The Ecclesia in the Lamentations
In our previous section, we examined some of the verses that
prophetically portray Christ in the Lamentations. We know that the sufferings of
Christ are a pattern for us. We should never contemplate these sufferings
dispassionately, but rather we should enter as intimately as possible into their
Paul spoke of himself as suffering on behalf of the brethren
at Colosse -- for which they rejoiced (Col 1:24). He spoke also of both himself
and the Colossians "filling up that which is behind ('completing that which is
lacking' --RSV) of the afflictions of Christ... for his body's sake, which is
the ecclesia." It seems an extraordinary, even an impossible idea -- that
Christ's "perfect" sacrifice is still lacking something! Yet it is true. We, who
constitute the "body" of Christ, must fill up the measure of the crucifixion of
the flesh with its lusts and desires. We, the "body", must finish what Christ
the "head" began!
"For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation
('comfort' -- RSV) also aboundeth by Christ... (and if) we be
afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the
enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer... and our hope of you is
steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be
also of the consolation" (2Co
We the apostles, says Paul, suffer because Christ our Lord and
Master suffered. And we suffer because we know it is the only pathway to the
comforts, the consolations, of his kingdom. And so, Paul continues, 'we set you,
the believers, a pattern for your own lives. We desire that you will follow in
our steps -- not because we enjoy seeing your afflictions -- but rather because,
for you as for us, the cross must precede the crown, and it is only through
tribulation that any of us shall become as our Lord and enter his
Why else must we endure trials as followers of
"For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we
experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we
despaired of life itself. Why, we felt we had received the sentence of
How could a merciful God, Who knows and even controls all our
circumstances permit a man like Paul -- or any other child of His -- to fall
into such distress?
"... But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who
raises the dead; He delivered us from so deadly a peril, and He
will deliver us; on Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us
again" (2Co 1:8-10, RSV).
Such a paradox, and yet it is true! Our weaknesses help us
draw closer to an All-powerful God; our failures bind us more tightly to One who
"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is
made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my
infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take
pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in
distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2Co
We can scarcely leave this example of Paul without considering
one further passage:
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea
doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge
of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do
count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine
own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of
Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the
power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made
conformable unto his death" (Phi
Saul the Pharisee was an accomplished man, "righteous",
ambitious, proud. He had intelligence, wealth, and an exalted position -- all at
a young age. The world was his! But all those things that were "gain" to him,
all the "pluses" on the balance sheet of his life, all these he gladly threw
over -- so that he might follow Christ. For Paul the Apostle, there came to be
only one ambition in life: "to know Christ".
But surely (one may ask) this Paul, with 30-odd years "in the
Truth", already knew Christ? So why does he express his desire in such a
way -- "that I may know Christ"? It is because "knowing Christ" is a
lifetime's goal; there is no plateau where the traveller may safely stop and
pitch his tent! To "know" Christ is to know the power of his resurrection, which
is, as one brother expressed it, "the moral and spiritual
implications of Christ's death and resurrection". To "know" Christ is to be made
"conformable to his death", being buried with him in baptism, and then ever
after being dedicated to reproducing the life of Christ in one's own life, in
putting to death the lusts of the flesh. To "know" Christ is to be a partaker of
his sufferings -- this is true and Biblical "fellowship"; it is not easy,
but it is the only worthwhile goal of all human existence: "to know Christ and
the fellowship of his sufferings".
Accepting this as our challenge in life, is there anything in
the book of Lamentations that exhorts and encourages us along that
The Judah of Jeremiah's day was a nation that appeared
to worship God. They pointed to their services in pride -- their deeds of
"righteousness" were numerous. But their hearts were not in that worship!
It was all a vain show and a pretence!
"Trust ye not in lying words, saying ye are the 'temple' of the LORD...
Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and
commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after
other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before Me in this house, and
say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is
called by My Name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?" (Jer 7:4,
They were thieves, because they stole service from God. They
spent time and money on that which catered to their own lusts, and justified it
all by standing periodically in the Temple and "singing" their own
righteousness. What hypocrisy! What vanity! What blindness! But are their
shortcomings so much greater than ours, that we can afford to feel confident
with the comparison?
"Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let
the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but
let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that
I am the LORD which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in
the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD" (Jer 9:23,
Judah was materialistic, infatuated with "the world", ever
seeking more and more money, more and more pleasure, more and more power --
"children" in their "playpens", oblivious to the impending storm. The time of
testing came for God's ecclesia, in the days of Jeremiah, and they
We will fail also, when our time of testing comes, if
we have not used these peaceful, prosperous times to study, to pray, to work for
God, and to prepare ourselves for what is surely coming on the earth.
Can we sec ourselves -- the Ecclesia of God -- in
1:2:         "She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are
on her cheeks: Among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: All her
friends have dealt treacherously with her. They are become her
Who are our "lovers" and "friends"? What do we
trust in? Our bank accounts? Our homes? Our retirement plans? Our insurance
policies?... Or God?
Israel trusted in Gentile alliances, and thought they would
give her security. But they deserted her. And when it was too late, she
discovered God had deserted her too!
"Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in
the abundance of the things which he possesseth... Seek ye the kingdom of God...
sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a
treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither
moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also"
(Luke 12:15, 31, 33, 34).
Israel's Gentile alliances had been her undoing. We must guard
against similar alliances (2Co 6:14-18). Perhaps the most insidious of such
"unequal yokings" are those that masquerade as prudence and diligence in
business, and "commendable" ambitions to "get ahead" in education and material
things and work promotions. All of these can dull our spiritual sensibilities as
surely and quickly as alien courtship and marriage, or the grosser forms of
"worldliness" -- because they too force us to become more a part of this
world than we need be.
2:10: "The elders of the daughter of Zion sit
upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they
have girded themselves with sackcloth".
A sorrowful picture, of mourning and despondency. We are
reminded of a recent circular letter, signed by a number of English brethren,
lamenting the apathetic attitude of the brotherhood. This apathy is reflected,
they say, in Bible reading decline, lack of campaign workers, lack of personal
witnessing, ever-increasing materialism, declining contributions to the work of
the Truth, and falling standards in dress and entertainment. What can be done?
Is it already too late? When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the
earth? A "storm" is coming, that will sweep away the "refuge of lies", the
"houses" built on the shifting sands of materialism, and the pseudo-disciples
who cry, "Lord, Lord".
3:19-21: "Remembering mine affliction and my misery...
my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to
my mind, therefore have I hope."
Perhaps our salvation--as a community--will only come through
the afflictions of the last days, which are even now looming on the horizon.
Trials and afflictions, financial set-backs, and even persecution might
accomplish for us what peace and prosperity have not -- that is, humble
repentance and rededication and trust in God alone, before it is too
3:22: "It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not
consumed, because His compassions fail not."
The trials, when they come, will not be for our destruction,
if we repent. The trials will serve to turn us back to God, as we in our
weakness and ineptitude recognize the only Source of hope and trust.
His compassions then will be like the manna in the wilderness,
"new every morning" (v 23). When our bank accounts and our careful plans
for tomorrow have all failed, then we may really learn how to pray, "Give
us this day our daily bread", and how to say, "If the Lord will,
we will do such-and-such." When the very fabric of our society begins to
crumble, and there is literally no place to hide, then--if not before --
we may learn to say, with sincerity: "The LORD is my portion... therefore
will I hope in Him" (v 24).
3:27: "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke
in his youth."
All these lessons must not be lost on the young, especially.
When we are young, we can lay the solid foundations that will sustain us in the
years ahead, when trials and hard times and illness will come (Eccl 12:1). But
if we squander the opportunities of our youth, we have no guarantees -- there
may be no second or third chances.
3:31-33: "For the LORD will not cast off for ever: But
though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of
His mercies. For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of
We may be assured that God will cause us grief to chasten us
-- so that we might examine, and then amend, our ways. When that chastening
comes, will we submit and learn thereby, or will we instead complain? "Wherefore
doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" (v
We are even now "alive in Christ" (Eph 2:13; Gal 2:20).
We are even now God's children, and our future will be wonderful beyond
imagining (1Jo 3:1-3). How could we, of all people, ever complain, even
in the midst of trials -- which, as Paul says, are no more than light and
momentary afflictions (2Co 4:17)?
5:1-4: Is it far-fetched to suppose that, in His mercy,
God might bring such reproaches on His Ecclesia before it is too late? Loss of
homes and wealth, break-up of families, destitution... But the flesh's failure
can become the Spirit's successes. And if we as God's children need the lesson
reinforced that we are still "strangers and pilgrims" on the earth, with no
permanent dwelling-place, and no "fine prospects" in this wicked generation --
then, most assuredly, God will see that it is done.
Jeremiah's assistant, Baruch, provides an interesting example.
Baruch was a faithful servant of God, but (like us?) he was not above a bit of
petty grumbling. His complaint (and remember, every complaint is really a
complaint against God!) went like this:
"Woe is me now! For the LORD hath added grief to my sorrow;
Baruch was very much like most of us. He wanted to have his
cake, and eat it too. He wanted to see God's purpose fulfilled in the earth, but
he wanted a good measure of personal comfort in the meanwhile. In short, he
wanted God and "mammon"! God's answer to Baruch was blunt:
I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest" (Jer
"Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and
that which I have planted I will pluck up" (v 4).
Do you think, God said, that everything in this age should
minister to your comfort? I have greater purposes to accomplish, and you are
just one small piece of a large operation. Do you expect that I'm going to shake
the foundations of your world, and topple all worldly institutions, while you
"And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for,
behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I
give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest" (v
So it will be for us, brothers and sisters. We live at the end
of an age, on the brink of a volcano. A time of testing is coming, to prepare us
for Christ's return, and to teach us that we can place no trust in anything
around us, but only in God. Do we seek "great things" for ourselves in this
crumbling world? It is already too late. Let us pray God to spare only
Do we seek comfort now? It is a delusion. Do we somehow have
the idea we can recline in our easy chairs and stare at our wide-screen color
televisions, until the limousine comes to take us away to the kingdom? It is not
to be, and the sooner we are rid of such fantasies the better!
"And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged
with surfeiting, and drunkedness, and cares of this life, and so that day come
upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the
face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be
accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to
stand before the Son of man" (Luke