Christians today are often better at having a private faith than a public faith. We know how to make our faith deeply personal. But we struggle to make it massively public. There is probably no greater place where we feel the tension between our faith and our culture than at work. Our outlook is different from our coworkers. Our values are often different. And at times, we feel like we don’t really belong or fit in with our surroundings. How do we navigate this difficult tension?
When these moments arise, we can choose one of two postures: the mindset the Jews had in Jerusalem or the mindset they had in Babylon. In Scripture, we see the Jews found it easy to have a public faith when they were their own nation. This meant that Judaism was the dominant worldview in Israel’s culture. Being Jewish felt comfortable and secure for Israelites because they were in control. In fact, it was to their advantage in the marketplace to display their faith in public.. Often times, this gave Israel a “triumphalistic” attitude that looked down upon Gentiles (non-Jews).
But once Israel was conquered and the Jews sent to be exiles in another culture, they were forced to learn a new way to integrate their faith in a foreign culture. For the first time in their lives, they were the minority in culture. The prophet Jeremiah came to them to give them a new vision to make their faith, not only deeply personal, but massively public. He said, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
In his message to his people, Jeremiah gave them a new mindset for how to relate to the Babylonian culture. He tells them to seek the prosperity of an alien kingdom. Expect discomfort, insecurity, and risk. The surrounding culture will challenge their Jewish identity because it doesn’t quite “fit” there. Lastly, he tells them to get over their triumphalistic attitude toward Babylon and adopt a servant attitude. Don’t miss the weight of Jeremiah’s ask of his Jewish people. To ask the Jews to seek the prosperity of Babylon would be the equivalent of someone telling the Jews to seek the prosperity of Berlin during World War II.
I think this message is one we as Christians need to hear today. Statistically, Christianity is shrinking in America. We are no longer the only game in town. We are just one of many voices in the marketplace and public square. Therefore, we can no longer think we are in “Jerusalem.” We are in “Babylon.” We need to think like exiles. We need to learn to be a creative minority for the good of our corporation and culture. We should expect discomfort, insecurity, and risk. We should not be surprised if we feel like our Christian identity is being challenged by our work culture because it doesn’t quite “fit.” We don’t have to be alarmed. We don’t have to mourn the position we are in. We don’t have to be bitter, jealous, or judgmental towards those around us. If God’s people have been there before … and have thrived as exiles … so can we. We just need to adopt a new mindset.
So as you go to work tomorrow, think like an exile. Seek the prosperity of your “alien kingdom.” Because if it prospers, you will prosper too. Peter gives a similar message to dispersed Christians in Asia minor in 1 Peter 2:12, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Peter encourages us do high-profile good deeds, deeds that are massively public. In doing so, we accomplish two things. One, we help restore the integrity, credibility, and civility of our faith to the surrounding culture. And two, they will see God through our actions. When you commit to high profile good deeds, you are helping make “the manifold wisdom of God known to the rulers and authorities …” (Ephesians 3:10).
How do you have a faith that is not only deeply personal, but also massively public? Stop wishing you were back in Jerusalem, and start thinking like an exile by committing yourself to performing high profile good deeds that display God’s wisdom to the marketplace and organizations.