Monday, July 8, 2013

Jeremiah 3 & 4: With Great Privileges Come Great Responsibilities

Jer 3:19-22 "I myself said, 'How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.' I thought you would call me 'Father' and not turn away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel," declares the Lord. A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the Lord their God. Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding."
Jer 4:1-4 "If you will return, O Israel, return to me," declares the Lord. "If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray,  and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, 'As surely as the Lord lives,' then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory." This is what the Lord says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem: "Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.  Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done — burn with no one to quench it."

When people think of Israel as God's chosen people, they think in terms of privileges and special blessings rather than responsibility. Like Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker (Spiderman), "With great power comes great responsibility," so it is with Israel: "With great privileges come great responsibility."

Yesterday at the Alpha for Singles training, one of the brothers came to me and said that he was often asked, "Why are the Jews God's chosen people? Why not the Chinese?" My response is this: being chosen as God's people is not just all privileges and blessings--it carries heavy responsibility to live rightly so that other nations "will be blessed by him and in him they will glory" (Jer 4:2). It was an awesome responsibility to be called God's people because their actions or failures will have global impact. For this reason, their failures were often met with devastating judgments (from the days of Assyria, Babylon, Rome and even in recent history), God acts against His own people when they do not fulfill their responsibility as His Chosen People.

But God is always calling us back from our backsliding so that He does not need to unleash his fury against His people for ignoring their call to be a blessing to the nations: "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:3, ESV). It is not God's desire to judge. In fact, He prefer to bless them: "'How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.' I thought you would call me 'Father' and not turn away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel," declares the Lord." (Jer. 3:19-20).

As New Covenant people reading Jeremiah, we may be shaking our heads at Israel who have become a byword to nations of the world: "You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us" (Psalm 44:14). We may think, "Thank God we are not like wayward Israel." But lest we think we are better off, we need to recognize that while we may not bow down to temple idols like Israel, we do have our own idols that we worship. For some, it is Money; for others it is Fame. For yet others, it is Power. These idols may even have religious cloaks: when we seek to grow our church, do we secretly hope to gain more wealth, more power and more fame for ourselves?

As the New Chosen people (Church), we have even greater privileges (Christ) and power (Holy Spirit) than the Old Chosen people (Israel); which will mean we have even greater responsibility to see that we are a blessing to our families, friends, colleagues and society. God's call for the Church is to transform individuals and society through the Gospel of the Kingdom. How much is your church focused on God's agenda of transformation of individuals and society?

May God help us remember this truth from Jesus' lips: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48).

Father, we thank You for the privileges and powers of the Kingdom. Show us how we can exercise our stewardship in a way that will bless the nations. Amen.

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