In his grace, God will expose our sin – pain. But God confronts in order to restore our fortunes – praise.
For hundreds of years the people of Israel had rebelled against God, and through their intractable stubbornness, forced him into a place where he had to pour out his wrath upon them. God had warned them clearly and repeatedly over centuries of time because he’s immensely patient. But the time does come when mercy gives way to wrath, and for Israel this time had come.
As they were approaching the day when God would punish them, he sent still more prophets to turn them back from calamity. Among other things, God tried to persuade them that they were listening to false voices who were comforting them rather than warning them, who were speaking peace when disaster was looming. For instance, the prophet Jeremiah boldly proclaimed, “Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading” (Lamentations 2:14).
Wow, what a scary place to be. Their prophets – the people who claimed to be speaking for God and interpreting his Word for the good of his people – were actually seeing, and saying, false and deceptive things. It’s not good when those who are supposed to be seeking our good actually lead us headlong into evil. And in this case, the prophets of Israel were leading God’s people into evil by refusing to confront them with their sin.
Now, we should slow down here for a minute and understand something: God confronts in order to restore. He gets in our face in order transform our heart. He exposes our sin in order to restore our fortunes. And one mark of false prophets is that they will not cooperate with God in this endeavor but rather will tell people what they want to hear because they’re afraid of them, or because they’re complicit in their sin. But true prophets speak the truth in love. They confront us with compassion, and they woo us toward God with hope.
This is why the Apostle Paul offered this most serious charge to Timothy, one of his young protégés in the ministry: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
Oh that God would grant us humble hearts to desire his true Word no matter how hard it is to receive. Though it may sting for a moment, it will bless for an eternity. And when we have to be the one who speaks that hard word, may we do so with love, compassion, and hope in the restoring power of God. May we not fear people or be complicit in their sin, but rather, may we speak the truth in love, even as we seek to apply that truth to our own hearts and lives.