We live in the midst of a Christian cultural environment that has somehow bought the lie that we should disconnect ourselves from this world, that faith doesn’t mix with politics, and that Christians should just focus on religious stuff within the confines of the walls of our churches and homes, and ultimately leave the world to its own devices.
This is a dangerous position for Christians to be in. I don’t see this reflected anywhere in scripture. This isn’t a mindset early Christians embraced, or the Jewish people embraced in the Old Testament, and it certainly isn’t a mindset that God encouraged us to have.
Christians are quick to quote 1 Peter 2:11 and call out the fact that as Christians in a godless world we are exiles and sojourners (foreigners/travelers), therefore we are just here for a moment. Other believers lean heavily on scriptures like Philippians 3:20 that refer to Christians as “citizens of heaven” rather than “citizens of the earth”. All in an attempt to support their isolationist view of Christians in a godless world.
But in quoting these passages, they have ignored what God commanded his people (Israel) in Jeremiah 29 to do as exiles and foreigners in Babylon. If we want a better understanding of how we Christians should be engaged in this modern world as exiles and foreigners (as the people of God that we are….just as Israel was God’s people) then we need to see what God told Israel to do as exiles and foreigners in Babylon.
You see, I think a lot of Christians ignore Jeremiah 29 because they have also bought the lie that the Old Testament (OT) is not relevant to New Testament (NT) Christians, except for the fact that the Old Testament was the Bible that Jesus and the early church actually had. Jesus often referred back to the OT to make connections to what He was preaching, teaching, and demonstrating in the NT. He didn’t disconnect the two.
They work as ONE!
You cannot understand or accurately apply NT principles without understanding OT principles.
You can’t fully understand what Jesus did in the NT without understanding what happened in the OT.
You can’t fully grasp the place of grace and law if you don’t understand the place of grace and law in the OT.
We must go back to the OT. We need to see how and what God said to His people concerning their exile in the OT so we can understand how we as God’s people and as Christian “exiles” (the NT church) should function in our modern world.
Which is exactly what I want to do in the next few paragraphs. As my pastor often says, “I’m trying to help you connect some dots here.” So follow along with me as we take a brief but important look at an often overlooked chapter of the Bible…Jeremiah 29. HERE WE GO!
Specifically we are going to look at verses 4 through 7 – and remember, read this with the perspective that the exiles are Christians (God’s chosen people) and that Babylon is whatever modern context we live in:
Jeremiah 29:4-7 ESV
4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
While we are exiles as Christians in this time and place – and while we do have a citizenry in a heavenly kingdom…God has commanded us to be in this world where he has placed us….not just sitting around on our behinds, twiddling our thumbs, and waiting for him to return…but to be active in everything around us until He comes for us.
Later in verse 10 God tells his people that He is returning for them, but that it will be 70 years. 70 YEARS!! That’s no walk in the park. As Christians today, we too are awaiting His return for us. It’s definitely been more than 70 years (over 2,000 actually). And we do not know when He will return, but we know He is returning. But he isn’t returning to a Church that is sitting on it’s hands.
Let’s pick this apart:
Verse 5: Build houses, plant gardens, eat the gardens food.
TRANSLATION: Put in some roots….plan to stay a while…and provide for yourselves accordingly (shelter, food, jobs, things you need to live).
God didn’t tell the people to throw up some tents (temporary housing)…he said to BUILD houses (permanent housing). They were going to be there a while. The homes they were going to need would need to last 70 years!!! He also told them to plant gardens and eat the fruit of the garden…and any novice gardener knows that it takes time to grow a garden, and it takes time before you see the “fruit of your labors”.
In other words, God was telling his people to prepare themselves to be able to provide for their family. This wasn’t going to be accomplished if they had a mindset that they weren’t going to be there very long or that they should just disconnect from being engaged with the people and place of Babylon.
This doesn’t mean we let Babylonian systems and beliefs influence us…but rather that we should be actively influencing the Babylonian beliefs and systems. God didn’t once tell them to compromise what he had shown them to be true. But He exiled them there for a purpose, and commanded them to engage.
Verse 6: Take wives for yourselves and have children, find spouses for your children when they grow up, have grandchildren….don’t stop having children and grandchildren!
TRANSLATION: Build your family tree. Create for them an environment to be raised in. An environment that honors God.
God didn’t tell them, “Don’t have children. Don’t bring them into this world. This is only a temporary setting, and you don’t want to get too settled.”No, he said “Be fruitful and multiply…have kids and grandkids.” It seems kind of silly for God to encourage them to keep having kids and grandkids if they were only going to be there for a moment.
I’ve actually heard out of the mouths of many Christians – “I don’t want to bring any children in to this world. Besides, God could come any day for us.” That’s not what God commandd his people to do. He doesn’t want us to just stop having kids because hey….he might come back tomorrow and this world is a terrible place. No…he wants us to have kids…to populate where we are….to train them up as they should go….to see our families become the influencers in our society.
Verse 7: Work toward peace and prosperity within the city you live. Pray for peace and prosperity for that city. When the city has peace and prosperity, so will you.
TRANSLATION: Get involved with the workings of the city. Government. Relationships. Bring your biblical worldview to the city because you know that only through God and God alone will there be peace and prosperity for your city and for your family.
This is EXACTLY why Daniel didn’t turn down becoming a governor (for a lack of a better word) in the Babylonian empire. And he absolutely used his biblical worldview to impact the policies and government and society that governed his daily life. When other government officials challenged him by having the king outlaw prayer…he went back to his home and prayed in the window where all could see him. He ended up in a lions den, but in the end he was spared and the ones who rose up against him were the ones who were killed by the lions….not Daniel. And the king saw the error of his ways.
All of these things – homes, gardens, families, relationships, governments, jobs, etc….God was telling his people (Israel…US!) that they (we) need to get involved…to get engaged with the people and place He had exiled them to. Why? Because of exactly what verse 7 says:
Jeremiah 29:7 ESV
7 But seek (actively work toward) the welfare (peace/prosperity) of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare (peace/prosperity) you will find your welfare (peace/prosperity).
So church….read the whole counsel (Bible) of God with New Testament eyes. You’ll be surprised what you may discover and how it applies to our own modern context.
Do not disengage.
Do not just settle for the supposed “lesser of two evils” mindset in anything (especially politics).
God didn’t call us to settle. He called us to engage.
To be salt and light. To flavor this world. To bring light to darkness. To be the influencers of our cities and states and nations.
This won’t happen if we just sit on our hands and ignore the whole counsel of God.