Blessing for All Peoples (Jeremiah 29)
This brings us to an expanded notion of the common good. Pray for Babylon because Israel is intended to be a blessing for all humanity, not just for herself: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Now in the moment of utter defeat comes the time they are called upon to bless even their enemies. This blessing includes material prosperity, as Jer. 29:7 makes clear. How ironic that in chapters 1-25, God withheld his peace and prosperity from Judah because of their faithlessness; yet by chapter 29, God wanted to bless Babylon with peace and prosperity even though the Babylonians had no faith in the God of Judah. Why? Because Israel’s proper end is to be a blessing for all nations.
This immediately calls into doubt any scheme designed for the special benefit of Christians. As part of our witness, Christians are called to compete effectively in the marketplace. We cannot run subpar businesses, expecting God to bless us while we underperform. Christians need to compete with excellence on a level playing field if we are to bless the world. Any trade organization, preferred supplier relationship, hiring preference, tax or regulatory advantage, or other system designed to benefit only Christians is not blessing the city. During the Irish famines in the mid-1800s, many Anglican churches provided food only to those who would convert from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism. The ill will this created still reverberates 150 years later, and this was merely the self-dealing of one Christian sect against another. Imagine the much greater damage caused by Christians discriminating against non-Christians, which fills the pages of history from antiquity to this day.
The work of Christians in their faithfulness to God is intended for the good of everyone, beginning with those who are not God’s people, and extending through them to God’s people themselves. This is perhaps the most profound economic principle in Jeremiah, that working for the good of others is the only reliable way to work for your own good. Successful business leaders understand that product development, marketing, sales and customer support are effective when they put the customer first. Here, surely, is a best practice that can be recognized by all working people, whether Christ-followers or not.