Jeremiah 6:1–7:29, Colossians 3:1–17, Proverbs 12:1–28
Someone in my family struggles with the ‘why’ of violence and thinks education and lots of hugs would solve it. She dismisses the idea of sin, refusing to think that it has corrupted every human being. I thought of her when I read these lines from the prophet Jeremiah:
“For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:13–14)
When God and sin are left out of the equation, human responsibility seems to fly away with it. That is, when consequences or judgment comes, no matter the form it takes, we sinful people reject the possibility that we have brought it on ourselves. This is not always true, but is worthy of consideration.
This is what God said to Israel as they slid farther and farther from Him: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’ Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them. Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it.” (Jeremiah 6:16–19)
God did not accept their ‘religious’ rituals because their hearts were not right. With sinful motivations, actions and even religious activities might appear okay on the outside, yet the Lord said to them, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ — only to go on doing all these abominations?” (Jeremiah 7:5–10)
He added, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.” But they did not obey. Instead, they walked in the stubbornness of their sinful hearts, going backward not forward. They refused to listen to God and His prophets. Because they would not accept discipline, “truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.” (Jeremiah 7:23–28)
Solomon was just as blunt. He said, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid . . . . The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:1, 15)
As someone redeemed and forgiven by the grace of God, I am expected to live differently than those who do not know Jesus. This is often a challenge, but the NT gives reasons and hope that ought to motivate me: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4)
God also tells His people how to live: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17)
Will this bring peace to a troubled world? The nation of Israel expected the Messiah would do that. They wanted to be rid of Roman rule and live in peace and prosperity. When Jesus didn’t deliver them that way, they crucified Him. They didn’t realize (or want) the peace He brings because it begins in the hearts of individuals, removing our sinful desires for power, fame, and personal gain, and replacing all of that with a deep desire to glorify Him.