A Great Commission of Commerce
Jesus’ words to the church that we call the “Great Commission” have given us our spiritual “marching orders” for years. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20) This commission has motivated believers for a couple of thousand years to do the spiritual work of sharing the love God in Christ Jesus. That work has focused primarily on the spiritual realm of a person’s life with an occasional conversation of meeting the physical needs of people. In the Old Testament, we find a commission of blessing that goes beyond the spiritual.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to his exiled fellow citizens in Babylon. Babylon was THE power of that day—it had no rival. They had come and conquered what was left of Israel. One of the customs of war and conquest in that time was to take the leaders and other influential people as captives to the capital city of Babylon.
In this letter is one of the most quoted out of context scriptures in the Bible—“I knows the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Too many times we quote that passage and snuggle up in our nice Christian blankets and go to sleep in our nice Christian bubbles. But this passage (Jeremiah 29:4-14) actually takes us from a nice devotional thought to the great commission of blessing the world through commerce. A challenge to engage with our communities through commerce and day-to-day activities.
What are God’s people supposed to do in evil Babylon?
Build homes and plan to stay
Plant gardens and eat what you plant
Get married and have kids
Get your kids married and have grandkids
Work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon
God instructs the Israelites to go out in Babylon and do “worldly” things for the purpose of blessing Babylon. There is no short-term time line on God’s instructions—He tells them to plan to be there for a long time.
We struggle with God’s instructions just like the Israelites did. We have convinced ourselves that the best way to impact the communities we are in is to be “separate” from them—to not mingle with them. This choice has created a “club” mentality for churches. We stay in buildings and do our “spiritual” things while Babylon stays out there doing “worldly” things.
God understood that if Babylon was blessed by His people then the whole world would also be blessed. What are we doing to engage with the Babylon of our day? For far too many the answer is “if Babylon wants to have a spiritual conversation with us, we are trained and ready for that conversation.” But those conversations never happen. God did not tell the Israelites to prepare themselves for spiritual conversations. He told them to live in Babylon, to engage in commerce, to build houses and plant gardens. They were not to measure their success by how many people are attending religious services or how much progress was being made on being self-governing again. God told them to measure their success by how commercially blessed Babylon was.
How many believers and churches are willing to measure our success by the blessing of our communities? How would we measure that?
Here are a few suggestions:
Is the unemployment rate increasing or decreasing in your community?
What are the employment needs of businesses and how can your church help them meet those needs?
Is the number of children on free or reduced lunch increasing or decreasing in your community?
Do people coming out of prison find the resources they need to reestablish productive lives?
Do school age children who need tutoring have after-school programs available to help them?
How many high school graduates have a plan for college or workforce training?
Do immigrants coming into the community have ESL classes they need? Are they being welcomed?
Are there barriers to affordable housing?
How could we fulfill the Great Commission through commerce? Shifting our focus from the things and institutions that bless us to being a blessing to those outside of our religious club is a radical shift. But God’s promise is still good—when Babylon is blessed, we will have hope and a future.