The English Puritans of the 16th and 17th century lived through periods of persecution as varying governing authorities came to power. For five turbulent years in the middle of the 16th century, Queen Mary enacted her vengeance against the reformation and went to war on protestant believers. In the 17th century, the church came under attack through laws restricting the liberty of conscience and the expectancy of a uniformity of religion under the Church of England. Many puritan ministers were put out of their pulpits and anyone not agreeing with the doctrines and rituals of the Church of England were known as non-conformists, separatists and dissenters. During these times in England, faithful preachers were jailed, transported, put in stocks and even killed.
For many pastors today, faithful preaching does not come under the same type of external pressure as our puritan predecessors, but often they can have their own hardships that are difficult to grasp. When puritan pastors were so faithful in ministry, could they have wondered why God would reward them with such persecution? Can pastors sometimes today wonder and even cry out to God for the heartbreaking situations that they must endure? What about just a faithful believer who is ridiculed and persecuted simply for sharing the gospel? The comforting truth for all of us is that while God does not always call us to enjoy positive responses, he does comfort and reward us in obedience.
In the time just prior to Judah’s exile in Babylon, Jeremiah had exactly this situation. God gave Jeremiah a message of warning and judgment for the people of Judah. Jeremiah was consistently seeking this people to repent of their sin and face the consequences for their commitment to pagan idolatry. As a result, Jeremiah was often a lonely man without friends or even community support. Even more so, he was often threatened and faced people who plotted against him seeking to delight in his death. It was at this time that Jeremiah cried out to the Lord asking the question about why his faithfulness was being rewarded with such hardship. Jeremiah 15:15-18 “O LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach. 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. 17 I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation. 18 Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?”
Jeremiah’s expectations were not met. Faithful ministry is not supposed to be like this. Surely if I am obedient to God in ministry and preach what he has instructed I will see repentance and a thankful response for the warnings that are being given. The brook is supposed to provide relief, but it doesn’t (vs. 18).
God’s response may have been somewhat unexpected for Jeremiah. Jeremiah 15:19 Therefore thus says the LORD: "If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. God actually tells Jeremiah to repent. He is looking at it all wrongly and he has expected God to reward his faithfulness on his own terms. He has expected that God’s plan for the people’s response should be the same as his. God says, “If you return, I will restore.” He also shows Jeremiah that his words of complaint are worthless and if he simply continues to preach the word of God, he will be a mouthpiece of God. What more reward is there to be the very mouthpiece of God as we speak what is precious.
God also then reassures Jeremiah that he will strengthen him, that his enemies will not prevail over him and that God will be with him (vs 20). What is more, Jeremiah will be delivered from the wicked and redeemed from the ruthless (vs 21).
The message for Jeremiah, for our puritan forefathers, and for us is that God looks at the success of ministry in our obedience and not in the response of others. Pull up your britches and keep preaching the truth. Look past those who ridicule you for the sake of the gospel and be obedient in its proclamation. Find your reward in God rather than man. Take joy in being God’s mouthpiece as you treasure the privilege of speaking precious words. And most of all, hope in the deliverance and redemption that God has promised you as he never goes back on his word.
The results of ministry might be hardship, but the reward of obedience is infinite and eternal.