When leadership displays grace.

Genesis 18:9-16 (ESV)

They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way.

Sarah’s laughter is no big deal – Abraham laughed too when he heard the same news – but her lying about it seems more serious. Yet after the visitors correct her on it, they just leave as if it’s not worth any more discussion. Why?

One clue is that the men are referring to her as Sarah, not Sarai. Her name change came when God promised that Sarah will have a son. Sarah has to be aware of God’s promise. Her laughter cannot be of surprise; the three men are confirming what she has already been told.

Also, Sarah’s words show that she is seeing this as joyful, even pleasurable. Of course, Sarah’s exact state of mind cannot be known (or even imagined!) In any case, the men just want her to take this more seriously.

But notice that the men just declare the truth and then drop the whole thing. They only want to get her attention. Sarah was embarrassed about her laughter and failed to own up to it. So what? They don’t need to pound the truth into her at this time; events to come will do that in spades.

This is a magnificent portrait of how God, in his infinite providence, puts up with our sin.

This is the kind of patience parents often have with their children. “That was wrong, but you’re just a kid.” It’s also the kind of patience Christians are called to have with everybody.

This isn’t just patience; it’s leadership. When somebody makes a mistake – or even commits a wrong – our response should be designed to teach. We shouldn’t be surprised; we know the doctrines of fallen human nature. What’s the point of displaying pique?

Pray for patience. We understand what we should do, but doing it is something else.

We all need help.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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