Jeremiah 20:7-19 The cost of ministry

To be a faithful speaker of God’s Word can be very costly.  The message will often be one people do not want to hear and their response can be one of indifference, but it can equally well be one of hostility, sometimes quite open.  Jesus warned, ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first’ (John 15:18).  That is the experience of Jeremiah, who, when he preached God’s message of judgment was ‘beaten and put in the stocks’ (Jeremiah 19:15).  We consider Jeremiah 20:7-18 The cost of ministry.

1. Persecution

His harsh treatment plunges Jeremiah into profound agony of soul – he is a deeply sensitive man.  He turns to the Lord and pours out his heart.  Most translations read ‘you deceived me’ (v7) – possibly a reflection of his feelings at the time, or it may be translated ‘you persuaded me’ – putting him into the office of prophet.  He now understands the cost – the message of judgment has not yet been fulfilled and he experiences ‘insult and reproach’.  False ‘friends’ seek revenge (v10).  Any speaker of God’s Word can expect a hostile reaction from some.  The pattern was set by our Saviour, the perfect Prophet, who was hated and rejected.

2. Pressure

To avoid such hardship, it seems Jeremiah had tried silence: ‘I will not mention him’ (v9).  His calling seems to be an intolerable burden.  But silence ultimately is not an option.  The Lord will not allow his prophet to be silent and Jeremiah cannot be.  The word God has given demands to be preached – ‘in my heart like a fire’ – keeping the word in burns him up.  He cannot hold it in.  In the end his commitment to the Lord and to his prophetic calling must win.  Note Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:16, ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel’.

3. Presence

Jeremiah clings to what he knows of God: ‘But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior’ (v11).  This remains true even if it does not fell like that now.  That truth gives confidence in this God who will bring down the persecutors.  The ‘vengeance’ (v12) is on the enemies of God and truth, not Jeremiah’s personal enemies.  Facing the cost of ministry, we must hold fast to the truth about God that we know.  He will deliver (in his time) and that frees us from fear and bitterness.  Like Jeremiah we commit our cause to the Lord and so are able to praise him, like Paul in prison in Philippi (Acts 16:25).

4. Pain

But solutions do not come easily nor necessarily at the time we want.  We have a cry of pain in v14-18 straight from Jeremiah’s heart.  He regrets even being born.  The light he had (v11-13) seems to have gone for the time being.  Here is a reminder that the child of God may experience dark times from which escape is difficult.  We can be honest with the Lord about them.  Our focus needs to be on the Lord and on his truth.  The Lord can cope with our words and never forsakes us (Hebrews 13:5).  The sense of his presence will return, and we recall that on the cross the Saviour experienced the feeling of forsakenness – he understands.

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