Finding the Balance

Believers are placed in the world to be salt and light, making a positive impact on the culture without being consumed by it. There are dangers to be avoided and a balance to be struck.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 29-30; Titus 1

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— Titus 1:5

In God’s providence, exiles from Jerusalem were present in ancient Babylon and, several centuries later, Titus was assigned by Paul to minister on the island of Crete. These assignments were not by chance but by God’s will and they were for a purpose.

While it is true that the Jews were sent into exile under the disciplinary action of God upon the kingdom of Judah, life for those exiles was not put on hold as if it were meaningless or purposeless. They were not coming back to Jerusalem soon. The elderly among them would not live to see Jerusalem. The captivity would last seventy years. False prophets told them to expect a quick return to their native land. Jeremiah, by God’s revelation, commanded them to settle down, plant gardens, buy houses, have children, and seek the welfare of their land of captivity. In other words, do the regular activities of normal life and be good citizens as much as possible. Indeed, Daniel exemplified this attitude and was a great asset to Babylon in both his personal life and public service. We’ll look at this soon when we get to the book of Daniel.

Paul wrote his letter to Titus whom he had left on Crete to organize the church under godly leadership. The Cretans had a bad reputation in general, so it would be crucial that Titus adhere to the apostolic standards for elders so that the church would not be tarnished by scandal. The church in Crete had to have men above reproach to be their elders. They, like the obedient exiles in Babylon, would stand against the culture of their day and make a difference.

There is an ongoing debate among Bible believing Christians about the role of the Church in society—whether to transform it or flee from it. Both positions have a basis in the Scriptures.   It is hard to be completely on either side of this debate. We are called to exercise wisdom that the Church be not consumed with changing society and lose the gospel, nor be so separate from the world that the gospel witness is lost.

Pray for wisdom to fulfill the role of salt and light, (Matthew 5:13-16) of being in the world but not of the world as Jesus prayed (John 17:14-19).

 

Why False Teachers Abound

False prophets and teachers are everywhere, but why do so many follow them?

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 27-28; 2 Timothy 4

15 And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. 16 Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’”

17 In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died. Jeremiah 28:15-17

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:3-5

The answer is simple. People listen to false prophets and teachers because they prefer their message to the truth even when they suspect it is false.

In Jeremiah’s day, he was opposed by those who claimed to be speaking for God. One such person was Hananiah. He directly contradicted what Jeremiah was saying. The false prophet told the people that Nebuchadnezzar would not suppress them or anyone else. He assured them that the king would be returned from captivity and the stolen items from the temple would all be brought back and replaced. Jeremiah said not only would Judah be subjugated but all their neighboring kingdoms would as well. Someone was lying. Jeremiah was proven right when he prophesied of Hananiah’s death and it occurred on schedule. Would this convince everyone that Jeremiah was to be trusted? Read on and find out.

Paul was writing his final words to Timothy and to us. His warnings and charges are urgent. There would be difficult days ahead. People would not listen to sound teaching. Timothy would have to focus on fulfilling his ministry of preaching the word, including, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. After all, that is what the Word of God does (2 Timothy 3:16).

Things have not improved in our time. Vast numbers of people still listen to those who tell them what they want to hear without checking to see if this is what the Scriptures teach. “God is all love and everyone is going to heaven.” No! That is not what Jesus or the rest of the Bible says. “God just wants you to be happy and healthy.” No! God calls you and me to repentance and faith in Him. He looks for people with broken and contrite hearts, not presumptuous self-esteem. [See Psalm 51:17; Mark 1:15.]

Study God’s Word. Watch out for the false teachers and phony prophets. They will end up like Hananiah.

Preparing for the Bad, Last Days

What should we do to prepare for the end of time? Scripture is clear. Know God’s Word well.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 25-26; 2 Timothy 3

15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”  Jeremiah 26:15-16

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Paul writes to instruct Timothy in his pastoral duties and also to alert him, and all of us who have lived since him, as to the dangerous, difficult times that were and are to come. We read the list which begins with “lovers of self” and ends with “having the appearance of godliness but denying its power” (vs. 2-5). Narcissism would be rampant with phony, hypocritical uprightness.

Paul was not worried that Timothy would go astray. He knew the depth of character of his protégé. Not only that, Timothy had the Scriptures his whole life, the Word of God which brings wisdom for salvation and goes on to teach, reprove, correct, and train all who know it.

Jeremiah affirmed to the rebellious leaders of Judah that he spoke God’s Word to them. They not only ignored it but pondered executing him for preaching it. He barely escaped death for standing on God’s Word. He might have died for preaching the truth, but his enemies would and did die by it.

How do we prepare for whatever may come? There’s nothing wrong with stocking up on food, water, and firewood, but without a deep knowledge of the Bible, it will be in vain. Be prepared, God’s way, by His Word, given to us that the man or woman of God  “may be complete, equipped for every good work” including enduring the bad, last days.

Christ, Our Righteousness

In Jesus Christ there is sure salvation, because He is our righteousness.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 23-24; 2 Timothy 2

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’                                                                                     Jeremiah 23:5-6

8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.            2 Timothy 2:8-10

The prophet Jeremiah had the uncomfortable, but important, task of denouncing the failed, rebellious kings and prophets of Judah. God promised to punish them, but He also gave hope to the faithful among the people. Here we have a clear promise of a future king, of the lineage of David, who would deal wisely, execute justice and righteousness, and bring salvation and security to Judah and Israel. This and other prophecies kept the believing remnant of Israel hopeful until Jesus Christ, the Messiah, came [e.g. Luke 2:25-38]. Jeremiah and his contemporaries probably could have not imagined in their wildest dreams the extent of this prophecy. God did everything He promised and far more, by calling to Himself through Christ people from every tribe, nation, and tongue, all His elect down through history who in one voice confess, “The Lord is our righteousness.” [1 Corinthians 1:30].

Paul was concerned that the Church, which was beginning to reflect this global, cross-cultural composition, would be faithful to the gospel and to her head, Jesus Christ. He gives instructions to Timothy about preaching the word, appointing qualified godly leaders (see 1 Timothy), and insuring that the truths taught by the apostles to men like Timothy be passed on from generation to generation. Timothy needed to be careful about his own life, being watchful to avoid distracting entanglements with the world and foolish, ignorant controversies. He must do his best in handing the word of God. To do these things he will need to always keep Jesus Christ central in his mind. Ultimately, Timothy, Paul, Jeremiah and all other faithful believers down through history are united with us today to say “He is our righteousness!”

God’s word proclaims that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but in Christ all who call upon Him are declared righteous before God. Be sure that is your confession and hope, even while you seek to be faithful in your service for Him.

 

Handling Injustice

Two godly men were unjustly imprisoned, but their responses to suffering were quite different.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 20-22; 2 Timothy 1

7 O Lord, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.               Jeremiah 20:7-8

6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.                                                         2 Timothy 1:6-7

As we saw yesterday, God is the potter and we are the clay. That does not mean that we, who trust in and love Him, will automatically have smooth sailing through life. Both Jeremiah and Paul were imprisoned despite their faithfulness to God’s calling, but notice how differently they responded to their situations.

Jeremiah (ch. 20) was beaten and imprisoned by a priest named Pashur. The next day, upon his release from the stocks, the prophet told Pashur that he would watch his friends die, then, he would go into captivity and die also. So Jeremiah seemed to be unaffected by Pashur’s oppression. Nevertheless, following that episode, the prophet records his lament before God. He says the Lord “deceived” him. He was given a calling and a message from God which he could not silence in himself, lest he explode. As a result of his obedience, he was the joke of society, the village idiot on a national level.

Paul also was suffering imprisonment in Rome as he wrote his final epistle. There is some sadness and longing to see Timothy, but no blaming of God. His focus is still on charging and encouraging Timothy to continued faithfulness in the ministry. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed of my suffering,” Paul writes him. Paul assures him of his love and prayers, of God’s blessing Timothy with His Spirit, His Word, a godly heritage, salvation, and a calling to His service.

How do you respond to undeserved suffering? Two faithful servants of the Lord demonstrate that whether you vent before God like Jeremiah or calmly keep serving Him like Paul, God is the potter and He will not let you go until He has made of you what He wills and used you as He pleases. Stay faithful, even if you suffer injustice for His sake.

Fleeing Idols

The Creator God rules over all things, including us, human beings. We are called to honor and submit to Him willingly and be blessed, but, if we will not, to suffer the consequences.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 17-19; 1 Timothy 6

5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.                                                           Jeremiah 18:5-6

…he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.               1 Timothy 6:15b-16

God reveals Himself in Scripture, but His revelation is not exhaustive due to the limitations of human language. In today’s readings, God compares Himself to a potter and His people to a lump of clay. Then in Paul’s letter to Timothy lofty language is used to describe Him. These descriptions are true, but, of necessity, are only able to capture partially all the majesty and splendor of the Holy, Eternal God.

As the One who created us, God is our God. We owe Him our allegiance, our obedience, our submission, our honor, and our worship. His Word should be our command. The Lord showed Jeremiah that He had rights over Israel in the same way a potter has rights over a lump of clay to make out of her whatever seemed good to him. But Israel was rebellious and embraced false gods and served them, totally disregarding their true and living God. They would pay the price by defeat before their enemies.

Paul’s words about God are set in the context of warnings about the dangers of loving money and seeking to be rich. The Apostle urges his young disciple, Timothy, to flee these dangers, to pursue godly qualities, to fight the good fight of faith, and to live a blameless life. Why? Christ will return, He who is King of kings and Lord of lords. He alone is immortal. He “dwells in unapproachable light.”

We, too, owe our God everything we are and have. He is our potter and we His clay. He is worthy of every exclamation of praise and every act of humble service that we can offer to Him. Praise Him. Love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In so doing, you will be fleeing the idols of money and pleasure.

Competition for Glory

When God is ignored or rejected, the vacuum left is filled with something else, something which usurps the glory due to Him.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 14-16; 1 Timothy 5

20 Can man make for himself gods?  Such are not gods!”

21 “Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.” Jeremiah 16:20-21

7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 1 Timothy 5:7

The messages in the prophecy of Jeremiah center around Judah’s failure to honor and worship God and the judgment that was about to come upon them. This judgment would spill over into the whole earth as God always has all the tribes, families, language groups, and nations in view, not only the Jews. Again and again the purpose of God to make Himself known to mankind comes piercing through.

In chapter 16, Jeremiah says, “to you shall the nations come…” (vs. 19b). The nations will come and confess that their fathers had believed lies and trusted in man-made gods. These were powerless and empty. God responds to this kind of confession and makes Himself known.

The Church of Jesus Christ has a special responsibility to be faithful to the Lord at every level, even in the matter of interpersonal relationships with older men and women, and younger men and women (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Paul goes into detail about the care of widows, balancing corporate responsibility with familial obligations. There is a place for the church to assume a major role in the care of the true widow. Her character must be godly. She must not have other sources of support and be beyond the age of remarriage and childbearing. There were dangers of condoning laziness and sloth, but, also, of selfishly neglecting widows (or others) that were truly in need. Paul’s thorough instructions aim to avoid excesses that would bring shame on the church.

It’s all about knowing and glorifying God. That is why Judah existed. That is why the Church exists. That is why mankind exists. Is that your purpose? Beware of other gods that creep into our hearts: self-glorification, power, prestige, pride. “Such are not gods!” Let nothing compete for God’s glory that you and, as far as it depends on you, His church be above reproach.

The Danger of Neglecting God’s Word

What is at stake if the Word of God is either not taught or not heeded or both? Nothing less than God’s judgment.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 11-13; 1 Timothy 4

17 But if you will not listen,

my soul will weep in secret for your pride;

my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears,

because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive.                Jeremiah 13:17

15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.                           1 Timothy 4:15-16

Jeremiah describes Judah as those who are “accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:24). They have been taken captive and lost the ability to do good. Doing evil feels normal. They worship idols with no hesitation. They have become useless like rotten underwear. They live under the imminent threat of God’s judgment and their utter humiliation.

Is there any hope? What is needed is a return to God’s covenant, His law. They have neglected it both in the study of it and the doing of it. Centuries later it is still a problem in New Testament times. Paul addresses that subject with Timothy.

Timothy is charged with teaching the church in Ephesus. The goal is not merely that they have an education in the Bible but that they be trained in godliness. Timothy is to model this for them, despite his relative youthfulness. The pastor is called to grow, to make progress in the knowledge and practice of God’s Word. Paul tells him to “immerse” himself in these things.

If you are a pastor or church leader, do those you lead see your progress? Do you challenge them by a life that is wholly given to growth in godliness based on the Scriptures? This same exhortation applies to all believers. It is not hard to be taken captive by false teaching which is only slightly off-track from God’s word. Like Judah, we can become accustomed to do evil until it feels normal. Beware of the life of your soul. Immerse yourself in learning godliness.

 

Church Leaders

The Church must have authentically godly leaders or she will stand in danger of divine discipline.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 9-10; 1 Timothy 3

24 Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;

not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.

25 Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not… Jeremiah 10:24-25a

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.                           1 Timothy 3:14-15

Jeremiah was devastated by the sin of his people, God’s people, but he did not become self-righteous. He knew that even as he preached against the sins of the nation, he himself needed God’s guidance. He pleaded for God’s just correction with restrained anger. Jeremiah understood the power and holiness of God and his own failures that could bring him to nothing.

Paul, in writing to Timothy, instructs him in the standards for elders and deacons in the church. Their personal lives need to be exemplary in every way. These instructions  cannot wait until Paul’s next visit to Timothy. The matter of godly behavior is urgent. The church, he writes, is “the household of God.” God lives in His people, the Church. Furthermore, it is God’s church, not Timothy’s, not Paul’s.  Finally, it is “the pillar and buttress of the truth.” The church must not have phony, hypocritical, self-righteous leaders. They will not be perfect, but they must be teachable, repentant, god-fearing men.

Jeremiah was the kind of man that Paul wanted Timothy to have as elders and deacons in Ephesus. If you are a church officer, do you seek to grow in conformity to these Scriptural standards? As a church member, do you hold your officers to such standards, in humility, knowing that we all stand in need of God’s gentle correction? God is a God of wrath. He will not let His name be associated with sin in His Church. Think about it.

Healing for Sin-sick Souls

Sin causes pain and death, but, Jesus Christ, the only sinless One, suffered pain and death which resulted in a full and final cure for sin for His people.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 7-8; 1 Timothy 2

21 For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded;
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?                                                                        Jeremiah 8:21-22

5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.                                                                                               1 Timothy 2:5-6

Jeremiah was in grief over the sin of Judah. He had a message. It was from God. It was true, but it gave him no joy. He had to proclaim to the people their sin and failure. No wonder he is called “the weeping prophet.” Sin has painful consequences for unrepentant sinners, but also for those who love them and can only watch them spiraling down into judgment. Jeremiah loved his fellow countrymen. He could call them to God, but he could not heal them when they refused to listen. In those days, Gilead was an area east of the Jordan known for its medicinal products.[1]  The prophet longed for some balm or ointment to cure the sinful populace.

I remember an old spiritual we sang in my childhood. The refrain is:

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Amen! Paul had the happy work of proclaiming that there is healing balm in Jesus Christ. He is the One who gave Himself as a ransom. He is the mediator between God and men. He took our sin upon Himself, dying on the cross, rising again, sending forth the Apostles to spread the news, and ascending to the right hand of God. This cure that Jesus gives is not merely for the physical body but for the “sin-sick soul.”

Jeremiah longed to find sin-sick souls. He found hard hearts, unreceptive to his diagnosis of their need. If you are sin-sick, find the healing in Jesus who gave Himself for such as you. [See Mark 10:45; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18, 19].

[1] Reformation Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 8:22, page 1276