Heirs of the World

One of the privileges of being a part of Abraham’s family is that we have an inheritance. God made promises to Abraham and his family, promises that concerned Abraham’s inheritance of the world. Paul practically assumes that we know this when he says in Romans 4.13, “For not through Law is the promise to Abraham or his seed to be heir of the world (“cosmos”), but through the righteousness of faith.” The world includes not only land but also all of the “systems” that order our lives together. To inherit the world speaks of inheriting a place to live as well as a way to live in it together that will be an existence of peace and prosperity. Everything from the simplicity of dirt to the complexity of cultures is the world-order, the “cosmos,” that God promised as an inheritance to Abraham and his family.

Building on what he has already concluded in Romans 4, Paul tells the church that this inheritance is not through the Law; that is, it is not for the Jews only. Through the Law the faith that Abraham exercised and through which God justified him would be made void and the promise would be made of no effect. Like its precursor, circumcision, the Law serves the larger family of Abraham that includes the Gentiles. Circumcision and the Law become the means by which the chosen seed of Abraham will serve the larger family through death in order to satisfy the wrath of God and experience life on the other side. The Law is fulfilled in this way through Christ Jesus himself who was born under the Law so that he might redeem those who were under Law, in order that they might receive adoption as sons (Gal 4.5). But the Law doesn’t define the totality of Abraham’s family and, therefore, heirs of the Abrahamic promises.

Problems arise if “the Law people” are the only heirs of the Abrahamic promises. First, the Law limits the land that is inherited. The Law concerns only the land of Canaan. Abraham’s special seed, Israel, inherited only a little strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea. The Law defined Sabbaths for this land, how to parcel out this land, what to do to redeem this land, etc. The Law is limited to dealing with this little bit of land. Abraham’s inheritance was the entire earth.

Second, the Law is limited to a certain people. The Law was specifically addressed to the Jews. Though the Law is certainly useful beyond the Jewish people, only the Jews were in its jurisdiction. Gentiles, for instance, were not Law-breakers when they didn’t keep feast days, didn’t circumcise their children, and didn’t keep a special diet concerning clean and unclean animals. Gentiles are included in Abraham’s family (something already concluded by Paul). Since that is the case, the Law-people cannot be the only heirs of Abraham. 

Third, the Law works wrath (Rom 4.15). The Law has shown Israel to be under sin and, therefore, under the wrath of God. Israel couldn’t even remain in the land she had been given earlier. God in his wrath had the land vomit her out into captivity and exile in Assyria and Babylon. Those under the Law–the Jews–are also under the wrath of God. If only the Law people stand to inherit, then nobody will inherit.

We who are Abraham’s family by faith in Christ Jesus, we are the heirs of the world. God has given the world order to his Son, Christ Jesus, and his body, the church. This means that the whole world, from dirt to cultures, belongs to us. 

With this inheritance comes a responsibility to care for what we have been given. God has parceled out the world among his churches and, within his churches, he has parceled out familial and individual responsibilities. Each of us has a part of this inheritance. These are the gifts of the Spirit. He has given us responsibilities and the power to carry out those responsibilities. Whatever you have been given–your body, your family, your job, your money, your yard, etc.–that is part of the inheritance of the church over which you have been given charge to be a steward. Everything we have and everything we do is to serve the larger mission of the church to be faithful heirs of the world; caring for and developing the world in a way that promotes the peace and prosperity that we anticipate because of the promises of God. 

All of our parcels are different, but they are all important to the larger mission we have as the church. You need not be a missionary or pastor to “really” serve the church and her mission. That may not be the parcel of the inheritance God has called you to cultivate. That doesn’t mean that yours is unimportant. No parcel of the inheritance can be left unkempt. That reflects on the entire church. Your quiet and sometimes unnoticed faithfulness in the day-to-day responsibilities of cultivating the parcel God has given you is vitally important to the overall beauty of the entire inheritance.

So, continue to be faithful with whatever God has put in your hands. Whatever he has given you, work at it with all your might, for in doing this you are serving his church.