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The year was 597 BC, and many of the Jewish people had been forcibly removed from their homes in Jerusalem. They were living as exiles in Babylon. A cacophony of false prophets peddled a false hope that the exile would last only two years. There was widespread unrest in Babylon. There was discontent among the Jews. There was broad economic distress, growing international conflict, divisive political unrest, and a general anxiety among the people.

It is not difficult to see similarities between the Jews living in Babylon and Christians living in the world today. Christians are citizens of the city of God living in the city of man. What are they to do? What is the appropriate response of Christians living in exile? How are Christians to be salt and light in the cities where we live? The prophet Jeremiah took up his pen after the fall of Judah in 597 BC and wrote, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon . . .” (Jer. 29:4). God spoke to His people in the Babylonian exile to reveal His will for them. Through this Word, God still speaks today. Jeremiah’s instruction is a ready application for twenty-first-century Christians living as exiles in an increasingly post-Christian world.

Jeremiah did not tell the people to run away from or rebel against Babylon. Instead, he reminded them twice that the Lord Himself had sent them into exile (vv. 4, 7; see also v. 11). He instructed the exiles to build houses, plant gardens, take wives, have children, give their children in marriage, multiply there, and not decrease. They were to make a fruitful life there. Then he gave them another piece of instruction that might strike us as counterintuitive: “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” (v. 7). Remember, the city here is not Jerusalem. They were to seek the welfare of Babylon and pray to the Lord on its behalf.

The word for “welfare” is the Hebrew word shalom. It is the same Hebrew word for “peace,” but by “peace” it does not mean merely the absence of conflict. Biblical peace includes the absence of conflict, but it is far more. Biblical peace is the presence of abundance and plenty. It is every man living under his own vine and fig tree in a land that is at rest (Mic. 4:4). We are to seek the prosperity of the city, for in the city’s prosperity we will experience prosperity.

We are called to seek the welfare of the city by praying for the economy, safety, leadership, and people of the city.

Jeremiah then added that the manner in which we are to seek the welfare of the city is by praying for the city. Prosperity for the city will come through prayer. This does not mean that we don’t do anything else, but it does mean that the bare minimum is that we pray. How should we pray for the city? David’s instruction in Psalm 122:6–9 is a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. These principles are transferable to prayers for the welfare of another city.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

“May they be secure who love you!

Peace be within your walls

and security within your towers!”

For my brothers and companions’ sake

I will say, “Peace be within you!”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

I will seek your good.

We are called to seek the welfare of the city by praying for the economy, safety, leadership, and people of the city. We pray for the financial prosperity of the people, that they would be economically secure. We pray for the defense of those in the city, that they would be safe. We pray for those who govern from the towers, that the leadership would be effective in achieving good things. We pray for all people, that they would experience peace within. Praying for the welfare of the city is simply praying for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). We ask for the true and full welfare of the city, which comes only when the people have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).

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