October 24, 2010 by Dwight Bernier
Reading Jeremiah has been wild to say the least. So many messages, so many things happened to him, so much strife and heartache. His messages from God to the people came at a time where people just wanted to hear good things and not hard things. But Jeremiah, constrained to speak the word of the Lord to the people, was continuing to bring the message of captivity to Judah, who was not real thrilled to hear of what was going to go down.
Jeremiah had spoken of seeking the welfare of the people who had captured them (Jeremiah 29). This message would have been very hard for them to hear. They were supposed to settle in a land where the people had captured them and were trying to assimilate them into their culture. And God had told them to surrender to their captors, go to their land, plant gardens, build houses, have babies, and seek the welfare of their city! This sounds crazy – but God had said that it would be well with them if things were well with the city.
Today, many of us use that message to help our people understand that we want to seek the social and spiritual welfare of the city. Many of us are calling other Christians to love the city, to invest in it, to give towards it, to be volunteers in schools and social service agencies, to bless people in our community, etc. It is a message that seems to be very easy to understand and one that people should be able to get on board with because it’s not really difficult to go and do some of this stuff. What harm is going to come to us by going and volunteering some where?
But if that is our thought, then I don’t think we fully understand the implications of seeking the welfare of the city. If we only see seeking the welfare of the city as social justice, then we miss the impetus for us to do social justice. Jesus was very clear that if we believe in Him, then we will do the works of Him. And Jesus was not an either/or type – He was a both/and person. Jesus was not just about seeking the social welfare of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and so on. Instead, He was about seeking both the spiritual and social welfare.
But let me get back to the harm part. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern and really left to die because, as his accusers claimed, he “is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm” (Jeremiah 38.5). The message of Jeremiah was to surrender to the Babylonians and be taken, and then seek the welfare of the city for the people would find their welfare there as well. It was what God was doing. It was not a feel good message of “let’s go do something nice for the city”. Instead it was “because God is a good, gracious and just God, we have been sent here – but because He is a good, gracious and just God, He is calling us to love, forgive and work for the benefit of those who desire to steal our identity, to change it, to ‘own’ us, to transform us, to indoctrinate us in their culture, and to help us lose everything we were, including our God.” Everyday the people of God in captivity needed to be brought back to the motivating factor of the gospel – that God would send a redeemer to save them, and who would bring them to a land that no one could ever take them from. And in that land, God would dwell with His people.
And because of Jeremiah calling people back to the gospel as they sought the welfare of the city God was bringing them to, people wanted to kill him.
If we are to seek the welfare of the city, town or country where God has brought us, we must first understand that it can not simply be a social justice gospel we are talking about. We must understand that as we start to expound the entirety of what seeking the welfare of the city means, people will not like what we are talking about. But it is God who calls us both to love the city and work with Him for the spiritual and social welfare of the city.
We must be both/and people. Don’t lose social justice for evangelism or vice versa. We are called by the gospel to be people who seek to see people transformed spiritually by the gospel and what Jesus has accomplished in their place through His perfect life and atoning death AND seek to the social welfare of the city. We must seek both if we are going to be Christians faithful to the whole gospel – and realize that people have gotten thrown in cisterns (Jeremiah) and put on a cross (Jesus) for their wild, counter-cultural messages of welfare.