by Tim Haile
Jeremiah carried out his mission at a difficult time in the history of God's people. The house of Judah was morally and spiritually bankrupt. The priests, whose job it was to "handle" God's law, did not even know God (Jer. 2:8). Rather than render judgments based upon the solid principles of divine revelation, these priests "ruled by their own authority" (Jer. 5:31). Shepherds transgressed, prophets prophesied by false gods, and the scribes penned false words (Jer. 8:8). Punishment was coming from the north (Jer. 6:22 - the route the Babylonians would invade from), and this time, God would not be changing His mind (Jer. 15:6).
The people's rebellion reached its apex during the days of Manasseh (Jer. 15:4; 2 Kgs. 21:8). This king of Judah had actually gone so far as to make his son "pass through the fire" to the false god Molech (2 Kgs. 21:6). It appears from Leviticus 18:21 that the Jews had acquired this practice from heathen idolatry. Not only was the death penalty in force against this godless practice, but God had promised to cut off whole families for just "hiding their faces" from the practice (Lev. 20:2-5). Civil punishments were not being executed against such crimes because of the depth of moral corruption. The divine decree was that, because of this tolerant mentality, the entire society would have to bear the punishment. Murder unpunished by society can only be expiated by the death of that society. Those who actually participated in these evils would be punished for their own crimes. Non-participants would be punished for hiding their faces from the matter. Those who survived the perils of the initial siege (starvation and disease) would either die by the sword, or they would be sent into captivity (Jer. 15:2). There was absolutely no escape.
As a divinely ordained prophet, Jeremiah was obligated to speak the words that God had placed in his mouth (Jer. 1:9), and this is exactly what he did. He stood in the gates of the temple and spoke to them the words of the Lord (Jer. 7:2). Jeremiah suffered many persecutions for his efforts (Jer. 18:18-ff; 20:7-ff), yet there were times of self-pity and discouragement. One such time is recorded in Jeremiah 15:18-19. Jeremiah asked, "Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed? Will you surely be to me like an unreliable stream, as waters that fail?" The Lord responded, "If you return, then I will bring you back; you shall stand before me; if you take out the precious from the vile, you shall be as my mouth. Let them return to you, but you must not return to them."
Notice that Jeremiah would be able to perform his duties only if he separated the "precious" from the "vile." What was God referring to? What vile thing did Jeremiah need to rid himself of?
Jeremiah's Super Sensitivity
Jeremiah's problem was that his heart was still with his people, at least to a certain degree. He knew they were wrong, but he had difficulty abandoning them to their fate. God had become "weary of relenting" of His judgments against His people and He wanted Jeremiah to feel just as wearied by them. The people had become so sinful and impenitent that even great intercessors like Moses and Samuel would have been ineffectual in mediating on their behalf (Jer. 15:1). The people had wandered so far from God that He did not even want Jeremiah to pray for their good (Jer. 14:11; 11:14). The time had come for God's perfect justice to be administered. The time had come for divine judgment and retribution. This meant it was time for Jeremiah to replace his sensitiveness with God's sense of justice. Had Jeremiah's emotional attachment to his people been stronger than his appreciation of God's justice, he would have stumbled and failed in his mission. Of course, God reassured Jeremiah that if he purged himself of these human passions, he would continue to serve as God's mouthpiece, and God would deliver him from the hand of the wicked (Jer. 15:21).
Another example of this is found in Numbers 25. God had given His instructions about what was to be done in response to Israel's harlotry and idolatry. Violators were to be executed, impaled, and left out in the sun (Num. 25:4). Rather than act immediately upon God's instructions, Moses and all the people were "weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting" (Num. 25:6). A man named Phinehas did act upon the Lord's instructions and ended a plague that had already killed 23,000 people. Phinehas was highly commended and rewarded because he was "zealous with God's zeal" in addressing this sinful behavior (Num. 25:11).
It is certainly a time for sadness and tears when God's people turn from Him and fulfill their own carnal desires, but these tears must quickly be followed with action. We must act quickly in reproving, rebuking and exhorting the sinner (2 Tim. 4:2). Tears alone won't do. In order for the unruly soul to be saved from death, it must be instructed, taught and warned (2 Tim. 2:25; 1 Thess. 5:14; Col. 1:28). Hypersensitive Christians invariably fail in their duty to warn erring brothers and sisters in Christ. The "soft spot" they have in their heart for the sinner prevents them from being negative towards him. Their own emotions rule in place of God's word. Such Christians do fine until they are put to this kind of test. Then it is discovered that their faith was not in God, but in their brethren, or their local church. Genuine faith is rooted in God's word and has God as its object (Rom. 10:17; Mk. 11:22). We must relinquish our will to the Lord's, and we must never be ashamed of His words (Lk. 9:23, 26). Not only are we not to be ashamed of the gospel, we are also obligated to walk in the path of righteousness that it outlines (Rom. 1:16-17).
Is There A Problem Today?
I am afraid some people do have a problem with being hypersensitive. They appear to be more sensitive and more compassionate than God is! Of course, here we have touched on the real problem. Divine love neither rejoices in iniquity nor allows it to propagate unopposed (1 Cor. 13:6; Eph. 5:11). God is more than just compassionate; The Bible states that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). God's nature is the standard by which proper character is defined. While in the flesh, Jesus perfectly and completely exemplified these attributes and characteristics. It is impossible for men to be "more compassionate" or "more sensitive" than God is. This means that our sensitiveness and human compassion cannot outweigh our duty to confront sin and error.
Some Are Offended When We "Mark" Errorists
Their feelings are hurt when some preacher or congregation publicly identifies purveyors of false doctrine. They are very sensitive about this practice. It bothers them. However, please note that their sensitivities in this area are more acute than are God's! God has commanded us to "mark those who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine that you have learned, and avoid them" (Rom. 16:17). John identified Diotrephes (3 Jn. 9). Paul identified Hymenaeus, Philetus, Demas, and Alexander (2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:10, 14). Jesus identified the parties of the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Nicolas and Balaam (Matt. 16:6-12; 23; Rev. 2:14-15). When men refuse to "mark" those who teach false doctrine, they stand in defiance of the command of Romans 16:17. Obedience to this command is no less essential than obedience to the commands of Acts 2:38. We have no right to simply tag the command of Romans 16:17 as being optional, for if such a right does exist, it exists relative to all of God's commands.
It is sometimes argued that teachers of error should not be marked (identified) if they had done other teaching that was good, before they proceeded to teach error. Here again, those who propose this notion are more compassionate and forgiving than God, for the Bible says God will not remember the former good deeds of those who turn from their righteousness to commit wickedness (Ezek. 3:20). Are we greater and more forgiving than God? Are we more sensitive to a man's past accomplishments than God is? I am only permitted to forgive those who have repented of their sins (Lk. 17:2-3). I am to neither fellowship, support, nor ignore those who teach soul-damning error (Eph. 5:11; 2 Jn. 10-11). By making excuses for teachers of false doctrine, we strengthen their hands, helping them to destroy men's souls with their error (Ezek. 13:22).
When it comes to matters like church discipline or discussions of important Bible issues, let us not become more sensitive that God allows us to be. There is to be no soft spot in my heart for any form of sin or error. The Bible repeatedly states that I am to literally hate all forms of sin and error (Amos 5:15; Psa. 97:10; 119:104, 128; Prov. 6:16-19; Rom. 12:9; Jude 22-23; Rev. 2:14-15). I must develop the kind of convictions that will allow me to be comfortable when I see such things opposed and their arguments soundly defeated (2 Cor. 10:3-6). Let us work to conform our emotions to God's standard, adopting His kind of love, mercy and compassion.
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