When God’s people were exiled in Babylon, God continued to speak to them. He instructed his servant Jeremiah to write a letter to His exiled people.
One word he wrote to them offered hope and assurance for their future:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:10-11).
But this word about their future was not meant to encourage a “just wait till it’s over” mentality. Instead, they were told to be active parts of ordinary life in their city of exile. They were actually directed by God to pursue the welfare of the city.
“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; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘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 have welfare’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
“Seek the welfare of the city”?
What did this involve? It was a call to reject postures of complacency and narratives of vindictiveness. Both would have been a temptation.
Their engagement for the good of the city was to characterize their presence and involvement in it. Yes, they were to pray “to the Lord on its behalf” and to affirm the truth that, “in its welfare you will have welfare.”
Rejecting the shelter mentality:
As an exiled people ourselves (Philippians 3:18-21; I Peter 2:11-12), it’s tempting to take a shelter mentality — to view this life as a hold over until the next life. But such a mindset is an abrogation of the call to be salt to the earth and light to the world.
Jesus taught that our influence of preservation and illumination is essential to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). It’s not so much a matter of duty as identity. “You are the salt; You are the light….” As we live our true identity, we will capture strategic places of influence like well lit cities on a hill.
In To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World,“ James Davison Hunter offered very helpful insights on this theme.
“…. there is a world that God created that is shared in common by believers and nonbelievers alike. In the classical Christian view, the goodness of creation is fundamentally and ubiquitously marred by sin but it is not negated by sin. It may be fractured, incomplete, and corrupted, but his goodness remains in it. The gifts of God’s grace are spread abundantly among the just and unjust in ways that support and enhance the lives of all. As it is in the world that God has given, so it is in the world that his creatures fashion. This work is also typically pursued in common with those outside the community of faith. The task of world-making has a validity of its own because it is work that God ordained to humankind at creation.”
“… any good that is generated by Christians is only the net effect of caring for something more than the good created. If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world, in other words, it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”
“…until God brings forth the new heaven and the new earth, he calls believers, individuals and as a community, to conform to Christ and embody within every part of their lives, the shalom of God. Time and again, St. Paul calls Christians to “shalom” (1 Cor. 7:15), to “follow after the things which make for shalom” (Rom. 14:19), to “live in shalom and the God of love and shalom will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11) for He is “the Lord of shalom” (2 Thess. 3:16). In this Christians are to live toward the well-being of others, not just to those within the community of faith, but to all.”
“… believers themselves are often found indifferent to and even derisive of expressions of truth, demonstrations of justice, acts of nobility, and manifestations of beauty outside of the church. Thus, even where wisdom and morality, justice and beauty exist in fragments or in corrupted form, the believer should recognize these as qualities that, in Christ, find their complete and perfect expression. The qualities nonbelievers possess as well as the accomplishments they achieve may not be righteous in an eschatological sense, but they should be celebrated all the same because they are gifts of God’s grace.” (see: Acts 14:14-17 and 17:24-29)
“As a backdrop to all of this, there is a natural life originating in creation and a natural order in things that can be understood, developed, and enjoyed. The dazzling processes of growth in a tree or a bug or a newborn baby, the intricacies of molecular biology, the stunning ordered-complexity of mathematics, and the underlying logic of music all speak of an order that God has created and that has not been effaced by the fall, that people can discover and take pleasure in as well. These things too, Christians should neither dismiss nor disparage but rather be grateful for and be delighted by because they are gifts of God’s grace meant for their benefit and the benefit of all.”
“Indeed, insofar as Christians acknowledge the rule of God in all aspects of their lives, their engagement with the world proclaims the shalom to come. Such work may not bring about the kingdom, but it is an embodiment of the values of the coming kingdom and is, thus, a foretaste of the coming kingdom. Even while believers wait for their salvation, the net effect of such work will be a contribution not only to the good of the Christian community but to the flourishing of all.”