These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. -- Jeremiah 29: 1 (ESV)
Perhaps sometimes it is done with the best of intentions. It is after all an uplifting verse. It is a motivational Scripture. It can provide hope. I know this is going to sound harsh but none of that matters if God did not actually it that way. The Bible is not our personal playground to find what scenarios and verse fragments make us feel warm and cozy beloved. The Bible does occasionally drive people away. Jesus Himself said that. He also said that we would experience tribulation as long as we were in this world but that through Him we overcome the world. Meaning we transcend it not that we get enamored with it. In these end days, we see the church compromising the true message of Scripture with increasing alacrity and arrogance. The Purpose Driven models of church growth teach pastors to steer clear of the true Gospel in favor of the sugar coated, watered down, Santa-Jesus that the goats would be willing to worship. As such, it seems most messages these days are a mixture of self-help and Kumbaya feel good sermonettes. The result is that purpose driven false teachers and even well intended yet deceived pastors everywhere have discovered the Rosetta Stone of false Christianity -- Jeremiah 29:11:
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. -- Jeremiah 29: 11 (ESV)
Beloved you know what I speak of. If you have spent any time in a modern Pentecostal church you have heard this verse promised to you over and over again. It is the verse Rick Warren used to fabricate the purpose driven theology. That God has some grand plan for you set before the foundations of the earth. Just complete this SHAPE application, let us baptize you, and you can get right to that purpose in our Security Ministry as soon as the results of your background check come in. Feeling down today? Don't you worry weary Christian because God has a plan for your life! Not for evil but to give you hope and a future! Except God did not actually say this to you beloved. He did not say it to me either. In short, we are being promised something God never promised. It is time for people who are charged with bringing the Word of God to stop Abusing Jeremiah 29:11. Let us reason together and go through the specifics.
The first point is very simple. This Scripture is not written to us. How do we know that? Read the key verse today which is the first verse of the chapter and you will see that God is specifically speaking to the exiles in Babylon. He is assuring them that He still has a plan for their future. I saw a pastor defending the misuse by stating that every verse is efficacious for the believer and that while not every verse was written to us it is written for us. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference of a verse being profitable and applying it directly to our lives. We can learn from every verse beloved. God does not waste a letter in His Word. You can read Jeremiah 29 and learn that God is a God who keeps covenants and does not forget His people. You can learn that He is overflowing in grace and mercy. What you cannot do however is take the promise that He made to the exiles and apply it to yourself. Why? Because that is not what God said! Let's apply this loose application logic to other verses:
And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. -- Matthew 27: 5 (ESV)
Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." -- Matthew 19: 21 (ESV)
Are we starting to see what happens if we treat every Bible verse as direct application to our lives? Now, can we learn about consequences from the hanging of Judas? Of course. Does this mean God is providing some kind of instruction or direct application? Of course not. What about this promise made to the rich man? Is God instructing all of us to sell all we have and give it to the poor before following Him? Once again, of course not. We can however learn about turning money into an idol that blocks us from being able to follow God! All Scripture is God breathed for our learning beloved and even our rebuke. It does not mean that every verse directly applies to us. God promised Abraham that his descendants would outnumber the stars in the sky -- not us. He foretold Peter that he would deny Him three times -- not us. He promised the exiles that He still had a plan for their lives -- not us.
The second point however is that if you are trying to establish doctrine, the Bible always confirms itself. So the question then becomes what does the canon of Scripture promise us regarding the future? Can we say Biblically that God has a plan for our lives apart from Jeremiah 29:11? If so, is that a plan to give us a future and a hope? First of all we know that God transcends time. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He sees the end of our lives and before we were even born. So technically, you can say that He certainly knows the plans He has for us. He knows what we will do and when we will do it. This is of course through His permissive will not His decretive will. God did not decree that you will serve in the Nursery Ministry at your church for example. That is purpose driven theology. He may place a calling on your life or perhaps you were just called to be a Christian. And ordinary Christian should still be extraordinary in a fallen world. To represent Christ in your workplace or to raise your family under the guidance of the Word of God. To show people love, kindness, mercy and grace -- things that are sorely lacking in this world. I have told the story before about a woman who worked for me and wore Jesus on her sleeve. Always had the Christian radio station on and prayed for anyone who asked. She had a peer that tried to make her life hell. Constantly complained, even to Human Resources. Yet no matter what this woman tried, she just smiled and turned the other cheek. She witnessed to her in response to being attacked. A year later when everything fell apart in that other woman's life she came to Christ through her peer who had shown her nothing but mercy. That is an extraordinary way that an ordinary Christian life is supposed to operate.
So yes, in the sense that God knows all time, we can say that He has a plan for our lives. Jeremiah 29:11 however promises more than that doesn't it? That plan according to Jeremiah is for a hope and a future. What does Scripture have to say about that? Any honest review of the Bible must conclude that God makes no such promises of a hope and a future in this life. Our hope and future are found in the eternal life that comes from Christ. But that is not how it is taught in the church today is it? No beloved. It is always couched in temporal terms. Your life is going bad? Don't worry because God has a plan. Well He does but it may not be so hopeful in this life. The plan God had for Peter was to be crucified upside down. The plan for Isaiah was to be sawn in half. Consider the plan that God had for Paul and how Paul dealt with it:
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. -- Acts 9: 15-16 (ESV)
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one--I am talking like a madman--with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. -- 2Corinthians 11: 23-30 (ESV)
When Paul is about to be knocked from his high horse by Jesus, God explains to Ananias that Paul is the chosen instrument to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles, Kings, and Israel. He also proclaims what grand plan for his life? Suffering beloved. Suffering. Fast forward several decades and Paul lists the sufferings he has endured for the name of Jesus Christ and how in his own weakness he finds strength in Christ. Can you imagine if preachers preached that God had a plan for your life -- a plan to be shipwrecked, whipped and beaten with rods? I know, that is not very "seeker friendly" but at least it would be closer to the truth. The plan for Paul's life reminds us is that in this life we are called to persevere. Will some prosper? Absolutely. Most however will not. Will some have a grand plan that could affect swaths of people? Sure but most will be called to live very ordinary lives by the world's standards. Through God however, those lives could have an extraordinary eternal effect. Just ask that woman who was saved through the efforts of someone she tortured at work.