This week, we've been looking at the difference one little "s" makes - whether we are churches or the church, Christians or Christian, entangled in our sins or in sin itself. And I happened to stumble, earlier this week, upon a little verse in Jeremiah that struck me for the same reason: the "s." This little "s" doesn't create divisions, however; it creates community. Picking up from 4:1:
The Lord declares, 'If you come back, Israel, if you come back to me, if you take your disgusting idols out of my sight and you don't wander away from me, if you take the oath, 'As the Lord lives...' in an honest, fair, and right way, then the nations will be blessed, and they will be honored by me.'
That's quite a statement, both for Israel and for us. If Israel, the people of God, live as though they are really the people of God, the nations will be blessed. There's the "s."
What's so important about this? Why is it so interesting? Because at the time of this writing by the prophet Jeremiah, there was one nation, Israel, that was considered to be God's nation. There was one people, Israel, who were God's people. All of the nations were, well, not God's nations; they were not God's people. They worshiped idols. They held false gods. They did detestable things. In fact, in many cases, they were diametrically opposed to the nation of Israel, God's people. That's the story of the Old Testament.
And here, God speaks to His people, to one nation among the many, and He declares, If you would just be my people, really be my people, then the whole world would be blessed, even those people who are not my people.
It's a powerful message for those of us who are longing for a way to have a meaningful impact in our global culture. In a world that seems to be getting both bigger and smaller, how do we, the people of God, have the biggest impact on those around us - Christian and not?
By being the people of God.
Now, it's important to note that this has nothing to do with evangelism or missions. Nothing. The nations are not blessed because we go out and preach to them. They are not blessed because we go out and convert them. They are not honored by God because we build churches or hand out Bibles or win arguments, or even win hearts. The nations are blessed because we are faithful. No more, no less.
It sounds...weird. At best. It sounds...kind of fishy. But if we go back to some of the early narratives in Genesis, I think we can start to understand what this might mean. There are stories in Genesis of God desiring to destroy certain cities, for lack of their righteousness. Abraham, at one crucial point, argues with God. He argues God down to finding just ten righteous people in a town, in order to spare that town. If there were just ten people in that whole town who were living like they were the people of God, the whole town would have been spared. Just ten, and the whole town gets to live. Just ten, and the people might never know how close they came to God's wrath.
There's the righteousness of Noah, which ends up being a blessing to the entire creation. There are stories of Israel in captivity or in exile where tremendous things happen in the nations who are holding the faithful. Over and over again, we see that Israel living as Israel brings blessings on the nations that are not God's people. For no other reason than that Israel has its heart right.
They're not doing anything with their hands.
Isn't that amazing? Just by having your heart right before God, you can bring a blessing on the world around you - believing and unbelieving, God's and not God's. Can you imagine if it wasn't just you, wasn't just me, but if we all had our hearts right before God? Can you imagine how we'd change the world? God's blessings would rain down on all the nations, if only we would set our hearts right.
For a people looking to have an impact in an increasingly global world, this seems a fairly straightforward to begin doing that.
Come back, Israel. Come back...and the nations will be blessed.