Jonah: Love your neighbor

My heart breaks for the cultural climate in which my children are being raised. Our world is broken. Everyday there’s another atrocity. Everyday there’s another attack. Racism. Prejudice. Political unrest. Sin is rampant in this country.

Yet, my heart breaks even more because within the church we are seeing the same divides that are wrecking our nation. In the church, we see racism. It’s just not as blatant. In the church, we see prejudice. It’s just hiding behind a mask of “separation”. Congregations are now divided as leaders of faith have taken to social media as valiant politically warriors against the evil of the other side of the aisle. (Trust me, I know politics are important and I will continue to prayerfully vote as my conscious and spirit lead)

I wish this was an American phenomenon. It’s not. It’s a fallen humanity phenomenon. We don’t have a broken culture, WE are a broken people. The proof is in the Bible…

In the book of Jonah we see the harrowing tale of a reluctant prophet. However, when you peel back the layers of this story; there’s more to it than just a stubborn man of God.

Jonah’s wrong attitude toward God’s will stemmed from a feeling that the Lord was asking him to do an impossible thing. God commanded the prophet to go to Israel’s enemy, Assyria, and give the city of Nineveh opportunity to repent, and Jonah would much rather see the city destroyed than saved.

The city of Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and was a large and prominent city in its day. It was not a city of Israel at all; God called Jonah to go to a pagan, Gentile city and call them to repentance.

Nahum 3:1-4 gives us a good idea of how wicked the people of Nineveh were. Jonah had every reason to expect that at the very best, he would be mocked and treated as a fool. He might be attacked and killed if he did what the LORD told him to do.

Yet, the truth was that Jonah didn’t want the Assyrians in Nineveh to escape God’s judgment. He was raised to believe that the Assyrians were evil, and the thought of seeing them saved was too much for Jonah to bear. So, rather than reaching for them in love Jonah fled from them in indifference.

Imagine a Jewish man in New York City during World War II hearing God say, “I’m going to bring terrible judgment on Germany. I want you to go to Berlin and tell Nazi Germany to repent.” Instead of doing it, the man heads for San Francisco and then hops on a boat for Hong Kong.

Here’s the reality of Jonah’s story… Jonah’s narrow patriotism took precedence over his theology.

Rather than seeking to help these people find their way to a loving God, Jonah would rather have watched them die. Jonah’s blind patriotism had caused him to become disconnected from the love of God.

We have to be very careful that our patriotism does not precede our theology. Political alliance in America has become idolatrous in that way too many Christians would rather see their political opponents punished than saved. We may not say as much, but our cold indifferent attitude towards people who have a different political view than us is telling.

God loves Republicans AND Democrats. God died for the sins of EVERY human on the earth. We don’t have a right to determine who can and cannot be saved, or who we will or will not reach.

God help us if we allow our perspective of the world to be framed by the narrow view of cultural bias. We were ALL raised to think things that are contrary to the word of God. We were ALL raised to see people OTHER than the way God sees them. White people are prejudice towards minority groups. Minority groups are prejudice towards white people. Minority groups are prejudice against other minority groups.

It’s not different today than it was when the Jews HATED the Gentiles for not being Jewish. So they insisted that Gentiles become like THEM in order to be like God. God help us if we ever allow the church to become that again.

Jonah forgot that the will of God is the expression of the love of God (Ps. 33:11), and that God called him to Nineveh because He loved BOTH Jonah and the Ninevites.

There’s a reason why Jesus said the second greatest commandment is like the first: if we love God with all our heart, we will love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–39). It functions like faith and works; if we truly have the first, the second naturally follows.

But if God is not the love of our life, there is no way that we will truly love our neighbor as ourselves. For we will love ourselves supremely.

It’s possible to eliminate hate. It’s possible to eliminate racism and prejudice. When we love God MORE then we loves ourselves.

The most loving thing we can do for others is love God more than we love them. For if we love God most, we will love others best.

Jonah also had a wrong attitude toward the Gentiles. Instead of wanting to help them find the true and living God, he wanted to abandon them to their darkness and spiritual death. He not only hated their sins—and the Assyrians were ruthless enemies—but he hated the sinners who committed the sins.

We often use the cliché, “Hate the sin, love the sinner”. Yet very few Christians practice that. In our humanity we often have a hard time separating the sin from the sinner. So rather than helping sinners find their way to God, we abandon them and leave them to their darkness and spiritual death.

Jonah is a haunting reality of what happens when the church loses their sight of what really matters. When patriotism and prejudice overrule theology and holiness.

What happens next? A violent storm is threatening to destroy the men on the boat. Where’s Jonah? Asleep.

The heathen sailors were calling on their gods for help while Jonah slept through the prayer meeting, the one man on board who knew the true God and could pray to Him. All the sailors were religious men, devout in their prayers to their gods. Yet their gods were really nothing and could do nothing. There was one man on board who had a relationship with the true God, who knew His Word, and who worshiped Him – yet he was asleep.

There’s something wrong with us, if we can be indifferent to the chaos and the suffering that is going on in the world around us. There’s something wrong, if we are negligent in such a time as this. If you, as a Christian, can see your fellow brothers and sisters hurting; and just go on about your day unaffected – you are asleep. When one member of the body hurts, WE ALL HURT.

God help your people to not become so comfortable around sin that we can slumber and sleep in our own comforts, while society wrestles in the midst of the storm. God help us to not be so insensitive that we cannot even listen to their pain without immediately trying to defend our position.

My heart breaks for this fallen world. My heart breaks for broken humanity. God help your church to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. Help us to LOVE like you love.

Published by Joshua McElhaney

Joshua McElhaney has served over 15 years in ministry, serving as both an Assistant Pastor for over a decade, and as lead Pastor. During his time in leadership, Joshua learned many valuable lessons about leading. Using his own experiences and the troves of Biblical treasures, McElhaney has created resources that will enlighten, empower, and enable leaders across the spectrum to lead the way God has called them to lead. Joshua married Karena, his college sweetheart, in June of 2007. Together they have three beautiful children; Mayli, Jaxson, and Asher.

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