Returning from Exile: A Wise and Understanding People

From before creation, God knew the desperate situation of exile that the Adamic race would face. Thank God, by the power of redemption empowered by Jesus’ obedience, even unto the Cross, that desperate situation shall not endure forever!

I can do nothing apart from the Vine and today, this particular essay must (as should they all, and hopefully do) begin in celebration of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Father God, hear our cry from the desert of our exile. Thank you Lord Jesus for being the Way of reconciliation. Give us ears to hear and eyes to see your glorious leading that brings us home, more than individuals but as your whole Church, to your bosom. Embrace us, Lord, even now as we seek to know You, to see your face, to understand your ways, and to learn humility such that we would worship you aright, in our work, which is service to your Kingdom. We are broken but know that we are being restored by your Holy Spirit within us. All to your glory, Lord, in the precious name above all names, that of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are struck by the contrast between the desperation of the world as it is and the biblical story of redemptive promise. That contrast reminds and challenges us to recall God’s promise of a future, that our hope will not be cut off (Proverbs 23:18). There is wisdom for our souls and if we find it, there will be a future, and our hope will not be cut off (Proverbs 24:14).

God says: “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11), that all God’s children shall return to their territory (Jeremiah 31:17).

How will this future come? How will we prosper, overcoming the calamity of this world? How do we get from the disorder of our world today to the order and hope of that future?

The first step toward re-ordering the world is evangelistic, sharing the good news of the Gospel. So why and how does the Gospel re-order the world? and, How does marketplace evangelism contribute to that endeavor?

God did not choose Israel for their particular righteousness. Abraham was chosen for God’s particular purposes from among other contemporary God-fearers (like Melchizedeck) as a man of faith. Abraham trusted God to fulfill His promise of a son. He chose to walk not according to his own understanding . . . he just believed God.

Through Abraham, God chose Israel and gave them His Law (the Torah). An outcome of obedience to Torah is prosperity, insofar as it can be achieved in the fallen state of the Adamic exile. God’s plans for Israel reached beyond the redemption of this particular people. By the witness of their worship as a society, by their good works and service to God, they would glorify and make his name known to the surrounding nations. By coming to know the God of Israel, the Abrahamic promise, the blessing of all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3), would come to pass.

What was to be the impact of such a social witness? It would meet the hearts of the surrounding nations right where they were. They would take note of the contrast between the life of Israel and their own. That contrast could only be attributed to the God of Israel dwelling in their midst.

What would that social witness look like? It would be seen in the welfare of the whole of Hebrew society. The aim of shalom is far more than simply peace as the absence of conflict. Shalom includes safety, security, contentment, provision, well-being, as general welfare, even prosperity, that surpasses that of the nations of this world.

How can such a social witness be achieved? Only by the transforming Word of God, as it changes hearts and character, and produces behavioral change. Israel would be a strange people in the context of their surrounding world. Their behavior would create a situation so different it would compel the surrounding nations to come to God:

Now it will come about that In the last days, The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways, And that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:2-3

Again, how was such a state of things to come about?

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.” – Deuteronomy 4:5

By seeking to know God and living obediently in His ways, Israel would become that witness, revealing God’s glory. The manifest evidence would appear to the other nations in the Israelite society:

“So keep and do [My statues and judgements], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” – Deuteronomy 4:6

Before we jump too far too fast, we must keep Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath in mind (Matthew 12:1–13). It is easy to create a list of Do’s and Don’t’s though it will never be easy to keep them. And even if we are able, it is ultimately a false piety. But we are endowed with the Spirit behind the Law and, as Jesus makes clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17–48), our expectation is too actually live to a ethical level and accountability higher than the Law. We are released from the Law but serve God in the newness of the Spirit (Romans 7:6), living an even better way.

There is much to be gleaned from the Law and Prophets, and the discerning wisdom emanating from the Spirit as it communes with our own leads us toward that better way. Let us take the Law seriously, as it was grace upon grace for those to whom it was given and informs us still today as we seek to know God and understand and follow His ways.

We hear the echoing of Israel’s call in the words of James 3:13: “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”

The witness we bring to the marketplace is a witness of righteousness lived out in wisdom from above. There may be time and place for the conversational sharing of our faith and the Way of salvation with co-workers, customers, employees, or vendors, but our greatest witness is in the transformed character of our day-to-day work, with integrity and diligence, creating goodness and balance (shalom), bearing fruit in keeping with James’ conclusion in 3:17–18:

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Our return from exile is only by the Way of the Cross, in submission to Christ, sacrificially and humbly serving the interests of all (Philippians 2:4).

There are two effective levels–personal and systemic–at which the redemption of the marketplace occurs. There are many who are doing the first well but considerably fewer achieving the second. That is understandable as the second, systemic reform, is far more difficult.

The first is in bringing respect for others, and even concern for their financial well-being, into play with customers, employees, vendors, and the surrounding community. To treat all people with which we interact with dignity and grace seems to be a given. If we are ill-tempered or demeaning toward others we, for the most part, would perceive that as being a poor witness of the gentleness and meekness of Christ. Even as we act charitably, we relish the warm feeling inside from having done well by another who was in need of our help.

There are likely three cases where, even among many of those who minister to these constituencies fairly well, may fall short. The first is charity of the purse. That is, there comes a point where we begin to assess the level of our giving attitude on expeditious lines. We like to be charitable but seldom do we actually do it sacrificially, that is, in such a way that it costs us more than a slight discomfort in our own lifestyles. It is great when we give but it must be balanced even further against the desire for bigger homes, new and fancier cars, lavish dining out, expensive entertainments, and golf weekends on the coast.

The second case is in charity of the Spirit. In personal contact relationships, we are often expeditious in drawing the line at taking a shot at forgiveness. But the Way of the Cross, that is the laying down of one’s life for another, goes beyond forgiveness in seeking the way of reconciliation and restoration. Many believe it expeditious to fire an employee if there is any indiscretion or moral lapse found in their behavior. But has not much more been found in our own, though perhaps unseen by others or even ourselves, buried by our blind denial? This is a sacrifice that can be costly but more in the sense of our own growing in righteousness and grace than in any economic way. It also likely holds a greater eternal value for the one forgiven, reconciled, and restored. Trust is fragile but one held accountable and restored to trust will most often cherish and honor their duty to uphold the integrity of the relationship going forward. This manner of forgiveness is that which has ultimately redeemed all of creation.

The third case, moving from a more personal to systemic orientation, where we often fall short, and a very understandable one, is in awareness, fostering a lack of focus and intention. In our busyness, we often are isolated from those beyond our personal spheres. While we in the West enjoy the highest standards of living in world history, there are yet those who languish. It is estimated that 15,000 die every day around the world simply because they are too poor to stay alive. That is one person every six seconds. In the time of our enduring another annoying television commercial for products of which we have no need, ten people have succumbed to the lack of basic nutrition and healthcare. In the eight to ten minutes required to read this essay, the number of fatalities has grown to nearly one hundred.

There are a myriad of ways we can join ourselves to the causes of eradicating political and economic injustice. There are investments of time, such as through advocacy, strategic intervention, job and business training, mentoring, and so on. There are also then investments of resources in efforts of charitable giving and investing in the poor through social venture and the like.

As I have purveyed the growth of marketplace ministries they tend to fall into three categories: spiritual care (discipleship, workplace chaplaincy, Bible study, prayer groups, etc.), economic care (employment transition support, business and economic development, community renewal, social venture and investment funding, and job and skills training) and theological development (research and publishing). These all require a great deal of time and money. The first category is seeing widespread growth. The second and third categories, for now, are still wanting but offer terrific opportunities for the Church to “love another” and, by our good works, reveal the glory of God to the world.

The road returning from the exile from Eden is a long and arduous way. But increased mobilization offers opportunity to make that road more tolerable and the distance home ever shorter. The witness of economic justice for all, that is, working toward achieving global shalom, will reveal that Christ’s body, the Church, is a wise and understanding people.

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