Each chapter of Jonah has a story to tell. In chapter one, we read a story of rebellion. In chapter two, we read a story of repentance. In chapter three, we read a story of revival. Now, let’s look to chapter four.
We would think the story of Jonah would have ended on the high note found in chapter three. But as is so often the case, folks in the Bible have their faults as well as good points revealed. So it is with Jonah. We would like to think that Jonah’s walk with God continued on a high plane. But in chapter four, we read about how Jonah became angry with God when He spared Nineveh. The city of Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, the enemies of Israel. Even though Jonah obeyed the commission given to him by God, he wasn’t happy about the outcome - he didn’t want the Ninevites to repent, he wanted them to perish! So in chapter four, we read a story of resentment.
After all Jonah had been through with God, we find chapter four a little hard to believe. We wonder, “How in the world could Jonah act like that after all that had happened?” The story told in chapter four seems unbelievable. But as we look at this chapter today, I believe that we will not only see how such a situation could happen, but I’m afraid we also will be able to see that what was true of Jonah could easily also be true of us! What caused Jonah to act as he did?
In chapter four, we find that God asked Jonah three questions. The first two questions reveal something about Jonah’s heart, while the third question reveals something about the heart of God.
1. Jonah’s Heart - vs. 1-9
A. Jonah was selfish - vs. 1-4
Jonah was angry that God had spared Nineveh, rather than destroying them. And in verse four is God’s first question, “Have you any right to be angry?” The implied answer was “No.” The purpose here was to reveal something that was wrong with Jonah’s heart - he was selfish.
Jonah was unconcerned about the people of Nineveh and unconcerned about the will of God. He wanted his way, and when he did not get it, like a spoiled brat, he pouted! His statement in verse three, about not wanting to live, is reminiscent of an angry child who holds his breath until he turns blue in an effort to get his way. Jonah was saying to God in effect, “I don’t want to live if I don’t get my way!”
Likewise, too many believers today have the attitude, “I don’t want to give if I don’t get my way.” When things aren’t done their way, they don’t want to give their time, or their talent, or their treasure to support God’s work. Like Jonah, they sideline themselves.
Too many congregations have had their doors closed because the focus of the people was more on themselves and their preferences than on the Lord and His purposes. Too many Christians are saying, “Give me what I want,” rather than asking “What does God want?”
God wants us to be focused on how we can partner with Him on mission to reach a lost world. But because of selfishness, many believers, and too many churches, have been sidelined, like Jonah was.
B. Jonah was petty - vs. 5-9
Jonah was angry that a worm caused a vine to wither that had provided him with some shade. Again, Jonah pouted and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” In verse 9, we find God asks a
second question: “Do you have the right to be angry about the vine?” The implication being that answer to the question was the same as before, “No.” But that wasn’t Jonah’s answer. Jonah revealed the pettiness of his heart when he says, “I do, I am angry enough to die!” Jonah was more concerned about a withered vine than he was about the will of God or the souls of his fellow man!
For too many believers today and for too many churches, the focus is on petty concerns rather than the priorities of God.
Mike Yaconelli, wrote an article called “The Tyranny of Trivia” in the January 1984 edition of The Wittenburg Door that still has relevance today. Allow me to share his insight with you.
There is something wrong with the organized church. You know it. I know it. We all see that something is wrong - drastically wrong. Just one semi-close look at the organized church - with its waning
influence, its corruption, and its cultural impotence - tells us that something has gone awry. But, the question is, what has gone awry? What is wrong?
I think I know. The problem with the church is not corruption. It is not institutionalism. No, the problem is far more serious than something like the minister running away with the organist. The problem is pettiness. Blatant pettiness.
The flower committee chairman has decided to quit because someone didn’t check with her before they put flowers on the altar last Sunday. The Chairman of the Board is angry because a meeting was held without his knowledge. The Woman’s Kitchen committee is up in arms because, at the last youth group meeting (which has mushroomed from 15 kids to 90 kids in six months), the kids took some sugar from the kitchen. The janitor is threatening to quit because the youth group played a game on the grass over the weekend, and now the lawn needs extra work.
I can understand each and every one of the gripes mentioned above. I also understand that the same general argument is always made for each one of these gripes: “If you don’t have order, you have chaos. It sounds like a little thing, but if everyone was allowed to do ‘____,’ think what that would mean.”
Ah, yes, think what it would mean. What would it mean? Probably nothing. And yet, in every church in this country, ministers, and church members - in the name of “what would this mean?” - are
running around trying to answer that very question. In other words, churches are so preoccupied with the petty, they can’t spend the time required to do what does matter. So, I would like to say what people in church leadership are apparently having a difficult time saying today: There is no excuse for pettiness in the Church. Pettiness should have no place at all in any church for any reason.
Petty people are ugly people. They are people who have lost their vision. They are people who have turned their eyes away from what matters and focused, instead, on what doesn’t matter. The result is that the rest of us are immobilized by their obsession with the insignificant. It is time to rid the church of pettiness. It is time the Church refused to be victimized by petty people. It is time the Church stopped ignoring pettiness. It is time the Church quit pretending that pettiness doesn’t matter.
Pettiness is a cancer that has been allowed to go undetected; a molehill that has been allowed to become a mountain. Pettiness has become a serious disease in the Church of Jesus Christ - a disease which continues to result in terminal cases of discord, disruption, and destruction.
Indeed, pettiness has threatened the health and brought about the death of many a church.
If we are not careful, we can become like Jonah, sidelining ourselves by being preoccupied with selfish and petty pursuits! May God have mercy on us and deliver us from ourselves! For we are often our own worst enemy!
Jonah acted as he did not only because of what was in his heart; but also because he was ignorant of the desire that is the heart of God.
2. God’s Heart - vs. 10-11
God told Jonah that while he was concerned about a vine that had sprung up and died overnight, God was concerned a city of more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who were in need of salvation. He then asked Jonah the third question, “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” The obvious answer to that question was “Yes!”
The answer was “yes” then and the answer is “yes” now. God is concerned about the salvation of mankind (2 Peter 3:9)! And if we are going to avoid being like Jonah, then we must allow God’s concern for a lost and dying world become our concern.
There was a man who played the part of Jesus in the a passion play. He played the part of Christ for several years. As he became older, people associated with the play became worried about him carrying a heavy wooden cross, and they suggested making a lighter cross out of fiberglass which would look like wood and be easier to carry across the stage. But the actor refused, insisting, “Unless I can feel the weight of the cross, I cannot play the part.”
In the same way, we need to “feel the weight of the cross!” We need to have our hearts pressed down with the burden that our heavenly Father has for those who are lost and without hope. I think, that is part of what Jesus meant when he said, “If any man come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me!” (Luke 9:23)
One of the problems with Christians today is that we have gotten used to the sound of marching feet on their way to a lost eternity! Like Jonah, we are wrapped up in our selfish and petty concerns that we no longer share God’s burden for a lost and dying world.
Instead, let’s ask God to forgive us for our selfishness and pettiness; and to impress upon us His burden for a lost world so that we might be on mission with Him and be the vibrant, world changing congregation God has in mind for us to be!