I believe that the Bible teaches us something amazing: When the Gospel begins to change our lives, it WILL come out of our lives and affect others. When the Gospel takes root in your life, it has no choice but to spread into the lives of the people that are around you.
You cannot say that you hold to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not have it flow out of you into the lives of other people. Another way to put it: you cannot love God and not love others!
This is going to be the central thought for today’s post.
Let me set up some context for you: the context of this is just after God has sent His people into exile in Babylon. This is what is telling them to do while they are there…
“ This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the welfare 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.”
Notice what God is saying here! They have just been taken as a hostage by a foreign kingdom. Their families have been separated from them, their homes destroyed, their friends killed, their wives raped, their city destroyed, and belongings taken from them- and God is telling them to make a home their in Babylon. He even goes as far as to tell them to pray to the Lord for its behalf!
I want to hit on the word “welfare,” because it’s key to understanding the depth of this passage.
It’s the Hebrew word “shalom.” The word in the English means peace, but our word peace does not convey all of the meaning that Hebrew word carries with it.
The word in Hebrew carries with it this idea of peace, but God’s not just saying be at peace with these people, but the word carries with a more powerful meaning. It’s saying seek the peace and overall prosperity of the city. Seek the overall flourishing of the city.
God’s not telling them to not be mad at them not be mad at you, but I want you to go into this city and I want you to seek their welfare! Pray for their shalom, seek their shalom, seek universal flourishing.
This overall flourishing is this, not to simply go in and seek their spiritual flourishing, but seek their educational flourishing, their economic flourishing, cultural flourishing, their governmental flourishing, seek their overall flourishing!
Go into this city that I have sent you in and don’t decrease but increase. Pray for their overall welfare and seek the welfare of this city.
So what God is saying is “I want you to be a group of people that is for your city.”
Look at verse 10:
It says, “This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.”
So in other words, what God is saying here is, “I know you’re in a bad place right now, but for 70 years I want you to hang in there. I’m going to bring you home, but just do what I’m asking of you. Right now you’re in a pagan culture, in a pagan city, but while you’re there, I want you to seek their welfare.”
1 of 4 types of Churches
Truthfully, I think this impacts how we live today. I think we can be 1 of the 4 different kinds of churches in the United States today.
I think there are 4 different kinds of churches, and we are one of them, but which one are we and which one is God calling us to be.
1) Most churches fall into this category, which is a church that is simply in the city.
This means, you’re simply in your city. You’re there, you have a building, you hang out together, you love each other, you do some stuff together, maybe you even have some good community together, but your just a church that is in the city.
This church doesn’t really have any influence, it has no real effect on the city, it may be one of many, but the church is just there in the city.
2) The second, there aren’t as many of these, but there are some. In fact, I’ve worked in one, and it is actually a church that is against the city.
Have any of you been in a church that is against the city. It’s like “we’re good and their bad.”
Picture this in your head: It’s like the church people are looking down from atop a hill with a look of disgust because they think they are good and everyone else is bad- sinners!
3) The third, which is an increasing one, which is a church that is with the city.
This is the kind of church that looks so much like the city that you can’t even tell there is any difference. They look so much like the city that they’ve lost their saltiness. This church has bent so far towards the culture that they are no longer salt and light in it. They are no longer good for anything!
4) The final kind of church is a church that is for the city.
This church is not just in the city, definitely not against it, not with it, but is actually for it.
As the Gospel works in this church, the Gospel begins to come out of the church for the benefit of the city.
This church is a church that is seeking the benefit of the city in every aspect. It seeks to see the cities homelessness lessened, poverty lessened, and hate lessened. It seeks to see the cities financial status increased so that more people can be helped. It seeks to have the best education, so that people can learn and be equipped for the spread of the Gospel. It seeks to fight off personal sin and, with loving kindness, the sin in the lives of others defeated.
This concept is something that God has been working on in my life for some time now. God has been planting this thought and building upon it for a while now.
God has been laying this on my heart for a reason.
I’ve been thinking about the kind of pastor I want to be and the kind of group that I want to lead, and God has continually been bringing me back to this one thought- seek the “Shalom” of the city.
I don’t want to lead a ministry that is simply in the city or so much like it that there is no difference, but I want to be part of something that is solely Divine in nature. I want to be part of a ministry that is making a positive difference in the city that we live in.
I want you to image for a minute what it would look like for a church to be for its city.
What would it look like to seek the joy of our city?
We served our city in every possible way. We sought their wellbeing.
Imagine that we served the homeless in our city selflessly.
Imagine if we gave back instead of indulging ourselves in the hard work of others.
Imagine if we actually loved the schools that God has placed around us and didn’t just seek to be at peace with them but sought their welfare!
Imagine, that we saw the needs of students in our schools and sought the Bible for the answers to their needs, then we prayed for God to help them, then we went to them and shared the Gospel to them in a way that was more than just words, but a completion of the word through good deed.
Imagine you saw a student who was struggling with their grades in a particular subject and decided to help them in their studies, so that they could see the love of God.
Imagine if you saw someone that was getting picked on and you not only befriended him, but took up for him.
Imagine if we treated authorities with respect instead of talking bad about them behind their backs.
Imagine if we saw someone with ratty clothes and you gave them some of yours, not your leftovers, but the new and unused.
Imagine if you saw someone who was unloved and you loved them the way Christ loved the church.
Imagine the difference that would make in our schools, in our community, in our city, and in ultimately in the world. Imagine the difference that would make in the life of that other person. Imagine the difference that would make in your life.
Now imagine, that if you were to leave for whatever reason, the homeless, the school systems, the teachers, the authorities, and local business owners actually grieved because you/we made such a difference in the city. That we sought after their welfare with such passion that when we were gone, our lack of presence would drastically noticed.
What would it look like to take responsibility for the city that God has placed us in? Spiritual responsibility? Social responsibility? Economical responsibility?
A question for you to answer:
Can you say that anyone in the city you live in, outside of your friends and family, would grieve if you were to leave because of the passion of your good work would be gone?
Can you say that you are making such the difference that if you were to leave, the city would notice?
Can you are doing what God called the early Jews to do? Are we as the Church seeking the welfare, the overall prosperity, of the cities that we live in?
Do people even know we are here? Do people even care? If not, it’s not because we aren’y equipped or gifted enough, it’s because we just don’t care!
God has given us all the gifts that we could ever need! It’s our responsibility to use those gifts for His glory and the welfare of the geography that God has placed us in!
I am pleading with you, as if God were pleading through me, seek the shalom of your city!
When we see horrific things happen in the world around us, we often ask “Why does God not care?” But I can’t help but wonder if God’s not asking the same thing of us: “Why do you not care?”
I believe that God let us continue here in this world of spiritual slavery for a purpose. He’s coming to get us, but while we are hear, He is calling to a task.
Are you willing to listen and obey?
If so, it’s time for us to start seeking the welfare of our city. That means long term dedication! That means hard work and persecution. That means a changed life that is being changed by the Gospel!