My study of Jeremiah seems to be developing a theme that centers around false teachers and bad politicians, and yet this is not the theme of the study guide I'm following. I believe I already mentioned I'm following Kay Arthur's study on Jeremiah, titled Listening to God in Difficult Times. And I am once again amazed as to what God is showing me. True, the people in Jeremiah's time were not listening to God at all, but it was their complete and utter disregard for God and His ways that made it impossible for them to hear Him. This is why He sent Jeremiah to them. To warn the people of their wickedness.
I am currently looking at Jeremiah 8, and today while reading, I paused and reflected on several different verses that got me thinking about Joel Osteen and his power of positive thinking and the false prosperity gospel he preaches. I also kept hearing in my head that song from the Lego Movie called "Everything Is Awesome." I have talked about false doctrines and false teachers before, and in my book He Who Has an Ear, I even have a chapter on who the wolves in sheep's clothing are today. But today, a series of verses seemed to strike a chord with me about these types of preachers. They preach that everything is awesome, and Christians who listen to them and accept what they're saying without checking their bibles to find out if it's true are doing themselves no favours.
Read Jeremiah 17:1-13
My mother in-law was a very wise woman. She would often remind us never to put our trust in man, but to put our trust in God, who always keeps His promises and will never let you down. In today's reading, Jeremiah says something similar and relays from the Lord this stern warning about those who put their trust in man:
Cursed is the man who trusts in man
As I read those words it made me think of "words" in general and who we listen to, because those whom we give an ear to tend to influence us the most. In particular, I'm thinking about those who call themselves preachers, speaking on behalf of God, and do so either through television, books, or from the pulpit in their churches on Sunday morning. Their words often times become our "words of wisdom" and we take them as gold. Yet many times we don't look at those "words" closely enough to see how they align with Scripture. We inadvertently trust in the man (or woman) who preaches them and end up making that man or woman our strength. Pithy sayings become our new mantra, such as this one from Joel Osteen, "We were old sinners - but when we came to Christ we are not sinners anymore." Nice words, that "sound" scriptural but aren't. Yet, our beliefs and convictions become aligned with each new book released by these celebrity preachers, and slowly but surely, without ever realizing it, our allegiance to God is replaced by trusting in man's word rather than God's Word. As the verse above suggests, "flesh" becomes our strength, because we are relying on what we can do or say to make change happen in our lives.
By now, many in the evangelical community recognize those who are false prophets/teachers/preachers. We know that the prosperity gospel is wrong, the grace doctrine is wrong and the name it and claim it doctrine also goes against scripture. We know and recognize the names of those celebrity. preachers whom we need to stay clear of, people like - Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar and others, who preach false doctrines contrary to the Word of God. Most of us know by now that the Word of Faith community has strayed greatly from the Word of God. Unfortunately, many are still putting their trust in these celebrities to their own detriment. I have said it before, those who follow after false preachers will suffer the same fate God has in store for those who teach false doctrines (2 John 1:10-11). They are like the verses above suggest, cursed. They will never grow in their relationship with God, because they have never fully trusted in Him, instead preferring to lean on the "wisdom" of man. Relying on positive, upbeat messages that encourage people to use their words to speak into existence a better reality. Word of Faith preachers encourage people to put their trust in themselves (man) rather than in God and His Word. Unless they repent and turn back to God and trust in Him again, rather than false promises from false teachers, they will be like unsalted land - uninhabited - without God or His Holy Spirit.
But what does God say about those who trust in Him?
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
What happens when you trust in God and His Word, when your hope is in God alone and not in the false promises of man? You are like a tree planted by the waters, ever growing in the Lord, never ceasing to produce fruit in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An intimate relationship develops through trusting in God and reading His Word. And when we place our hope and trust in Him, we are rewarded by His Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Jesus says we are to abide in Him as He abides in us in order that we might bear much fruit - just as the verse above suggests. To continually abide in the Lord, we must be reading His Words!
If you want to know God, His character, His likes and dislikes, what He expects from us, it is all laid out for us in the Bible. Our faith is built on the Word of God. When we abide in it daily we grow in our faith and our relationship with God. This is where our trust should be placed and where we can find truth for living. Abide in the Word of God for it is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12)
Read Jeremiah 16:1-21
The opening verses of this chapter must have been so disheartening to hear for Jeremiah. As an obedient servant of God, he had just found out in Jeremiah 15 that he would not escape the coming judgment God was sending upon His people. These people had turned away from God to worship idols and had fallen into all kinds of sin. But Jeremiah had not followed them into sin, instead he became God's prophet to warn them of what would happen if they didn't return to God. Now God is telling Jeremiah not to get married or have children because they would die gruesome deaths. He also tells Jeremiah that if any of his friends or family die that he must not mourn with them or for them. Why? Because they had turned away from God. Talk about harsh!
All the chapters in Jeremiah thus far have been God warning His people to repent and return to Him or else face the consequences. Ultimately, they chose to face the consequences rather than return to God. The result was that many died through famine and by sword, and were eventually taken captive to a foreign land (Babylon). God punished His people who had turned away from Him to worship other idols and who indulged in the practices of the heathen nations around them. Yet, He didn't punish each person individually, He punished the whole Jewish nation. Clearly, not everyone had turned away from God (the prophet Daniel lived during this time and was also taken captive), yet everyone was punished. Why?
It becomes clear at the end of the chapter. When the Gentile nations saw what the Jewish God did to His own people, many of them threw away their idols and turned to God instead (Jeremiah 16:19-21). God used the Jews disobedience to make Himself known to other nations. By punishing them as a nation it would result in the Jewish people permanently giving up idol worship and other nations believing in the one true God.
After the return from Babylon, this was partly fulfilled as the Jews entirely and permanently renounced idols and many Gentiles turned from their idols to Jehovah.”[i]
So how can this chapter apply to us today? If you are a parent you will understand how disobedient children can be. Sometimes they just won't listen! And mom and dad have to become pretty inventive with the appropriate punishment that will drive home the point, never to disobey again. Our children think our rules are because we "just want to be mean." They don't understand that we are trying to protect them from themselves. This is why God had to punish His children. He wasn't being mean, He was being a Dad. That old saying "this is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you" is true. God didn't want to punish His children. He loved them. But He could not let them continue on destroying their lives because where they were headed was eternal life without Him. They had to be punished and set on the correct path. The result, as I said, was Gentiles turning to Him and Jews finally giving up idol worship.
Today, we have the book of Revelation warning us about what is going to happen as we get closer to Jesus' return. The warnings were written about thousands of years ago and many of the prophecies have started to come true. We could be the generation that ushers in Jesus' return, which is a frightful thing because before He returns, horrible judgments upon the earth will happen. And the final judgment to come when we stand before God isn't just for one nation. It is for the entire world. Yet, for the most part, people continue on as if everything is okay and nothing is going to happen. They are behaving like Jeremiah's people were.
It is the responsibility of all Christians to continually sound the alarm, no matter how crazy it makes us sound, that Jesus is returning and with His return comes judgment Yet, we rarely hear a sermon on Sunday morning about the horrors that await those who will suffer through the tribulation. So it would seem that just like the leaders during Jeremiah's day, they are ignoring the warnings.
It doesn't help that false teachers are preaching "everything is awesome" type doctrines today and people are following them blindly. Prosperity teachers continually rant about how God wants the best for us and so they feed people a delusion that God is so enamoured with them He will rain down wealth, health and all manner of good things if they will just believe it and claim it - all while knowing what they are preaching is not even biblical. Will God punish these false teachers? Most definitely. Will He also punish those who follow them? Of course He will, unless they repent. If He did it with Jeremiah's people, He'll do it with Christians too. Our God is consistent and will do what needs to be done to bring His people back to Him.
If God would punish an entire nation of His disobedient chosen people, why would He not do the same with disobedient Christians? It may not be outright idol worship, but willingly following a false doctrine is still disobedience to God and His Holy Word. We are all responsible for what we choose to believe. If we do not examine the Scriptures to find out the truth of our beliefs, it is our own fault. The Jews of Jeremiah's day knew that they should not worship false idols, yet they chose to anyway and suffered greatly for it. False doctrines are the modern-day equivalent of false idols in the church today and 2 Timothy 4:3-4 seems to confirm that:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
And what does God say about people who listen to false teachers and follow their doctrines?
Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds (2 John 9-11).
If you are following and listening to a false teacher like Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer or Kenneth Copeland for example, you are sharing in their evil deeds.
Come away from them or share in their punishment (2 Peter 2:1-22).
[i] MacArthur Study Bible, NKJV
I started a Bible study on Jeremiah a while back and got side-tracked. Too many issues in the world needed to be addressed and so for a while my posts centered on them. While I still continued on in my studies I did not share them here. I hope to get back to that on a regular basis, starting with this post.
We will begin with Jeremiah 12. It is a crucial chapter because Jeremiah comes right out and asks God - why do the wicked prosper? I wrote about this some time ago when I was frustrated with corruption in government. God showed me then what He has planned for those who govern us. But in this chapter the "wicked" are not those who rule over us, but those who are charged with the spiritual welfare of God's people - namely the priests and teachers of the Law.
Many rulers have destroyed My vineyard,
In the KJV the word "rulers" is replaced with "pastors" because the Hebrew word that was used in the original context was ra`ah which means "pastor, shepherd or teacher". In fact, Jeremiah's chief complaint in this passage are the religious leaders. He acknowledges that God planted them and that they had taken root, grown, and born fruit. Yet their mouths had all the "religious speak" but their minds were far from God (Jeremiah 12:2). So, he rather bluntly asks God to "take them out" (Jeremiah 12:3).
God's response was one of empathy. He agrees with Jeremiah that those charged with the spiritual well-being of his "inheritance" (Israel) have failed miserably. He likens Jeremiah's estrangement from his family, to His own, in that Israel has forsaken Him. He also agrees that something has to be done about it. He says of these religious rulers that they "have sown wheat, but reaped thorns" and that they should be ashamed of their harvest (Jeremiah 12:13). God also agrees (in part) with Jeremiah's plan to "lead them like sheep to the slaughter" (Jeremiah 12:3), but He includes a promise. First, He will pluck them out from the land for their treachery in encouraging God's people to worship idols. But, when they have suffered enough, God will bring them back to the land of their inheritance, IF they will teach the people to worship Him and learn His ways, rather than the ways of Ba'al. However, if they do not establish the people in worshipping God alone, He will utterly destroy them (Jeremiah 12:14-17).
How Does This Apply to the Church Today?
In the same way that Israel's priests and teachers were charged with the spiritual welfare of their people, so too are those who have been called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those pastors who lead congregations, or teachers who lead in Bible study, are responsible for the words that come out of their mouths and the actions that they take when representing our Heavenly Father. They must not teach falsely, nor act in a manner that would encourage those they lead to do the same. For those who are discerning it is easy for us to spot false teachers and doctrines today, because we have kept the Word of God close to our hearts and fed our souls with it. But for those who forsake Bible study they are in danger of being lead like sheep to the slaughter, because they follow false doctrines and teachings that go against Almighty God. There is however, a solution to not becoming a victim of false teachers and preachers and it is quite simple - read your bible.
I realize I talk a lot about the importance of reading your Bible. I also talk a lot about false prophets and teachers, but if we can learn anything from Jeremiah it is this - God says they should be ashamed of themselves (Jeremiah 12:13). If they don't repent then their fate (and those who follow them) will not be pleasant, for God will deal as harshly with them as He did with Israel's religious leaders (2 Peter 2:1-22).
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We looked for peace, but no good came
Today as I finished up my study of Jeremiah 8, I was struck by several things that made me feel the grief and agony Jeremiah felt when God warned him judgment was coming upon his people. He had been warning the people that God was going to deal with them harshly, and soon, if they didn't repent. However, the priests and false prophets were telling the people the exact opposite. They kept assuring them that everything was fine. God would not judge them or harm them in any way because He loved them too much. This is the refrain of many modern day preachers in the Emergent Church movement like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, who say that God is a loving God and no one on earth is going to hell. They reject all verses in the Bible that say otherwise because they simply cannot accept that God is capable of divine wrath. By teaching this "no one goes to hell" or "there is no hell" theory, they are taking Jesus off the cross and making His death insignificant. Why? Because it was due to God's wrath over disobedience and sin that Jesus came in the first place. If there is no hell or no punishment to come in the hereafter for those who refuse to repent, then why did Jesus come? So now these modern preachers say, Jesus saved us from all that. We no longer have to fear God because everyone is saved and everyone wins. By doing that however, no one feels the need to repent and turn back to God. Life just got easier - eat, drink and be merry - because it really doesn't matter what we do - God is a loving God who would never harm anyone.
The dangers of this type of modern day preaching is what Jeremiah was dealing with from the priests and prophets of his day, who kept insisting the same things. They were probably even telling the people not to listen to Jeremiah as he stood at the gates of the temple every day, warning of impending destruction. To them, Jeremiah was just a crazy man preaching about the end of the world. And what does the world do with people like that? They tune them out and continue on their way - much to their detriment.
But what does the Bible say about people like that?
If we are "out of our mind," as some say,
So here we have Jeremiah warning the people of their destruction and no one is listening to him. Why? They are listening to the priests and prophets who have authority. To them Jeremiah had no authority, so they thought he's crazy. Don't we have the same thing going on in the world today? People think Christians are crazy because we warn others that they could go to hell for all eternity if they don't repent of their sins. They call us fools because we believe Jesus is returning soon. They call us intolerant because we believe, like God, that sin is sin. And they call us self-righteous because we believe anyone who doesn't come to faith in Christ will not be saved.
What they fail to realize (and this was the same for Jeremiah's people) is that we warn of these things not out of self-righteousness, but out of a deep concern for the lives of those who do not know God. Jeremiah expresses his concern for his fellow man this way:
For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt.
And isn't that what every Christian feels when trying to get the message of salvation across to others? We feel the heart of God, who does not want anyone to suffer or perish in their sin. We hurt for those who are lost. But it is not self-righteousness. We feel this concern for the lost because we have the Holy Spirit within us. This is why we cannot be silent, for it is the Lord's Holy Spirit who urges us to speak!
Jeremiah would find out that the people would only listen to those in positions of authority. To them he was just a street-corner preacher holding up a sign of impending doom. A crazy person. And today we find the same attitude in our world. People will only listen to those in positions of authority and unfortunately, some of those people are like the false priests and prophets of Jeremiahs' day. Jeremiah lamented this by saying something that is so prophetic for today:
The harvest is past,
In the future, this will be the sad refrain of many. God will have reaped His harvest and those left behind will realize they are not saved - it will be too late by then. Jeremiah realized that for his people that time was upon them and he cried:
Is there no balm in Gilead,
Gilead was a region east of the Jordan River. It was known for its spices and medicinal herbs (Genesis 37:25). Jeremiah wished that someone would come and heal his people of their sin. Now, let's take this a little further and compare it to our great physician - Jesus Christ. He is the balm in Gilead! He is the solution for the spiritual health of all people today. And Satan knows that, which is why there is so much apostasy in the church today - he's been working overtime because he knows this world is winding down. The harvest is about to finish and the summer (this golden age of God staying His hand against the world) is about to end. Jesus is coming soon and He will be coming as a righteous judge. The time for repentance therefore, is now - not when you see Him coming in the clouds. By then it will be too late.