We are traveling pilgrims
In the Bible, Christians are described as sojourners, foreigners, or aliens. Like early American settlers, we travel over rivers, around mountains, across deserts, and through hunting grounds. In some seasons, we are migrants experiencing beauty, delight, and prosperity. At other times we are weary wanderers enduring seasons of danger, damage, and despair. However, we keep on moving. Day by day we travel forward, making progress towards our final destination. Our eyes are set on the Holy City. We can’t wait to get to the glorious city of sabbath rest being constructed by Jesus. Some of us have travelled for many years; we are so close we can almost hear the precious noise of the celestial city today.
We are city dwellers
As we travel towards the New Jerusalem, along the way we find ourselves taking refuge in various villages, towns, cities, and metropolises. Sometimes we reside in these locations for weeks and months. There are also times when we put down roots and stay put for decades.
Here are some questions to ponder?
How are we to think about our villages, towns, cities, and metropolises? As Christians who are heavenly minded, what ought be our affections and actions be towards our temporary towns? Should we be more unconcerned, uninvolved, and detached, or ought we be more integrated and intertwined in secular affairs? What role should our individuals churches play in our towns? As Christians longing for the City of God, what does good worship look like as we dwell in our various cities of man?
God, through Jeremiah, grants us answers.
Jeremiah 29:1-11 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon … Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 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. 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 … For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
We are sovereignly planted
Today, let us recognize the Sovereign Lord – for better and for worse — has placed us in our Babylon. We may not prefer our current location. We may hunger for another city. The government of our town may be pagan and foolish. However, let us keep this in mind, we are not in our current locations by mere cosmic chance or human decision. The Apostle Paul says “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” (Acts 17:26) Friends, today we are temporarily dwelling in our various places because our Heavenly Father has planted us here. Our towns may be glorious; they may be horrible; but know this for certain, our residence is intentionally decreed by our sovereign God.
We pursue personal prosperity
Christians are not to moan, grumble, and merely wait for the Lord’s rescue. There is to be no depressed squatting. No, Christians are to be ambitious and build things. Wisely and zealously they are to plant gardens and reap produce. They are to pursue fruitfulness, profitability, and prosperity. As Adam and Eve were commanded in the Garden of Eden, As Noah and his family were commanded upon Mt. Ararat, so too worshipers in Babel are to keep the Cultural Mandate. Worshiping disciples are to labor for buildings, bread, and babies. They are to pursue prosperity in the field and in the bedroom. Christians sin by intentionally decreasing or being apathetic. They worship well when they labor to increase according to the directive of God.
We pursue civil prosperity
Christians are not to be merely self-interested. They are not to be navel-gazers looking only to their own freedoms, own family, and personal financial condition.
Christians are not to be fearful separatists who isolate from the lost and huddle together in isolated communes.
Christians are not to be Gnostic spiritualists who despise that which is earthly and temporal. Yes, some have asked the question, “Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?” However, this question seems to be foolish given Jeremiah’s commands.
Today, in the place in which we dwell, we are to labor hard to build, to plant, to multiply, and to bless. We ought to be such good laborers that we are not a burden to the city. We ought to be such good laborers that like the Proverbs 31 Woman we have a surplus to willingly, mercifully, graciously, and lovingly give to others. Yes, I recognize that God makes some rich and others poor. I recognize that God gives and he takes away, but we are to be driven to worship well by pursuing increase. We can then bless our families. We can then bless our neighbors.
We ought also to birth physical children and disciple spiritual children who follow our lead and labor towards this end. The home and the church should be a place of multiplication. We are multiplying worshipers. We are multiplying workers. We are multiplying philanthropic missionaries who love their neighbors.
We should bless our city, not only with money, but with truth. Since we know the Wonderful Counselor, we ought to weave our way into the warp and woof our our city. Our leaders need wisdom to make good decisions, and we have the Book of truth.
We ought to be proponents of righteousness and justice. We ought to vote for just leaders. We ought to pursue just legislation. And our influence should be increasing and not decreasing.
And along with all our temporal blessings, we must be active in sharing the Gospel as well, for we cannot be satisfied with superficial and temporary blessings. We must be passionate to see our neighbors blessed thoroughly and forever.
It seems clear from both Jeremiah and Jesus that believers are to be aggressive agents of change. We are to be salt and light. The church is the “city on a hill” in the midst of Babylon or Rome. You see, there really are supposed to be social workers and community organizers passionate about granting undeserved assistance and welfare. Such agents are called Christians, and they are recognized by their giving of money, food, shelter, protection, encouragement, time, friendship, education, and the Gospel. Friends, God has a welfare plan — it is Christian families and churches acting like the Good Samaritan. It is Christians acting like Jesus Christ. After all …
We are recipients of God’s welfare
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel … When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:8-11)
We have not been industrious as we ought. We have harmed our families and our cities through our sins of commission and omission. We have not been upstanding citizens in the eyes of God. No, we have not performed well. We are dead-beats who deserve to reap that which we have sown. We have been thoroughly wicked and foolish. There are no entitlements owed us.
Yet, despite our sins, God has given us love, mercy, grace, blessings, and a future. His food is undeserved but so pleasant. His governmental housing plan is out of this world.
Jesus is not a Governor who loves worthy citizens. He cannot be, for there are none
No, Jesus is a Governor who bestows undeserved blessings upon the lowest of the low. We are the poor who deserve nothing but have received a never-ending stream of welfare. Everything we have is undeserved. We are nothing but ragamuffins destined to receive eternal welfare.
And now, because we have been so loved, because we are Christians, we find ourselves more and more interested in the welfare of ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and our city. This is supposed to be our internal passion, because this is the passion of Christ.
Come on materialistic rich people, let’s learn to hurt, love, and give. How many more barns do we need?
Come on conservatives, let’s fight for personal freedom and then be the most liberal in showing mercy and grace to those who deserve it not.
Come on church, let’s add some mercy ministry to our Sunday school.
Come on Christians, let’s get more involved in politics, clubs, schools, guilds, and anything else we can squeeze into. We are not to be separatists. We are not to be monks, nuns, or 21st century Fundamentalists.
Come on lazy people, let’s get to work. Can we not be satisfied mooching off our neighbors? Let’s honor Jesus by seeking to increase and not decrease.
Come on arrogant worshipers of Jesus. Let us quit thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. We are nothing more than impoverished citizens receiving undeserved welfare from God. And in the areas in which we have found success, what do we have that the Lord has not sovereignly sent our way? (I.e. Free Government, Good Economy, Faithful Parents, Solid Education, Fantastic Opportunities, Personal Skills, Profitability) Let us enjoy the good blessings of the Lord. Let us be humble, grateful, and give thanks. But never let us think we are getting that which we deserve. We are nothing but welfare recipients with eternal entitlements.