‘’Do not trust in deceptive words…’’ (4a).
‘’But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.’’ (8)
When I was a child, and my mum called me in from play to eat at the table, I was told that first of all I had to wash my hands. I could not come to the table dirty; I had to come clean. That is God’s call here to His people.
We have a responsibility to ensure that everyone who comes through the ‘’gates’’ of the church to worship, hears ‘’the word of the LORD’’ (1, 2). Like Jeremiah and the other prophets, we who lead the church and preach at its services must stand in the counsel of the Lord. His word must first come ‘’to’’ us before it can come through us. Let’s ensure that God’s people are exposed to God’s Word, and not just our thoughts, opinions, anecdotes, jokes etc. If there is to be a ‘famine’ of hearing God’s Word, let it not be on my watch; in the place where I serve. If we do not help people encounter God’s Word, the chances are that we will be serving up ‘’deceptive words’’. False prophets may be popular (for a time) but they destroy people (and themselves.) At the heart of worship you have the hearing of hearing God’s Word. It’s not about guitars, drums and funky performances. Of course, musical instruments and voices can be wonderfully employed in the worship of God. But nothing we do in worship should be divorced from His Word.
However, God’s Word will not always be popular. In it He ‘’commands all people everywhere to repent.’’ (Acts 18:30). This message comes first to ‘’the family of God’’ (1 Peter 4:17). It starts with the church. But the human ‘messenger’ regularly gets ‘shot’. The next four chapters are made up of a series of messages that Jeremiah delivered at the ‘’gate’’ of the temple in Jerusalem, possibly in the latter part of Josiah’s reign. These messages of judgment, delivered in such a public manner, gradually caused the people to turn against the prophet.
God calls us to turn from all sin, and one of those sins is idolatry. The people of Jerusalem thought (deceptively) that because the temple was in their city He would always protect the place. The temple had become an idol for them. As someone said, they were worshipping the temple of the Lord and not the Lord of the temple. By repeating the words ‘’the temple of the LORD’’ in a mantra-like way they thought they could ward off danger (see Matthew 6:7). They were sadly mistaken. God calls us to turn away from all wrong-doing, and this includes a false trust in religious objects, buildings, places and rituals etc. Only through faith in Jesus and His work on the cross can anyone be rescued from ultimate danger. This truth will set you free if you receive it, but many messengers find they have to take a bullet for it. It is not universally popular. Many would prefer to keep playing in the mud and skip tea – however good it smells!
‘’Clean up your act – the way you live, the things you do – so I can make my home with you in this place.’’ The Message.
Pray: Lord, keep us always true to truth, as truth is true to you.
‘’Praise GOD, everybody! Applaud GOD, all people!’’ The Message.
This is the shortest psalm (and the shortest chapter in the Bible.) It has a world vision. It calls on all nations to worship God. God’s great heart of ‘’love’’ and enduring ‘’faithfulness’’ is towards all He has made.
‘’Psalm 117 reaches into the heart of God’s purposes and out to the remotest bounds of the world.’’J.A.Motyer: ‘New Bible Commentary’, p.564.
In Romans 15:11 Paul quotes verse 1 to argue that from the beginning God’s plan of salvation included the Gentile nations (see Genesis 12:3). As someone put it, ‘If you wanted to give a sweet to a group of children, you could pass the bag round and individually offer one to every child. Or, you could entrust the bag to one and say, ‘Share these with the others.’ This preacher went on to say, ‘God gave Israel the whole bag of sweets and told them to share it with the world!’ God called Israel to be a light to the Gentiles. They were not meant to keep what they had to themselves. They were to view it as a sacred trust. They were intended to share it with others. God’s love to Israel was meant to be a blessing to the whole world, through Jesus the Son of David.
The well-known preacher I mentioned in the former paragraph was leading a service in his church and I heard him pray, ‘Lord, help us to live on a world map.’ That phrase arrested my attention and remains with me. As local churches, we have primary spheres of influence. We are particularly aware of our ‘Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria’ but we must never lose sight of the ‘ends of the earth.’
‘’This short psalm is about a big subject: helping all the nations to praise the Lord. God called Israel to be a blessing to all the nations of the world (Gen.12:1-3), just as He has called His church to take the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.385.
‘’The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him the more intensely missionary we must become.’’ Henry Martyn.
Prayer: Lord, enable us to live on a world map.
‘’I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea.’’ The Message.
It is sometimes a good thing for people in local churches to catch a glimpse of something of the cost of ministry to their leaders. It will help them to appreciate that their leaders are authentic, that they love them and want the very best for them. We have already seen that Paul’s ‘struggle’ was carried out in God’s strength (1:29). This wasn’t simply a matter of expending human energy. But we should not fail to note that Paul twice speaks of his ministry in terms of ‘’struggling’’ (1:29; 2:1). He did not have a casual or careless approach to his life’s work. His imprisonment was one mark (scar even) of this intense struggle. As he gave himself so totally to this work he had certain clear objectives in mind:
- Their encouragement (2a): In this world, many discouragements come the way of believers. Who can keep going without being hooked up to a saline drip of encouragement? We need regular ‘drips’ of encouragement into our veins. Paul could have said, ‘Where’s my encouragement coming from? Here I am in prison for Jesus, who’s going to encourage me?’ But he focussed on encouraging others.
- Their unity (2b): The Roman soldiers carried shields (Ephesians 6:16) which interlocked at the edges, so that they could form a ‘wall’ against the enemy. Paul was delighted with what he already knew about their togetherness (5), but what is good can always be better, and so he prayed.
- Their spiritual understanding (2c, 3): If we have Jesus we have everything we need. We find all meaning and purpose in Him. He’s the One the human heart is thirstily seeking, even when we don’t know that it’s Jesus we want, and we’re searching in all the wrong places. Paul wanted the Christians he served to grasp as fully as possible all the riches that are in Christ. He wanted them to know Jesus more and more. (Notice the implication that encouraged and united Christians are in a good place to grow in spiritual knowledge.) ‘’I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else.’’ The Message.
- Their protection from doctrinal error (4): As you know, the churches in the Lycus Valley region were being affected by false teaching. As with their unity, Paul was convinced of good things regarding their faith (5). Nevertheless, he was concerned that they should be protected from heresy.
So, there was a price tag attached to Paul’s ministry. Recognise that all true leaders in the church will experience something of cost, and feel the heat of the battle. Pray for them.
Prayer: We pray for those called to leadership in your church that they will fight in your strength and not their own. May their hearts be encouraged today.
As previously noted, Paul did not regard himself as a ‘prima donna’. He was no big shot superstar in his own eyes. He was a ‘’servant’’ of the church (25). This was God’s call on his life. How did he serve the church?
- By presenting ‘’the word of God in its fullness’’ (25b). In particular, this entailed focussing on the Person and work of Christ (25-28). There was much about this message that was kept secret in the past, until the right time came to make it known. It was a ‘’mystery’’ (26), which really means an ‘open secret’. It was a message for Gentiles as well as Jews (27).
- By suffering (24). This is not an easy verse to understand. We may ask, ‘What could possibly be ‘’lacking’’ in ‘’Christ’s afflictions’’? The answer is, of course, nothing! Jesus paid the necessary price for the sins of the whole world when He died on the cross. Nothing needs to be added to His work, and it is blasphemous to suggest otherwise. But the church by its very nature is a suffering church. There is a sense in which Jesus continues to suffer in and with His suffering people (see e.g. Philippians 3:10). From this angle, His sufferings will not be completed until He returns to earth. As long as the gospel is being preached in this world, the church will suffer, and Jesus, the ‘Head’ will continue to experience all the pain in ‘’his body, which is the church.’’ How can my body experience pain without my head also ‘suffering’?
- In the strength of Christ (29). There is a remarkable balance in this verse. Paul worked so hard at his ministry of preaching Christ; bringing people to know Him and helping them to grow in Him. But he knew that he could not do what he did in his own strength. He was completely reliant on Jesus for the ‘’energy’’ to do His work. There was an intense ‘struggle’ involved in all that he did for Christ, and he needed supernatural equipping for it.
We can take heart from Paul and learn from him. Our priority should be to make Jesus known, relying on His strength, and being prepared to struggle and suffer in His cause.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I rely on your strength to live and speak for you.
‘’I have made you a tester of metals…’’ (27)
God’s Word will test us. It will provoke a response, and this will reveal what is in our hearts.
- It will test our love for God;
- It will test our willingness to submit to His will;
- It will test our preparedness to change;
- It will test our faith etc.
In whatever form we encounter God’s Word; whether it is through a preacher (such as Jeremiah), or reading it for ourselves, it will test us and bring hidden things to light. It will expose our true character.
The people of Judah, in Jeremiah’s day, were terrified of the Babylonians. They did not want them to invade their land and decimate their territory. But there was something else that they wanted even less, and this was to repent. They didn’t want to face judgment (not that most of them believed the message of coming devastation). But much more than that, they didn’t want to change their ways. Their preference was to keep their sin.
‘’They are all hardened rebels, going about to slander. They are bronze and iron…’’ (28). Bronze and iron are inferior metals when compared with ‘’silver’’ (30) and gold.
Some people will not respond positively to God’s Word; they will not change; they will not turn. They set their faces against the truth. They resist the gospel. They will not come to Jesus to be saved. They will come under God’s judgment.
One final thought: the fact that God takes us through a refining process does not necessarily mean that we will be refined (29, 30). It’s not what happens to us, but how we respond that counts.
Prayer: Lord God,as your Word tries me, may I not be found wanting.
‘’But you said, ‘We will not…’ ’’ (16b, 17b).
Just because something is old, that does not of necessity mean that it is bad or wrong or defunct! The ‘’ancient paths’’ that wend their way through the landscape of Scripture and take us into a Biblical lifestyle are ‘’good’’. It is also true to say that ‘’the good way’’ is good for you (Romans 8:6). Life and peace lie on the highway of holiness. But we can stubbornly resist what is good for us. This was a further call to repentance, but the opportunity was not taken. Every day (and many times in a day) we ‘’Stand at the crossroads…’’ There are choices to be made. It is one thing to know ‘’where the good way is’’. It is quite another to ‘’walk in it.’’ (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 7:13, 14; Matthew 11:28, 29.)
The judgment that befell Jerusalem and Judah did not come without warning (17). God always gives plenty of warning before taking disciplinary measures. There was clarity of message from the ‘’watchmen’’ (i.e. the prophets), but it was met with stubborn refusal: ‘’…We will not…We will not…’’ (16b, 17b). ‘’But they said, ‘Nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.’ I even provided watchmen for them to warn them, to set off the alarm. But the people said, ‘It’s a false alarm. It doesn’t concern us.’ ‘’ The Message.
There can be no doubt that the big issue here is the rejection of God’s Word and ways (18, 19). When you push Him away, you ultimately bring disaster on yourself; you reap what you sow. They were going to become an object lesson to the whole earth of what happens when you insist on going your own way. As God speaks to you through His Word today, choose the path of obedience. Any other road will lead you where you will not want to be. You might enjoy the route; you will not like the destination! ‘’ ‘Pay attention, earth! Don’t miss these bulletins.’ I’m visiting catastrophe on these people, the end result of the games they’ve been playing with me. They’ve ignored everything I’ve said, had nothing but contempt for my teaching.’’ The Message.
This is one of many places in the prophetic books where God shows that outward forms of obedience alone do not please Him (20). He is looking for the sincere worship of our lives; heartfelt obedience to His Word. A veneer of religious activity will never please Him. ‘’Your burnt sacrifices in worship give me no pleasure, Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.’’ The Message. (See also 1 Samuel 15:20-23 and Isaiah 1:10-17
‘’Seek ‘’the old paths’’ of the Word. Do not try to repeat ‘’the good old days,’’ but go forward to do God’s will in your day.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.501
Prayer: Don’t let me have my own way, dear Lord. It will be bad for me and I will regret it. Save me from myself. Most of all, I want to always live to please you
Jeremiah 6: 10-15
‘’Who will listen to me?’’ (10)
‘’They’ve tuned out GOD. They don’t want to hear from me.’’ The Message.
This is Jeremiah speaking, but ultimately the issue was about listening to God, who was talking through Jeremiah. From one angle, a ‘disciple’ is someone who answers this call. They listen, and learn (and obey!) Attitude towards God’s Word is an index of the heart (10b). Every pastor longs to see hunger for God’s Word among God’s people. But this passage opens by talking about those who did not want to listen to the Lord’s Word. In fact, they loathed it. Jeremiah had a message the people did not want to hear (11). He preached an unpopular sermon about impending judgment. Are we guilty of going for the more ‘soft-centred’ Bible truths? Do we avoid the ‘nutty’ passages that are hard on our teeth?
Regardless of the negative attitude of his congregation, Jeremiah would not be silenced: ‘’The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it. But…’’ (10b).
Although Jeremiah’s message was unpopular, it would come to pass (11b, 12: notice how God again speaks directly at this point.) The second half of verse 11 points to the comprehensive nature of the judgment that was soon to fall. It would affect people of all ages from right across their society.
Jeremiah would not be like the false preachers who served up only what the people wanted to hear (13, 14); who doled out false hope. He would not offer them only sweet, soft-centred sermons; his messages also contained nuts (and some people had a bad reaction!). Preachers who do not give a proper treatment of the doctrines of sin and judgment end up dealing with people’s deadly wounds as if they were just scratches and grazes. Their messages are not radical enough; they don’t go deep enough.
Somebody said that the gospel is bad news before it is good news. We must know how sick we are before we will be prepared to call in the doctor and ask for a cure. We must understand that we are sinners in the sight of a holy God, and what this means, before we will be prepared to cry out to Jesus to save us.
As we have seen, there were profound problems in Jeremiah’s society which were caused, or certainly exacerbated, by a corrupt ministry. Whether they realise it or not, preachers create a culture by their sermons. If they twist the truth, they produce a toxic culture. Let’s pray for all who teach God’s Word. They carry an awesome responsibility. May they not be moved from the truth.
‘’Everyone’s after the dishonest dollar, little people and big people alike. Prophets and priests and everyone in between twist words and doctor truth. My people are broken – shattered! – and they put on band-aids, Saying, ‘It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.’ But things are not ‘just fine’! Do you suppose they are embarrassed over this outrage? No, they have no shame. They don’t even know how to blush.’’ The Message.
‘’This city must be punished; it is filled with oppression.’’ (6b)
We find in these verses a graphic preview of Jerusalem’s future. The clock had run down. The Babylonians from the north were going to come and ‘harvest’ the ‘’grapes’’ (9). The nation was ripe for judgment. (But after harvesting a crop there is always a small portion; a‘’remnant’’ ,remaining. This points to the survivors being carried off to Babylon.)
Why was this going to happen?
‘’You’re in deep trouble, Jerusalem.
You’ve pushed me to the limit.
You’re on the brink of being wiped out…’’ The Message.
‘’A city full of brutality,
bursting with violence.
Just as a well holds a good supply of water,
she supplies wickedness nonstop.’’ The Message.
We may feel like we’re dealing with an ancient and musty document, and ‘what has all this got to do with us?’ But the prophetic books tell us that God observes all human behaviour (see 7b), and His judgments are worked out in history. He is patient, but there always comes a point where God says, in effect, ‘Enough is enough’, and the time for repentance runs out. Yes, there is going to be a final judgment at the culmination of history, but many mini-judgments are being worked out even now. This should motivate us to pray for our nation and our leaders, if we don’t already. Don’t let yourself think the U.K. has an exemption certificate. Pray that the heart of this nation will turn back to God. Who knows when it may be too late for us? People need the Lord. Our only hope is in Jesus.
‘’I have likened my dear daughter Zion to a lovely meadow. Well, now ‘shepherds’ from the north have discovered her and brought in their flocks of soldiers. They’ve pitched camp all around her, and plan where they’ll graze.’’ The Message.
What could happen to ‘’England’s green and pleasant land’’ if we persist in rebellion towards God?
‘’In verses 6-7, the Lord speaks to the Babylonian attackers; it’s as if He Himself were leading the assault on Jerusalem. And, indeed, in one sense, He was; the Babylonians (just like the Assyrians before them) were the instruments of God used to punish His faithless people…But, in verse 8, God still speaks to warn His people; His longing for them continues to the last moment.’’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.1086.
Prayer: Lord have mercy on our land and turn us back to you.
Do we live with a sense of gratitude to God for His grace in our lives? Somebody once spoke, in my hearing, about how the ‘shine’ can go off your salvation. Has that happened to you?
If you remember, this psalm was written by someone facing grave danger. Possibly, he was a persecuted believer, and he was staring death in the face. But God saved him. This was our dilemma too, but at a much deeper level. For us, God provided a rescue in Jesus that comprehensively dealt with the depths of our situation, and delivered us from spiritual death.
‘’I will lift up the cup of salvation.’’ (13). How do you do that?
- By prayer (13b, 17b). By prayer we can enjoy our salvation. The word is actually ‘’salvations’’ indicating its fullness. Through communion with God we keep taking deep draughts from the well of salvation. We can never exhaust it;
- By thanks giving (17a). When we give thanks in the company of believers we are holding up the cup of our personal experience for others to see and be encouraged to drink for themselves;
- By living the life you have promised to live (14, 18 and 19); a life worthy of the God who saved you.( I think it was Gandhi who said that Christians would need to look a lot more saved if he was to believe in the Saviour);
- By lifting this cup to the lips of others as we have opportunity. Alec Motyer, in the New Bible Commentary says that (17-19) give a strong description of going public in testimony.
Here is one final thought on today’s passage:
‘’Yet, (15), there is no such thing as an untimely death. For the Lord, death is too valuable thing to be squandered. The death of his saints, ‘his beloved’, is like a precious jewel which he bestows – precious to him and to them because at death he receives them home. In this sense, death is the final and greatest earthly blessing of God on his people.’’ J.A.Motyer: ‘New Bible Commentary’,p.564.
Believers drink most fully and deeply of ‘’the cup of salvation’’ when they depart this world to be with Christ.
Prayer: Lord enable me please to not be ashamed of the message of salvation, and help me to not keep it to myself.