The Complaint of a Successful Preacher

The Complaint of a Successful Preacher

Jonah 4, 
“But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.”


I have talked with many pastors who are discouraged in ministry.  They faithfully proclaim God’s message and call people to turn back to God and become discouraged when people reject their message. One of the number one reasons pastors quit the ministry is discouragement.  They struggle with a sense of futility. Yet, in all my years of ministry and talking with other pastors, I have never met one who resigned because his preaching changed people’s lives-- except Jonah.  He is probably the only preacher in history who was angry when his preaching brought about a revival.

To understand Jonah’s frustration, we need to delve into the history of Nineveh.  The Assyrians were marked by gross idolatry and vicious brutality against the people they conquered.  To intimidate their enemies, they would brag about how they would torture their enemies, cutting off their limbs and gouging out the eyes of people. They would impale their victims on large stakes and display them before their enemies. They were brutal and feared.  Thus, it was no surprise when Jonah announced that in forty days, God would destroy Nineveh. While this message caused fear in the hearts of the people of Nineveh, the rest of the world rejoiced. 

But even as Jonah was pronouncing the impending judgment, Jonah knew something that others did not.  Jonah knew that God was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and one who relents concerning calamity (4:2). In Ezekiel 33:11, God proclaims, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Even though Nineveh was marked by their violence, Jonah recognized that if they repented, God would forgive.  Consequently, after preaching through the city, Jonah went up to a hillside, not to see if the people would repent, but to see if God would destroy the people.  

While sitting in the hot sun, God caused a plant to grow and provide shade for Jonah.  Jonah was extremely happy about the plant and the shade it provided (vs. 6).  But God sent a worm to kill the plan so that it died.  Without the comfort of his shade, Jonah became angry at God and accused God of being unfair.  In response, God confronts one last sinner in need of change: Jonah himself.  He points out that Jonah was more concerned about a plant than he was about the 120,000 who populated the city of Nineveh.

This confronts us as well.  It is easy to see people only from the context of their sin.  We look at the world around us and become angry because evil is being praised.  The danger is not in the condemnation of sin; the risk is that we become indifferent toward the sinner.  We become angry at people who promote and condone sin.  Yet God calls us to a different perspective. Just as we should hate sin, we should also love the sinner and desire the sinner to discover the freedom that Christ offers. Paul points out in Ephesians 6:12 that “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Unfortunately, the adage that we should hate sin and love the sinner is not always so easily embraced.  In despising sin, we can start to hate the individual captured by it.  While we should confront people with the coming judgment upon sin, we should always offer them the hope of salvation. As our world continues to descend into moral chaos, we must ensure that we still love people and seek to bring them the hope of salvation.  Otherwise, we will become like Jonah.


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