traditional Chinese name for their land is the Middle Kingdom, because they saw China as the center of the world, with all other countries being on the edges. The prime meridian—zero degrees longitude—runs through Greenwich, England, just outside London, because the British measured everything from there.
This same ethnocentric perspective is evident in human languages as well. The ancient Greeks called all non-Greeks barbaroi, or barbarians, because to their ears foreign tongues sounded like “bar-bar-bar-bar”—the braying of animals, not the speech of real human beings. Many tribal languages use the word that simply means “person” or “human” in their language for the name of their group, thus implying that all others are something less than that.
We humans are incurably tribal. We all tend to believe that our tribe, however we think of it—our country, our race, our ethnic group, our region, our clan or family—is superior to all others. Ethnocentrism is among the most deep-seated of all prejudices. And it is one that God is most determined to overcome.
So God intends to bless all peoples, and he started with Abraham. But he made it clear in doing so that Abraham, and the people Israel after him, were to be the instruments through whom God would eventually bring a way of salvation that would be for everyone on earth.
Top Line, Bottom Line
Now in addition to what this shows us about the heart and the plan and the purpose of God, think about what this principle also teaches us about our own role in the world. The noted missionary writer Don Richardson has referred to these twin promises in Genesis 12 as top line (“I will bless you”) and bottom line (“and you will be a blessing”). They remind us that everything we have received from God is ultimately to be used for the benefit of other people – especially those who do not yet know him.
All of this has been summarized in the phrase, “Blessed to be a blessing.” This idea is actually one of the most crucial principles in the whole Bible. The concept of “blessed to be a blessing” teaches us something very basic about God’s expectations for each of us. It’s not just about Abraham, you do realize that! This is a fundamental statement of purpose that applies to everyone who through faith becomes part of the people of God. The blessings God gives us are intended to be shared with all, beginning with the inestimable blessing of salvation from sin and including all the other good things the Lord has given to us.
Let’s make this personal for just a minute. Take stock of your own life. Think about everything that God has given you, all the blessings he has poured out, material or spiritual. Most of us have far more than we usually acknowledge. Compared to the world’s truly poor, I am wealthy beyond belief, and you probably are too. Do we imagine that we have been given so much simply to enable us to live comfortable, even luxurious lives while so many throughout the world are suffering want?
Or focus for a moment more on the greatest blessing of all. Do you know the Lord personally? Have you received his gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? What other gift or blessing can compare with that? Are peace with God and the hope of heaven just yours to enjoy, all by yourself, with no thought of anyone else or are they something you and I need to share with everyone everywhere?
I wonder if we’re in danger of so concentrating on the top line—all the good things God has given us—that we forget the bottom line, and the bottom line is this: we have been blessed to be a blessing.