Several weeks ago, schools in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, were forced to close. According to a Raleigh TV station, “district officials cancelled classes ahead of the planned [A Day Without a Woman] rally because principals … expect a high rate of staff absences.”
The rally’s organizers explained that the strike’s purpose was to recognize “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system — while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities.”
In the City of God, citizens deny themselves, sacrifice for others, and serve those in need.
At the most practical level — in the grittiness of real life — thousands of people who can afford a day without pay forced thousands of others to miss work: cafeteria workers, administrators, bus drivers, and parents. And of course, by their actions, taken to achieve their purpose, strikers forced thousands of kids to miss a day of precious education.
Around the same time, roughly 100 students at Middlebury College shut down a lecture by political scientist Charles Murray, the author of “Coming Apart” and 13 other books. According to faculty members writing in the March 7 Wall Street Journal, Murray was “silenced by loud chants and foot-stomping.” As Murray left, “assailants mobbed him and seriously injured a faculty member.”
With these incidents in mind, try to imagine two cities. In one, citizens are fixated on themselves. They clamor for their rights, demand what they want, what they think they deserve, and insist that the rest of society accommodate them.
In the other city, citizens consider others more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3). They love one another with brotherly affection and outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10). And when problems surface, they love their enemies, bless those who curse them, do good to the people who hate them, and pray for those who mistreat them (Matthew 5:44).
Two questions: In which city are people happier and more fulfilled? Which city is likely to have the more vibrant, loving, and productive community?
God instructs us, just as He instructed the captive Jews in Babylon, to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we’re “ambassadors for Christ,” and that God is “making an appeal through us.” That works best when we demonstrate how, in the City of God, citizens don’t demand their rights and their way. Rather, they willingly deny themselves, sacrifice for others, and serve those in need.
This doesn’t come naturally. Even so, God instructs us, just as He instructed the captive Jews in Babylon, to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city.” What’s more, He tells us to “pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, [we] too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Peace and prosperity — concepts captured by the Hebrew word shalom — refer to a state of “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.” It is, says philosopher Cornelius Plantinga, “a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as the world’s Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom He delights.”
God is telling His people — in ancient Babylon and modern-day America — to pray that our enemies find contentment. He’s telling us to pray that they will prosper and find satisfaction.
If that sounds strange to us, it surely baffled the exiles of Jeremiah 29. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, explains that the captives knew they were to pray for Jerusalem (Psalm 122). That made sense. It was where they lived and worshipped with like-minded countrymen. But now, God tells them to pray the same way for wicked Babylon.
Keller goes on to explain that when you pray for a city, you learn to love it. And when you love it, you make it a place where everyone thrives, even your enemies.
The Magnitude of What He Has Done
For us, there’s one more thing. God is telling us — who live on this side of Christ’s resurrection — to imitate Christ. Jesus was in heaven, and He came here. And He came to give Himself for us. While we were God’s enemies, Romans 5 explains, Christ reconciled us through His death, so that we’d know peace and prosperity forever.
When we grasp the magnitude of what He’s done, we gladly live for others. We go where life is hard, says Keller. We sacrifice for others. We do justice and love mercy.
As a result, our neighbors will want to know why. They’ll be curious about what (or who) compels us. They’ll be curious about why we — unlike so many angry people around us — consider others more important than ourselves.
They’ll likely demand an explanation, insisting that we “give the reason for the hope that [we] have,” and afford us an opportunity to give it — with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).