Ask for the Ancient Paths

Crossroads

Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it”’” (Jeremiah 6:16).

Jeremiah received a warning from God which he was to deliver to the people – Jerusalem was going to be destroyed! They were going to be punished for their sin since they had departed from the Lord and His ways. In the verse above, the Lord issued a final call for them to return, but they refused.

The Scriptures teach that it is possible for God’s people to fall away today (1 Timothy 4:1). How does this happen? And if we do fall away, how can we return to the “ancient paths”?

How Do God’s People Depart?

How did the people of Jerusalem get themselves into such a state of apostasy? It is important to understand this, because it is the same way we allow ourselves to get carried away by sin and error.

  • They closed their ears to the word – “To whom shall I speak and give warning that they may hear? Behold, their ears are closed and they cannot listen. Behold, the word of the Lord has become a reproach to them; they have no delight in it” (Jeremiah 6:10). Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8). Sadly, too many do not want to listen. They want to “have their ears tickled” (2 Timothy 4:3) and listen to a message of their choosing since they “have no delight” in the word of God. Yet if we are not willing to listen to God’s word, we cannot be saved because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
  • They followed what was popular – “For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely” (Jeremiah 6:13). The prophets and priests were “greedy for gain.” Micah described their mentality: “Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe, her priests instruct for a price and her prophets divine for money” (Micah 3:11). How can religious leaders/teachers guarantee their own monetary gain? They deliver the message that pleases the people (2 Timothy 4:3). Too many people, when they encounter “a difficult statement” in God’s word (John 6:60), will abandon it. This even happened when Jesus taught with the result that “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66).
  • They ignored sin – “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). The false prophets declared “peace” while God’s prophet declared “a great destruction” because of their “abomination” (6:1, 15). In the first century, the church in Corinth ignored sin in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). Yet Paul warned that this was dangerous because “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (1 Corinthians 5:6). The influence of sin would spread and would cause further trouble in the future.
  • They lost their sense of shame – “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be cast down” (Jeremiah 6:15). They became “seared in their own conscience” (1 Timothy 4:2). When one no longer feels guilt for sin, there is no motivation to repent.

When we do these things, we will inevitably depart from the “ancient paths.

What Are the Ancient Paths?

If we are to walk in the “ancient paths” today, we need to know what they are. First of all, let us notice what would not be considered the “ancient paths”:

  • Not the Old Testament – In the context of this passage, the people were called back to the Law of Moses; yet that is not the law for us today. Later in this book, Jeremiah prophesied of “a new covenant” that would replace the one that was in place at that time (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Paul explained that this law had been “nailed…to the cross” (Colossians 2:14) and those “who are seeking to be justified by law…have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
  • Not just anything done in the past – What was done in the past may have been wrong. The apostle Paul’s past included persecuting Christians (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:13) – something he did with a “perfectly good conscience before God” (Acts 23:1). Yet he was wrong.
  • Not what parents have done – For some, following the Lord puts them at odds with their parents. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matthew 10:34-36). If our parents did not follow Christ, then we must not go back to following the way they have gone.
  • Not what brethren of previous generations have done – Brethren in previous generations proclaimed a noble goal to “speak where the Bible speaks.”* Yet our standard is the Bible, not those who claimed to follow the Bible. Just because brethren of earlier generations believed, taught, or practiced something does not necessarily mean we are to continue in them. We are to “observe those who walk according to the pattern” (Philippians 3:17) and follow their example to the extent that they have faithfully conformed to the pattern found in God’s word. Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). The implication was that they were to imitate Paul only when he imitated Christ since they were to be followers of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12-13).

It is tempting to follow these things, but they are not the standard we must follow. The “ancient paths” are found in the word of God. That is the standard we must follow. Paul told Timothy, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me” (2 Timothy 1:13, NKJV). This is “where the good way is” since the gospel is good news and God’s word equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

How Do We Return?

The people were told, “Ask for the ancient paths…and walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16). Earlier we noticed what was done to depart from these paths. In order to return, we need to do the opposite.

  • Open our ears to God’s word – Again, Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8). We have to be willing to listen and be like the Bereans who were “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). The “things” they were checking were those things taught by Paul. They wanted to know what the Scriptures said to see if Paul’s teaching matched what was revealed in God’s word.
  • Reject the popular way – Jesus explained that there is a broad way “that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” and a “narrow [way] that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Given where the “broad way” leads, we should not want to follow the way that is popular with the majority; we should follow the way that is right.
  • Recognize sin for what it is – John defined sin as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Since it is contrary to God’s law, the wages it brings is death (Romans 6:23). Sin is not something to be taken lightly.
  • Mourn over sin – If we recognize the terribleness of sin, we will naturally mourn over the sin we have committed. This causes one to return to the Lord. Paul explained this to the church in Corinth: “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Therefore, we are to “cleanse [our] hands…and purify [our] hearts… Be miserable and mourn and weep…” (James 4:8-9). Sin is not something to celebrate or tolerate, it is something to be rejected.

Conclusion

The people of Jerusalem were presented with a choice – continue in their apostasy or return to the ancient paths. Sadly, they chose apostasy.

We must also make a choice – to follow the “ancient paths” or not. Following these paths today – found in the way of Christ – leads to rest (Matthew 11:29); but we must be willing to follow His word and do what He has instructed us to do (Hebrews 5:9).

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* Thomas Campbell: “Where the Bible Speaks, We Speak; Where the Bible Is Silent, We Are Silent”


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