Jeremiah 29:7. Does this apply to the church today?

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. -Jeremiah 29:7

How many times have you seen this verse quoted in such a way to encourage Christians to serve and love the city in which they reside? Let’s just say “a lot.”

The question must be asked, “do the words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah to the Jewish exiles in 600 B.C. really apply to the church today? And if so, how?” 

exileSo why should we apply the exhortations of Jeremiah 29 to the church today? In the Bible, we see the people of God living in three configurations. From Abraham’s day onward, God’s people existed as an extended biological family. From the days of Moses, they exited as a nation-state, with laws and a king and an army to enforce those laws by civil sanctions. During the exile, however, God’s people existed as a dispersed fellowship of congregations (synagogues) living in many different nation-states. God’s law did not take a civil form during that period-the disobedient were expelled from the congregation, but they were not executed.

After the exile, the Jews went back to being a nation-state. Yet the New Testament does not envision the Christian church in this way. Instead, it shows that the church continues to exist as a dispersion of people from every nation under heaven (Acts 2), just as Israel did in the exile (see Jas 1:1, Peter 1:1). Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the church should continue to the human cities of our time, not as the people of God did under Abraham, Moses, or David, but as they did during the time of the exiles.” P.147-148, Center Church

Peter clearly tells us that as the church today we are called to live as exiles (1 Peter 2:11-12). One of the problems I see today is that many Christians are not taking the tone or posture of an exile, rather they are living as if they are in a position of power. Perhaps the post-Christian culture that we are living in today is going to force us to let go of the facade of being in a position of power and instead embrace the reality that God has called us to live as exiles for the good of the city/suburbs in which we reside. 

What does it look like when we live as if we are in a position of power?

  • We seek to impose our “rules” on society.
  • We come across as arrogant and angry.
  • We are shocked and outraged when others do not submit to our “rules”.
  • We end up putting too much hope and faith in politicians for the transformation of society.
  • Unfortunately we stop looking and sounding like Jesus

What does it look like when we live as exiles?

  • We listen to and serve people in our culture because we realize that we are not in a position of power.
  • We don’t assume that culture will play by our rules. Instead, we show them an alternative way to live. The way of Love.
  • Our tone and posture is less militant and more sacrificial and compassionate. Quoting John piper, “This is my main point: being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. Where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying “good riddance” to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate.”
  • We don’t hate culture, we see our role as salt (redemption) and light within culture.
  • We walk in the ways of Jesus (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 20:28) and truly reflect the gospel to the world around us.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? -Psalm 137:4

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. –1 Peter 2:11-12

The Pastor’s Justification (Pastoral Swagger)

“The Pastor’s Justification”. Chapter 3-The Humble Pastor

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to your elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. (1 Pet.5:5-6)

John Stott writes this about pride and the pastor

Pride is without doubt the chief occupational hazard of the preacher. It has ruined many, and deprived their ministry of power…In some it is blatantly obvious. They are exhibitionists by temperament and use the pulpit as a stage on which they show off…Other preachers are not like Nebuchadnezzars, however, for their pride does not take the form of blatant boastfulness. It is more subtle, more insidious, and even more perverse. For it is possible to adopt an outward demeanor of great meekness, while inside our appetite for applause is insatiable. 

As you can see from the above tweet, I fully recognize what Stott is saying about the more subtle form of pride. It is alive and well in me!

Wilson goes on to write about four ways that pastors can be humbled (willingly or unwillingly)

  1. Humbled in suffering. It is sometimes easy to pick out the pastor who has never gone through any serious affliction. He has a swagger. It is not always the case that the proud pastor has never suffered anything, but we are then left to wonder what his suffering taught him and if he is even a Christian at all.
  2. Humbled in messy ministry. For a pastor to become a man who seeks humility, he will need to stay on the front lines of messy ministry. He will continually seek to get in over his head with people in need. Humility will be hard for the pastor who locks himself away in his office and does not get involved in the daily affairs of his people.
  3. Humbled in prayer. When we cease praying for ourselves, it is because we think we are the captians of our destinies. When we cease praying for our church, it is because we think we can manage it quite well. When we cease praying in our sermon preparation, it is because we think our words are the power of salvation to all who believe.
  4. Humbled in the Word. Do we know the Bible or have we been captured by it? John Piper writes, In essence it happened like this: I was 33 years old. I had two children and a third on the way. As I studied Romans 9 day after day, I began to see God so majestic and so free and so absolutely sovereign that my analysis merged into worship and the Lord said in effect, “I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My soveriegnty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded. It is not the grist for the mill of controversy, it is the gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will.” This is when Bethlehem contacted me near the end of 1979. And I do not hesitate to say that because of Romans 9 I left teaching and became a pastor.