Jeremiah 29:7 is a verse which is often used so as to encourage Christians to socially transform our communities. The verse reads Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
How are we to understand this verse?
Jeremiah is writing a letter to Jews who have been exiled from Jerusalem and are now in Babylon. False prophets have been instructing these exiles to set their hearts on getting back to Jerusalem because you will soon be back “home”. The Lord’s message through the letter of Jeremiah is that the people should settle down in Babylon and seek to live God glorifying effective lives in their new situation (see Jer. 29:5-7). God’s plans are to deliver them back to Jerusalem (see Jer. 29:10) in seventy years.
Jeremiah 29:7 is therefore part of a segment which is saying to the people live for God where you are. They are to live lives which are for the blessing of the community around. Two lessons that we can especially discern here then are:-
- Get on and live for God where you are now. Don’t get caught up in a “never-never land christianity”. A christianity which says that if I get into such and such a situation then I will live for God. Paul addresses this situation when he says to the Corinthians Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches (1 Cor. 7:17). This was to counteract a tendency to think if only my marital status was different or my social status was changed then I could live for God. No! God’s call is for the Jews in Babylon and it is for us right now, where we are, we are to get on and live for God.
- Christianity is not an insular religion. We are to think how we can bring blessing to others. We should be continually living in such a way as to seek to bring blessing into our communities. This focusses most profoundly in bringing eternal good into our communities. This eternal good comes when people embrace the gospel of our Lord Jesus. The great God we serve can use us to bring the gospel to our communities. This receiving of the message not only brings eternal blessing, but transforms lives now. We must not withdraw from our communities. Bringing eternal blessing is the primary thing, but bringing blessing generally is good. In fact there is a symbiosis between the two. Those who receive the gospel are transformed to live good lives which blesses tehir communities. And living good lives opens up opportunities to speak of the gospel.
The verse then is not specifically a call to campaign for, or to engineer social justice in our communities. Such may take place as each of us outwork our calling before God. However, if we learn to live for God now and desire the best for our communities then we will have learnt much.