“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Jeremiah 29:5 (NLT)
God’s people were now in exile. It was demonstrably their own fault. They were unfaithful to God. Babylon was God’s instrument to bring correction to his people. 70 years, the span of a lifetime, was the decree. Would they endure it like a prison sentence? Was there a danger that they would be assimilated into a heathen culture? What can we learn from their experience?
Scripturally, Babylon represents this world’s culture and governmental system. Babylon’s values were antithetical to God’s. There would be a tendency to just hunker down. Keep your head down and just survive. Certainly, God would not be present in Babylon. Jeremiah’s counsel did not make sense. What can we learn about how we should live in this present day and age?
There are three main ways to respond when we find ourselves in “Babylon”. The first two are to assimilate or to isolate. To assimilate is to give in and become a part of the culture. To isolate, is to the best of your ability, to withdraw from society. The third option is to illustrate, or perhaps we can say, illuminate. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (MEV)
If we understand that to assimilate is to surrender, that leaves us with two options: isolate or illustrate. Through time, isolation has been a popular strategy. However, it has shortcomings. It does not always work, and it prevents us from fulfilling our mission and purpose. Yes, Peter does say that we are “strangers and aliens” in this world, but we are also to be ambassadors. It is hard to see how an ambassador living in isolation can fulfill his or her duties.
The words of the old gospel song say: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through… And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” This seems contrary to Jeremiah’s edict: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.” Jeremiah 29:5 (NLT). In a sense, he is saying, “make yourself at home in Babylon.”
He goes even farther: “Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:6–7 (NLT)
Whoa! It sounds like he is telling us to live life like we are going to be here a while. Raise children in this culture? And what is this about working for peace and prosperity? And what is this about praying for this godless country? It seems more reasonable to pray for God’s judgment, doesn’t it? Forget about illustration, to isolate seems to be the way to go. If we follow these directives, we are likely to end up being assimilated.
When we commit ourselves to be “light in the darkness” and when we are determined to fulfill the command to “go into all the world and make disciples,” we will need to know that we are not alone. It is also necessary to avail ourselves of the resources and tools that are available to us. As ambassadors, it is necessary for us to interact with people in this world. Paul said, “…I have adapted to the culture of every place I’ve gone so that I could more easily win people to Christ.” 1 Corinthians 9:22 (TPT)
Great missionaries, Hudson Taylor in China, E. Stanley Jones in India, David Livingstone in Africa, and many others adapted to the culture where they served. They ate the food, dressed like the people to break down barriers. They were determined to illustrate what it meant to follow Christ. Even if it looked different from where they came from. These names are remembered because they accomplished the mission.
To thrive in “Babylon,” we must suppress the urge to call down God’s wrath and judgment. It is reasonable to be repulsed by the culture. The urgency to leave is understandable, but God wants us to thrive where we are planted. It is about light and darkness. The only way to overcome darkness is to shine the light of the gospel. Our hearts must be aligned with God’s heart. …He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT)
Finally, God’s judgment will come someday, and he will come to set things right. In the meantime, we are to be active and engaged. Happy are the servants whom the master finds fulfilling their responsibilities when he comes. Luke 12:43 (CEB). The Lord’s coming is near, but it is not the time to look at our watch and take it easy. We must not grumble about the working conditions or where we have been placed. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance… Philippians 4:12 (CEB) So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 2 Corinthians 5:9 (NIV).
It is good to remember that the comforting promise: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) was made to a people presently in captivity. It might seem strange to talk about thriving in “Babylon” or “California,” but that is exactly what we have been called to do. That is what ambassadors do.