First Things First – How the World Came to Be 10. City Life: Serving God in a Pagan World
Genesis 4: 17 - 26
"Without God, the more power we have the sooner we destroy ourselves; without God, the richer we are the sooner we rot.”
You can’t help but be amazed at how quickly things go downhill from a very promising beginning. Trouble breaks out almost immediately, paradise is lost, and the human race slides headlong in the pit of sin. Sin starts as a tiny virus that invades the human bloodstream and begins to multiply immediately, growing in power with every passing generation. By the second half of Genesis 4, sin is no longer purely personal; it now infects human culture and all its various institutions. What starts as a trickle soon becomes a flood that washes across the earth.
We see a direct connection between the sin of those days and the suicide bombings of our day. What started back then continues today on a scale far greater than anything Cain could have imagined. We are better at killing now, we do it quicker and more efficiently and we do kill more people for less money than ever before. Modern technology is a blessing, but it is a mixed blessing.
1. The Birth of Secular Civilization (v. 17 – 24)
After he murdered Abel, Cain was sentenced by God to restlessly wander the earth. No one could kill him, but he would live forever with his guilty conscience, never feeling at home or entirely safe. Cain is now running from the Lord! Where will he go? This tells us what happened to Cain and the civilization that flowed from him. Here is the beginning of secular society— society lived apart from God and in the absence of his guidance.
Question: What happens to society when it rebels against God? Answer: It prospers! The prosperity of the wicked has troubled God’s people since the beginning. Why do some people ignore God, commit acts of sin and seem to prosper anyway? Why do those who love the Lord seem to take it on the chin? God seems to bless those who rebel against him. God protects those who reject his authority. Those who live without the Lord often accomplish great things in the world. This shows the ever-widening divide between the 2 lines—believers and unbelievers. It helps us see how we should live in a culture that has largely turned its back on God. 4 words help us put matters in perspective -
A. Construction v. 17, 18
Cain’s response to his punishment by God – 1. He builds a family. 2. He builds a city. 3. He builds a legacy. In 2 verses you have 6 generations spanning hundreds of years.
Familiar question: Where did Cain get his wife? The answer is fairly simple. Since the human race descended from Adam and Eve, he must have married one of his sisters or one of his nieces. We know that people lived hundreds of years back then. We also know that Adam and Eve had other children. Adam lived for 930 years. We can presume that Eve lived as long as he did. So how many children do you think they had in 930 years? Let’s suppose they decided to have children for 500 years. Let’s suppose that they decided to space out their children and have 1 every 5 years. In 5 centuries they would have had 100 children. But the number could be much greater than that. If half the normal number of children grew up, and half of those got married, and half of those had children, even with that half, half, half approach, Adam would have lived to see 1 million of his descendants. Obviously Cain would have had no trouble finding a suitable wife from somewhere within his extended family. Since this occurred early in human history, the gene pool could still be clean and relatively free from pollution. Later on, God would forbid marriage between close relatives. But at this early date, no sin was involved. Cain had to marry someone from his own extended family.
The rapid growth in population helps us understand Cain’s desire to build a city. This is a self-protection measure since he lived in fear that someone, somewhere might harm him. The desire to build a city is also an act of rebellion against God who sentenced him to wander the earth. Now Cain will defy the Lord and settle down with his own people and build his own city.
Cain was the first town planner and the first property developer. The early days of the human race were marked by growth, expansion and the continual construction of homes. It was a time of hustle and bustle as Cain and his people cleared away the wilderness and laid out the first city.
Cain stayed busy to cover up the emptiness of his soul. He wanted a bustling city to compensate for what he lost—his hope, happiness and direction in life. The same is true for many people who move to the city today. Cities are fun and exciting, especially when compared with the slow pace of small town life. They are filled with people. The city has lights, noise, music, movement and action 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Go to any large city and there you will find the best that modern life has to offer: high-rise buildings, theatres, restaurants, entertainment, festivals, sports, universities, large shops, planes, trains and cars, factories, schools, churches, banks, and the extremes of life—the best, worst, biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest, cheapest, most expensive in all possible categories.
There is no doubt that the city is an exciting place to live. There is a pulsating power in a big city that draws people, like the sound of a distant beating drum, from the outer edges into the city. That’s why, when we want to relax, we leave the city.
Big cities are where the action is. Millions of people who feel bored and lonely move to the city hoping things will change. But often it doesn’t work. The loneliest people live in cities. The saddest stories concern city people. The greatest suffering on earth is not in the countryside; it’s in the big cities of the world. Where the masses gather, there you find sadness, heartache, crime, corruption and enormous human pain. For all its glamour and glory, there is also a seamy underside to every big city.
When I mention large cities, I’m thinking of the cities of the world, not just cities in South Africa - London, Paris, Rome, Nairobi, New Delhi, Singapore, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Calcutta.
This is the challenge facing the church in the 21st century. This is where the battle for souls must be fought in our generation. Cain built the first city and his descendants have been building cities ever since. Today the world is moving to the cities at an astonishing rate. What a challenge and what an exciting opportunity faces the church of Jesus Christ.
B. Corruption v. 19
Civilization without God. Here a man decided to marry 2 women. He “jumped the fence” of God’s original design for marriage and became the first polygamist. Now instead of 1 man with 1 woman for life, sexual desire overrules God’s design and anything goes. The centuries roll past and we move to the present. Look at the contemporary scene. What do you find? Divorce - Sexual Exploitation - Abortion - Internet Pornography - Gay Rights - Sexual Misconduct in High Places.
The worst of it is that we no longer are shocked. We tolerate these sins and they are a sign of our sophisticated liberation. Having thrown off the shackles of the past, we are now free to pursue the fulfillment of our own fleshly desires. But God is not mocked. He knows our hearts and he sees our rebellion. Nothing is missed by his penetrating gaze. Our days are numbered and our doom is sure.
C. Culture v. 20 - 22
We see the positive progress of human culture in the line of Cain. From Jabal comes agriculture; from Jubal the fine arts; from Tubal-Cain the development of industry and technology. It is a mistake to conclude that human culture is a bad thing or that unbelievers cannot produce works of enormous value. The entire world has benefited by modern agriculture, the flourishing of the arts, the incredible progress of technology. These things are possible because even sinful men and women still possess the image of God that allows them to think, to create, to grow, to develop, to dream, to dare and to explore new territory. As Christians, we ought to be thankful to live in a world with creature comforts Cain never dreamed of. In enjoying the good things around us, we ought also to give thanks to the Lord who gave man the mind and the heart and the hands and the feet to make it all possible.
D. Crime v. 23, 24
Lamech composes a song in honour of himself for killing a young man. Like a typical thug, he believes no one can bring him to justice. He even thinks that he will get revenge if anyone tries to attack him. He is the first Mafia boss - arrogance in his words.
He has gone far beyond Cain in his viciousness. Cain got angry and killed his brother, but Lamech actively looks for trouble. “I can get away with murder,” he seems to say. Our nation is now like Lamech. Having removed God from our culture, why should we be surprised at the bloodshed we see all around us?
Don’t miss the point - On one hand the line of Cain produces great cultural benefits and growing prosperity. Yet it is marred by self-indulgence and unrestrained violence. Cain and his descendants gave us secular society and secular society gave us Noah’s Flood. The followers of God still build huge buildings and make great progress in many fields, and they leave God out of the picture. But the heart of man has not changed at all - nothing new under the sun.
2. The Preservation of a Godly Remnant v. 25, 26
We have a quick snapshot of the godly line. When the ungodly seem to rule the world, what can the righteous do? How do we maintain our faith and pass it along to the next generation when the majority culture moves in another direction? 2 ways to fight back -
A. By Building Godly Families v. 25
It could not have been easy for Adam and Eve to have another child. Their oldest son is a murderer, their second son is dead. Why take a chance on another child? But they believed God wanted them to establish a family that would pass along their faith to the future. The name Seth means “appointed.” They saw him as a gift from God, a new beginning after the murder of Abel.
B. By Proclaiming God’s Name v. 26
The faith of Adam and Eve now passes to their son and grandson. “Calling on the name” of the Lord can mean to call on the Lord in prayer - men began to take their faith seriously and started to seek God through prayer and worship. It can also mean to proclaim publicly - men began to identify themselves as followers of the true God. To make a decision like that is never easy in any circumstance, but it is always more difficult when the crowd is going the other direction. But in those dark days, a group of people openly said, “We belong to the Lord. We are his. We are on his team. We live by his values. We follow his Word!” They were not ashamed to be called the sons and daughters of the Living God.
What they knew, they believed.
What they believed, they confessed.
What they confessed, God blessed.
They openly confessed their faith while Lamech boasted of his sin, while men followed sensual pursuits, while society began to spiral downward. In that day of growing darkness, men banded together openly and publicly to declare the name of the Lord.
It is never too late to call on the Lord. Things are never so bad that the godly cannot survive. The world is never so far gone in sin that we should sell our goods, move to the wilderness and live in a compound. What a revelation this is of the power of united faith. The first great revival came at a time of unbelievable moral decline. When the ungodly grow bold, it is time for the godly to be even bolder. When they jump headlong into sin, it is time for us to jump headlong into righteousness.
Stand Up and Be Counted! You have to make a stand for what you believe. How should we as believers relate to the wider culture? From the very beginning, unbelievers have tended to control the cities and they generally lead the larger culture. That’s how it was in the beginning, that’s how it is today, and that’s how it will always be to some extent until the Lord returns. I do not say that with any sense of defeatism but simply as a statement of fact. Yet God never leaves himself without a witness. Believers around the world can make a huge difference if they will build godly families, openly proclaim God’s name and go about their business as salt and light in the larger culture. Sometimes we can penetrate and change things to a large extent. Never will the culture be entirely Christian but without the Christian influence, it will always deteriorate. That’s why whenever Christianity goes into a pagan culture, it always improves the lot of everyone who lives there. That’s why we need Christian writers, Christian community leaders, Christian teachers, Christian industrialists, Christian artists, Christian doctors, Christian lawyers and Christians sprinkled throughout every field of human endeavour.
We have no reason to envy the ungodly. They have the power but lack the wisdom to use it wisely. They marry but cannot stay married. They build vast monuments and then gun each other down in the streets. They can manage their world but not their own lives. We live in a generation of intellectual giants and moral pygmies.
Prayer - Father, how foolish we are to think that we could live without you. Forgive us for loving the treasures of the world that will pass away. Or if they do not pass away, we will pass away and then we will be in your presence. Teach us to believe all that you have said. Create in us a hunger that can be satisfied only by you. Wean us from our love of the world, our desire for earthly praise, and our restless pursuit of material gain and sexual pleasure. Help us to put your kingdom first and so to discover that when we do, everything else is added unto us. Amen.