“And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7 NKJV).
Christians are often a persecuted minority in a hostile environment. Some from ethnic minorities in parts of Asia find their titles to land challenged by majority members who want to claim it for themselves. Some authorities are sympathetic to the majority, upholding unjustified seizures. In other locations church buildings are burned or torn down, and individual Christians are threatened, harassed and sometimes physically harmed.
Even when direct persecution is not occurring, Christians in countries dominated by other religions face discrimination and other problems. For example, property may be hard to find in which they can live or worship.
One preacher in Bangladesh is about to move into a new building. The Hindu owner has a number of religious specific rules for his occupants, including a ban against eating beef (cows are holy to Hindus) or possessing it on the premises. Frequently churches have lost their leases because neighbors objected to singing or other acts of Christian worship. Sometimes the landlord is pressured by his own religious officials to evict Christians.
In such circumstances it is easy to experience anger, dislike, or even hatred for those around us. They consider us their enemy; should we not feel the same about them? How can we practice love and mercy to those who trouble us in so many ways, and who treat us unjustly?
Jeremiah ministered to a people who were in that same circumstance. The Babylonian army had taken their King and other important people into exile. In about ten more years the Babylonians would attack and destroy the land of Judah and take all of its higher classes into captivity, also robbing every treasure and valuable from the land. Babylonians were cruel idolaters, denying the true God of Israel – how could a faithful Jew not hate them?
The prophet wrote a letter to those who had been taken into captivity, instructing them to purchase property, plant crops, and arrange marriages in Babylon for their children (Jeremiah 29:1-6). They would be there for a long time. They should prepare for the long haul.
As part of their preparation they were also to adjust their attitude about Babylon. Jeremiah instructed them to “seek the peace of the city” and to pray for it. Why should they pray for their enemy? Why should they work for the benefit of their captors? The answer is given, “For in its peace you will have peace” (V 7).
Do we sometimes “cut off our noses to spite our faces?” That is, do we say mean and hateful things about our families, or our circle of friends? About our co-workers or our churches? Do we get angry at some one or few of those within a group to which we belong and say or do something harmful to that group? When we do such things, who are we really hurting? Only the one at whom we are angry, or are we not actually harming ourselves equally?
The Jews were going to have to live in Babylon for seventy years. It was better for them to get along with the Babylonians and help secure the city. If it were harmed, both the captives and their captors would suffer. How would that benefit the Jews?
Before one burns down a house, he should ensure that he and all that is important to him are well outside. Before we are critical of our families, our churches, or our workplace, let us consider the effect of our actions upon ourselves. Our peace is bound up within the peace of such institutions. Better for us that we work positively on their behalf.