“Then I said, “Lord God, please stop! How will Jacob survive since he is so small?” The Lord relented concerning this. “This will not happen either,” said the Lord God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What good is the church? If the church suddenly disappeared from the world, would it make any difference? If you count yourself a follower of Jesus, your knee-jerk anger to that is probably a quick, “Absolutely it would!” but think about it a little more than that. Make it personal. If you are a church person, if your church suddenly vanished from its community, would anyone notice? Unfortunately, for many churches, the answer is no. Yet God intends for His people to have a transformatively significant impact on the world around them. Amos gives us an example of that here.
The people of Israel were ripe for judgment. They were deeply involved in idolatry and their culture was bearing the bitter fruits of it. Injustice was everywhere. The poor were trampled on by the rich. Those responsible for bringing justice were on the take from those who wanted to see it avoided. There was violence and sexual immorality everywhere you looked. They participated in pagan worship practices that were detestable to God like offering their own children as burnt offerings to appease the gods. They were utterly indistinguishable from the original people of the land the Lord had driven out before them in judgment for their heinous sins. In short, they had it coming.
And Amos had been telling them it was coming. Over and over he warned the people of God’s impending judgment. They were going to be destroyed if they didn’t shape up and turn around. Here, though, things finally got real. Amos had a vision of the kind of judgment God intended to bring on them. In fact, he had more than one vision of it. He had a series of seven visions of judgment.
The first two of these, which we see in this chapter (there are actually three here, but I’m only focusing on the first two in this post), were particularly bad. They left Amos disturbed and shaken. He agreed the people deserved punishment. He was actually prophesying to a people who weren’t his own. They may have been cousins, but he was from Judah and was serving the Lord in Israel to the north. The two nations had the particularly bitter rivalry that only family can create. Amos should have been glad to see them finally get what was coming. But not like this.
The Lord showed him a vision of a locust invasion that left the land completely devastated. No plant was left alive. The people would all starve to death in the wake of this awful plague. It was more than he could take so he pleaded with the Lord to stop it, to not let it happen. He begged for mercy for the people. And the Lord heard and agreed. He relented from sending the disaster.
Then, the Lord showed him another vision. This time of a fire that consumed the land and left nothing in its wake. If anything, this was even worse than the last one. Again, Amos interceded on behalf of the people and begged the Lord not to do it. And yet again, the Lord relented and changed His course.
And I know our tendency is to read things like this and move on, but I urge you not to do that here. Consider well what happened here. God was going to bring judgment on a whole nation—a justly deserved judgment at that (not that He ever brings judgment that is undeserved since He is perfectly just)—one man stood in the gap, pleading with Him to stop, and He did. One man saved the nation from the awful fate they unwittingly faced. One faithful individual saved the life of a whole country.
Now, we’re not Israel. If you are reading this in some other country than my own, you are not Israel either (unless of course you are in Israel reading this, but even then you’re not this same Israel). And the church doesn’t stand in the same place as prophets like Amos occupied. All that means is we cannot draw any kind of a one-to-one correspondence here between us and them.
Jesus did say that His followers are to be salt and light in this world. We are to be light. We are to show the way by our example and proclamation to the path which leads to life. We are to help the people around us who are walking in the darkness of sin see their sin for what it really is and what are the glories of walking in the light as He is in the light. We are to be a source—the only source actually—of real beauty and variety in the world; that is, we are to be the means by which the world around us can see the beauty that God designed into it.
We are to be salt. We are to enhance the flavor of the world, to bring out and highlight the goodness of God in it. And we are to be a preservative for it. We are to be the thing that keeps it from spoiling. This is the point on which we do occupy the same space as Amos. Because of our presence in it, the world should be a better place.
Because of the church, there are evil things in the world that should not happen any longer. Because of the church, hopelessness should be driven from the lives of those who were once living firmly in its grasp. Because of the church, justice should be done for the widow and the orphan, for the immigrant and refugee. Because of the church, victims of sexual immorality should be given new life and hope. Because of the church, marriages should be strengthened and preserved from tragedy. Because of the church, children should be given a chance at a successful life they would not have otherwise known.
In other words: the church should matter. The world should look differently than it would otherwise because we are in it. So then, reflect on the question again: If your church vanished suddenly from its community, would anyone notice? If your answer—and also the answer from your community—is not a resounding yes, then you’ve got work to do. It’s time to get to it.