But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)
Throughout the Bible, mankind’s problems have arisen as a result of their moving away from true worship which, in essence, could be regarded as focus on self. The moment our eyes turn selfward, that’s the moment trouble starts, and if we look at the history of Israel, we see this over and over again. God’s people regularly lost sight of the glory of God, attempting to replace it with the glory of self. It’s all to easy to forget that God will never, ever share His rightful glory with another.
It’s absolutely critical to remember that what we glory in will determine the consequences of our free will.
Jeremiah, who is often referred to as ‘the weeping prophet,’ foretold and witnessed the destruction and desolation of Jerusalem when God’s people were carried into captivity. The background for today’s verse is, therefore, the sweeping panorama of the tumultous events known as the Babylonian captivity. It is a time of extremes that birthed the young prophet’s Lamentations. It’s a time of obdurate faithlessness, self will, and ultimately, judgement.
It’s all to easy to shift focus to self, especially when things are going well. Success and achievements so often breed pride. We look at our accomplishments, perhaps see or hear the respect and praise of our family, friends, colleagues, and peers, and in no time at all, ‘me’ slips into centre stage. It’s a fine line between realistic recognition of the part we may have played in all of it and the over-inflated assumption of our own worth. In all things, there must be balance. God does not desire mindless robots who jerk along to His pulling on the strings.
Realistically speaking, we do participate in the things that bring us to success. We may have stood for what was right. We may have made the choice to proceed and to continue in the work. We may have remained faithful through difficulties. We may have worked hard and persevered. We may have studied, sacrified, endured, or trained. At no point ever does God diminish our participation, a point that we may lose sight of when professing humility but which is an important wisdom that comes with spiritual maturity.
When God reminds us that we are nothing without Him, He’s reminding us that every skill, talent, gift, intellectual ability, and sensitivity or strength of character is a gift from Him. He designed us, created us, and worked to shape us according to His individual blueprint. In doing so, He placed certain attributes within us. These natural aptitudes have to be developed, trained, and disciplined. God does not simply waggle His creator finger at us and instantly make us a concert pianist. We have to practice. We have to give up things to pursue it. We have to discipline ourselves and put in the long hours and endure the inevitable frustrations along the way.
But there is a huge difference in recognising our participation and glorying in self. Self-glorification says that we did it without God. It doesn’t acknowledge the truth that God doesn’t do it for us, but always does it with us. Anything that is committed into His hands is brought to perfect completion. Now, many do achieve success without the active surrender of their gifts, talents, and faculties to the service of God. But remember, every single person is created for a specific purpose. Not acknowledging doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If God is able to use both a donkey and the devil to achieve His puposes, He’s more than able to use unbelievers as well. Our not recognising it doesn’t not alter the truth of it.
The problem comes in when we it’s all me and no Him. That’s the error that Israel made over and over again. That’s the transgression that led to judgement, and to destruction and desolation. They glorified self rather than glorifying the essential nature of God at work in their lives. They ignored His intrinsic characteristics of lovingkindness, judgement, and righteousness. Of course, we cannot simply summarise the great I AM in three words, but in the context of Jeremiah these have specific relevance.
At this point, we need to draw the parallel between the then Babylon which carried off God’s people into captivity and the end time Great Babylon which has the same purpose. In Jeremiah’s day it was Israel. In the end times it will be the church. Jeremiah’s prophecies are frighteningly relevant today as we spiral towards a world immersed in self-gratification and apostasy and an appalling perversion of biblical doctrine to feed the ego and indulgences of mankind. Jeremiah is not simply speaking to Israel. He is speaking to the people of God. The principles taught and revealed are as relevant today as they were then, and we had best step back and listen. Our life in eternity depends on it.
Lovingkindess is essentially God’s grace and mercy in action. It is acts of love towards His people. It involves compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and covenant love. The Bible is a record of the limitless lovingkindness of God which found its ultimate expression in the death and resurrection of Christ. In this sense, it’s the greatest love story ever written. God’s lovingkindness is immeasurable, unfathomable, and incomprehensible. It is total, complete, and all-encompassing.
Note that His lovingkindness is mentioned first. There should be absolutely no doubt that every act of God is precipitated and preceded by lovingkindness, even judgement. Many people, particularly today, regard His judgement as the opposite of or as contradictory to His lovingkindness. How, we ask, can a loving God judge and condemn the people He professes to love? To explain this, let’s look at the role of a parent.
Which parent loves the child more – the one who understands the dangers and so completely controls a child that they cannot think, act, or speak for themselves or the one who, knowing the dangers, teaches the child to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, selfishness and selflessness, and then allows them to make their own decisions? Punishment of one form or another is inevitable in parenting. We know it and our children know it. They may push the boundaries, but a good parent will exercise judgement and apportion the relevant punishment. We do it because we love our children, not because we want to or because we enjoy it.
Behind all of this is the concept of free will. We teach our children and allow them to make their own choices. This is, in fact, perhaps the greatest act of love. It’s really hard to step back and let our children choose, knowing all the while they may well be setting themselves up for judgement. Of course, judgement can be avoided if we only listen, learn, and make the right choices. Free will is a gift of love. What we do with it is what creates the problems. Judgement is a consequence of the exercising of free will, but it has two sides – guilty or not guilty.
We cannot say that we’re happy to receive a judgement of not guilty, but reject one of guilty. There are no exclusions. We cannot expect to be patted on the head and rewarded when we are obedient but not punished when we are disobedient. The way we relate to our children is the mirror of how God relates to His children. In lovingkindness He gives us free will and allows us to exercise it in the full knowledge that there will be judgement and consequences.
Finally, there is God’s righteousness. The interesting thing about righteousness is that it includes and implies both lovingkindness and judgement. Righteousness is essentially fairness, balance, perfect behaviour. God’s righteousness brings justice, the balanced scales that tip neither to one side nor the other. His righteousness ensures that mercy and judgement carry equal weight. Righteousness, the perfect exercise of justice, implies perfect lovingkindness. It is because He loves us that He acts in mercy and judgement according to exercise of our free will.
But righteousness has another interesting connotation. It essentially implies that our actions are justified. It incorporates the concept of justice in the connotation that we have been “judged” or “reckoned” as leading a life that is pleasing to God. Righteousness, therefore, requires judgement but includes mercy. This brings us beautifully to point of the cross. Lovingkindness, judgement, and righteousness are perfectly contained in the death and resurrection of Christ.
This is the very foundation of our attitude to God. Do we glory in who and what we are and what we have achieved, or do we glory in the fact that He allows and enables us to know and understand Him. Whatever we have comes from Him. Whatever we achieve is achieved through and with Him. There is no success, no accomplishement, and no achievement that can measure up against the awesome privilege of having a living, growing, personal relationship with God. Once we understand this truth, we cease to live for our own glory and seek to glorify Him in all things.
The message is clear as history repeats itself. Ignoring God’s lovingkindness and assuming the glory that was rightfully His brought His judgment upon Israel and withdrew His perfect righteousness. It is only in Christ that we can be truly justified. Nothing we think, say, or do will ever justify us or make us righteous. That is something God has to do for us, but we participate. We have to be willing to set aside self and surrender to His work. If we must glory in anything, let it be in the real, personal knowledge of His perfect nature and in the awesome truth that He is the source, the author, the sustainer, and the one who completes us far beyond our own natural abilities.
Forgive us, Lord, for the constant weakness that diverts us to self instead of to You. Help us to see You always, and to manifest Your glory in the world. We acknowledge today, Lord, that everything is of You, from You, and for You, and give You all the honour, the praise, and the glory.