As the Jews in Jeremiah 29 were in exile in Babylon, we Christians are exiles in the world. We are citizens of God’s kingdom (Ephesians 2:19). But we forced to live here in the kingdom of the world. That makes us exiles.
Hebrews 11:13 says of the faithful of the past: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Peter addressed his first letter “to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” (1 Peter 1:1). In 1 Peter 2:11, he said “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul”.
We are not to become citizens of this world and act like them. That is why he said to abstain from the passions that the citizens of the world indulge.
But, what are we to do while we are in the world? How do we relate to the world. Jeremiah’s advice to the Jews in exile gives us advice. Jeremiah 29:5-7 says:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
God wanted his people in exile to live in their world. They were to marry, have children, marry off their children to have more so that their families would grow. They were to work. And, they were even to seek the welfare of their city and country. They were to pray for it. For, if their country prospered, so would they.
In contrast to this, there have been movements that taught total withdrawal from the culture and world around them. The Anabaptists during the time of the reformation preached that the world was evil so Christians should withdraw from it. Although they are intensely political now, the early Fundamentalists in America preached the same thing. But God said to seek the welfare of the place you live, just don’t become part of its values.
Jesus preached this dichotomy also. In John 17, Jesus referred to his disciples as in the world but not of the world. He did not preach withdrawal from the world. He said “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
(John 17:15 ESV) In other words, he wanted them to live in the world but not be absorbed by it.
If we withdraw from our world by not engaging our culture or seeking its welfare, we cannot influence it for Christ as he wanted. He said:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)
So, Christian, live in your world but resist its corruption. Pray for your city and your country. Do good works to improve your community. Live a holy life and speak the gospel.
And, while you do all these things, look for the consummation of God’s kingdom, where you will be at home with full citizenship and all of its benefits.