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 what they 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. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream.”
Recently a friend and I were lamenting the coarseness and seeming decline of the culture. As we wondered what it meant for people wanting to faithfully follow Jesus, my friend observed: “We do not have the home-court advantage any longer.” I thought those words of my friend nailed it. The secular, relativistic culture does not cheer Christians or want the Gospel to win. Where we might have once had the home-court advantage, we no longer do.
Pondering what it means to live in such a culture got me to thinking about the prophet Jeremiah and today’s scripture. Jeremiah writes to Jewish exiles that violently ripped out of their homeland and force-marched hundreds of miles to Babylon. They have suffered the destruction of their homes, temple, way of worship, and government. They are given Babylonian names and indoctrinated into pagan culture. What will it mean for them to live for God in a culture so thoroughly idolatrous and decadent?
Jeremiah’s first concern for the exiles is that they not deceived by false teachers and politicians with other ideas about how to engage the culture: “Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you…”
What stands out in today’s scripture is that Jeremiah does not want the exiles to isolate or to assimilate. He does not want them to try and separate from the culture of Babylon or be sucked in by it. Rather, they must live distinctive lives ‘in the world, but not of the world, for the sake of the world’ (See Jesus in John 17:14-16). They must be like salt and light in a debased culture.
Jeremiah’s counsel to the exiles is much like what many of our elders were taught, and what they wanted to teach us:
- Build a house
- Get married
- Have children and love them
- Make yourself productive
- Pray for your city and country
- Seek the welfare of the city and country where God planted you
I am struck that in Jeremiah’s counsel there is nothing new or fancy. Nor are there easy answers or quick fixes for 2020 or 2024. There is nothing here you can shrink to a bumper sticker, political slogan, or 140 characters. God’s people are not to stir up trouble, but be godly and good citizens. So build a house. Get married. Raise a family. Plant a garden. Deliver Meals on Wheels. Teach a Sunday School class. Coach Little League. Run for office. Pray for leaders. It won’t get you a write-up and picture in the Babylonian Times, but you will make a difference for today and for eternity.
And why must we do this? “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel.”
Just some thoughts on winning without a home-court advantage!
A fellow traveler,