I've been thinking about doing a more in-depth study of Jeremiah, in part driven by conditions here in the United States. Our country is sinking deeper and deeper into a morass of evil and the future doesn't look promising. I don't expect an election cycle to deliver us, either. Our national problems go way beyond our political leaders. We have a crisis of the soul.
But do we as believers spend enough time on our knees before God about it? While Jeremiah certainly delivered plenty of "jeremiads" and harshly rebuking words from the Lord to the people, you also find a great heart of love in play. Look at this passage in particular . . .
Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, 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 court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths 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, saying, 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.’ For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD.
For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart' (Jeremiah 29:1-13).
This was obviously written to the exiles of Israel in Babylon, prophesying the eventual return of God's people to their land after they had repented of their sins and humbled themselves. But a line jumped out at me in reading this passage—"Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you . . . and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare."
That resonates with a passage in the New Testament penned by the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit . . .
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (2 Timothy 2:1-6).
Both passages say basically the same thing to the people of God. We are to seek the welfare of the communities where the Lord has placed us. We are to pray for our communities. And it's not only for the welfare of the community. It's for our welfare. Yet the overarching purpose of these prayers is for the glory of God. We are to pray that lost people in our communities will be drawn by Him to saving faith as they hear the Gospel proclaimed. But our proclamation of the Gospel must not be an empty proclamation. We need to live it. They need to see the love of God on display to one another (so that they will know we are His disciples), and to people in the community at large who are not believers.
To be clear, I am not pushing for what is known as a "social gospel." That was one of the huge failings of the mainline churches in the 50s and 60s. They became so community-minded that biblical truth got watered down and the true biblical Gospel didn't get preached. And as a result, the mainline churches began a steady downward spiral.
Bible-preaching, Bible-believing evangelical churches run the same risk if we get out of biblical balance. We must be committed to doing good works, but if we really love our communities and love the Lord, we must be faithful of proclaiming biblical truth in love. You can feed all the hungry and clothe all the naked you can, and treat as many sick people as possible. But if you send them off into a Christless eternity after doing those good works, your labor has been in vain. Good works and the Gospel go hand in hand.
But it all begins with remembering to pray.