“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
If you have been following my blogs, you are then familiar with a reoccurring theme: the encouragement of the brethren. This blog is no different, but I am going to offer a correction to a very common error made by the brethren regarding encouragement within the body. It’s the mistake of using Jeremiah 29:11 as a prooftext in order to encourage brethren in light of trial or hardship. I am not the first person to write about this, but after coming across the above painting of Stephen being stoned and the caption below it, which someone put on Facebook, the Jeremiah passage was the first thing which came to mind.
Does God have a plan for all? Yep. But is that plan for “welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” universal? Or, is it maybe, at the very least, aimed at the brethren? I think that the answer to both questions depends on who the “you” is in the passage. The previous passage sheds some light:
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”
Are you in captivity in Babylon? Are you longing to return to Palestine? Are you of the nation of Judah from 627-586 BC?
So, who is the “you”? Well, we know it’s not you, or me, or anyone else alive today. Look, God has a plan for everyone. Paul says as much when evangelizing on the Areopagus in Athens, during the first century:
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”
But, was God’s personal plan for Paul for “welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”? Nope:
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.””
“For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.” It doesn’t seem as though Jeremiah 29:11 applies to Paul, and I’d say that Paul was pretty much the model Christian, no? And, what about Stephen in the picture? Does Jeremiah 29:11 apply to him? I think we (Christians) need to be a little bit more careful of the sound bite Biblical references we throw around.
It’s time to grow up.
I’ll leave you with these encouraging words from Peter:
1 Peter 4:12-19
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
Godspeed, to the brethren!
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