Summary: God graciously preserves a godly line in the midst of ungodly cultures.
The most basic definition of the word, “theology,” is the study of God. I have many theology books, wise and thoughtful writings explaining who God is and what he requires of us. In none of those will you find a genealogy. Yes, some comment on the Bible’s genealogies, but none present a list of names and how long people lived as an insight into the nature of God and mankind. Genealogies are hard to read or appreciate; and as I will soon remind you, they can even be hard to pronounce. Speaking of Genesis 5, Old Testament professor, H. C. Leupold, said, “Not every man would venture to use this chapter as a text” (in loc., 248).
So why does God devote so many lines to listing the descendants of Adam to Noah? One reason, I believe, is to draw our attention to the importance of people.
When pastors talk about theology, we are sometimes abstract and impersonal, as if discussing a physics problem rather than a friend’s letter. But when God commissions his theology, he tells us of his friends who lived out their faith. Yes, in the Bible we learn of predestination and divine sovereignty and the doctrines of grace. But even the finest points of theological precision are written into the lives of actual men and women, and boys and girls who lived and played on this planet. God cares about people. And today God introduces us to ten generations of Adam’s descendants, “the beginning of… a godly line,” families preserved by grace in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.
[Read Genesis 4.25-5.32. Pray.]
Jesus seems convinced that the power of the Holy Spirit in his people is such that when we are transformed by his grace, the world around us will be affected. I get that from listening to his sermon in Matthew 5.13-16: “You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
One of the elders I served with in Omaha reminded us of this teaching by asking if we were more like thermometers or thermostats. Thermometer Christians are common: we measure the falling spiritual temperature of the surrounding culture and alert everyone to coming frost. But God offers us the power and truth to be thermostats, controlling the climate with our light and heat.
But we are not always successful, are we? The pressures of this life, the lusts of our hearts, and the lies of Satan tempt us, and we too often concede, so that our failures may outnumber and overwhelm our victories. I grow discouraged about influencing this world for Christ, and worry how much it influences me. Paul dealt with this very problem in Philippi.
Philippians 2.12-16: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life….”
The solution is simple: 1) obey God, 2) trust God, 3) have a godly attitude, and 4) make your goal, not this life, but another. Nothing fancy, just be blameless and without blemish, though the world around you is crooked and twisted. Then we will be thermostats. But it is easier to say than do. It helps me to know that we are not the first to feel the adverse pressures of the world.
John Calvin, (preaching in the 1500s), “Believers live on earth intermingled with the wicked; they breathe the same air and they enjoy the same soil. And [at the time Paul wrote] they were even more intermingled, inasmuch as there could scarcely be found a single godly family that was not surrounded on all sides by unbelievers. So much the more does Paul stir up the Philippians to guard carefully against all corruptions. The meaning is this: ‘You are, it is true, shut up among the wicked; but nevertheless, remember that you are, by God’s adoption, separated from them. Let there be, therefore, in your life, conspicuous marks which distinguish you. And let this consideration stir you up the more to aim at a godly and holy life, that we may not also be part of the crooked generation, involved in their vices and contagion.’”