In the first part of this exposition of the reality of being exiles for Christ, we saw that we are exiles both by nature and by necessity. Being a Christian indwelt by the Spirit of the living God sets us apart from a perishing world. But it is this same perishing world that we are purposefully placed in: to be the necessary conduits that the Holy Spirit works through, for the goal of redeeming more of the world to His kingdom. In this second part, I hope to provide some guidance to what it means for us to practically live the life of Christian exile.
How do we live as exiles for Christ?
“For to live is Christ and to die is gain” is the truest slogan of every exile for Christ (Philippians 1:21). But sometimes, this overarching truth for our lives might seem too lofty—not in the sense that it is unattainable because the Holy Spirit is our Helper—in the sense that it may be hard at times to draw practical conclusions for our daily living. Thankfully, God has given us a real life example to learn from in the book of Jeremiah. Here, the Israelites were taken into captivity by the Babylonians and God used the prophet Jeremiah to speak guidance and hope into their exile. My hope is that by looking at Jeremiah 29, we can examine God’s instructions to them and then take some practical steps to living out our own exile for the glory of Christ.
The first thing we are to learn about our exile is that exiles are sent and set apart. Peter uses the language that our exile is by God’s election (1 Peter 1:1) and Jeremiah 29:1 shows that God is the instigator of the Israelites’ exile. They are sent and it is with divine purpose. In other words, exiles are purposefully carrying out the will of God in enemy territory. Do you recognize the weight of this? It means that we are not to simply bide our time until our exile ends as some choose to do—living as if their salvation simply functions as a “get-out-of-hell” coupon while they live however they want in the interim. 1 Peter 1 makes it more clear in verses 16-18 that the purpose behind our exile is to “be holy as [God] is holy” and therefore to “conduct yourselves with fear [for God] throughout the time of your exile knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways of your forefathers…” Therefore, the point of your exile is to be set apart in holiness so that ultimately Jesus is glorified and lifted up in your life. To this, Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). What a privilege it is then, to be sent and set apart for the purpose of magnifying Christ as the only hope for a perishing world.
Next, in Jeremiah 29:5-6, we see a further elaboration on the pragmatic aspect of having a purposeful exile. God, through Jeremiah, instructed the exiles to be industrious and multiplying. He told them to build houses, plant gardens, get married, have families and ultimately to “multiply and do not decrease.” For an exile, this might seem futile; afterall, there is a hopelessness that sets in when you have been conquered and taken into captivity. God’s instructions do not make sense for a defeated people living under the oppression of their captors. That is, unless, there is a hope for future redemption, and with our gracious God, there always is. He reveals his plans for future redemption in Jeremiah 29:10-11 and therefore, it makes sense for them to survive, and even to thrive, despite being in exile.
Likewise, for those living as exiles for Jesus, His return and the full redemption of all of creation is an imminent certainty. Therefore, we need to remain industrious and be multiplying—industrious in good works and multiplying as disciples. Make no mistake, the work of building houses, planting vineyards, and growing families in foreign territory is not without challenge. We will have to do this while being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) for we have an enemy prowling around as a lion ready to devour, deceive and derail us from the work God has prepared for us to do (1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 2:8-10). Yet, he calls us to walk and work in the power of the Holy Spirit; there is no room for apathy or laziness in Jesus’ exiles.
In the following verse (Jeremiah 29:7), God calls the exiles to “seek the welfare of the city … for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” When we look closer at the meaning of “seeking the welfare” of others, we understand that God is calling them to be on mission as peacemakers throughout their exile. It would seem natural for a foreigner to only care for his own affairs while dwelling in another country, but not so with God’s people!
God gives the Israelites the mission of helping the Babylonian cities flourish in the “shalom” sense, which is actually what is meant by the word “welfare.” The word “shalom” means “peace,” but not a superficial or subjective kind of peace. There is a wholeness and a truth to the kind of peace that the exiles are to bring to their captors and rulers. If ultimate peace is defined as a right relationship with God, then to “seek the welfare of the city” means to point others to how they can have a right relationship with God. For us, it means living as respectful and peaceful witnesses of God so that the gospel has a platform to be proclaimed from; this is the mission of the Christian in exile.
Peter puts it this way while encouraging the exiles of his time: “honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). In our relationships to others, including humanly-instituted authorities, 1 Peter 2:13-17 says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution … Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.” (with the obvious caveat that our “honouring the emperor” should not supersede our fear of God). Furthemore, he says, “as exiles, abstain from the passions of your flesh … [and to] keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:11-12). Therefore, we are to live rightly, according to God’s truth and demonstrate that while it is difficult, there is much joy, peace, victory and even flourishing while in exile. May we seek the welfare of our cities, as peacemaking exiles, abstaining from the flesh and doing maximal good deeds for Jesus’ fame and an opportunity for others to have “shalom” with God.
Finally, we see God instruct the exiles to be an enduring, a waiting, and a praying people (Jeremiah 29:7, 10-14). After all of the instructions to be industrious, multiplying, and to seek the welfare of their cities, God assured them of his future redemption. He says, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill my promise to you” (Jeremiah 29:10). Seventy years. Let that sink in: seventy years. For many of us, seventy years may be an entire lifetime, and Psalm 90:10 attests that even the best of these years are “but trouble and sorrow.” Seventy years, and perhaps, that is just what God is indicating: that your whole life may feel onerous while in exile. But take heart, because He said that at the end of that finite segment of time we call our lifespan, He will visit us and He never lies (Hebrews 6:18-19).
So while we faithfully wait on this promise over our lifetime, what are we to do? Jeremiah says that we are to call upon Him, pray to Him, pray “shalom” over our cities, and to seek Him with all of our hearts (v.7, 12-14). Hebrews 6 instructs us to “hold fast to the hope set before us” while trusting in Christ, our “sure and steadfast anchor,” to intercede for us. 1 Peter 2 also encourages us to “do good” and to follow Jesus’ example and continue “entrusting ourselves to God who judges justly.” In other words, we are to endure because Christ endured and to patiently wait for the inheritance that is ours in Christ. This inheritance (the redemption of our bodies and all of creation) is totally worth enduring and waiting for, because it is “impershible, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you and guarded by God Himself (1 Peter 1:4-5; Romans 8:23-25:).
So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is with great sobriety that I remind you that we are exiles for Christ. This world will hate us as it hated our Lord Jesus and it is “through many trials and tribulations” that we will enter the kingdom of God (John 17; Acts 14:22). Indeed, “for a little while, [we] have been grieved by various trials to test the genuineness of [our] faith” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Yet, it is with even greater assurance and joy, that I remind you that we are exiles knowing with certainty that King Jesus is coming again. Just as the story in Jeremiah did not end with the Israelites staying in captivity, our story does not end with Christians abandoned in the domain of darkness. Our transference into the kingdom of Jesus is sure but it will not be confirmed without much testing. So to my fellow exiles, “may grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:2b) and let us be exiles who are sent and set apart, industrious and multiplying, on mission as peacemakers and who are enduring, waiting and praying because He is coming.
King Jesus is coming. Amen.