Paper Tiger Church
They Look Alive But They're Non-Living
Jeremiah was exasperated with God's people. They were supposed to be a bible-believing nation, the very one chosen by God, boasting of their special relationship with Yahweh. But they seemed growing more wicked by the minute--notwithstanding their expressive, excellent worship.
In fact, God was also about to give up Israel because of its blatant sins. "I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give up the one I love...I hate her" (12.7-8). They say God does not hate the sinner but only the sin. Well, here in this case, he hated sinners.
To the Jews First, Then to the Gentiles
It's important to watch how God dealt with his people in the Old testament. The underlying principles are sure to also apply to how he deals with his people today--the church. Because God never changes (Mal.3.6). His principles then are still his principles today. The specifics may have changed--like animal sacrifices do not count anymore--but the principles remain--like Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for all times; so blood sacrifice is still in operation--Jesus' blood.
Thus, by watching how God reacted to the wickedness of his people before, we get a good picture of how he will also react to the same wickedness his people in modern times are doing. God applied his principles first to the Jewish believers, and then applies them today to the gentile believers (Rom. 1.16).
An Active and Prosperous Church Yet Dying Spiritually
Israel then (Judah specifically) had a lively worship life when seen from the outside. "You are always on their lips," Jeremiah noted, meaning temple worship and prayer went on at a lively pace. The word "always" strongly depicts vibrant outer spirituality. However, it was all superficial or "outward" show, because Jeremiah followed up his comment with, "but (you) are far from their hearts."
To God, it is in the heart that everything has weight. "It is with the heart that you believe and are justified" (Rom.10.10), not in one's mental belief, head knowledge, or mere outward action.
Also, they were prosperous and growing. The people Jeremiah had referred to as having hearts that were far from God were "wicked yet prospering" and "faithless" yet "living at ease" (12.1). He was dumbstruck--Jeremiah had thought all along that the prosperous, religiously active, and who seldom had life struggles were the ones favored by God. But now, he was seeing something quite the reverse. God was angry with the prosperous who feigned spiritual health and kept on saying they were kept by God from difficulties.
Today, we may see similarities between God's people then and now. Many churches boast of expanding denominationalism, exploding membership, and the concomitant prosperity. Yet, what have they really achieved?
"They will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing," (12.13).No matter how much churches and denominations boast about their accomplishments, or how much money they release for "missions" or "evangelism," the fact remains that the world is ignoring them, and indeed they are the ones being influenced by it. This has been going on for centuries.
The world needs to be turned upside down again as it did in Acts 17. And it's not going to be the present denominational churches that's going to do it. It would the glorious church whose leaders have given up everything, even their denominations and positions and achievements, to give leeway to the radiant church of Jesus, which is without spot or wrinkle.
Jesus had clearly stated God's will in John 17: the complete unity of all true believers, with the same unity or oneness the Father and Son have. Denominationalism has no place in such absolute unity. As long as denominationalism exists, churches inspired by it are in direct defiance of God's will to "completely" unite. And what do you call that, if not wickedness?
Hence, Jeremiah complained: Why was it that the wicked was blessed by God? While God hated the wicked, he also "planted them so that they have taken root--they grow and bear fruit" (12.2). Listen churches...God plants wicked bible believers and makes them grow and bear fruit. God blesses and sustains those he hates? Hmm, that's definitely something new--and confounding! That, all the while the righteous--like Jeremiah was--are suffering! How did he suffer? Well, to give us a hint: "Your brothers, your very own family, they have betrayed you, crying out loud against you--don't trust them," (12.6).
A church being blessed by God, worshiping, and growing is not enough to say that it is also doing correctly in the Spirit. Prosperity from God doesn't mean anything except that God is making you prosperous by grace. It is not a basis to conclude that a church, even a mega church, is doing the right thing and should lead others in doing the same.
Faith to Believe that All Will Go Well in the End
Jeremiah 12 gives one consolation: everything will turn out correctly in the end. There will be a period of grace when the wicked are given a chance to change and repent. If not, "I will completely uproot and destroy it," (12.17). In Jeremiah's time, Israel underwent times of shame and utter defeat, was exiled, and in their humiliation witnessed to other nations. Some nations, after having been also punished with banishment, learned God's ways through the exiled Israleites and were "brought back to their own inheritance and their own country," (12.15).
There will be an hour of remedial punishments coming, for only through the cross of Jesus can everything be truly and permanently remedied. It would require great faith and endurance, like racing with horses on foot and winning, or journeying through the thickets by the Jordan and reaching the destination (12.5).
Why does the wicked prosper and get blessed? So the righteous, in the simplicity of the Jesus LIFE, can stand out and soon be the Kingdom's standard globally.
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