A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part II) – Jonah, chapters 3 and 4

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The book of Jonah, chapter 2, ended with the description of the great fish spitting up Jonah onto the dry land at God’s command.     God caused this to happen because of what Jonah said at the end of his prayer of thanksgiving.  To put it in today’s language, Jonah was saying, “I’ll do what you command”  and “You can save whomever you choose.”  Let’s see what happens in chapters 3 and 4.

III.  JONAH’S PREACHING AT NINEVEH (Chapter 3)

We find God repeating His initial command to Jonah in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2, and this time Jonah obeys God’s command and walks through the city over a period of three days crying out and saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  The result was that the people believed in God and repented of their sins.  They demonstrated their repentance by proclaiming a fast and putting on sackcloth.  That would be like wearing a large burlap sack over your bare body.  Can you imagine how much that would itch and irritate your skin.  Even the king of Nineveh took off his royal robes and put on sackcloth and sat on the ashes.  He also issued a decree, beginning in verse 7 saying, “. . . Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing.  Do not let them eat or drink water.  But both man and beast must be clothed in sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and the violence which is in his hands.  Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”

It doesn’t say how long they did this.  It may have been for days, or weeks, or even the full 40 days.  They were appealing to God’s mercy and they found that God is a merciful God.  In verse 10 it says, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them.  And He did not do it.”

II.  JONAH’S DISCONTENT AND CORRECTION (Chapter 4)

There must have been great rejoicing in the city of Nineveh.  But one person wasn’t rejoicing.  He was angry.  And that person was the prophet Jonah.  Was Jonah mad because his prophesy didn’t come true?  Was he embarrassed?  No.  The real reason why Jonah fled from the Lord, and why he was angry with God is found in 4:2-3.  Jonah was willing to die for the sailors.  He thanked God for sparing his own life.  But Jonah didn’t want God to spare Nineveh because they were a very wicked people; they weren’t Jewish, and Nineveh was the capitol of the nation of Assyria.  The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that Assyria was going to someday destroy the nation of Israel  and take the remainder of the people back to Assyria as captives.  This prophecy is found in Isaiah 7:17-20 and following.  In Jonah 4:2 he even accuses God of being “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness”, as if those were God’s faults or weaknesses!

Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take his life.  He would rather die than have God spare the lives of the people of Nineveh, and God questions his anger.  Jonah leaves the city and builds a booth “outside” the city; waiting to see if God will come to His senses  and decide that these people don’t deserve to be spared.  While Jonah sleeps God causes a gourd plant to sprout out of the ground overnight and grow big enough to provide shade for Jonah.  This makes Jonah very happy!  He must have been thinking, “God has finally come to His senses and has agreed with me that these people don’t deserve to live!”  But then God causes a worm to destroy the vine, and Jonah becomes very angry again.  There is an important lesson here.  God is in control.  He caused the storm.  He caused the fish to swallow Jonah and later spit him out.  He caused the vine to grow up overnight, and He caused the worm to kill the vine.  Everyone and everything obeyed God except the preacher.  The storm, the dice, the sailors, the fish, the Ninevites, the east wind, the gourd plant, the worm!  Everyone and everything except . . .  Jonah!  Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions so that we might know that He is in control.

A second lesson is found in 4:10-11.  Jonah lacked God’s compassion for people.  There’s a little bit of Jonah in all of us sometimes, isn’t there?  Sometimes more than a “little bit”?  It is the Jewish custom on the annual celebration of the Day of Atonement to read from the book of Jonah.  And at the end of the reading all would say, “We are Jonah!”

If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, the book of Jonah is saying that God loves you and wants to show you mercy, no matter how sinful you have been.  God wants to receive you into His family if you are ready to turn from your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  The Controller of the universe gives you the freedom to give Him control over your life, and you can do that right now.

If you are a Christian, the book of Jonah is saying that people are precious because God considers them to be precious.  God wants us to lay aside our prejudices and let Him fill our hearts with His compassion for the sinning and suffering people we meet.  Do you remember that person I asked you to bring to mind at the beginning of this message?  What are you and I going to do this week to reach out by the power of God’s love to that person we’ve been avoiding?

I’m closing this message by reading a portion from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The Lord Jesus says it better than anyone else.  The passage of Scripture is Matthew 5:43-48.  The Lord Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

DEALING WITH WORRY – Philippians 4:1-7

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If anybody had an excuse for worrying, it was the apostle Paul. He had friends in Philippi who were disagreeing with each other, and he couldn’t be there to help them. There were also problems at the church in Rome. Paul also faced the possibility of his own death. Paul had many reasons to worry, but he did not! Instead, he takes time in his letter to explain the ways to have victory over worry. What is worry? The Greek word translated “anxious” or “careful” in verse 6 means “to be pulled in different directions”. Our hopes pull us in one direction; our fears pull us in the opposite direction; and we are being pulled apart! Worry can give us headaches, neck pain, ulcers, even back pain. It can affect our thinking about circumstances, people, and things. It is the greatest thief of joy. Telling others to quit worrying doesn’t work, does it? In the passage of Scripture we’re studying today, Philippians 4:1-7, the apostle Paul gives us part of the solution to worry.

I. AN EXPRESSION OF LOVE AND CONCERN (verse 1)

First of all, in verse l Paul lets the members of the church at Philippi know how special they are to him, and how concerned he is about their spiritual growth and victory in their daily lives.

II. THE IMPORTANCE OF HARMONY (verses 2-3)

Then in verse 2 Paul challenges two specific women to live in harmony. Euodia and Syntyche were not on speaking terms. They were both believers and members of the Philippian church, but they had a difference of opinion and the quarrel between them had become so serious that it reached the ears of Paul in his prison quarters in Rome. It grieved Paul greatly, and he pleads with them to resolve their differences and get along as Christians. If you have something against another Christian, you cannot solve it by not speaking to him or her. The very opposite is true. You should go to that other person and seek to get back into fellowship. If you refuse to speak, you injure yourself more than anyone else. This reminds me of a story of a certain farmer who lived on one side of a mountain, and he went to see his neighbor who lived on the other side of the mountain. Leaning on a rail fence, he watched his friend plowing with a mule. Finally he said, “I don’t want to butt in, but you could save yourself a lot of work by saying “gee” and “haw” instead of jerking on those lines to guide your mule.” The old timer mopped his brow with his red handkerchief and replied, “Yep, I know that; but this here mule kicked me six years ago and I ain’t spoken to him since!” This may sound foolish but the kick in the pants by a mule is no more foolish than many of our “spats” over little things. If you are not speaking to another brother or sister in Christ, what are you gaining by continuing to feud? Start with a smile, and follow it up with a gentle, kind remark, and then, forgetting your hurt feelings, be friends again!

In verse 3 Paul must be speaking to Epaphroditus, the man who brought Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Paul asks him as well as Clement and the other church leaders to help these women resolve their differences. Instead of worrying, Paul went to work and did something about it, delegating the responsibility for meeting this need to others he trusted and respected.

III. THE IMPORTANCE OF REJOICING (verses 4 and 5)

Verses 4 and 5 focus on the importance of rejoicing. The apostle Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”. “Always? But if you only knew what I am facing!” Yes, but what about the apostle Paul? He had been beaten repeatedly, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, and was often falsely accused by his enemies. But he didn’t complain or give up. He knew the secret of joy, and without boasting he could point to himself as an example for believers to follow.

We may not always feel like rejoicing, but we can and we must choose to rejoice. Even though circumstances may change, we have an unchanging God, and in Him we can always find cause for rejoicing. In verse 5 Paul says that we are to have a “forbearing spirit”. This means being satisfied with less than we feel we deserve in this life. Our joy is based on what God has for us in heaven, not on what we can get out of this life.

IV. THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER (verses 6 and 7 )

In verse 6 Paul is saying, “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything”. The word “prayer” is a general word for making requests known to the Lord. It has the idea of adoration, devotion, and worship. Think about the goodness and majesty of God! We need time to remind ourselves in prayer that God is big enough to solve our problems. Too often we rush into God’s presence and hastily tell Him our needs, when we ought to approach His throne calmly and with deepest reverence and adoration.

The second form of prayer mentioned in verse 6 is supplication – sharing with God our needs and our problems, and confessing our sins to Him. Nothing is too small to bring before the Father’s throne. What a difference it would make in our day if we talked to God about every problem and concern. As the hymn writer said:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

The last form of prayer mentioned here is thanksgiving. It’s not easy to have a thankful heart in every circumstance in life, is it? Yet the Scriptures say in I Thessalonians 5:18 and in other passages that we should give thanks in everything. There was a godly old preacher whose pastoral prayer was a source of great inspiration to the members of his congregation. Sunday after Sunday he would begin his prayer with praise and thanksgiving to God. Downhearted worshipers were often lifted by his positive spirit. One Lord’s Day, however, it seemed as if there was nothing that anyone could be happy about. The weather was cold and damp, only a few church members came to the service, and gloom was everywhere. The few who did show up that morning wondered what can the pastor be grateful for on a day like this? At the beginning of the service the pastor stood up and folded his hands in his usual manner. Then he began, “Thank you, Father, that every Lord’s Day morning is not like this one!”

Even if we can’t be grateful for what we receive, be grateful for what we escape. Yes, in everything God wants to hear us say, “Thank you, Father!”

The result is that the “peace of God” guards our hearts and our minds. This peace does not mean that the trials of life are gone, but it does mean that we have a confidence within us, regardless of circumstances, people, and things.

Daniel gives us a wonderful illustration of peace through prayer. When the king announced that none of his subjects was to pray to anyone except the king, Daniel “went to his room, opened his windows, and prayed as before”. You will find this story in Daniel 6:1-10. Note how Daniel prayed. He “prayed, and gave thanks” before his God in verse 10, and he made supplication in verse 11. Prayer – Supplication – thanksgiving. And the result was perfect peace in the midst of his difficulty. Daniel was able to spend the night with the lions in perfect peace, while the king in his palace could not sleep! We find this in verse 18.

Those who place themselves in the care of God experience the peace of God. Instead of being anxious about everything, you could be anxious about nothing. Instead of praying about little or nothing, you could be praying about everything. And, through prayer, your heavy load of worry would become God’s, and His gift of peace would become yours. You won’t find a better bargain than that in your Christian life!

If your life is filled with worry, and you have no peace with God and no evidence of lasting joy in your life, apply these principles of prayer to your life. Declare to God in prayer that He is a holy and righteous God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for your sin. Acknowledge your own sinfulness; confess your sins to Him and ask for His forgiveness. Invite Jesus Christ to come into your life and be your Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-13, 27-30). Thank Him for His presence and His power in your life. Spend time daily in the Bible and in prayer. Get involved in a Bible-teaching church, receiving encouragement from other Christians and serving your loving Lord with all your heart. And don’t forget to tell others about what Jesus Christ has done for you.