Which do you prefer, making people happy or making people sad? Would you rather have people like you or dislike you? Would you rather tell people things they want to hear or things they don’t?
Jeremiah had a hard job. He would preach to the people of Judah, promising things that nobody wanted to hear. As a prophet of God, this man spoke with the authority of the Lord. And the news that he delivered was not good news for most. You see, Jeremiah knew he was preaching a call to repentance to an unrepentant people. And Jeremiah knew that this unrepentant people would face the judgment of Almighty God.
What did prophets do? Often we think of prophets like fortune-tellers, but simply predicting the future was not their roles. For the most part, prophets speaking to Israel and Judah were men who reminded the nation of the law of God. A prophet would see the nation in violation of their covenant agreement with the Lord, warn that such violation leads to consequences that were clearly spelled out in the covenant, and remind the people that God promised favor to those who would turn back. Yes, the prophet might tell the people how God would fulfill his promises—e.g. which nation would come in and conquer as a judgment—but the prophet mostly applied to the people the terms of the covenant that the nation had agreed to centuries earlier.
The trouble, in Jeremiah’s day is that people were pretending to speak as prophets and promising the nation all sorts of blessings to come, even though they had no such promises from God. These preachers were giving the people feel-good messages of future prosperity without actually having a message from God to proclaim.
13 “For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
14 They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.
15 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
No, they were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the Lord.
When I read that passage, I am always caught by verse 14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” And the reason this gets my attention is that it sounds to me like the words coming from many a pulpit today. But I know that the word of God would show us that to heal a wound lightly, to promise peace with God where no such peace can exist, that is a terrible thing to do.
Who would proclaim peace with God where there is no peace? There are several categories of folks who do this. Preachers and writers who want to be well-thought-of by the outside world will do so. These folks will strive to look more intelligent, more progressive, more nuanced than other Christians by accepting worldviews and behaviors that God actually calls sin. They will try to build their congregations by appealing to unrepentant sinners and saying to them that God now happily accepts them as they are and does not want them to change their behavioral or thought patterns.
Other false teachers will heal the wounds of God’s people lightly by preaching a prosperity that God never promised. This is more popular on the shallow end of the pool as smiling men with expensive suits, expensive cars, and expensive homes tell people that the faith is not so much about sin and righteousness as it is about God giving to their greedy hearts everything they want if they will just believe hard enough; believe hard enough and perhaps send in a donation. They gloss over issues of sin and of false doctrine to draw in people who have more of a superstition than a faith and who desperately want to be lifted out of their current condition. Some who follow these men are sweet and genuine people who are duped by a person offering them healing from a disease or protection from an oppressive regime. Others who follow these men are as greedy as the prosperity preachers, seeking earthly blessing rather than the God who would give us himself.
To find those who preach peace where there is no peace, just listen for those who preach salvation without focusing on our genuine need of a Savior because of our genuine, personal sin. Listen for a person who tries hard never to offend the sensitivities of the one in sin. Listen for a person who focuses the message on a few Scriptures out of context rather than a person who walks through the Bible to preach the sweet stuff and the hard stuff alike. Listen for a person who would hide part of Christianity to make it more marketable to outsiders.
No, I do not ever strive to be offensive on purpose. In truth, I do not like delivering bad news to anybody. But if we are going to be faithful Christians, if we are going to point people to genuine peace and not a false peace, we must be willing to preach a true gospel. And the true gospel includes the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the person and work of Christ, and the need of a person to repent and believe to find eternal life. That message will offend people who do not believe they are sinners or who simply do not desire to repent of sin.
If I went to a doctor and had a deadly disease, what should the doctor do? Imagine, by the way, that the doctor has the cure. Would it be kind of the doctor not to tell me of the disease for fear of hurting my feelings? Of course it would not. She does not have to tell me in a mean way, an arrogant way, a holier-than-thou way. She can tell me kindly, but she must tell me. If the doctor knows I am dying, she needs to let me know. She needs to offer me the cure. If I reject treatment, then the fault is my own. But it would be an evil thing for her to say to me that I am healthy and strong if I am not.
Christians, may we never offer false hope. May we never promise what God does not promise. May we never declare a person to be at peace with God if they are not at peace with God. May we never heal anybody’s wounds lightly.