When Things Get Personal.

Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.”

Hear me, O Lord,
    and listen to the voice of my adversaries.
Should good be repaid with evil?
    Yet they have dug a pit for my life.
Remember how I stood before you
    to speak good for them,
    to turn away your wrath from them.
Therefore deliver up their children to famine;
    give them over to the power of the sword;
let their wives become childless and widowed.
    May their men meet death by pestilence,
    their youths be struck down by the sword in battle.
May a cry be heard from their houses,
    when you bring the plunderer suddenly upon them!
For they have dug a pit to take me
    and laid snares for my feet.
Yet you, O Lord, know
    all their plotting to kill me.
Forgive not their iniquity,
    nor blot out their sin from your sight.
Let them be overthrown before you;
    deal with them in the time of your anger. Jeremiah 18:18-23 ESV

There is a fine balance that each follower of Christ must maintain while living in this fallen world. We are surrounded by the presence of sin and by those who commit sin. It’s impossible to go a single day without being exposed to the reality of sin’s pervasive presence in our society. It is everywhere. And one of the risks we face is becoming immune to it. In essence, we become anesthetized to all the sin from our constant exposure to it and our failure to confess its presence in our own lives. So, we find ourselves complacent about sin and adopt the attitude: “Boys will be boys”. In our hearts, we know that God hates sin, but we can find ourselves developing a soft spot in our hearts for it. We watch TV shows that glorify and glamorize sinful behavior. We get exposed to a daily avalanche of news graphically describing and depicting sinful activity in our community and world, leaving us numb and desensitized to its gravity. News footage of wars, bombings, murders, and violence of all kinds are a normal part of our day. And it no longer shocks or grieves us. It doesn’t impact us. And it doesn’t seem to bother us that all the sin in our world, including our own, is a frontal assault against God. It is an orchestrated attempt by the prince of this world, Satan, to undermine and overthrow the sovereign rule of God over His creation. Sin bothers God, but why doesn’t it seem to bother us? And why is it that we can’t seem to grasp the concept that all sin flies in the face of God’s authority as creator. It is rebellion against Him. It is lawlessness – a willful breaking of His ordained will for mankind. But far too often, believers find themselves living in self-imposed silence, refusing to speak up about the sin in the camp. We are called to expose sin, not tolerate it. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible… – Ephesians 5:11-13 ESV

God warned his prophet, Ezekiel:

“If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.” – Ezekiel 3:18 NLT

God held Ezekiel to a high standard. He was God’s spokesman, commissioned to deliver the word of God to the people of God. His job was not an easy one. He suffered with the same struggles as Jeremiah, finding himself living as a social outcast and pariah. No one wanted to hear what he had to say. They loathed him and his message. But as God’s prophet, Ezekiel was obligated to speak up. So was Jeremiah. And so are we. Paul reminds us of our God-ordained responsibility to act as His representatives and mouthpieces in the midst of this sin-filled world.

And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT

It’s difficult to be a reconciler and confront people with their sin if you’re constantly conforming to sin yourself. And an attitude of complacency about sin makes it hard to convince others of the need for a Savior from sin.

So, there is always the problem of not taking sin seriously. But then, there is another risk of taking all sin personally. That seems to be what Jeremiah is wrestling with in this passage. He expresses a heart-felt prayer to God revealing his very real and intense desire that the people of Judah get exactly what they deserve, and he pulls no punches.

let their children starve! (vs 21 NLT)

Let them die by the sword! (vs 21 NLT)

…Let their wives become childless widows. (vs 21 NLT)

…Let their old men die in a plague… (vs 21 NLT)

…let their young men be killed in battle! (vs 21 NLT)

…Let screaming be heard from their homes as warriors come suddenly upon them. (vs 22 NLT)

…Don’t forgive their crimes and blot out their sins. (vs 23 NLT)

…Let them die before you. (vs 23 NLT)

…Deal with them in your anger. (vs 23 NLT)

Wow! I would say it’s safe to say that Jeremiah was taking things a bit personally. He was calling down the judgment of God on the people of Judah. But it’s important to note why he was doing so. Listen to what he says:

They have dug a pit to kill me,
though I pleaded for them
    and tried to protect them from your anger. – Jeremiah 18:20 NLT

For they have dug a pit for me
    and have hidden traps along my path. – Jeremiah 18:22 NLT

Lord, you know all about their murderous plots against me. – Jeremiah 18:23 NLT

Things had gotten a bit too personal for Jeremiah. And his calls for judgment seem to have had less to do with their sins against God than their sins against him. He was angry and upset with all the personal threats. He reminded God that he had just been doing his job. He self-righteously claims, “I pleaded for them and tried to protect them from your anger” (Jeremiah 18:20 NLT). And how had they responded to his good efforts? By repaying him with evil. So, he was done with them. He was ready for God to do every single thing He had threatened to do and, as far as Jeremiah was concerned, the sooner, the better. Wipe them all out.

But wait a minute. When had this become all about Jeremiah? At what point did the sins of the people become transgressions against the prophet of God rather than God Himself? Jeremiah had let this all become personal. And it began when the sins of the people started affecting him personally. As long as their sins were against one another, Jeremiah was far more tolerant. He was content to keep speaking on behalf of God and warning the people about God’s pending judgment. But when their attention was turned on him and he began to feel the white-hot rage or their resentment, he suddenly became God’s champion for righteous judgment. Gone were his pleas for mercy. He was no longer interceding on behalf of the people, asking God to forgive them for their sins. Once it got personal, Jeremiah demanded judgment. He wanted payback.

And the two extremes we’ve just looked at are ones we must avoid at all costs as Christ-followers. We cannot afford to become complacent with sin, in our lives or in the world around us. Sin is a personal affront against God. And we know what the outcome of all sin is: Death. Eternal separation from God. So, as Paul told us, we are to always keep in mind that we have been given a task by God to reconcile lost people to Himself. We have been given this wonderful message of reconciliation: that God is no longer counting people’s sins against them. Instead, when they accept His Son as their Savior and the one who paid their sin debt, they are made right with God. Their sins are forgiven and they become like we are: children of God. So, we are to constantly spread the message: Come back to God! We are to call people to repentance. Rather than complacency, we are to show compassion.

And instead of taking the sins of others personally, we are to recognize that their sin is against God. While we may suffer personally as a result of the sins of others, we are not to seek vengeance. Instead, Paul reminds us:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:21-32 NLT

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. – Romans 12:17-19 NLT

Jeremiah was angry, and his anger had become personal. He wasn’t upset with how the people were treating God. This had become all about him. He wasn’t interested in reconciliation. He wanted revenge and retribution. But all sin is ultimately against God. And all sinners are equally rebellious to God. It does no good to ignore their sin. But it also does no good to take their sin personally. Their sin is the result of a broken relationship with God. They need reconciliation and restoration with God. And like Jeremiah, we have been given the only message that counts: Come back to God!

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Petersoz

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