The tone on social media, in the news, and in the public square in general is really harsh and often negative. It seems when we’re backed into a corner or in a situation we would not choose, we feel intimidated. When we feel overlooked, we want to be heard. When someone else asserts control over us, we feel insecure. Fear takes over. We bow up and start fighting our way out. It looks like bravery. Many people will call us strong, and maybe that’s true. But we learn from the prophet Jeremiah that when we engage in social, community, or even political issues, courage isn’t necessarily loud, and civility isn’t toothless at all. In fact, Christians have much good to do and the power to do it.
Under the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon became the superpower of the day. After several years of war against Judah (the Southern Kingdom), Babylon sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC. There had already been one Jewish deportation 11 years earlier, but the significant one came when Jerusalem fell. The exiles, those Nebuchadnezzar deported from Jerusalem, were people of religious, financial, and political influence. They were upset about their situation, so they began listening to the false prophets who were promising a quick return home. Jeremiah, who was still in Jerusalem, wrote to them to remind them they weren’t coming home soon. It would be 70 years before the God who deported them would allow them to return. Seventy years is a lifetime. Many of the exiles would never see Jerusalem again. Babylon wasn’t their hometown, but it was their home now.
We also know from reading the prophets Amos and Hosea, that Israel and Judah were conquered and then deported into exile because of their moral and spiritual disobedience. The prophets warned them, calling them to repent, but their hearts were hard, so God disciplined them by allowing their enemies to defeat them and deport them. Living under a foreign ruler on foreign soil became fertile ground for God’s sanctifying work in their lives.
When God deported his people to Babylon, he did not isolate them in concentration camps or private communities. He put them in established cities. They lived in the city of Nippur, some in Susa, others in cities along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. They were surrounded by people who spoke a different language, embraced different values, and worshipped false deities.
It takes courage to love neighbors who may not love you in return. It takes civility to view other people with dignity and worth and to put their interests ahead of your own. God’s call on our lives is “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
Jeremiah wrote this letter recorded in chapter 29 to a specific group of people at a specific time for a specific purpose. In our case, we are not in exile, but we are “foreigners and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11). We aren’t waiting to return to Jerusalem, but we are waiting for a new Jerusalem. We may not live in our hometown, but this is our home now. So when we consider how to apply these words Jeremiah wrote to the exiles, we take the long view, in light of the Lordship of Jesus and his view of the Kingdom.
Being Kingdom focused in this present age
In his book, The Kingdom Focused Church, Gene Mims notes that Jesus mentioned the “church” only twice in the Gospels, but he referred to the kingdom nearly 90 times. “After John [the Baptist] was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:14-15)!
We may think of the Kingdom of God as a faraway idea or place or future event, but the Kingdom is near and now. The Kingdom is Jesus’ rule in the lives of his people, so the priority of the church and our motivation to engage in the public square are to join Jesus’ Kingdom activity in the world to redeem the world and prepare for his coming.
Just as God’s people were put in cities throughout Babylon, God has placed you and me in a community with the same expectation of advancing his Kingdom. So in light of the social, ethnic, religious, and political challenges how do Christians advance Jesus’ kingdom here and now?
Planting your life in a community means you settle down, grow roots, and become an active part of public life. You build relationships with your neighbors, you engage in commerce, join the HOA, volunteer at the Senior Center, run for office, and pay taxes. And you even advocate for social issues that affect the everyday life of your neighbors.
Is your investment in your city conditioned on your neighbors following Jesus with you, attending your church, or even agreeing with you on social issues? Not at all. Will your neighbors ever worship your God? We hope so, but only God knows. Will their priorities be the same as yours? Will they agree with your politics? Not necessarily. Jesus loved and served many people who did not follow him.
It takes courage to love neighbors who may not love you in return. It takes civility to view other people with dignity and worth and to put their interests ahead of your own. God’s call on our lives is “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). He has placed us here so that through our acts of justice, mercy, and humility, our neighbors would see a picture of a coming Kingdom, a “city whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
This is an adaptation from The Civility Church Toolkit: “Week 3 Sermon: Our Neighbors’ Good, Jesus’ Kingdom, and God’s Glory,” pgs. 59-63