If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” – Jeremiah 20:9-10 ESV
Jeremiah had given his nemesis, Pashtur, an interesting, if not too flattering, nickname. “The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, ‘The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side’” (Jeremiah 20:3 ESV). But in reality, Jeremiah had become known for having a one-track mind that always seemed to be thinking about nothing but doom and gloom. It had gotten so bad that Jeremiah had contemplated giving up his job as a prophet of God. But every time he tried, he found himself unable to contain the message God had given him. He described it as “a burning fire shut up in my bones”. Even his close friends had threatened to denounce him because of his incessant calls to repentance and warning about pending judgment. They were even anxious to see him proven wrong. Their collective hope was that Jeremiah, while a prophet of God, could just be deceived and his message not be from God at all. After all, there were other prophets claiming to speak for God who were offering up a message that was radically different than that of Jeremiah. But God would have harsh words for those individuals. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you”; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, “No disaster shall come upon you”’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17 ESV).
It doesn’t take a genius to understand whose message was more readily received. The false prophets were telling the people exactly what they wanted to hear: All is well. There is nothing to worry about. Everything is going to be fine. God is not angry. Destruction is not coming. Jeremiah is wrong. But God felt otherwise. “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 23:21-22 ESV). These men didn’t speak for God. They were simply telling the people what they wanted to hear. As a result, they were popular. Their messages were well received. Centuries later, Paul would warn Timothy about a similar situation in his own day. “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). The fact is, the truth is hard to handle. Sometimes we just don’t want to hear it. Sometimes we don’t want to tell it. And like Jeremiah, we live in a time when the truth of God is not politically correct or popular. Sin is becoming increasingly acceptable and, in many ways, celebrated. Courts made up of men now determine what is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. Behavior that was once classified as sin is now deemed normal and natural. The Word of God, which speaks clearly and truthfully about such matters, is simply reinterpreted, redefined or simply ignored in order to justify behaviors that God classifies as sin.
And in the midst of all the pressure to conform and compromise, it would be tempting to give in. It would be easy to soften our message in order to find acceptance. After all, nobody likes rejection – even Jeremiah. But he discovered that he had a fire in his bones, a burning in his heart that would not allow him to shut up or give up. Despite the opposition, he had to keep speaking the truth of God to the people of God. God had given him a message and he was obligated to share it, whether anyone wanted to hear it or not. He was also called to live differently than those around him. He couldn’t afford to compromise his convictions or cut corners when it came to his commitment to God. And the writer of Hebrews had a similar message to his readers. “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:1-6 ESV).
The truth of God is not always easy to hear. It isn’t always easy to share either. But it is the truth of God that sets men free. The lies of the enemy deceive and delude. The world wants to contradict the Word of God. Even many of our fellow believers would rather listen to the promises of so-called prophets who offer us false hope and faulty messages that contradict the will of God. Hearing what we want to hear may be comforting for a season, but it will always prove dangerous and deadly. The truth of God is what we need to hear. And our prayer should be that God would give us a fire in our bones to speak the truth in love, against all odds and in the face of any and all opposition. Because the Lord is our helper. We have nothing to fear. What can men do to us?