We're all familiar with the basic story of Jonah.
Countless sermons based on the story of Jonah have been preached in churches worldwide. This famous story has been studied and analyzed for millenia and an untold number of spiritual lessons have been gleaned from Jonah. In this article, I'd like to focus on one lesson in particular.
When Jonah fled from the Lord's command, he went to Joppa where he paid the fare and boarded a ship bound for Tarshish. God caused a terrifying storm to descend upon the seas and because of Jonah's sin, the mariners were in danger. Because of his presence, these innocent men were threatened by God's wrath.
When the mariners discovered that Jonah was the cause of the chaos, they "were exceedingly afraid" and they rebuked him (1:10). Jonah told them to throw him overboard into the choppy waves, but they refused. "Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not" (vs. 13). Rather than listen to the prophet's instructions, they sought a more "merciful" solution. How cruel it must have seemed to throw a man overboard into the sea!
And yet when all of their resources were exhausted, they finally "picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea (1:15). Guess what happened? "The sea ceased from its raging." When they did what had to be done, not only were their own lives saved, but Jonah, despite three days of discomfort in the belly of the fish, repented and was spiritually secure once more.
What's the lesson for us?
We're commanded in 1 Corinthians 5 to remove fellowship from brethren who have reverted to a life of sin. Like the mariners, we're instructed to remove the guilty, unrepentant party from our presence - to throw them overboard, so to speak. After all, "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (1 Cor. 5:6).
But like the mariners, many churches see these instructions as inherently cruel. So instead of doing what God has commanded, they look for other, more merciful alternatives. Sometimes, the command of 1 Corinthians 5 is completely ignored while at other times obedience is postponed. All the while the storm is raging and innocent Christians are placed in greater peril.
Dear reader, it is only when we obey God's instructions that the storm will be abated. Just as it wasn't cruel for the mariners to throw Jonah overboard, neither is it cruel for us to publically remove fellowship from the disorderly brother/sister. Not only are our spiritual lives preserved, but the unrepentant Christian may just come to their senses and repent. Sometimes, it takes such discomfort and heartache to open one's eyes and spur positive change.
The question really is: do we trust God's wisdom? Or do we think that our way is better? The short book of Jonah answers this question for us in such a thought-provoking manner.