Friday, October 08, 2004

Dangers Of A Ministry of Bitterness

“The Dangers Of A Ministry of Bitterness”

Last week I heard a sermon on Jonah 4:5-11, that missed the point of the text. It isn’t unusually to hear a bad sermon, but what was interesting was how the text itself impacted me. I encourage you to read the text:

v.5-So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.
v.6-And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
v.7-But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered.
v.8-And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
v.9-Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death.”
v.10-But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.
v.11-And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right and their left-and much livestock.

Now, if you have seen "Jonah" the veggie-tail video then you have an idea of the background of the book of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet for God, but God gave him a message he didn’t want to deliver. Because of the sins of Nineveh towards Israel, Jonah didn’t want to share the message of judgment and mercy to the people of Nineveh and tried to run from God. God did get Jonah’s attention after a three day stay in the whale hotel. Jonah goes to Nineveh and shares God’s message and the people repent of their sins. This is where our text comes into focus. Jonah was bitter towards the people of Nineveh and even after the people repented, Jonah goes outside the gate to wait for God’s judgment on the people.
In Jonah, we see the dangers of bitterness through Jonah’s isolation, Jonah’s indignation, and Jonah’s illustration. This text is important because I have been a pastor and have known of other pastors who have struggled with bitterness in the pulpit and what I have learned is that if we continue down the path of bitterness we will end up like Jonah.
The first danger of bitterness that Jonah encounters is isolation. Jonah left the gate to go and wait for the judgment of the people. He isolated himself from the people when he moved from thinking that God should judge Nineveh, to thinking that God must judge the people. Jonah was ready to watch God punish the people of Nineveh for their sins against the people of God. When they repented, God forgave them. The problem was that Jonah didn’t want forgiveness for them, he wanted revenge. He isolates himself so he could watch their doom come upon them.
Can a pastor have that same type of bitterness in his heart? A few temptations that a pastor faces that can lead to bitterness is when a pastor has been attack verbally by members, when the people don’t do what you want them to, and when people gossip about your family. A pastor with bitterness will preach great messages on Sundays, but will forsake his people during the week. These pastors will talk about how close they are walking with the Lord, but about how bad their church people are. The bitterness sets in, the separation begins, and the prophet of God is left all alone. Bitterness leaves us lonely because we can’t stand to be with those that have hurt us so much. Beware isolation!
The second danger of bitterness that Jonah encounters is indignation. Jonah’s bitterness turns into anger. As Jonah is waiting for God’s judgment he builds himself a comfortable little sitting area. God provides him a plant to give him shade, but God causes it to die after just one day. The next day, God causes the sun to burn down on Jonah. Jonah has been waiting for judgment to fail for a couple of days now, so when the plant dies Jonah goes off. He is angry with God for not meeting his expectations. Bitterness can come from unmet expectations. Jonah calls for God to take his life. A pastor does the same thing when bitterness takes their heart. Bitterness causes unmet expectations to leave feelings of hurt and pain in the heart. The pastor becomes angry over the silliest of things. Bitterness affects the mouth by causing complaining and gossip over how you’re being treated. Jonah asked for death and the bitter-hearted pastor will preach the Word, but in their heart they are planning to leave the ministry. In their hearts they are praying that God will take away their ministry. Beware indignation!
The last danger of bitterness that Jonah reveals is the lesson of the illustration. God gives Jonah an illustration. God tells Jonah, “you had compassion on this plant, can’t I have compassion on the people of Nineveh.” The illustration shows that Jonah had lost his compassion. The greatest danger of bitterness is that we lose our compassion. How bad it is when a pastor no longer cares what happens to his people during the week. When making sure the carpet in the sanctuary is clean is more important than visiting the hospital room of a church member, we have lost our compassion. We have also lost our compassion when seeing a T.V. show is more important than serving a brother in need. We have lost our compassion when people’s sins keep us from ministering to them.
Let us build a ministry of life and not a ministry of bitterness. Let us go in a direction different than Jonah and escape the dangers of isolation, indignation, and learn the lesson of God’s illustration.


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