Exposing Pragmatism (Jeremiah 44:15-18)

Jeremiah 44:15-18

15 Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will no t listen to you. 17 But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. 18 But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.”

Pragmatism is a dangerous thing. To be pragmatic, according to my Encarta dictionary, is to be “more concerned with practical results than with theories and principles.” You’ll run into people who are pragmatic all the time. Often, they will even sound quite noble. They will say things about how they do not want to get bogged down with a bunch of theological or philosophical discussion, they are interested in people, in reaching the lost, or in growing the church.

The problem with pragmatism is that God is concerned with the details. He is concerned with whether or not we accomplish things in a right way. And, God has shown us in his word on numerous occasions that earthly success is no sign of his favor.

In the days of Jeremiah, the southern kingdom of Judah was taken captive by the Babylonian empire. While many people went into exile right away, some were left in Jerusalem and its surrounding countryside. Those people who remained refused to obey God’s voice. Though God told them through Jeremiah to stay where they were and to faithfully serve the king of Babylon, the people refused to listen to God and ran away to Egypt, bringing along an unwilling Jeremiah with them.

In Egypt, Jeremiah continued to call the people of God to turn from their sin, their idolatry, and their worship of false gods. In the Scripture above, we see the response of the people. They were going to continue to worship a false goddess, the “queen of heaven.” They knew that Jeremiah was speaking to them in the name of the LORD. They knew that God forbade them to worship this false deity. Yet, the people refused to stop their false religion.

Why did the people continue to sacrifice to the “queen of heaven?” they continued to worship a false goddess because they were pragmatic. When they were worshipping this goddess, things went well. When they were trying to worship the true God, things went poorly. They looked at the two acts, measured the results, and determined to worship the deity that seemed to bring them the greater success, the greater practical benefit. In doing so, these people turned their back on the true and living God, and sold their souls to destruction in a vain hope to gain greater earthly comfort.

Is there any application of this passage for today? I think so. There are thousands of ways in which people try to judge the rightness or wrongness of their actions based on their perceived success. We mustn’t do this. We must live based on the word of God, his revelation of his will, and not based on what we see as getting the greatest results. There will be times that we, like Jeremiah, are called to be faithful to God even when everything falls to pieces around us.

Let me offer one simple illustration from today. Churches often get numbers oriented. We look at how we do ministry. Some things we do bring the numbers up. Other things we do seem to thin the ranks a little. What should we do? Do we determine what is right to do in worship based on what makes the numbers look the best? Many would say that this is exactly what we should do. In fact, many a large church has been honored for her numbers regardless of the personal growth of her membership or the depth or lack thereof in her worship services. But, one would hope that we would realize from this section of Jeremiah that numerical success is not necessarily a sign of biblical faithfulness. Sometimes faithfulness causes a decrease in attendance. Sometimes people will willingly turn their backs on the commands of God in order to receive from someone else something that they want more than to be faithful to their Creator.

Christians, let’s learn from this passage. We want, first and foremost, to be faithful to God. Sometimes that faithfulness will result in our experiencing great success and blessing in this life. Sometimes, faithfulness to God will lead us to circumstances that appear disastrous. What is important is that we remain faithful. What is important is that we honor God. What is important is that we obey him with all our hearts, trusting that he will bring the results that he desires for his glory.

Lord, you know how tempting it is for mankind to become pragmatic. We all want to succeed. We want to be blessed. We want comfort. Yet, if we allow ourselves to try to serve you pragmatically, we will be tempted by the trappings of the flesh and the world. Please help me and the church to treasure faithfulness to you above all things. Please help us to long for your name to be glorified more than for good looking results that will gain us the praise of men. Help us to know when we are following you rightly, regardless of how things appear to be turning out. Lord, if we are ever failing to follow you, please help us to see it and make the proper correction out of a desire to be faithful to you. Lord, you are who we must want. We must want you and not the things you can give us. God, help us to be faithful to you, and let us see and be satisfied by your glory.