I'm reading Jeremiah in my quiet times at the moment and, predictably, finding it sobering stuff. Especially so this morning in chapter 8.
In 8:8-12 the Lord sets himself against word-handling leaders, who have gone bad. The issues are:
- They claim to be wise because they have the word of God but handle it falsely (v8)
- This amounts to rejection of the word of the Lord (v9) which shows that all their supposed wisdom is a sham
- The prophets and priests are all practising deceit because they are greedy for gain (v10)
- The way they do so is to suck up to people and tell them anything they want to hear. Especially that they are OK with God and that any way they want to live is fine by him. v11:
they dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. "Peace, peace" they say, when there is no peace.
In the sermon on the mount Jesus commends godly peace-makers. Certainly there aren't enough. Evangelicals often find it easier to fall out over secondaries than to make peace. But this is the opposite situation of proclaiming everything is alright when it wasn't, and thereby not dealing with terrible dangers within the people of God.
Every preacher knows the temptation to not say things their congregation will find difficult to receive. I remember one man saying to me "there are any number of things I would have said over the years to churches I have pastored if it hadn't meant causing real tension withe the people who paid me." Peace, peace, when there is no peace. Dressing wounds - or as we would say "sticking on a sticking plaster" - and pretending that everything is all better.
Leaders beware. When gossip abounds in a church and you don't want to risk their wrath. When ungodly clicques jockey for power and you don't discipline. When large givers think that they are indemnified by their giving to behave as they like and you are worried they will stop their giving. When structures need to change or cherished activities are no longer useful for the gospel but you are unprepared to risk upsetting anyone. Not only is your church on the downward curve towards eventually nosediving (no matter how healthy it may seem at the moment), but we are in danger of of being false leaders.
You don't have to want to grab large amounts of money to "be greedy for gain" (v10). You don't have to want to be liar to "practise deceit." You only have to downplay godly leadership and real gospel teaching in order to get an increase in the offering, or fail to apply a Bible message in the ways that your congregation actually need to hear but some will find uncomfortable, in order to gain the praise of people.
The leaders in Jeremiah 8 are living for themselves and the praise of Man. God says they should be ashamed of their loathsome conduct but have forgotten even how to blush.