The better part of my childhood was spent in South Africa in the late 70s and 80s. I'm a fourth generation African. I grew up in a society plagued by economic hardship and notorious for apartheid—institutionalized racial segregation and oppression. I'm an immigrant in the United States, the fourth country in which my father has held citizenship, and my mother's third. When our family of five arrived in America, my sisters and I were middle-schoolers. My parents were unemployed without a job prospect. We had no money. We carried all of our worldly possessions in seven suitcases. But, under the Lord's grace and sovereignty, we were in the United States.
Jeremiah 29:4-7 quickly became a source of encouragement to me as I assimilated into my new country. As Christian Americans, spiritual exiles anticipating our true home in the City of God, its two directives can help us celebrate the Fourth of July holiday.
1. Giving thanks: First, according to verses four through six, we can honor the Lord through gratitude for sovereignly guiding our lives. I give thanks to the Lord that I live in a land of genuine opportunity. Our nation is imperfect, and there are citizens who suffer. This reality must not be minimized. However, we live in the country of the world in which its citizens have the greatest opportunity at a better life. It would be impossible to fully describe the opportunities available in this country, but take for example the fact that an immigrant family like mine can arrive in this country jobless and penniless, and through sheer hard work, build a great life. My parents are proof.
Or consider our nation's very high level of national security—a privilege scores of countries can only dream of. In addition, we have incredibly advanced medical technology available to our citizens. And we get the privilege of participating in selecting our government leaders and get to witness the regular, peaceful exchange of government leadership. If you live in the United States, there are countless reasons we are blessed. Under the sovereignty of God, we get to live out Jeremiah 29:5-6 in our country.
2. Pursuing well being: Secondly, according to verse seven, we can honor the Lord by "pursuing the well being of the city." In other versions, the use of “welfare” in this verse most definitely only means good things and never bad things. The Lord would never instruct us to do bad things to our city/nation. The welfare promised to today's Christians from the Lord may only come in heaven—it may be our lot in life to endure much suffering between now and then, but the welfare we provide others is only good; never bad—even toward our enemies.
We seek the good of our country by joining the Lord in redeeming our land from the curse of sin. The immediate way I can do this is to intercede for her in prayer before God. Similarly, I want to directly contribute to the building of a healthy, local church in my community, because it is a longterm gospel presence for the area residents. But, there are additional ways to seek the good of our country. We should be good neighbors to those who live around us, responsible residents of our cities, and law abiding citizens. As the Lord grants us opportunity to contribute to government or society, we should seek to sow seeds of godly wisdom and values, for this country will reap what we sow. We must also seek Christ-honoring ways to be part of the solution to suffering in our cities. And we must proclaim the good news that true freedom is found through faith in Christ alone.
You’ll notice in this article I refer to verses four through seven, stopping short of verses 10 and following, the famously misquoted/misapplied verses by Christians today. That’s because verses 11 and following are not a promise to us in this lifetime. However, verses four through seven are absolutely guidance for every believer in every context of the world. In fact, every piece of Jer. 29:4-7 is reaffirmed in 1 Peter where we are taught how to live as spiritual exiles in America or South Africa or wherever it is we live—we are all exiles seeking how to live in our foreign land until we get to go home. So, in whatever land we live as Christians, we: First, trust in the sovereignty of God over our lives and build lives there; and second, seek the welfare of the land as we are given opportunities. This is true if we are slaves or free. Rich or poor.
On this July 4th holiday, would you take a moment to pray for our country and renew your commitment to your local church and to your neighbors? As as we celebrate our nation’s independence, we can honor Christ by reflecting on the abundance of good that is in our nation and remembering that every good and perfect thing comes from above. Then, out of our gratitude to the Lord, we should intentionally seek the good of our nation, that in all things all people might see that Jesus is Lord.