Human pride will always raise itself up against the sovereign will of God. Anything that is built from self rather than obedience to His sovereign purpose will not last. We are vessels for His power and glory, and only the things He desires will come to fruition in and through our lives.
Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1)
The Tower of Babel was a story heard in childhood and which has remained with me since. For some reason, it always stirred up a caution in me though I never fully understood why until I was born again and understood the true nature of human pride. The tower is long since gone and the people scattered throughout the earth, but the warning of it remains. To grasp full relevance we must understand that the tower was raised up at the desire and design of mankind. God had expressly told them to scatter and multiply and replenish the earth, but they chose to settle. That was their first disobedience. Their second was to raise up a tower with the intention of reaching to the very heavens. In other words, their pride led them to aspire, like Satan, towards the glory of God. In both, they acted against God’s sovereign purpose.
Human pride and God’s sovereign purpose.
The first lesson learned from the Tower of Babel is that human pride will always challenge the sovereign purpose of God. Anything of the flesh raises itself up against the spirit and surrender to His will. The second lesson is that God will never allow anything or anyone to usurp or even share His glory. He will deal with rebellion in such a way that His purpose is always fulfilled. The tragedy is that we may not even be aware of pride operating in us because it’s so adept at masquerading as the things of God. It’s a subtle, insidious enemy that creeps in when we least expect and is patient enough to lie dormant for a long time. Pride feeds off our genuine desire to please God, using every little success to gradually stir up our sense of achievement and self-sufficiency.
Pride points out what we’ve done for God which may well be absolute truth. But it fuzzes the additional truth that it was done in God and not out of our own ability. It stirs up thoughts and desires and plans that may well be biblical and worthwhile and encourages us to follow them. The problem is that they may not be in line with God’s sovereign purpose for us or at that moment in time. But each apparent success boosts our confidence. While we convince ourselves we’re acting in His will, we’re actually acting out of self-gratification and self-sufficiency. It’s our work, our ministry, and our success. While we’re ostensibly doing it ‘for God’ we’re actually doing it entirely for ourselves. After a while, we may even stop mouthing the empty words of glory to God. This is the moment where God is excluded and pride takes control.
Understanding the sovereign purpose of God.
We all too easily lose sight of the fact that God is the I AM – the everything and all in all, creator and sustainer of the universe and everything in it. His sovereign purpose is just that – sovereign. It cannot be challenged, denied, or circumvented. We have free will and can choose not to obey, and God will be patient and teach us the better way. But active and outright disobedience that raises itself up against His purposes will not be tolerated. What is raised up in defiance will be brought down. God will not share His glory, and especially will not condone using His glory as an excuse to pursue our own agendas. The interesting outcome of the story of the Tower of Babel is that their punishment was, in fact, the fulfilment of His sovereign purpose – to scatter and replenish the earth.
For good measure, He threw in the diversity of language that compelled their separation into the various nations of the earth. The reason for this was another sovereign purpose – that unity among men would only be possible through Christ. It is through Jesus and Him alone that mankind can once again become one body. It is a spiritual unity, not a natural unity, reminding us that the only way we can enjoy intimacy with God and reach heaven is through God’s grace. By building the tower, human pride was seeking to do what God intended to do. It was, in effect, pre-empting the coming of Christ and the salvation of the world. This was also when the lineage of Seth took precedence, introducing the sovereign purpose of God that His Son should come as the true representative of a line of men chosen by God to fulfil all He intended.
The sovereign purpose of God is still effective.
Today’s verse reminds us that His sovereign purpose remains the only criteria for anything we do as believers. We are saved and Spirit filled, raised up as sons of God and kingdom servants. But even Jesus, as the Son of Man, lived only to fulfil the will of the Father. He Himself acknowledged that everything He said or did was only what the Father commanded. This truth is what empowered His ministry. He did nothing in and of Himself. He lived on earth as a man perfectly and wholly surrendered to God’s purposes, and all He did was ‘successful’ because it was directly empowered by God Himself. It’s very true that many very visible ministries seem to be accompanied by ‘divine success,’ but we must remember that Satan is well able to counterfeit the things of God to suit his purposes.
This apparent success will never last. At some point, God will step in and they will be brought down. Nothing built of the flesh will ever last. No matter how hard we work, how much we may desire to please God, or how much effort we put in, it’s temporal. Unless God does the work through us, we labour in vain. Unless He empower our watchfulness, we serve in vain. That’s the powerful message for every believer. Lasting and fruitful works are only possible when we are fully yielded to His sovereign purpose. We are vessels, tools, or instruments only. The purpose, the plan, and the power belong to God alone. We cannot initiate our own desires and expect that He will bless them because we want to please Him. Only obedience and surrender with joy and thanksgiving will please God. All our righteousness is as filthy rags.
Living in the sovereign purpose of God.
The critical error made by the builders of the tower was that they sought to reach God in the flesh. They wanted to meet with God on their terms rather than through surrender and obedience. To live in the sovereign purpose of God means to first live in the acceptance that God is sovereign. To be sovereign is so much more than ‘being the boss’ in all things. It’s about knowing what is best and how best to achieve it. It defines the omniscience and omnipotence of God. He sees all from the vantage of eternal wisdom. God can and does stir up visions and dreams within our spirits as guides and revelation of His sovereign purpose into which He is leading us. They may well be the direction He wants us to take, but His desire is that we do His way.
Anything we undertake with and for God must be in obedience and surrender to His perfect will. This means that we must be in constant communion with Him in order to hear His voice and listen to His instructions. It requires living in the spirit rather than the flesh. We msut empty ourselves of our own dreams and aspirations and allow Him to give us the desires of our heart. We’re quick to quote this in the context of God giving us what we want. But it also means that He places the right ‘wants’ into us so that our will aligns with His. We are blessed with the indwelling presence of the Spirit to guide us, teach us, and to reveal to us the deep things of God. But all too often this involves waiting – something pride does not do very well. That’s where the trouble starts.
Intimacy is our assurance of being in His sovereign purpose.
Relationship with God – the daily act of surrendered worship to His sovereignty – is our assurance of remaining in His sovereign purpose. Yielding ourselves daily as vessels for His glory and power brings us into the deep intimacy He desires with us. That is the place where we hear from Him and walk with assurance down the path the Spirit leads us on. There is inexpressible joy in seeing the plans of God come to fruition in our lives. No amount of self-sufficiency can measure up to a God-empowered assignment in which He Himself does the work through us. All of us have rushed ahead with what we believed was of God, only to find we laboured in vain. Yet He is loving and merciful and quick to forgive. By His grace He restores us to His sovereign purpose where the work is blessed because He is in it.
Thank You, gracious Father, for Your patience and for reminding us that the work is Yours and Yours alone. By Your infinite grace, give us the desires of our hearts so that they are Your sovereign purpose in our lives rather than our own plans. Help us to live surrendered and obedient lives. Bring us into the intimacy of true worship, yielded to Your will and Your Spirit, so we can live for Your glory in all we do.