Fill the Earth: What Does it Mean to “Be a Blessing”?

If you’re a Christian, you’ve heard this language so much you likely have an innate sense of what people mean when they say something like this:

“We just want to be a blessing to our community.”

By this language people tend to mean that they want their community to receive some sort of positive benefit from their presence and/or actions. One church that I was involved in said that we should be so good for the community that if we were to close our doors tomorrow they would feel the loss. And of course it’s a wonderful thing for a church to contribute to their community.

But this is not what it means—biblically speaking—to “be a blessing.”

Was Abram Called to Go Out and “Bless” Others?

This language of “be a blessing” comes from God’s call of Abram in Gen 12:1–3. In that passage we read this:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

A common understanding of this passage is that God would bless Abram, and one of the results of that action is that Abram would go out and bless others (“I will bless you… so that you will be a blessing [to others]”). A problem with this view is that when we read the patriarchal narratives, we do not read a story of Abram or his descendants going out and blessing others.

Moreover, when we get to the story of Israel and the giving of the Torah, nowhere do we see God command Israel to go out and “bless others.” If Abram was called to do this, and if God called Abram to “command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord” (Gen 18:19), then why so much silence about blessing others after Gen 12:1–3?

Called to Be a Recognized Recipient of Blessing

What I seek to show in chapter 3 of Fill the Earth is that God does not call Abram to go out and bless others in Gen 12:1–3. Rather, if Abram responds to God’s word with faith and obedience, God promises to bless him in such a way that others take notice and turn to God. To “be a blessing” in Gen 12:2 (and elsewhere in the OT) does not mean to bless others but rather to be a recognized recipient of blessing. It means that one is blessed in a way that is publicly acknowledged.

When we understand the call of Abram this way, we see a consistent missional call between Abram and his descendants, Israel. But discussion of that will have to wait until next time.

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