“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Jeremiah is a difficult book of the Bible to read, but that is where God has had me for some time now. It's hard because at times it is depressing. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet for a reason. This morning I was in chapter 18. In this chapter Jeremiah uses a the potter's house as an illustration. The potter is the one who decides what the clay is turned into, not the clay and certainly not some bystander. The potter worked the clay into whatever "it seemed good to the potter to do."
This is a hard truth of people in the west who have been taught that they can become anything they want, that they have the right to pursue the desires of their hearts, that they are the author of their world. Jeremiah's message to Judah was that God is sovereign and that God did what He deemed appropriate to do. This isn't to say that Judah had nothing to say about the matter. They do, but only in a reactive sense. The choice that Judah could make was one of obedience or rebellion. It is the same choice that Adam and Eve had, the same choice that Saul had, and the same choice that the church of today has.
In chapter 18 Judah made the wrong choice, they said, "We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart."
Judah didn't only reject God, they attacked Jeremiah (v. 18). Jeremiah prophesied according to what God had given him. The response was not anger at God, but attacking the prophet. In the form of cliche, they shot the messenger. Jeremiah's prayers turned to imprecatory prayers. Jeremiah even prays that God will not forgive his attackers (v. 23). On some level, pastors can understand Jeremiah's state of mind and many pastors may have prayed such things.
What are the principles in this text? First, God is sovereign over all things. The universe, the nations, and the church itself are but clay and God is the potter. Second, God's actions are impacted by the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of the people. Finally, truth, especially truth that speaks of God's judgment, is not always welcome.
The church isn't Judah, but this text was a stark reminder to me as I read it this morning that my church isn't my church. In a very loose sense I play the role of Jeremiah for my local congregation, but I do not own them! This isn't my church, I am God's messenger to them for this time. My job, in simplistic form, is to proclaim the word of God to the people.
I must pray that the church responds to God's message with faithfulness and not rebellion, but I can't force them to do that. I should note, none of this is a commentary about my church. I fear that portions of the larger church are rejecting the message of Scripture and God may very well respond with judgment. I have no special message from God, but historically God judges His people when they reject him. That is the principle here. The church (especially its pastors) must respond faithfully to God's word or risk being judged by God. That's not a very popular message in the West, but it seems to be a faithful reading of the prophets.
Pastors must be faithful in proclaiming the word of God, especially when it is unpopular. Furthermore, they should expect to face friendly fire; of course there is nothing friendly about this kind of fire. Faithfulness to God and His word is the measure of success. Perhaps before we ask how many people showed up last week, or what the offering was, or how many people have left, we should ask if we were faithful to God and His word. Don't hear me wrong, the numbers matter, but many who are unfaithful to God and His word gather large crowds and develop disciples based on false teaching.
The church does not belong to me, I am just God's messenger. That means I must work hard to be faithful to God's word first and foremost. God will do what He wills.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.