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Love, in the Heart of the City

Wisdom in being a blessing to your community 

Proverbs 11:10-11

10 When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices;
And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.

11 By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted,
But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.


Among the many talented bluesmen who bent strings on Beale Street in Memphis during the 1950’s, Bobby Bland did little to stand out. Born Robert Calvin Brooks in the farming town of Barretville, Tennessee inn 1930, young bobby never finished elementary school, and dropped out in the third grade to pick cotton. 

The bright lights of the big city of Memphis called him, and he soon found himself playing alongside the earliest legends of the blues. Bobby took the last name Bland from a stepfather and played professionally as Bobby “Blue” Bland. 

In 1951 he was noticed by a talent scout, who helped the illiterate Bobby record a version of T-Bone Walker’s 1948 hit, “They Call it Stormy Monday.” The song was so iconic that it is said it even had inspired B.B. King to play the blues. It brought Bobby fame and he recorded several versions through his career. 

Bobby found commercial success in the late fifties and through the 1960’s with several number one hits. His style combined the rough-edged blues of Beale Street with the smooth styles of Nat King Cole and others. One writer recounted that Bland, “created tempestuous arias of love, betrayal and resignation, set against roiling, dramatic orchestrations.” 

By the 1970’s Bland needed a sound that matched the times. Journeyman songwriters Michael Price and Dan Walsh had penned the R&B song, “Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City,” and it seemed tailor-made for Bobby “Blue” Bland.

The song is a sad echo of the 1970’s with a slow guitar rhythm, but “taken at a heartbroken pace,” as one reviewer describes. Bobby released his version of the song as the first track on his album Dreamer in 1974. It was an instant success and a number one hit. The reviewer continues, describing the song as “…a glorious few minutes: Bland’s voice slightly sandpapered, perfectly controlled, mournful and defiant:” 

Ain't no love in the heart of the city
Ain't no love in the heart of town
Ain't no love, sure 'nuff is a pity
Ain't no love 'cause you ain't around

The song describes the loneliness of urban life, and the emptiness of a bustling city when the one you love is gone. It has also been said to illustrate the plight of the inner-city, or the coldness of modern life, but when you hear Bobby’s soulful tones, you will understand the nature of heartbreak, and loss when your love goes away.

The song has been covered many times by modern artists, including the “hair band” Whitesnake, rapper Jay-Z, and even Crystal Gayle. However, it is the Hall of Fame bluesman who makes it a hit, as he sings it from the heart. When paired with the sleek, L.A. city-reflecting, 1986 Lincoln Town Car in the intro of the 2011 Matthew McConaughey movie The Lincoln Lawyer, the song makes for one of the best movie opening scenes ever. Watch and listen HERE.

Bobby “Blue” Bland had hit on one thing that seemingly all people could relate: a city is empty without love. The bible reveals that there is only one source of love that can make a city truly good to live in, the love of Christ.

Does love inhabit your city? Think of your community or neighborhood.  The place you live can take on a distinct “flavor” that is a direct result of the people inhabiting it. Some towns are warm and welcoming, while others are unfriendly, or even dangerous. This is not about crime rates, or festivals held by the Chamber of Commerce, it is about the spiritual life of those who dwell within its limits. 

Solomon knows this, and seeks to convey it to his young charges. Many of his students, including his own royal children, are future rulers and leaders of Israel. He teaches them in Proverbs chapter 11, that wisdom and righteousness are a blessing to all in their realm: 

10 When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices;
And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.–Proverbs 11:10

In these versets, Solomon puts “feet” on the wisdom that he has been instructing you to seek and live. The wisdom of God here is righteousness, or the mark of “the just,” as the text is read. Specifically, he is calling on you to consider the impact of wisdom and righteousness on your hometown, or the place in which you live. 

How does living God’s wisdom, or the presence of righteous believers benefit a city, or a geographic area? Is this a call for you and your church to open a food bank, or to put time, effort, and resources into mercy ministries and outreach efforts in your area?

Perhaps it is–or perhaps it is a deeper call to simply live Christlike in an ever-darkening world. The choice to do so can have lasting good, or evil effects on a country, state, municipality, or neighborhood.

This is about living in a way that is either reviving, or ravaging, a community. Tim Keller takes this verse to heart in his model for taking the Gospel to “the city” as part of the call of the church, and the ministry life of all believers. He reads verse 10 as:

The verse means that if a group of people in a city are truly living righteously as proverbs defines it they will be such a benefit to the public good of the whole city that the entire populace will exult, feeling that their prosperity is a victory for everyone.–Tim Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life” 

“Prosperity,” here depicts all good things that people desire. Not just fiscal success, but family, friendship, home, and tradition. It is about seeking the triumph of morality. Commentator Bruce Waltke explains:  

Contrasting the social assessment of their fates. Righteous prosper with the community’s full approval, but the wicked perish in opprobrium.–Bruce Waltke, “Proverbs”

Does this really ring true? It this telling you that, if you live as a faithful Christian, others around you will love you and be blessed too? While persecution of Christians in this world is very real, and you can often expect insults or hostility for your faith, nevertheless the common grace shown in this world means that there is a recognition and even a celebration of morality when it is seen.

In other words, when you, as a Christian, live uprightly, keep your word, engage in fair business dealings, and enjoy earthly blessings as a result, others around you will notice and be blessed as well. 

For example: you own a construction company. Even if you do not have a “fish” symbol on your marketing material, you nevertheless seek to engage in honest trade, do not cheat customers, treat your workers with respect, and reflect Christ in your words and deeds. 

As a result, you perhaps gain a good reputation in the community and among your fellow homebuilders. In the end, you may gain success, but Christ is glorified and the world sees something delightfully different from other businesses. You bring value to your community. 

Are you the type of person who brings value to your community? You may not be a financial success, or even a person of particular impact on the local marketplace, but you can bring value in who you are, and how you love your neighbors. You can bring the One who is love to your community and add eternal value. Let’s read on:

11 By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted,
But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked–Proverbs 11:11 

The spiritual life of believers has a direct impact on the city, or community around them. This is why the Apostle Paul took the gospel to the cities of the ancient near east, even as far as Athens and Rome. In order to have the greatest impact, you can take the message of your Risen Lord to the population centers and from there it will flood the countryside. 

In living for Christ in your town, you will fulfill the command of Jesus at the beginning of Acts:

Take the gospel to Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.– Acts 1:8

Here in verse 11, Solomon speaks of the “The blessing of the upright.” This means:

…God‘s bestowal of blessing on them, or the blessing they bestow on the city through their beneficent presence and prayers.–Waltke

Your prayer life, your active daily, and weekly worship of God should also serve to lift up those around you: your neighbors, friends, and even your civic leaders. Pray for the prosperity of your city, that children and the elderly will be protected, and that it will be a good place to live and raise a family. How often do you pray for lofty things, and leave these as issues for election day, or a matter of the courts?

All of this serves to “build up” a community, both literally and figuratively. How can you be a blessing to your city? Be a person of integrity, be smart in business–but not ruthless. Be generous, but not indulgent, and cheerfully give to make your community a good place to live. Be a peacemaker, doing all you can do to strengthen relationships, and broker peace between various communities. This could mean racial reconciliation (much like 1st century Jews and Gentiles), or helping single parents, immigrants, or the downtrodden. 

Strengthen the family–both your own family, and the family of God. Do you love Christ more than your spouse, or is his or her happiness an idol? Do you teach your children about Christ, and seek to model Him–or is that just a job for their Sunday school teacher? 

All of these things form a righteous “leavening” that Jesus describes in a brief, but powerful parable: 

33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”–Matthew 13:33

In contrast to all of this, Solomon says, grumbling, gossip, slander, bitterness, and rivalry will serve to tear down a city or a neighborhood. Slander can demoralize and demolish a city built up by the upright.

Will you let this happen to your city, to your mission field? The modern cities of today are much like the cities of the 2nd century. An ever-more persecuted church found itself at odds with a culture that seemed to grow more hostile and demonic by the day. And yet, the light of the Gospel did not fade, but grew brighter with each tribulation endured. 

Is there love in the heart of your city? You are called to be the love of Christ in your city, community, or neighborhood. Will you complain on “Nextdoor” or the community Facebook page, or will you share the hope of eternity with those around you? As Charles Spurgeon said, “if we want wheat we must plow and sow.” What are you plowing and sowing in the fields around you? 

God can do this in your city, and he can do it through you. Irish pop band U2 beautifully captures the power of this in their song “Yahweh:”

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean
Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing

God can take your soul and make it sing, even in the dark heart of your city. 



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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