Theme: Working for the City’s Good
In this week’s lessons, we see how we ought to think and act biblically, and the blessings that the Lord provides when we do this.
Scripture: Psalm 128:1-6
Thus far we have looked at the God-fearing man or woman and the God-fearing family. In the last stanza of this psalm, the family focus broadens out to embrace the larger people of God and even the city in which they live. It is a reminder that however blessed we or our families may be personally, that blessing is always incomplete unless it embraces others, too. It must include God’s people living around us, as well as generation after generation down the long road of life.
This last section is expressed, not as advice for living, as the first four verses were, but as a blessing itself (vv. 5, 6). Here the psalmist seems to step back from the individual man and his family which he has been addressing thus far, to speak from the perspective of the whole.
He asks God to bless them as part of his overall blessing on all his people: “May the LORD bless you from Zion all the days of your life; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem, and may you live to see your children’s children.”
When the Jews were carried into exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah had a word for them from God, rightly suited to their new situation:
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in numbers there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (Jer. 29:5-7).
That sounds much like what we have come to in Psalm 128, where the eyes of the writer have advanced from the well-being of the individual Jew to his environment as the only way, in the long run, his family can be blessed. If it was a necessary emphasis in Babylon, which was a notoriously pagan city, how much more should it be true of Jerusalem, which was the capital and spiritual homeland of the newly reconstituted people.
It is not difficult to apply this. For the Jews, Jerusalem was both a secular and a spiritual capital. We likewise are members of both a secular and spiritual city, what Saint Augustine called the City of God and the city of man. Some Christians have withdrawn from man’s city, that is, from their secular responsibilities, because they think they should have nothing to do with anything that is godless. But those who have done this need to hear the prophet’s advice: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens….Seek the peace and prosperity of the city….Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (vv. 5, 7). Christians should reside in our cities and work for their well-being. For just as our families are a blessing to the city—the city needs sound, wholesome, productive families more than any other single thing—so will the city bless us, if it prospers. And if it does not, then we will suffer too even if we attempt to escape its frightening influence by going someplace far away and more attractive.
Can we help? Who will if we do not? Ronald J. Sider put it in stark terms, “Tens of thousands of evangelicals ought to move back into the city…If one percent of evangelicals living outside the inner city had the faith and courage to move in town, evangelicals would fundamentally alter the history of urban America.”1
And there is this final point. If what was needed in regard to Babylon was even more necessary in regard to Jerusalem, then what is required of us for our cities is even more necessary for the spiritual family of God, the church, of which we are a part. The church is a channel for God’s grace. It is vital for our spiritual health. We cannot be individualistic believers. We need one another. So let us pray for our church, and let us work for its good, too. If it prospers, we will prosper. If God is present and blessing there, then we will be blessed as well.
1Ronald J. Sider, “The State of Evangelical Social Concern, 1978,” Evangelical Newsletter, vol. 5, no. 13 (June 30, 1978).
Whom does the last stanza address? What advice is given?
What is the proper response of a Christian to a secular city?
Reflection: Are you actively involved in a secular city or do you tend to stay away from it?
Prayer: Ask God for the boldness to live among non-Christians and to influence their thinking.