“And Rebekah had a brother and his name was Laban. Laban ran to the man which was standing by the spring. Thus it was when he saw the nose-ring and the bracelets over the hands of his sister and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister saying, “This is what the man said to me,” he went out to the man and behold, he was standing by the camels by the spring.”
The temptation might be to see these two verses as somewhat redundant, the second just giving more detail than the first. Some have even gone as far as to suggest two sources are being combined here by a later editor, but such misses the point of what the author is seeking to do. One must remember that the audience would largely have heard these stories told orally and that this story is meant to be a dramatic one. Here too we are at the climax of the story when Eliezer has finally found and identified Rebekah and we are excitedly waiting to find out what might happen next. In addition, we are being introduced to Laban, who will once again become a major character in the life of God’s chosen people for it is to Laban that Isaac’s son, Jacob, will go to find a wife. So, as the story is told, all of these things are being combined together with narrative style to build tension and to give a taste of what is to come.
Thus, when we read the second verse, we should not see it as redundant but as a dramatic foretaste of the character of Laban. We are told that Laban ran to the man who was standing by the spring, but as Moses is writing this account many years later, he also wants to give us insight as to why Laban is running to meet this man. And the “why” begins with the fact that Laban has seen the wealth with which Rebekah so casually returns. It will not be until Isaac’s son encounters Laban that we see the extent of the man’s greed and conniving ways, but here we are given clear enough indication that money and personal gain is a focal point of his life, hence what some perceive as repetition.
Sadly, Laban is not all too different than many professing Christians. How often people take the mindset of, “what will this do for me?”, rather than “how can I serve you?” How often churches also fall into this trap, focusing on their own personal agendas rather than on the glory of Christ and on His greater kingdom. How often do we find one church helping to pay off the mortgage of another in the community? How often do we find one group within a church saying, “let’s work together to see your goals realized before we see our own goals met.” How often we have agendas and not goals, ideas but no vision? All too often we act more like Laban than like Abraham or even like Eliezer.
It is said that in church leadership what we usually get is managers, people who labor to maintain the status quo, keep people happy and content, and seek to make sure that the financial obligations of the church are met. Yet, leadership is not management. Anyone can manage; few can lead because leadership takes vision and direction and means walking forward and challenging people to follow. Management means keeping expectations consistent where leadership demands that the bar of expectations be raised and then reached for. Management will raise up Labans into authority; Leadership calls for Abrahams. The question is which will it be? Labans lead to churches, segments of churches, and people that are self-serving and who will protect their assets; Abrahams lead to churches and people who walk forward in faith no matter what the cost. Which looks more like the church that Christ has called us to be?
“No one has the power to serve two Lords; for either the one he will hate and the other he will love or he will hold firmly to one and hold the other in contempt. You are not able to serve God and Mammon.”
Recently I read an article that cited a statement that Thomas Sowell made in The Washington Times. Sowell said that “journalists cannot serve two masters: the complete truth and a political agenda.” The criticism that he was making is that journalism seems to have departed from the task reporting the news in as unbiased way as possible and moved to telling you what you should think about events considered newsworthy. Thus, we have the development of both liberal and conservative news reporting. Sowell’s point is that truth is sacrificed on the altar of a political agenda.
As I was reflecting on this, I realized how often we fall into this trap. As teachers in school, we have been called to educate young minds a particular subject but at the same time, standardized testing, athletics, extra-curricular events, etc… compete with our class time. We need to balance what we do with the whole of the program, but at the same time, teaching is compromised in the process. Pastors also fall into this trap. We have been called to preach and proclaim the Truth, teaching believers to obey all that Christ taught. At the same time, if one does so in such a way that drives everyone out of the church, then you no longer have a platform for speaking Truth into people’s lives. That does not mean that Truth is to be compromised, but it is important how one presents the Truth. Sadly, too many pastors have chosen another route to go, seeking to build their congregation by entertaining people rather than speaking what is True. In addition, in many places, the government severely restricts what can be said from the pulpit and even in America, certain restrictions are in place if a church wishes to maintain its tax-exempt status. So, when these restrictions would cause one to compromise or otherwise ignore the Truth, what does one do? Who does one serve? My hopes is that it is God’s Truth and not the government, but all too often, it is the other way around.
In our personal lives, we fall prey to this as well. When we are around other people that might get offended if we speak about our faith, what do we do? In our place of employment, is your speech and behavior consistent with the Bible even if your boss asks you to cut corners? Do you fear the criticism of man or of God? The Greek word Mammon is usually associated with money in our modern culture, but it can also refer to worldly things on every level. So, do we pursue the truth or do we pursue someone’s agenda? There are certainly lots of agendas in the church to choose from, but notice Jesus’ warning, if we pursue the agenda of men over God’s Truth, we will end up loving the agenda and despising God. Man cannot serve both God and Mammon.