The record of Jeremiah 23 demonstrates to us how those who profess to be God’s people can become miserable custodians of God’s truth and glory. From this account of Israel’s wretched failure to be keepers of God’s Word, we can draw some precious lessons on how we ought to conduct ourselves as “the pillar and ground of the truth”.
Notice how vexed the LORD was when he spoke the words in Jeremiah 23, because the house of Israel and its prophets have failed to remain faithful to God’s Word. His prophet Jeremiah said, “Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the LORD, and because of the words of his holiness. For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourneth; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their force is not right. For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the LORD” (vv. 9-11).
Surely, the disobedient and unfaithful men in the church cannot be defenders of God’s Word. When we do not give ourselves to knowing and obeying His Word, we dishonour the majesty of His Word. Indifferent and disobedient churchgoers are actually troublemakers in God’s house. They become agents of the enemy of God in His house. By their disobedient conduct, they promote disorderliness, unholiness and defiance in the church.
My dear friends, I will not neglect to put you in remembrance of the church’s duty to hold up God’s Word by her faith and obedience; that is how the church ought to defend it. We do not have to do anything extraordinary to defend His Word. Just believe all that His Word says and do all that it commands. When the LORD in His Word says to the preacher to rebuke the people’s sins, he should do just that. When the LORD says, “Lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us”, you should just obey His Word to you! When His Word commands you to stop loving the world, or beware of loving your parents, spouse, children or siblings more than the LORD, you should readily obey it. If, through His Word, the LORD calls you to give up your life’s career to be a preacher, pastor, missionary or a full-time church worker, you must yield immediately to it. If you have done as the Word of God commands you to, then you have defended God’s Word by your life.
When you hear the LORD’s voice and respond to it as the majestic Word of God, you have allowed His glory to shine through you. Thus, you become a faithful servant of God who gives of himself to do what He requires. On the other hand, if you do not align yourself with God’s Word, you are not a defender. You may teach apologetics or theology, and you may even be a theologian or a polemical writer of Christian articles yourself, but if you are disobedient to His Word, you will never be its defender.
Further note some mind-boggling indictments that the LORD has uttered through Jeremiah. “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you” (Jeremiah 27:16a). Why would God tell the people not to listen to their prophets? Because “they prophesy a lie unto you” (Jeremiah 27:16b). Moreover, according to verse 16, “they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.” Everyone who speaks out of his own heart and disregards the truth God has revealed, is a “corruptor” of God’s Word. He is a deceiver of God’s people, certainly not a defender of God’s truth, for he gives credence to his own thoughts over God’s thoughts.
The pulpit is not a place for anyone to show off how clever he is, how smart he is, or how witty he is. This is God’s platform; this is a sanctified place! Too many preachers often desecrate this hallowed place by their self-asserting, self-promoting words, which detract from the truths of God’s Word. They are engrossed in showing off their own intellect and self-righteousness, and in asserting their personal authority. They use the LORD’s name, His church and even His Word for their despicable self-aggrandizement. Such men are abusers of holy things, even His Word and the church. They are not defenders, but defilers of God’s Word.
I readily confess my fear that we who are preachers, if not watchful, tend to serve our minds rather than the will of God. When our preaching becomes a showmanship of our intellectual abilities and oratorical skills, we pervert God’s glorious truth. God forbid that we preach to promote ourselves! Our hearts must love God’s truth. We must give all glory, honour and praise to Him. Let every preacher pray that he will not stand in the pride of his intelligence, but utter the words of God accurately in humble obedience, without distorting them. That is the way we defend God’s Word. We must cease from prideful human intelligence if ever we were to be defenders of God’s Word. So let every preacher pray, “O LORD, teach me and make me to know what Thou hast spoken in Thy Word, and let me only declare that which Thou hast revealed in Thy Word.”
In verse 17, we notice that the LORD was angry with the prophets of Judah because they didn’t defend the righteousness and judgment of God’s Word by preaching against the evildoers: “They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.” They would say to those who were walking wickedly, “God’s peace be with you”! Instead of rebuking them and proclaiming God’s judgment against their sins, they cheered them on by assuring them that no evil would befall them. God detested those pastors of Israel who spoke words of peace to evildoers.
Because of the prophets’ and priests’ tolerance of wickedness among the people, the LORD had earlier severely censured them: “For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the LORD… I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah” (vv. 11, 14). Those religious leaders were men-pleasers rather than God-pleasers. They craved the support of worldly men over God and His righteousness. They permitted and promoted carnal pleasures among men in place of God’s truth, righteousness and judgment. In direct defiance against the Lord’s clear message, they would rather not upset the hearts of the wicked ones among the Israelites!
Jeremiah’s time reminds us of our woeful situation today. Preachers and pastors are increasingly hesitant to rebuke the worldliness and ungodliness in the church. Though many preachers deliver excellent expository sermons with eloquence, scarcely any applies the truth of God’s Word to the lives of the people in order to confront and convict them of their sins. Preachers’ hesitation to rebuke sin has sadly resulted in the worsening moral condition of the churches of our time. As few men on the pulpit today rebuke sin and exhort people to a modest, chaste and holy life, should we be surprised that evil men and seducers wax worse and worse, even in churches? Increasingly, we see churches turning into entertainment centres or academic forums, rather than places of transformation of sinful men unto the LORD’s glory.
It is utterly important that in our churches, we are committed to urge one another unto purity of life through the obedience of God’s Word. If we develop an accepting attitude towards those living wickedly among us, by rationalising thus: “O let us not make a fuss about it. After all, you know, people are prone to err”, we despise and defy the glory of His Word that demands repentance from evil ways and consecration towards godly living. Do not forget, God hated the prophets for despising His truth when they refused to reprimand the wickedness of Israel. By not insisting on Scripture’s demand for personal holiness, they poured contempt on its holy commands. They thus failed to defend the demands of Scripture. The preacher’s hesitation and refusal to denounce sin is a direct challenge to the authority and wisdom of God’s Word.
If we are ever going to be defenders of God’s Word, let every man, who is the head of the family, nurture his family according to God’s Word. Let him also pray, “O LORD, sanctify us by Thy Word. Sanctify me, sanctify my wife, sanctify my daughter and my son.” Let every man, every family and every church wield God’s sword to fight off every sin. Let every preacher, every elder, every man and woman, every youth and every child in the church resolve to fight off sin according to His Word. Nothing glorifies God and His Word more than our willingness to battle against sin and falsehood.