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. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “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. – Jeremiah 29:1-7 (ESV)
We live in a fragmented and pluralistic culture. How should we engage the non-Christian culture that is all around us? Today’s passage brings us to a time when much of Israel had been dragged off to live in Babylon. How the LORD told them to live in Babylon has a great deal to teach us about how we should live in New England. (1) Wrong ways to respond: ASSIMILATION. Babylon’s basic strategy for dealing with the foreign nations within their empire was to encourage them to adopt Babylonian beliefs and practices. The name for this is assimilation. You will recall from reading Daniel that this included sending Israel’s best and brightest youth to Babylonian schools. Yet most of the forces that lead to assimilation are more subtle. They simply hold out the opportunity to get ahead in a new culture if you will only give up your own distinctive beliefs and practices to just fit in. Assimilation is so effective because it can be accomplished very gradually in steps that individually may seem insignificant. TRIBALISM. A second wrong way to respond was being advocated by the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day. They were telling Israel to band together and remain as separate from Babylonian society as possible. Furthermore, they were to approach Babylonian civilization as something to exploit for themselves while waiting for God to destroy the evil nation. One of the most basic choices we make in a relationship is between thinking that the OTHER is there for YOUR benefit or YOU are there for the OTHER’s benefit. The false prophets were encouraging Israel to choose the first option and to get as much as they could from those who had brought them into captivity. Perhaps the greatest attraction of this approach to relating to hostile culture is that it can “protect” us from the very real danger of being assimilated. Yet, God tells Israel that He wants them to do something else entirely. (2) God’s approach was to tell Israel to, “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.” That is, God wanted His people to maintain their identity as His people while living in the midst of Babylon and by seeking to be a blessing to Babylon. Let’s face it; this is really hard to do. We need resources that are far beyond our own in order to live this way. Thankfully God has given us these resources in Jesus Christ. We have been blessed to be a blessing even to our enemies. We must be in the world and not of it. Because we are Christ’s we must seek the welfare even of those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 33
Q. 33. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.