Jeremiah 3:1–4:18, Colossians 1:15–2:5, Proverbs 11:1–12, Ephesians 4:21–24
For me, a challenging obedience to God involves matching the way I think and the things I do. Integrity begins in the heart, but performance can hide what goes on in my thoughts. Because of this challenge, I once asked a pastor about those ideas that come into my head. He said, “Birds will fly over your head. Just don’t let them build a nest in your hair.”
Since then, I’ve realized that those birds fly over because there are areas of weakness in my theology or areas of the sinful self that still think I know better than God. His answer to this is temptation will not affect one who is “dead to sin” which is the reason I must consider myself as such.
Paul says, “Assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:21–24) This is possible only through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The nation of Israel had repeatedly allowed those birds to build nests. Their lives were characterized by sinful idolatry and rebellion. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said to them, “Return, faithless Israel . . . I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful . . . I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice . . . . Return, O faithless children . . . for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion . . . . Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness.”
Israel responded, “Behold, we come to you, for you are the Lord our God . . . . Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 3:22, 25)
God knew their hearts. They had a history of sin and it would not be so easily abandoned. He told them what they must do if they were going to return. First, it had to be to Him, not to their old ways. They must also remove their detestable things from His presence, and not waver. He told them to break up your fallow ground (the parts of their lives that were hard and had not been productive) and don’t sow among thorns (which would choke the seed and make it unfruitful). They were to circumcise their hearts and wash their hearts from evil. He warned them that their ways and deeds were bringing disaster upon them.
Israel tried to repent, but failed. The events God warned them of did happen and they were carried off into captivity until they learned to hate their sin. As my pastor said, do not let those birds nest in my hair, for if they do, I will be in bondage also.
Solomon contrasts the righteous person with those who are wicked. Those who are evil are proud, crooked, treacherous, taken captive by their desires, have no hope for this life or the life to come. They walk into trouble, slander their neighbors, and lack sense. When they perish, all who know about them rejoice.
The righteous person is humble and wise. She is guided by integrity and delivered from death. She keeps her way straight and is delivered from the power of sin and from trouble. “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices . . . . by the blessing of the upright a city is exalted.” She has the good sense not to belittle her neighbor and understands when to remain silent. (Proverbs 11:2–12) The Bible is clear: integrity is a vital part of a godly life.
Paul writes more about its challenges: “You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (Jesus) has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21–23)
God reminds me again that those birds will fly over, but don’t let them stick around long enough to make a home in my hair — or my heart.