Tag Archives: selfishness

“Swallowed Up” With Selfishness and Pride — Stephen Scaggs

Tremendous joy was in Heaven when it heard the news of Nineveh’s repentance. There is a clever wordplay not apparent in English translations, but it is readily apparent in the Hebrew. When God saw how they had turned from their wicked (ra’ah) way, He turned from the calamity (ra’ah) (Jonah 3:10). In the presence of Heaven, the angels rejoiced over the repentance of 120,000 Assyrians (Jonah 4:10; Luke 15:10). But there was one man, albeit a prophet, who was not rejoicing over the salvation of the pagans: Jonah, the son of Amittai.

Among its contemporaries, the book of Jonah is unique in that it is not the messages of a prophet, but rather it is written about the life of a prophet named Jonah. The tragedy of this narrative is this: it is not the pagan sailors or pagan king swallowed up with pride, but the judgmental child of God. He is so swallowed up in his own bitterness that he cannot see how his sin affects others. So often, it is not the outsiders who struggle with pride, but it is God’s very own people. Little is known about this prophet except for a brief passage in 2 Kings 14:25 which mentions Jonah prophesying in favor of an apostate, faithless king, which immediately casts suspicion on his character.

Jonah’s Selfishness and Pride

There is a witty wordplay in Jonah that most English translations do not pick up, but it is apparent in the Hebrew. “Jonah went down (yêreḏ) to Jaffa,” he went “down (yêreḏ) into the ship,” and he had gone “down (yāraḏ) into the lowest part of the ship” (Jonah 1:3-4, 5). Three times in a few verses, the writer emphasizes where this disobedient prophet had sunk to in his selfishness: down, down, down. Later in Jonah’s Hebrew poem for salvation from the sea beast’s stomach, he bemoans how he had gone “down (yāraḏ) to the bottoms of the mountains” (2:7). So willing was the prophet to run from the Lord that he intended to go to Tarshish, the edge of the known world (modern-day Spain). We might compare this with a modern-day saying that he was trying to flee to Timbuktu.

Does Jonah run from God because the prophet is scared for his life? This might seem plausible. Yet when we read later in the narrative, we find it was much more selfish. Jonah said to the Lord, “That’s what I anticipated, fleeing to Tarshish—for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and full of kindness, and relenting over calamity” (Jonah 4:2). Here, Jonah quotes from Exodus 34:6-7, a poem steeped deep within Israel’s history. The reason the prophet runs from God is simple: if the people respond, God will forgive them. This casts suspicion on the reason Jonah was thrown into the ocean (“If I die, I won’t have to go to Nineveh”) and his short five-word sermon, which could be viewed as prophetic sabotage (Jonah does not mention their sins or repentance). Nonetheless, Jonah serves as a valuable example for God’s people today – because it is a mirror into our own faults.

Lessons For Today

What lessons can we learn from Jonah’s story to combat selfishness today among God’s people? First, we must come to understand that our selfishness and pride affects others. Oblivious to his own sin, the effects of Jonah’s sin began to swallow up the pagan sailors as the storm comes upon them. Sin in general rarely just affects us—the apostle Paul succinctly states, “For none of us lives for himself, and none dies for himself” (Rom. 14:7). When we come to understand that our sin affects others more than just ourselves, we will humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and trust in His grace (1 Pet. 5:6).

Second, we must become more empathetic. Jonah was so wrapped up in his tiny little world that he refused to accept God’s verdict. We read of a short, strange event of God sowing a leafy plant to comfort Jonah, which is the only time in this story that Jonah is happy (Jonah 4:6). But after the worm eats the plant away and Jonah becomes angry again, the Lord asks the seething prophet: “Is it good for you to be so angry about the plant?…You have pity on the plant for which you did no labor or make it grow, that appeared overnight and perished overnight. So shouldn’t I have pity on Nineveh — the great city that has in it more than 120,000 people who don’t know their right and from their left — as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

Jonah was so angry about this plant—and was totally oblivious to the fact that over 120,000 people were now saved. Jonah needed to become more empathetic toward His enemies. Let us heed the words of the apostle Paul, “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Are you okay with God loving your enemies?

Third, we must come to know the character of our God. When we come to not merely acknowledge but truly trust that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and full of kindness, and relenting over calamity, then this truth will truly bring about heart change for God’s children. By becoming gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and full of kindness, and relenting over calamity ourselves, we become more perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48).

Conclusion

The story of Jonah—just like the story of the prodigal son’s elder brother—is left with an open ending (Jonah 4:10; Luke 15:30). We do not know whether Jonah, or the elder brother, had a change of heart. But the story is not really about Jonah; it is about you and me. Let us not become so wrapped up in our own story that we become swallowed up in pride.

Stephen is a 2012 alumnus of the Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN. He is currently living in Dublin, GA, where he is seeking to further his education in ministry.

The Benefits of Foreign Missions to the Local Church – David Paher

American Christians are sometimes misguided when it comes to foreign mission work. Some might believe that money, energy, and resources are better used at home in spite of the fact that more dollars are spent in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. Some folks might even point out that unsaved people reside in U.S. communities in an effort to limit global outreach. Furthermore, some brethren will claim that the congregation’s budget contains no room to commit to foreign mission work but somehow it has plenty of funds for padded pews, cradles, decorative tables, large kitchens, pavilions, awnings, and playgrounds. If congregations of the Lord’s church only knew of the benefits of foreign missions to the local church, there would be more effort to support them.

The first benefit of foreign missions is that it helps the local church follow the Lord’s directive. The church’s spiritual directive is soul-driven. God is mindful of the lost when he waits patiently and delays judgment (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4). Paul was mindful of the lost in his anticipation to preach the gospel to others (Romans 1:15-16). Therefore, the church should be mindful of the lost since the members of it are considered the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13).

The Lord’s directive is clearly seen in the Great Commission. Thus, foreign missions reminds the church of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19-20. The Limited Commission of Matthew 10 concentrated exclusively on the Jewish nation in Jesus’ day. In contrast, the Great Commission directs Christians to go to the ends of earth for the cause of Christ in the present day. The Great Commission is called “great” for at least three reasons. First, it is great, because the Lord, himself, uttered those words. Second, it is great, because it is a noble calling. Third, it is great, because of the grand scope of its application. Without a global outreach, Christians are not practicing the Great Commission. Simply stated, the church’s mission is the Great Commission!

The second benefit of foreign missions is that it helps the local church find purpose in identity. The church’s unique business is people.  Foreign missions helps to connect saved people to lost people. Rather than focus on money, time, success, efficiency, or social or political agendas, missionaries help people draw near to God (James 4:8). They help people in foreign lands who are outside of the body of Christ to develop and confess faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10). For those who are already Christians in foreign lands, missionaries encourage and assist their growth in the Lord (Hebrews 5:14).

Additionally, foreign missions helps the church to develop its purpose in saving souls.  Everywhere Jesus went, he sought lost souls (Luke 19:10). He talked to individuals and groups. He talked to rich and poor. He talked to Jews and Gentiles. He talked to males and females. He talked to urban folks and rural folks. Indeed, he talked to everyone about God and his kingdom.   From the book of Acts, one observes that the early disciples followed Jesus’ example of what he did and taught (Acts 1:1). As a result, nearly every chapter speaks to the growth of disciples in some way (Acts 2:41; 4:4; etc.). In this way, foreign missions helps to further connect the church to soul-saving. Physicians heal the body; counselors restore the mind; but evangelists save the soul. There is no higher vocation than sharing the gospel with another person. Not surprisingly, the Apostle Paul wrote of evangelists’ feet being beautiful (Romans 10:13-15).

The third benefit of foreign missions is that it helps members of the local congregation to focus on others rather than on self. It is easy for human beings to become self-absorbed. In the realm of Christianity, for example, Christians sometimes stop sharing the faith with others. Foreign missions, however, proves that Christians are still interested in religious things. Christians in the US often encounter those who are uninterested in spiritual truths. Unfortunately, Christians sometimes allow these encounters to relax evangelism’s urgency. However, when missionaries visit the local church to give their reports, it can serve to remind the members of the fact that the fields are still white to harvest. An even greater reminder of this truth comes when members visit the foreign mission fields.  Both of these efforts can help to increase the church’s fervor to reach the lost just like the early Christians.

Similarly, missions shifts the church’s focus from pettiness to people. How many disagreements have risen over personality conflicts? Ditch-diggers don’t seem to argue over the details of their shovel as long as they do their best at their job. Likewise, effective soul-winners seldom resort to pettifoggery because the stakes of salvation are simply too high. Paul’s words are clear, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9).

Christians can also become self-absorbed congregationally. When congregations merely keep a preacher, pay the utility bills, and mow grass, evangelism has gone from history to myth. Where can a struggling church turn to but to soul-winning evangelists? Foreign missions can pull the church out of “maintenance mode.” In some places, the 21st-century model seems to have replaced missions with do-good, be-seen, outreach. Yes, the local church should strive for a positive influence in the community; but it will only thrive by firmly handling the plow (Luke 9:62), setting the eyes on the harvest (John 4:35) and carrying the gospel with beautiful feet to some soul in need of Christ (Romans 10:15).

Moreover, missions feeds local evangelism. In places where congregations are evangelizing the lost, commitments to foreign missions exemplify the results of soul-winning efforts. While fruit and number will vary greatly from mission point to mission point, the results unify and energize the efforts in the local congregation.

The fourth benefit of foreign missions is that it helps the local church reach its full potential. Naturally, Christians understand that a congregation cannot be the Lord’s church without the biblical plan of salvation. Equally important to the Lord, however, is having a scriptural eldership in place in local congregations both at home and abroad. The benefits of having a congregation with biblically appointed elders is clear. In addition to helping souls be taught the gospel in order to be saved, foreign missions helps to mature men in the faith to qualify for the role of elder.

There are several conclusions and observations that might be noticed. First, neither foreign mission work nor local work is more important than the other—both are equally important to the Lord’s church. Second, foreign missions simply cannot exist without a healthy local congregation. Third, local congregations without foreign missions is neither light nor hope to the world beyond the local community. Congregations that want to engage in the benefits offered by foreign missions may call a missionary today.

David@livingwater414.org