The AMI QT devotionals from Jan. 15-21 are provided by Cami King. Cami, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and Gordon Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is currently serving as a staff at Journey Community Church in Raleigh.
Devotional Thoughts for Today
ONAN | SELFISHNESS KILLS
Judah acquired a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Have sexual relations with your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise up a descendant for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be considered his. So whenever he had sexual relations with his brother’s wife, he withdrew prematurely so as not to give his brother a descendant. 10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him too.
Have you ever been in an impossible predicament – where all options seem undesirable? In some ways, this is where Onan found himself. I don’t believe Onan deserves defending (God doesn’t seem to think so either – see v.10). However this story could use some contextualization. As the second of three sons, Onan was entitled to one-fourth of his father Judah’s inheritance (his younger brother receiving the same and his older brother receiving double). If Tamar had a son, that son would be entitled to his father’s two-forth portion. With no heirs from Er, Onan was entitled to two-thirds of Judah’s wealth. And so the predicament—fulfill his legal and familial responsibility of giving Tamar children (see yesterday’s Devotional Thought for more info on this), or be disgraced for refusing to do so.
Onan chose (drum roll please)… SELFISHNESS (and in the worst way). Instead of honoring his brother, family, and culture, he chose selfish gain. He chose to allow both his brother’s name and memory to be erased (which would happen with no male heir) and the end of a genealogical line in the family of God, all for a two-thirds inheritance (i.e. he did it for the money). Worst still, instead of being honest about his choice (in which case he still would get the money), instead of being upfront regarding his unwillingness, he feigned honor by repeatedly exploiting Tamar, having sex with her knowing full well she would not conceive. Instead of doing what was required or releasing her so other arrangements could potentially be made for her livelihood, Onan chose cowardice and used her. So God released her (again see v.10).
Sometimes systems are in place that leaves us with unfavorable options. Patriarchy is a system that leaves women completely vulnerable and youths (younger brothers in this instance) over-exposed. But no matter the system, we always have a choice—to be selfish and exploitative (using systems and others for our own gain) or to be just and loving (working within the system to do what is right and good—or overturning it all together). Onan made his choice and “it was evil in the Lord’s sight.”
Prayer: Almighty God, help me to be a person who chooses to do what is right and good, even when I’m presented with unfavorable options. Give me the courage to not only look to my own interests but also to the interests of others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Numbers 5
Lunch Break Study
Read Philippians 2:1-11: Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! 9 As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Questions to Consider
- What do you think it means “to be moved to treat others as more important than yourself”? Why do you think Paul gives these instructions?
- In v.4 Paul does not say that we should not have any concern for our own interests. Instead, he says that we should also look to the interests of others. How does this challenge or align with how you typically think of considering others (loving and serving others)?
- What would it mean for you to “have the same attitude… that Christ Jesus had”? What are some practical ways you could follow Jesus’ example in the specific relationships in your life?
- Whatever considering others better than ourselves means, it is set up as the opposite to being motivated by selfish ambition (doing things purely for our own gain) and vanity (self-absorption). In most of my relationships, I have found that self-absorption is something people do unintentionally and absent-mindedly. People are naturally self-absorbed (some more than others). Therefore, it requires intentionality and an explicitly command to lead us to the kind of love and rationality God calls us to as believers. Yes, self-absorption is natural, and selfishness is what we naturally pursue as an ultimate gain, but God calls us to a better way. And from Jesus we see that as we consider others, we too are blessed. In their gain is our gain!
- Oftentimes, Christian love is characterized as something that is utterly selfless. So much so that I’ve found in ministry (and in my own life) it difficult to convince Christians to do simple things for the purpose of self-care or basic self-sustenance. Paul reminds us that our interests are not wholly unimportant; they are just not singular and ultimate. We also have others to consider.
- Spend some time in personal reflection.
What are some of the specific areas or relationships in your life where your tendency toward selfishness (pursuit of selfish gain or absentminded self absorption) is harmful to the people around you? Ask God for discernment and clarity and for ways to you can practically look also to the interests of others. Consider asking those closest to you (your closest friends, family members, coworkers—those with whom you do life regularly) to help you answer these questions as well.