What is your origin story? Do you know where your great-grandmother’s family originated from? Do you know the meaning behind your last name? These questions make us research historical archives, find a library in a small community that keeps records from the stone age, or send our DNA to be analyzed by super-computers. Our origin story tells us where we come from and what kind of life we want to emulate or leave behind.
What if I told you that the origin of nations, generations, and languages stems from one incident in Genesis 11? The story happens prior to the listing of the nations divided by language in Genesis 10. Notice what is written in Genesis 10:8-12: “Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.’ The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.” Nimrod is considered by most theologians as the “father” of the nation of Babylon.
Setting the Scene. Prior to the events of Genesis 11, all people on the Earth spoke the same language. What was that language? We do not know. Assumptions and opinions, can be made as to what the language was, but we are not entirely sure. What we do know is that, just like in Genesis 6, the people of the Earth had become emboldened to be on the same level as God. Nimrod took these beliefs to the next level and built a city that had a tower in the midst. This tower was to be representative of their desire to “make a name for themselves” (Gen. 11:4b).
As this scene began to play itself out, the Lord came down to see the happenings of the people. Notice the reaction of God: “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (Gen. 11:7-9).
Instead of destroying the people of the Earth, it is decided that they will no longer speak the same language across all generations. The people are scattered across the face of the Earth and nations are born from this “confusion.” Can you imagine the first moments after this scene? Can you imagine the terror in the hearts of the people? You could make the case that the scattering was more of a running away in fear of what had just taken place.
The Relevancy of Genesis 11. Some might ask, “What is the relevance of this story today?” For many, Genesis 11 is one of those VBS stories that we do not really dig into. We are ready to discuss it from the 36,000 foot view, but we do not want to dig into the relevancy for us today. I am here to tell you that that the Genesis 11 story, just like so many stories in the Old Testament, had to take place to set the stage for the rest of the Bible. Genesis 11 is a landmark moment in showing that people will always rebel.
There are very few stories more significant in the direct aftermath of the flood narrative. In the 21st-century world, we may overlook this story for one reason or another; however, we cannot overlook that this carries a direct correlation to trends in society and within the church. As humans, we innately want to huddle into cliques. We want to be recognized for accomplishments, and we are willing to do whatever it takes to get the recognition to which we think we are entitled.
The assertion of entitlement/selfishness is what destroys people. These people had learned to build great cities once again and had taken the command to “be fruitful and multiply” seriously (Gen. 9:1). They were working together. Yet selfishness, just like any other sin, destroys greatness!
Generational Paradigm. Today, selfishness is destroying the very fabric of society. We live in a generational paradigm. The words of President John F. Kennedy have been completely distorted. No longer is about our fellow man. It is as if they are saying, “Ask not what I can do for my country, but what can my country do for me.” Sadly, this has seeped into the church. Far too often, the question being asked by professing Christians is, “What can the church do for me?”
Notice what Paul states: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). Selfishness has no place in society, and that is especially true in the church. We are to serve others, love others, and give ourselves to helping others.
The generational paradigm should not be the description of followers of King Jesus. Our goal should be to shift the paradigm back to service. Some might say, “Well, you just don’t understand. This generation does not listen to anyone.” That might be true. However, remember that the same thing was said of your generation. You asked the same questions. “Where do I come from? How do I get more out of life?”
There is a question, connected to this discussion, that might be difficult for us to stomach: “How can we unselfishly serve the selfish?” That might seem counterintuitive on the surface. Why would we serve the selfish? Well, notice what Jesus did in His ministry. “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:15-17).
Jesus’ mantra was to serve everyone. He knew that people were selfish, yet he loved them anyway. He knew that the world was filled with selfish, unloving, and hateful people. Yet, he came to sacrifice himself for them. Jesus preached an unselfish gospel which put others before oneself. Notice Jesus’ statement in Mark 8:34-38: “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’”
Conclusion. Jesus’ question, “For what does it profit…,” is rooted in the Genesis 11 story. The people of Genesis 11 solely focused on trying to gratify themselves that they lost sight of the Lord. Jesus did not intend for us to be selfish followers. He wants us to be humble servants. The only way to not repeat history is to find ways to serve God. At Parkway where I serve as minister, our tagline is “Servants serving others (Acts 2:42-47).” It is not just a catchy saying, but a lifestyle that nations, peoples, and Christians would do well to put into practice.
Your physical origin story is not as important as your spiritual origin story. The name you wear — Christian — has an origin story of love and sacrifice. King Jesus does not want us to be a people who are selfish, but to be a people who follow his example. Rather than build physical manifestations of our hubris, we should build up the church on the Cornerstone which is King Jesus and the foundational words of the Bible (Eph. 2:19-22).
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Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Paul worked to help others. Jesus recommended it starts with a cup of water.