Agonizomai: Jonah 3:7-8 - Speaking the Truth in Love

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Jonah 3:7-8 - Speaking the Truth in Love
7-8 And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands..."

John Knox speaking the truth in loveThe decree of the King was not what turned the Ninevites. It wasn’t "follow the leader, whether you agree or not". It was the leader hearing that the people had believed the preaching of Jonah about impending judgment and showing leadership as to how they might all demonstrate their contrition.

See how the awareness of sin came to the fore with the command from the King that "every one turn from the violence which is in his hands." It is exactly the same word as used in Ge 6:11,13 where "the whole world was filled with violence." The word carries the sense not just of physical violence, but also of all sorts of wrong, cruelty and injustice. There is a sense in which people always know they are doing wrong, but we know from scripture that we harden our own hearts and go against our consciences until we no longer hear much at all. But there is a sense in which the conscience is aroused by the Word of God and the guilt of sin is brought to the fore.

This is true preaching. Preaching to the perishing must include an element of "repent and believe the gospel" so that people will wish to be saved from and the wrath of God, against Whom their sin offends. The message to the Ninevites was not "God loves you," but "God is offended with your sin and (unless you repent) He will destroy you; judgment is coming!" In fact, repentance wasn’t mentioned, but simply that judgment was coming.

(As an exercise, go and read the sermons in Acts chapters 2,5 and 7 - and look for the form that is used. It is the same. There is no mention of love at all.)

People with deadened consciences and hardened hearts are often much more apt to hear a warning than an overture. It is language they understand. But the motive behind the warning is love. Preaching is itself an act of love. The preacher abides in God’s love and that love overflows through him to the hearers. But never confuse love with sentiment. God is love; God is compassionate; God is longsuffering but God is not, never was and never will be sentimental. He always did hate sin and He will always do so. It wasn’t sentiment that sent the Son, that held Him nailed upon a cross, that turned away from Him in thunderous anger. It wasn’t sentiment to the Ninevites, nor to the hearers in Acts. He merely said it like it was.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

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