Walking with a Limp

Genesis 32:24–32 records the account where Jacob wrestled with a mysterious man who changed his life forever. This scene takes place at the Jabbok river, which is an essential detail in this narrative because it’s the boundary to the promised land. The name Jabbok is a play on words with Jacob’s name. Do you see it? “Jacob/Jabbok!” The word “Jabbok” means “wrestling” or “twisting river.” For his entire life, Jacob was the epitome of a fierce wrestler as well. He wrestled with Esau in the womb and came out grabbing his heel. Later on, he again wrestled with Esau and cheated him twice. Jacob also wrestled with his uncle Laban and tricked him. At this wrestling river called Jabbok, Jacob is about to have the ultimate wrestling match of his life. In the solitude of darkness, this mysterious man begins wrestling him, and this struggle continues with intensity all night. Right before dawn, this man touches Jacob’s hip socket and wounds him. The word used for “touch” here means a soft touch. It wasn’t a powerful torque or a punch, but simply a touch. In other words, God gently, yet powerfully, wounds Jacob’s hip and leaves him writhing in pain! As the day breaks, this mysterious man urges Jacob to let him go, but Jacob is relentless and won’t let go until he gets blessed. This is somewhat shocking. What would we expect? We would expect Jacob to be bowled over in agony because God knocked his hip out of its socket. Wouldn’t Jacob want this man to let him go so he could nurse his wound? Instead, he grabs on more tightly and won’t let go until he’s personally blessed.

This story still carries more tension as the mystery man asks Jacob for his name. Why would he need to know Jacob’s name? Was God in need of some information? In this definitive moment of truth, Jacob would have to finally admit to the living God his real identity—his identity as a deceiver. What does the name Jacob mean? Deceiver! Heel Grabber! Jacob would have to come clean and admit that he was a wicked con man and a master manipulator. You can picture it in your mind, can’t you? Jacob is dripping with sweat, writhing in pain, breathing heavily, and then he pauses—it hits him—he comes face to face with the sinister meaning of his name. In agony, he whispers “Jacob. My name is Deceiver! Heal grabber! Sinner! Unworthy wretch!” In another powerful turn of events, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel because he fought with God and won. Only the living God has the power to change Jacob’s name and his identity.

Jacob then calls the place Peniel which means “face of God.” He has seen God face to face. He wrestled with God and wasn’t annihilated. The LORD didn’t scorch him with holy fire. The LORD didn’t obliterate him into a million pieces. In mercy, God wounded Jacob, and he came out with a limp, even though the LORD spared his life. And more importantly, his name was changed. He had a new identity, Israel, which was profoundly significant. Jacob stood on the border of the promised land as the only one who wrestled with God. This new identity as Israel would serve as a foreshadowing of the life of the nation from there on out—a people that wrestled with God. For the rest of his life, Jacob walked with a limp as a daily reminder that God had touched him, changed him, wounded him, broken him.

Does this make any sense? How does God bless Jacob? By wounding him. How does God strengthen Jacob? By humbling him. How does God transform Jacob? By wrenching his hip, breaking him, and ultimately giving him a new name. Sometimes God must wound us before he can use us. Does God desire for us to live in prideful self-sufficiency where we have life all figured out? Does God prefer that we are in charge of our lives as we walk confidently in our power? Or does God will that we would walk with a limp? That we would walk in weakness and utter dependence upon him. Does this attitude describe you? A. W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” Have you been hurt deeply through enduring sufferings and trials so that God can use you mightily for his glory?

Three Enemies of Fellowship

The Pixar movie Wall-E serves as a modern-day parable of an ancient problem. This film, set in 2805, shows Earth as an abandoned planet covered in trash due to the excess and consumerism brought about by a megacorporation called “Buy-n-Large.” With no hope for restoring the earth, little trash compactor robots called Wall-Es are sent back to clean up the planet. Since the toxic environment on earth cannot sustain life, one Wall-E unit is left. He is lonely and longs for true love as his only friend is a cockroach. He ends up falling in love with E.V.E.—another robot—and they go on an adventure in a spaceship called Axiom back to where all the humans live as obese and selfish consumers. This film addresses the issues of loneliness, disconnectedness, the desire for real loving relationships, the tricky way we have to handle technology, and our consumer-driven culture of selfishness.

As believers, can we avoid having relationships with other people? Can we avoid the messy parts of living life together as the body of Christ? In a culture obsessed with technology and plagued by isolation and loneliness, how do we as God’s people handle these issues of relational disconnectedness? How does the gospel address a sincere desire for lasting friendships?

Acts 2:42–45: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

The word fellowship, or koinonia, means to share or to have a partnership as it carries the idea of having things in common. This passage describes fellowship with two particular details: (1) breaking bread together, and (2) taking care of each other’s needs. In that ancient Jewish culture, eating a meal together signified a deep friendship and intimacy where they shared life around the table. Today, we often relegate fellowship to something that happens in a fellowship hall with a quarterly potluck. Luke also describes the early church as selling their possessions and having everything in common. The sharing of possessions was a voluntary, spontaneous act of love that was not compulsory. This fellowship was a beautiful expression of gospel generosity.

I want to address three ruthless enemies that stand against “fellowship” and which are so commonplace in our lives that we barely recognize them. These are selfishness, busyness, and complacency. Let’s face it, we are selfish people that put me at the center of the universe. We don’t even bat an eye at the fact that selfishness is a sin against God. Selfishness says, “I’m more important than everybody else; therefore, everyone else must serve me.” We end up using other people for our gains whether we know it or not.

The second enemy is busyness, where we over plan, overcommit, and overextend ourselves so that there’s no time to cultivate genuine relationships and friendships with others. Busyness says, “My life is too complicated; therefore, I will not invest in building relationships.”

The third enemy to fellowship is complacency, where you don’t want to make the effort to foster new relationships. You want to avoid the messiness of getting heavily involved in others’ lives. You may silently want deeper relationships, but you make no effort to actually grow in this area. We face an uphill battle in light of our culture and the sinfulness within our soul that fights against practicing true biblical fellowship.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” Do you hear Paul’s affection and love for other believers? Paul was not content to share the gospel with them, and then quickly move on to the next town on his missionary agenda. Instead, he also wanted to share his life generously with them. Are you marked by selfishness, busyness, and complacency? Do you possess a deep affection for other believers shaped by the gospel of grace where you share your life generously? Are you connected to a local church where you can experience true biblical fellowship?