In Jeremiah’s day, God was furious with those ministering in his name. Consider the characteristics, consequences, and condemnation promised in Jeremiah 23:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord … Concerning the prophets: My heart is broken within me; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the Lord and because of his holy words. For the land is full of adulterers; because of the curse the land mourns, and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up. Their course is evil, and their might is not right. “Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the Lord … In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.” Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets: “Behold, I will feed them with bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone out into all the land.” 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.’ ” For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. “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 … I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another … I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord … Behold, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your fathers. And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’ ”
So, what was the methodology of the despised minister? How could one recognize the false shepherd who was operating in the house of God?
First, he was one who disregarded the counsel of God and replaced it with the thoughts of man. These thoughts could be original to the minister, or stolen from another source, but they were a very poor substitute for the timeless wisdom of the Father.
Second, these sorts of ministers offered health, wealth, and prosperity for all. They promised God’s love and blessing even to those who despised His will. They also denied the reality of divine retribution due to the wickedness of men. All was good news; bad news had no place in their assembly.
Third, false shepherds practiced not the righteousness they preached. There was an unaddressed disconnect between the reputation and character of the minister. To some he looked fair, while to God he was foul.
Fourth, unfaithful clergymen neglected or attended not to the needs of God’s people. Such men were called to be servant leaders, but they were too busy looking after themselves and doing things other than shepherding God’s flock.
Finally, despised minsters neglected God’s call to individual holiness and loving church discipline. They ignored God’s ethic and this resulted in strengthening the hands of evildoers. In their churches, grace was preached and sanctification was not expected.
Therefore, under the leadership of such ministers, what was the end-result? How could one recognize those unfortunate souls who had been pastored by such preachers?
Those who sat under such “men of God” were harmed and not profited. Their souls were left unnourished, their minds uneducated, and their sinful practices unaddressed. As a result, many were scattered and driven away. They were not pursued and reclaimed, but destroyed. And ultimately, ungodliness reigned supreme throughout the land.
And what was the promise of God regarding the minister and those who were satisfied in sitting underneath his ministry?
God promised to treat such worshipers as he did Sodom and Gomorrah. It was dangerous to place one’s family and nation under such preaching and leadership.
God promised to temporally curse those who ministered in such a fashion. The storm of God’s wrath was soon coming the way of the faithless shepherd.
Ultimately, God promised to eternally curse those ministers who died in such a repulsive and unrepentant condition. Everlasting shame and reproach was promised the false teacher.
So with this in mind, those who minister, and those who sit under ministers, ought to take notice. God is not pleased with all who preach sermons in his name. And improvement is not found in all who go to church.
May we all value the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ and seek to be and find ministers who shepherd after his model. May our churches be places where God’s Word is supremely taught, and God’s blessings and curses are faithfully presented. May our ministers be servants who are advancing in sanctification; may ministerial hypocrisy not be present. May all God’s people be proactively pastored; no one should be left alone or forgotten. Through the gracious power of God’s Holy Spirit, may Christ’s holy character be progressively promoted and lawless-antinomianism denied. And finally, may God’s neighborhoods and nations be thoroughly reformed as Holy Spirit filled believers leave the church and begin to infect the land. Perhaps then we can see God bless America and not treat her as he did Sodom and Gomorrah.