“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord…”
Can you complete that verse from memory? Many Christians can. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most referenced verses from the Old Testament. If you’re not as familiar with this weekly Christian radio “verse of the day,” it ends like this:
“…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
On Sunday we looked at the original biblical context of this famous verse. It is quoted by Jeremiah in the middle of a letter that he sent to the people of God who were exiled in Babylon. In the initial context this verse is a part of God’s promise to guide, provide for, and not abandon his people, though they feel far from him in the city where they find themselves outsiders. This verse ultimately looks forward to Jesus, who will provide the access to God who promised two verses later: “if you seek me, you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
Why did God’s people need this promise?
The thrust of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon is an attempt to correct the lies coming from false prophets who were telling them to get ready to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem. They were advocating a number of mentalities that were not God-ordained. They were telling God’s people to remain antagonistic toward Babylon, because God was about to “break the yoke of Babylon from their neck.”
Jeremiah said just the opposite. This was his instruction to God’s people in exile:
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.
Timothy Keller, in his book Center Church, brings out the parallels between the people of Israel in Babylon and the people of God in the church, called by NT authors “exiles and sojourners.”
“During the exile, Israel no longer existed in the form of a nation-state with a government and laws. Instead, it existed as a countercultural fellowship contained within other nation-states. In many ways, this is also the form of the NT church…Their primary allegiance was to another country, and that country’s culture was formative for their beliefs and practices. Yet they lived in their country of residence as full participants in its life. In other words, “resident aliens” lived neither as natives nor as tourists. Though they were not permanently rooted, neither were they merely travelers who were just passing through.”
In order to “seek the welfare (peace, prosperity, and wholeness) of the city,” God’s people must avoid at least 4 wrong mentalities that can easily creep in.
- Escapism: The church is a place to escape from the city/culture.
- Isolationism: The church is to be an isolated self-sustaining entity walled off from the city/culture.
- Combative posture: The church builds an isolated community within the city/culture that is hostile toward the culture.
- Assimilation: For the sake of “seeking the welfare” of the city, the church loses its identity as the people of God (for instance, by redefining out the gospel or neglecting Scripture).
The promise of God’s protection and provision realized in Jesus Christ sustains God’s people in exile. We can seek the peace and prosperity of a city and/or culture that remains hostile toward us because the gospel has made us whole.
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
 Timothy Keller, Center Church, 146.