Does He Still Know the Plans?
"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11)
An oft-referenced verse in the Bible is the one quoted above from the book of Jeremiah. It is a comforting verse which, understandably, gives weight to its popularity. Case in point, as I sat down to write this article, I realized that the verse is printed on the mug I chose for my coffee! Talk about irony!
One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing brethren criticize the quotation of this verse as inspiration for God's people today. They, rightfully so, will point out that the original audience that God spoke these words to was fleshly Israel. Thus, they will conclude, the verse cannot be applied to us today and to do so amounts to ignorance or outright false teaching.
I disagree. First of all, to put down those who are quoting Scripture with a noble and pure intent comes across as arrogant and rude. If someone, as Satan himself did (cf. Matthew 4:5-6), is quoting Scripture so as to misconstrue its correct meaning or lead someone to a false conclusion, then we absolutely MUST be so bold as to speak up! (2 Timothy 4:2) Even in such cases, however, we are to "speak the truth in love" (cf. Ephesians 4:15) and not badger people with an heir of superiority!
In the case of this particular verse, I believe, based on plain Scripture we find in the New Testament, that we can make application for ourselves today as the people of God (i.e. those who have put on Christ in baptism cf. Galatians 3:26-29). Below, I will dissect this verse and notice passages that are applicable to Christians today and how they correlate to the same ideas.
Audience = Israel
A person does not need to be of Jewish descent to become one of God's children. That, in fact, is one of the most beautiful aspects of the Gospel! It is for all! (Romans 1:16) Peter describes Christians as, "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people." (1 Peter 2:9) Paul, in Galatians 6:15-16, explains that fleshly ordinances such as circumcision do not qualify one as a child of God, but rather "a new creation." (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 3:27) He refers in this context to Christians (i.e. those who walk according to this rule) as "the Israel of God."
Thoughts of Peace and not of Evil
God absolutely still has thoughts/plans of peace towards His people today! We primarily see this in a spiritual sense through the gift of Jesus Christ!
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 cf. John 3:16-17)
In Romans 8:28, Paul relates that, "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." This first and foremost relates to our spiritual good i.e. our connection to Christ in which we are no longer condemned by sin! (cf. vs. 1; vs. 35-39)
God, though, also cares about our physical well-being! Jesus Himself tells us not to worry about food and clothing (the basic necessities of life), but to trust in God who knows our needs and is willing to provide what is needed:
"Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:31-34)
To Give you a Future and a Hope
I would actually argue that the primary meaning behind Jeremiah 29:11 relates to the future spiritual blessing of Israel versus a physical one. The Northern tribes, at the time the verse was written, had already been carried off into captivity by Assyria. Judah (The Southern Kingdom), was about to be carried away by the Babylonians. While, ultimately, the Jews were released from this punishment of captivity, the physical nation was never again restored to its previous glory as seen in the days of David and Solomon. Eventually, though, the Kingdom not made with hands (cf. Daniel 2:44) was brought to fruition through Jesus Christ - the Seed of Promise! (John 18:26; Galatians 3:16; 4:4-5; Colossians 1:13-14) Talk about a future and a hope!
In Christ, we have a steadfast hope - a destiny of eternity in God's very presence!
"For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things [the promise and the oath - DCR], in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 6:13-20)
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:3-9)
Do people sometimes take versus out of context? Yes.
Do people sometimes develop false doctrine by misconstruing a passage of Scripture? Yes.
Is quoting this particular verse wrong or misleading in application to Christians today? No.
Context is absolutely important, but, I believe we have demonstrated that the thoughts and promises conveyed in this verse are as applicable to God's people today as they were when they were originally penned through inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21)
Let us ever be diligent to lovingly correct those who are in error (Galatians 6:1), but also make sure we are not being overly critical; propping ourselves up in our "greater understanding."
"Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." (Colossians 4:5-6)