July 5, 2008 Matthew

Reaching the City

We must reach the city.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:39

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Jeremiah 29:7

There have always been cities—big, condensed, pliable containers of culture, neighbors, power, faith, and war. They harbor, they send out, they fortify, they spread out, they rise up, and they fall. They splurge, they protect, they seek, they isolate, and they multiply. Cities are the people. And the people are the cities. E Pluribus Unum as the American coin says, or “From many, one”. Cities are the indelible examples of how people unite, or don’t unite, and what happens in the course thereafter.

Cities have been around since the beginning. The ruins of many of the old cities of the past remain to remind the future inhabitants that a city once existed here. They remind them that a force of many minds pooled together once drastically altered life and land long before they were even born. They were our fathers and mothers, and we came from them. We identify with them as people: we have culture because they had culture; we have customs because they had customs; we have intelligence because they had it first; and sadly, we have war because they had war. We are not separate from them nor are we different from them, but we were brought forth by them—we are of them. Sons of Man. Daughters of Man. In reality, there is no “tabula rasa”.

In this vast “tree of life”, as it were, no one could measure its sheer size having grown from its roots of but one single family over the course of thousands of years. Yet it is relatively young. From the time of Noah there have only passed around 57 full 70-year generations (Since 3-4 generations can be ‘overlapping’ at the same time, there have probably been at least a couple hundred generations total). It is spectacular to realize the exponential growth from a couple parents to almost 7 billion children today in so few generations.

When the numbers grow the cities grow, and when the cities grow they become powerful. In the story of the Tower of Babel we find an example of the capability of not only those people at that time, but of any people anywhere united in mass numbers together to do something ‘great’ for themselves. Cities today are nothing new, and the ambition to grow and be great, powerful, and wealthy, is nothing new either.

In the wisdom of the Proverbs we are given some guidelines for the differences between a blessed city and a cursed city. They are lessons to teach us not only how physical cities can benefit, but also how we, as citizens of the set-apart “City on a Hill”, the Heavenly City of Jerusalem (Hebrew 12:22), can be blessed. Conversely, it shows us how we can end up as ‘ancient ruins’. But it all depends on that ‘blessing’ upon which the truth of Proverbs 11:11 hinges. Therefore we pray for and seek the welfare of the city.

By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown. Proverbs 11:11

From out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help… Job 24:12

‘A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust. Proverbs 21:22

We need to be in the cities. More importantly, we need to be wise in the cities. In our age, money has become the church’s evangelistic tool of choice. However, it has proved very little. Too much money has been thrown scandalously into hasty and foolish ideas that have not been wrought in prayer or in waiting upon the Lord. The response to such church-foolery is city mockery. The kind of witness that Jesus had on a city was starkly different—he would simply love his neighbor, and find suddenly that “the whole city was gathered together at the door.” (Mark 1:29-34)

What is the ultimate evangelistic tool? Here’s what the LORD says:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:9-18)

We are not to be partial to the poor, nor defer to the great. Instead God wants his people to be wise and to minister in love to those who fit the description of “neighbor”. There is nothing very flashy or glamorous about this kind of witness, but it does show forth the great “I Am”.