God’s people had been sent into Babylonian exile because of their failure to keep the covenant. While in exile, what should have been the attitude of God’s people generally?
Jeremiah sent a letter to the people of God in exile: “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” (Jer 29:1). In this letter, Jeremiah told them to build houses, plant gardens, get married, and have children. He told not to decrease, but to increase and “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” (Jer 29:7).
There are important lessons here. God’s people should always be a blessing to the world in which we live. We should be a blessing to our neighbors, to our community, to our city and nation. We know this world is not home; we seek the heavenly country and our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20-21; Heb 11:13-16). At the same time, we need to seek the welfare of this place of exile in which we live. We can do this by loving our neighbor as ourself and treating others as we would want to be treated (Matt 7:12; 22:36-40). We can do this through our prayers: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:1-2). We can use whatever freedoms we have to glorify God and serve others. Peter put it this way:
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Pet 3:13-17)
The freedoms that we have are not to be used for selfish ambitions, but for serving and blessing others. We don’t have to agree with the people of this world to seek their welfare. We don’t have to become enmeshed in political scheming and mudslinging to pray for the leaders, no matter what their views might be. We don’t have feel at home in this world in order to seek what is best for others. Seeking the welfare of the city transcends worldly concerns.
If God’s people in exile could seek the welfare of Babylon, that city that came to stand for all that is against God, then surely Christians can seek the welfare of this world today. It does not mean condoning sin or compromising God’s truth. It does mean that we show ourselves to be reasonable, gentle, and reflect the longsuffering of God who seeks the salvation of all. It means we recognize our place as lights in a dark world (Matt 5:14-6; Phil 2:12-16).
We see this attitude exemplified by Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream was of a large tree whose top reached into the heavens. What appeared to be a tree of life gave false security, and in this dream a holy one came from heaven and and proclaimed that the tree be chopped down and to leave the stump among the beasts of the earth and the grass of the fields. This was to show Nebuchadnezzar who ruled over the kingdoms of men (Dan 4:13-18). When Daniel began interpreting the dream, knowing that this foretold Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall, Daniel said, ““My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies!” (Dan 4:19) Daniel was not personally seeking Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall, but spoke in a way that sought his welfare. This did not keep Daniel from telling the truth about the dream, but it showed a heart for seeking the welfare of the city in which he dwelled.
The most important way that we can seek the welfare of the place in which we live is by living and proclaiming the blessing of the Gospel. Remember that God’s promise to Abraham was that through Abraham’s seed all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:1-3). This promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who died and was raised up again “to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:26). By living and sharing the blessing of forgiveness and a reconciled relationship with God, we become blessings to others who can also know this forgiveness and fellowship.
Do what is right. Love your neighbors. Seek the welfare of the city where you live and await the final day of the revelation of Jesus Christ.