So this is a short series about names in Genesis, and more specifically about why the Bible seems to make such a big deal about names and the language we use. It’s why names matter more than we think they do.
The other day I was talking with another preacher friend of mine, who is a minster in another state, and we were talking about church work and about the different ways that church volunteers serve. And ultimately the conversation turned to how bad preachers are at getting people to volunteer. Not that we can’t get people to volunteer, that part is easy, but that preachers aren’t that good at getting people to volunteer in ways that help the volunteers just as much as the people they are serving.
The temptation of preachers, or bosses, or anyone who cares about a certain project is to use people.
I’m going to let you in on a dirty little church leadership secret. If you have pride…I can get you do almost anything. But it will almost never turn out well.
Let me explain:
One of the more interesting things about the book of Genesis is how it starts. If you’re familiar with the Bible at all, then you probably know that Genesis chapter 1 is the story of God creating the world. But what you might not know is that Genesis 1 is written as a poem. It’s got a rhythm, it’s got beat and a cadence.
Genesis 1 is about God doing the work of creation, but he does it with a song.
He makes the universe like he’s writing a poem.
And then the crescendo, the climax of this song is when he makes Adam and Eve. God passes on to them things that he doesn’t give the other parts of his creation, he asks them to name and create with him. In other words, he let’s them sing along.
Now if you are familiar with this story, you know that this doesn’t last long. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden and they are given permission to do anything they want, the only prohibition God gives them is that they can’t eat from one tree. They can do anything, and remember they’re naked at this point, it’s like God is making it easy on them to think about other stuff. But they do the one thing we probably all would do, they disobey, they fail to trust God.
And this is the story that we’ve been living out ever since.
But what’s really interesting about this chapter, is that after Adam and Eve disobey God comes to them and curses them. But some of the Rabbi’s don’t refer to this section as curses, they say that God is now observing the way that reality has now changed. If you haven’t read this chapter recently go back and take a look. Because it’s pretty fascinating what God actually tells Eve and Adam.
To Eve, he tells her that her desire will be for her husband. A few years ago, I had someone point out to me that this word desire is the same word we might translate as “lust.” Which changes that sentence I think. Because to lust is to want something out of someone that they can’t give you. And now Eve will want something from Adam that he isn’t able to give her.
This is the Rabbi’s point. Adam and Eve used to know who they were. They were, after all, actually named by God in just the previous chapter. In other words, He used to tell them who they were. They used to get their identity from the one who made them. But now that the relationship has been broken, they’re just naturally going to look somewhere else. And Eve is going to look to her relationships.
God isn’t cursing them…he’s just telling them where they are going to try and get their names.
And do you remember what God told Adam?
Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
To the woman, God talks about relationships, and to the man, he talks about his work.
Specifically He talks about how their relationship with work has changed.
Now this isn’t a gender specific idea, I see men who struggle with defining themselves through their relationships just as much as women, and I see women who find their identity in their work too. But I think this is fascinating mainly because the rest of Genesis is filled with this little stanza that I think is so enlightening about the human condition. Over and over again, we read about people who are trying to “Make their name great”
Now that God is no longer naming us, we need something or someone else to find out who they are.
I see this just about every day of my life. Sometimes it happens when counseling someone in my office, or when I’m at lunch with a friend, but most of the time I see it in the mirror.
I want to be seen as a loving person, more than I actually want to love people. I want to be seen as someone who loves the LORD, more than I actually want to love the LORD. I want to make a great name, more than I actually want to make a difference in the world. And there is a world of difference between those two things.
Which brings me back to church volunteers.
I know that if you butter someone up, and tell them about how great and gifted they are, and then tie that into asking them to do something specific for the church or community, then there is a really good chance that they might do it. I’ve done this and seen this done for years. But I’ve also begun to realize how harmful this is. I’ll talk more about this next week, but here’s the basic idea from Genesis 3. Work or serving or relationship building…those are all incredibly beautiful things, but they are only at their best when they are done out of a secure identity that can’t be affected by the work being done.
Have you ever seen a project or mission that someone made their baby?
Sometimes I see parents being incredibly hard on their kids who play sports or dance, and I listen to them talk about it, and realize this doesn’t have much to do with the kids. This has a lot to do with the parent. They need this. The success or failure of the child tells the parent who they are. It can be ugly.
But the same is true in any ministry or work or project. Every ministry has a lifespan, and if you let that ministry or project name you, you just might destroy the very thing you love, and the greater tragedy is that it just might destroy you as well.
You know what’s really interesting about the Bible? The word for work in the New Testament is Poema.
It’s where we get our word for poetry.
I love that.
It’s as if the original invitation from God is still standing. To work and create and poema along with him. Not for some blessing, but from a deep well of blessing from God. Not to make your name great, but out of the name that God has already given you.
My 4 year old daughter is going to her pre-school today. It’s her day to share who she is with her classmates. And one of the questions that the teachers gave her to answer was “What makes Eden special?” And my little girl’s uncoached response was “God loves me very much.”
That’s her name.
I hope she never loses it.