“Turn, you turning-one” Thoughts from Jer. 3:12-14

This morning I was preparing for the Church Leaders seminar, which will be from Jer. 3:15. But as I was going over the context, I was struck by this phrase, “Return, faithless Israel” (12, 14, 22). Christopher Wright, in his commentary, translates it, “Turn, you turning-one” or “Turn back, turning-away Israel.” The people who should have known better had turned. (The northern kingdom turned first and Judah should have learned, but rather followed suit). She is guilty of “playing the whore” (6), and not just once, but “all the adulteries of that faithless one,” (8). And on top of that, she “takes her whoredom lightly,” (9). God says that He expected after all this gut-wrenching turning away, that she (Israel) would return, but she didn’t.

At this point, one might expect that God would have given up both northern and southern kingdoms to His judgment, but instead He makes an appeal. “Return! If you return, I won’t look at you in anger” (12). God asks of them to acknowledge their sin and rebellion, to own it (13). In calling the turning-one to return, God is calling her to repent, which begins by owning the fullness of her sins. God then tenderly says, “I will not be angry forever” (12). What a promise! God could justly be angry forever, but He offers His wayward daughter a way of escape: acknowledge your sin and return to Me.

Spurgeon’s famous predecessor, John Gill, said, “unless a man knows his sin, and is convicted of it, he’ll never repent of it, or turn from it; and when he is made sensible of it, and sorry for it, he ought to acknowledge and confess it before God, against whom he has sinned; this is what is insisted upon, and all that is insisted upon; and it is the least that can be done, and is what every sensible sinner will do, who upon it may expect the discovery of pardoning grace and mercy.”[1]

God is so tender and kind. His promise is to receive the one who turns, without anger. He can do this because of the great sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Truly, as we sing, “His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me.” But we must return.

[1] John Gill, An Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 5, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1810), 416.

The Danger of Successful Discipline 

Our hearts always break when one departs from their faith and refuses to listen to any of the steps of discipline outlined in Matt. 18:15-20. There is private confrontation which goes unheeded. There is an additional two or three witnesses and they have seen the impenitence and their admonitions go unheeded. Finally, the church is informed and becomes active in seeking the offender’s repentance. The praying church, in her pleading, is ignored. The very voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, is ignored.

The final step of obligation is to put out the offender. This is an ecclesiastical judgment which reflects the judgment of Christ, hence the significance of “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst.” Jesus adds His testimony to the witnesses. Jesus then says the decision the church has made had already been made in heaven (Matt. 18:18-20). It is a sobering event. It is indeed an event. It is a sobering obligation if the church is to be faithful. Faithfulness is not always easy or comfortable. Sometimes faithfulness brings tears.

But what happens when the offender repents? Jesus says, “You have won Your brother.” Although this phrase is not repeated in each step, it is most definitely implied. If he listens to the two or three witnesses, you have won your brother. If he listens to the church, you have won your brother. You have won your brother is another way of saying that the offender, because he listened to Jesus through the church, shows he is a brother. How sweet is this repentance! It is the best possible outcome when someone strays. It is a joyful event. It is a saving event.

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).

When a saving event like this happens, someone has been “the brand plucked from the burning” (Zech. 3:1-2). The one who has turned has been snatched from Satan’s clutches. However, Satan is not done. There is another danger the church faces when a sinner repents. That danger comes not from taking sin too lightly (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:1-5), but from being more scrupulous than God. Some are shocked that certain people can commit certain sins. A thorough reading of the Bible would disabuse us of such shock, but it nevertheless remains among those who have a streak of self-righteousness. Paul addresses the danger of successful discipline in 2 Cor. 2:5-11.

Paul is dealing with a grievous offender in 2 Cor. In all likelihood, this offender is not the same man in 1 Cor. 5, but rather one who sinned, probably against Paul and the Corinthian body. The sorrow this man caused, the disappointment he inflicted, was immense. The body responded to Paul’s instruction and disciplined this man. And he repented! But some were not satisfied. Some believed that his repentance was not good enough, the punishment and consequences were not severe enough. Paul then exhorts the Corinthians to “forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Cor. 2:7-8). For Paul, forgiveness and affirmation of love was a test of the Corinthians’ obedience. Just as sure as discipline was a test of obedience (would they do what they were supposed to do?) so also love and forgiveness was a test of obedience.

Paul says he has forgiven and they should too. Then Paul tells them what is at stake. “So that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). If the Corinthians would not forgive and love this man, they were opening themselves to the strategy of Satan. If a church refuses to discipline, then Satan takes advantage of the church. But if the church seeks to faithfully deal with offenders, then that advantage is removed.

But Satan does not throw in the towel. He looks for a new angle. The new angle is to cause the offender excessive sorrow through the unforgiveness and lack of acceptance by the body. If the offender is grieved by the lack of forgiveness, then he is not rejoicing in grace. If he is not rejoicing in grace, then he is not moving ahead. Satan’s scheme now shifts to the attitudes within the body. If he cannot ensnare them through taking sin too lightly, then he will ensnare them by causing them to have different standards than Jesus Christ.

Once the offender repents, the matter is done. Certainly, the repentance must have the marks of godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10). Certainly, there may be consequences because of the sin, especially if the man is in leadership. Certainly, there may be counseling and help so that the repentant offender stays on the right track.

But it is not the church’s job to exact a pound of flesh, or to impose one more ounce of discipline than is warranted in the Word. So, let us, who take God’s Word seriously, take all of God’s Word seriously and make certain that when discipline is successful we don’t allow Satan to make that a danger to the church. Let us be as zealous in our forgiveness and acceptance as we were in our rebukes in seeking their repentance.

Hearing and Heeding the Word of the Lord

One of the good kings of Judah was King Jehoshaphat. But Jehoshaphat’s life was a roller-coaster of faith. In 2 Chron. 18 Jehoshaphat makes an unfortunate alliance with wicked King Ahab of the northern kingdom. The two kings had agreed to go up against Ramoth-gilead together. Since Jehoshaphat was a godly king, he told Ahab that they should seek the will of the Lord. Ahab, in typical fashion, gathers 400 prophets who were “yes men.” Jehoshaphat easily discerns that the so-called prophets were just cheerleaders for Ahab and so he asks, “Isn’t there a prophet of Yahweh here anymore? Let’s ask him” (2 Chron. 18:6). What follows is humorous. Ahab concedes that there is such a prophet, but “I hate him because he never prophesies good about me, but only disaster” (18:7). This prophet, Micaiah, is summoned since he wasn’t invited to the original council of 400 conmen. As he is summoned, the messenger says to him, paraphrasing, “Look, all the other guys have a good word to the king, so make sure you follow suit.”

I imagine the scene with Micaiah dragging his feet as he approaches the two kings. He looks at his watch, yawns, and then says in an uninterested, monotone, “Yep, go ahead, you will win.” Ahab then says, “How many times must I make you swear not to tell me anything but the truth in the name of Yahweh?” Huh? This is funny because this is precisely not Ahab’s problem with Micaiah. It is hard to tell why Ahab says this, but he opens himself up to hearing the truth. Micaiah then predicts destruction. Ahab turns to Jehoshaphat and says, “See, what did I tell you about this guy!” Micaiah then says the God sent a lying spirit in the mouths of the 400. He gets smacked and imprisoned for his truth-telling. Ahab tells him he will not get out of prison until he comes back safely. Micaiah then says, “Well, if I ever get out of prison it will only be because God didn’t speak through me.”

As I read this passage, I thought, what did Jehoshaphat think? He wanted a true prophet. He clearly got one. He asked for the truth and he got it. But then, the passage says, without any commentary, that the king of Israel and Judah’s King Jehoshaphat went to battle (18:28). After the battle goes badly, as prophesied, Jehoshaphat returns home and is rebuked by a prophet. “Do you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, the LORD’s wrath is upon you” (19:2). Jehoshaphat wanted to hear the Word of the Lord, but then because he didn’t heed the Word, he was rebuked by it. Jehoshaphat had a heart for God and although the text doesn’t say explicitly, he obviously repented. The fruit of his heart for God was displayed in the reforms he brought to Judah. Furthermore, in the next chapter (2 Chron. 20), Jehoshaphat prays a moving, God-glorifying prayer as he was surrounded by the Moabites and Ammonites. His closing line is magnificent, “We do not know what to do, but we look to You” (20:12).

God comes through and is faithful to His servant and His people. God blessed Jehoshaphat’s kingdom (20:30). His life is summarized as doing right in the LORD’s sight (20:32). But then he makes an alliance, towards the end of his life, with Israel’s King Ahaziah. Once more a prophet comes and rebukes him (20:37). This is a curious journey. He wants to hear from God in his first alliance, but does not heed what he hears. In his second alliance, he didn’t even seek the Lord’s will. In between, he does good works and trusts God in a time of national crisis. He seems like a walking contradiction.

But here is the point of application that we all need to hear. We love God’s Word. We love hearing God’s Word. We know the importance of God’s Word. And yet, how many times do we say we want to know God’s will through His Word and then when he graciously gives it, we go ahead and do what we were going to do all along? There is no virtue in piously wanting to hear God’s Word without an intention to heed it.

May God help us to not simply be people who appreciate a good sermon, or love the Word, without being committed to do what God tells us to do. If we are determined to follow our will, fulfill our plans or our agenda, with no regard to what God says, then let’s not claim that we really want the Word of the Lord. Instead, let’s be a people who love to hear the Word and love to heed the Word. Let’s be a people whose chief purpose is to do the will of the Lord.