God sent Jonah to preach against Nineveh, the leading city of the Assyrian Empire, because of its wickedness. This was a difficult mission, and the rest of the book presents Jonah’s reluctance and God’s perseverance in this task. God told Jonah to call out Nineveh for its sin. They were cruel, violent, and oppressive. They had made life miserable for God’s people. It was not something that would have been easy to do. It was not what Jonah wanted to do. We need to evaluate ourselves. Are we reluctant to fulfill our mission of making disciples of all nations? What are we currently doing?
Like Jonah, we can invent alternatives to what God wants us to do about the city. Jonah’s alternative was to run away from the mission God gave him. Here are some unhelpful alternatives that Christians take in our time.
- We set up our own little sub-cultural fortress. We protect ourselves from the city because it is evil. Once every twenty years, we might go out on a mission trip, hurl our “gospel grenades” into the city, complain that they are hardened in sin because they don’t respond to unloving methods, and quickly retreat into our safe little Christian hiding places.
- We can forget the wickedness of the city and become part of it. In trying to reach the city, some have become enamored by its ideas and practices. Only a life committed to the centrality of the cross of Christ can help you avoid this, if you venture into the city. Evil is powerful, and we need the expulsive power of a great desire to resist it. That greater desire is Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2).
- We can use the city to satisfy our desires, avoiding its more repugnant evils, but forgetting what we’re supposed to be doing in the city.
The Lord wants us to live among the people of rebellious cities and preach against their wickedness. To do this, we must be living among them, so that we know how evil is ruining them, and being close to be able to give them hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:13-16).
Here are eight ways to start to influence the city:
- Eat with non-Christians – invite them to your home or go out to dinner with them
- Walk, don’t drive – walk around your neighborhood; be seen by people and talk to them as you have the opportunity
- Be a regular – go to the same places and get to know people there
- Share a hobby or activity with non-Christians – check your local library for information
- Talk to your coworkers – how hard can this be?
- Volunteer in non-profit organizations – this is a natural way to help people in need and partner with others at the same time
- Participate in community activities – some communities have little happening, but perhaps yours does
- Serve your neighbors – keep your eyes and ears open
Please think about the following. Jonah disobeyed the Lord by running in the opposite direction from Nineveh. In the process, he went away from the presence of the Lord (3:3 ESV). I boldly suggest that if we’re not doing one or more things on the above list, or activities like them, then we are running from “our Nineveh” just as Jonah did from his.
Grace and peace, David