Thursday, August 16, 2012
IN THE WORLD, BUT NOT OF IT
“This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon…” (Jeremiah 29:4 HCSB)
Michele Bachmann is a member of Congress. She ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination to be the party’s candidate for President. The Congresswoman from Minnesota is a staunch conservative and vocal in her support for conservative principles. No one runs for office without having every detail of their life dredged up. So, it recently came to light that she held duel citizenship. Though she has since renounced it, Rep. Bachmann was a Swiss citizen, as well as a citizen of the U.S.A. When she married husband Marcus in 1978, he was a Swiss citizen and at the time this meant she was granted automatic citizenship in Switzerland, and so for 34 years she had been a citizen of two nations.
This is true of all who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. They are citizens of two kingdoms. I am an American citizen by virtue of my natural birth, but I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God, because of my second birth. Peter put it this way,
“Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you.
Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation. Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God's will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. As God's slaves, [live] as free people, but don't use your freedom as a way to conceal evil.
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” (1 Peter 2:11-17 HCSB)
The Apostle told the saints who were scattered in various places throughout the ancient world that wherever they were, they had responsibility to be a good citizen and honor that human authority. They were to never forget, however, that their ultimate allegiance was pledged to the King of kings. In fact, being a good citizen on earth, was commanded because they were citizens of eternity!
Jesus, put it this way—we are in the world, but not of it (see John 17:6-19). That is a great challenge, because these kingdoms can come into conflict. The values of this world system and those of the kingdom of God are often opposed—so how do we live? What does it mean to be in the world, but not of it?
We have been given an object lesson in the exiled Jews who dwelt in Babylon. Jeremiah writes to them and encourages them in being good citizens in Babylon, while living among the pagan populace as Jews. His instructions to those who were in Babylon, but not of Babylon provide broad spiritual principles that can aid us—those in the world, but not of it.
Here are some:
GOD’S WORD IS OUR GUIDE.
“This is the text of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exiles, the priests, the prophets, and all the people Nebuchadnezzar had deported from Jerusalem to Babylon….This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon:” (Jer.29:1,4)
Jeremiah wasn’t offering suggestions, he was giving commandments. The words he wrote were given by God, and so became God’s authoritative guide for the Jews living under Babylon’s law. They needed to honor the laws of Babylon, insofar as those laws did not contradict the laws of God. Ultimate authority rested in the demands of Yahweh, and not the whims of human government. The same Apostle—Peter—whose writing conveyed God’s expectations that we be law-abiding citizens who respected the government of this world, also once faced human rulers that demanded he cease preaching the Gospel. In that case, the old fisherman replied, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE.
Jeremiah writes to, “the exiles” (v.1). Although they were living in Babylon, they were not to live like those of Babylon. Continually, they were to be reminded that they were God’s chosen people—and behave like it.
If we aren’t careful, we will be assimilated into the culture we live in. It is a powerful force. Paul warns us to be transformed by the Word or we will be conformed to the world (read Romans 12:2). I will be shaped by a renewed mind—a Biblical perspective that builds convictions within—that will enable me to resist the pressure without, of an antichristian world, seeking to press me into its mold—to impose its way of thinking and thus direct my conduct.
The great challenge is to remember who we are—that we are to be a holy people, even though living among heathen people. You cannot make a difference in your world, unless you are different from your world.
UNDERSTAND THE WAY THIS WORLD OPERATES
“Build houses and live [in them]. Plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men [in marriage] so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease.”
Although we are destined for heaven, for now we must dwell in this world. In a proper sense, we are to understand the way the world operates and in doing so function according to its ways unless they contradict God’s Word. Getting married, having children, providing for our family by seeking a good job, building a house, planting a garden and so forth are part of living in this world. Understanding principles of finance and seeking to prosper accordingly aren’t wicked, but wise.
There is a line we must not cross—love for the world, covetousness which is idolatry, a preoccupation of the material and neglect of the eternal. That is the danger of being assimilated into the world, but neither are we to withdraw and become absent from the world. God doesn’t want us to take a vow of poverty and go hole up in a monastery.
Jesus told this fascinating story,
“He also said to the disciples: ‘There was a rich man who received an accusation that his manager was squandering his possessions.
So he called the manager in and asked, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you can no longer be [my] manager.” ‘Then the manager said to himself, “What should I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I'm not strong enough to dig; I'm ashamed to beg.
I know what I'll do so that when I'm removed from management, people will welcome me into their homes.”
‘So he summoned each one of his master's debtors. “How much do you owe my master?” he asked the first one.
‘”A hundred measures of olive oil,” he said. ‘”Take your invoice,” he told him, “sit down quickly, and write 50.” ‘Next he asked another, “How much do you owe?” ‘”A hundred measures of wheat,” he said. ‘”Take your invoice,” he told him, “and write 80.”
‘The master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted astutely. For the sons of this age are more astute than the sons of light [in dealing] with their own people. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous money so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings. Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much. So if you have not been faithful with the unrighteous money, who will trust you with what is genuine? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own?
No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can't be slaves to both God and money.’” (Luke 16:1-13 HCSB)
It was not the way the scoundrel acted that Jesus is commending to us, but having the wisdom that servant displayed which is to help us as we live in the world, yet not of it—to be, “as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.” (Matt.10:16).
BRIGHTEN THE CORNER WHERE YOU ARE
“Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper." (Jeremiah 29:7 HCSB)
There was an old gospel song years ago we used to hear,
“Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.
Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!” (Ina Ogdon)
Man was placed in God’s world to tend His garden for Him. Now, because of sin, that garden is filled with thorns, and paradise has given way to the jungle. But while we are in this world, God wants us to remind those around us that a brighter Day is coming, and to draw them to the light. We may not be able to do more than have a little plot where we push back the wilderness, but for the glory of God, let us do that!
Jesus has placed us as light in the darkness. He has called us to be salt. On our job, in our school, about our neighborhood, in the government, the arts and sciences, media and education—our influence is to permeate all of society. That is why we are here still—in the world to represent another world, like ambassadors sent to a foreign land.
INTERCEDE FOR YOUR NATION
“Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7b HCSB)
The New Testament tells us to pray for our nation—to plead for God’s forgiveness and favor.
“First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 HCSB)
We project the power of the Eternal Kingdom into the earthly kingdoms when we pray. We break down barriers to the Gospel, even in lands that have been closed to its witness in the past. The spiritual climate of our own country can be elevated as we pray for our own nation, enabling us to have the freedom to practice our faith without persecution. When our nation prospers, we can enjoy the blessings bestowed. If the country degenerates, we, and those we love, are adversely affected.
GUARD AGAINST FALSE TEACHING
“For this is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: ‘Don't let your prophets who are among you and your diviners deceive you, and don't listen to the dreams you elicit from them, for they are prophesying falsely to you in My name. I have not sent them.’ [This is] the Lord's declaration.” (Jeremiah 29:8-9 HCSB)
The Jews were going to be immersed in a culture of corruption. They had to be conversant with their culture—there was to be no isolation from the sin-sick. They had to guard against the contamination from their culture—there was to be no infection by the sin-sick. They were to offer conversion to their culture—they were to be inoculated against sin-sickness. Doctors are around germs continually, but how else can they help anyone? So, we have the Gospel cure, and must be among the sin-sick or we can’t bring spiritual healing from the terminal infection in man’s bloodstream. But, if the doctor is sick, how can he help others?
This is why we can’t allow the virus of heresy to penetrate our spiritual immune system. We have to immunize ourselves with truth and constantly fortify it with sound doctrine—to memorize and meditate on the Word.
Everyday, we are constantly bombarded with the world’s propaganda. The Deceiver is probing for a weakness, where he may enter. Wash frequently! Consider Psalm 119:9-11 and Ephesians 5:26.
LIVE IN HOPE OF HOME
“For this is what the Lord says: ‘When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place. For I know the plans I have for you’-[this is] the Lord's declaration-‘plans for [your] welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
I will be found by you’-[this is] the Lord's declaration-‘and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you’-[this is] the Lord's declaration. ‘I will restore you to the place I deported you from.’" (Jeremiah 29:10-13 HCSB)
They were in Babylon. They would be there for a while—but it wasn’t home. One day their hopes would be fulfilled and they would go to their real home. Times would be tough in that heathen place, but the tough times would not last. In fact, God had a loving purpose to discipline them in that idolatrous place, to fully deliver them from an idolatrous passion. They were there because they rejected Him, and worshipped false gods. The Jews would get their fill of it in Babylon, and be broken from that evil bent forever. When the chastisement accomplished God’s purpose, the promise of going home would be attained. Living with that expectation would help keep them going on days when they would feel like giving up.
It still does today. We follow the footprints of the pioneers of faith, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise.” (Hebrews 11:8-10 HCSB)
This is how we live in the world, but not of the world