May 19, 2014
Sometimes God uses images to communicate truth that are as shocking as they are earthy. About 600 years before Christ, God’s people had fallen into self-centered worship. There was religious activity, yet evil was everywhere. The prophet Jeremiah complained, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (Jer 12: 1). It’s hard to watch the nightly news and not ask the same questions.
God told the prophet to buy a linen loincloth, and without rinsing it, put it around his waist. Jeremiah did as he was told. Later, God told the prophet to and hide the loincloth between some rocks near a river. After many days, God told Jeremiah to retrieve the loincloth. The prophet did, and “the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing” (Jer 13: 1-7).
God explained that as the loincloth was spoiled, so would he spoil the pride of his people. His people, who were stubbornly following their own hearts in their worship and their ways, had become good for nothing. But why communicate this message with a loincloth?
God used this image to remind his people of their true calling. As the loincloth is an intimate piece of clothing, God had redeemed his people from obscure slavery to be a special people, intimately connected to him. They were to be “a name, a praise, a glory” (Jer 13:11). Their pride-filled, self-centered worship had rendered them as useless as soiled underwear.
The message of Jeremiah’s underwear is that rampant evil in society is connected to the pride of God’s people. Selfish pride is a blemish on the beauty being revealed in those who are redeemed. Note that God is not denying his intimate connection with those he has redeemed; instead, he is lamenting that failing to embrace their privileged status leads to uselessness.
The tarnishing effects of self-centered, pride-filled “worship” are just as powerful today. Those who are redeemed by Christ have a glorious position—an intimate relationship with God even greater than that enjoyed by Judah in the days of Jeremiah. Yet, self seeps into every crevice of life like the muddy water through the rocks surrounding Jeremiah’s loincloth. Pride blemishes the glory of our intimate relationship with God. Relationships are weakened, fruitfulness is stymied, and evil is unchecked.
The cure lies in the status God gives. The work of Christ cleanses us and frees us from the chains of self-centered pride. Our usefulness is grounded in the finished work of Christ, as he furthers the work of redemption through us. In him, we have “a name, a praise, and a glory” that will never go dim.