rebelling against low expectations

The City: A Sermon by Tim Keller


Several people had recommended this sermon to us, but we never got around to listening to it until it was assigned as part of Investigative Journalism class at Patrick Henry College.

We were discussing the role of Christian journalists, but the message is for all Christians — and seems especially relevant to rebelutionaries.

Pastor Tim Keller unpacks Jeremiah 29:4-7 to argue for a uniquely Christian approach to citizenship, one that avoids assimilation and tribalism in favor of selfless service.

Keller defines “assimilation” as using the city for your personal benefit and “tribalism” as using the city for the benefit of your group.

Both approaches fall short of God’s command in Jeremiah, where the Israelites are instructed to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”


Keller argues that Christians should be the very best citizens because we enter society with an intact identity in God.

We can approach the earthly city with hearts ready to serve because we already have a secure inheritance in the heavenly one. We need very little, but we have much to give. And God’s kingdom comes when believers demonstrate their love for God by the way they love other people.

If this is true, then many Christians (and rebelutionaries) are taking the wrong approach to leading the nation and shaping the culture.

The Church’s rise to prominence in the Roman Empire resulted not from the pursuit of power, but from an unexplainable, self-sacrificing love for others (listen to the sermon to hear this story).

Their influence arose from the quality and consistency of their service, not the extent of their ambition or the strength of their network.

Their influence arose from the quality and consistency of their service, not the extent of their ambition or the strength of their network

This concepts are vital for rebelutionaries because they touch at the heart of why we do hard things, why we rebel against low expectations, and why we pursue character, competence, and collaboration.

Is it for personal gain or glory? No.

Is it to ensure “our team” wins the culture war? No.

We do it so others might see our love and come to know the Source of that love. We do it so others might see our good works and give glory to our Father in Heaven (Matt. 5:16)

That’s it for our thoughts. Listen to the message (it’s well-worth 40 minutes of your time). Then, join the conversation by answering the following questions:

  • What has most characterized your approach to “changing the world” — assimilation (serving yourself), tribalism (serving your group), or selfless love (serving the city)?
  • How do you think assimilation and tribalism influence the Church’s effectiveness? Have these approaches ever worked in the past?
  • How should a renewed emphasis on service change your tactics (or the tactics of Christianity as a whole)?
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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Could you please writte the message? I’m Christian too, but English is not my mother tongue, I’m chilean, and I don’t understand fluent english that good.

  • I try to serve Christ in my hard things. I ask myself, “Am I doing this to glorify me or God? Am I hoping for applause or praise for this? Or am I saying I want to be praised so I can turn the praise to God.” (In my own life saying, I will give the praise to God is an attempt to fool God and me into thinking I am praising Him when I am really still trying to get the praise for myself.) Most of the time I just think how this hard thing will help me, not God, not the group, not the community. Jesus, please pray for me! Lord, please come first in my life. If I worshipped God and not myself, He would automatically come first. Jesus please pray for me, Holy Spirit please change me, God please forgive me!

  • Alex & Brett, your final “Listen to the message” link is broken. Thanks! I plan on doing this with our family. 🙂

  • I see that there could be room for falling by trying to make a focus of doing hard things for the benefit of our community, and to avoid doing hard things that seem like they would mainly benefit ourselves or our group (the church).

    Really, the hard things we do is dependent on what God tells us to do. He may tell us to do something that is intended to mainly benefit ourselves in order to bring us closer to him, and that is not selfishness. He may instruct us to do something that mainly benefits “our group”– the church– so that we are made stronger and better able to do things we need to be doing. This is not “tribalism”, or something intended to elicit a power struggle between Christians and non-Christians.

    You see, if we take things to the extreme and say “Oh, rebelutionaries should be focusing on the city, rather than on our group or ourselves” and never do the hard things that God intends to benefits us as individuals or us as the church, then we still won’t be getting it right.

    Anyway, that’s my $0.02. 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing this with us, Alex and Brett! It’s a different, and very challenging, perspective on Doing Hard Things.

  • Another thing, why should we do hard things, I mean, coming from India (that is where I came from) we were taught to obey our elders, but no offense are you telling me that I should not obey my elders, and listen to you both…. sounds good, but last time I did that it was weird. Please help me understand, I am totally confuddled! lol 🙂

    Brett’s Reply: You are very confused! 😉 We are definitely *not* telling you to disobey your elders. If you read what we write on our blog and in our books you will see that we believe respecting and learning from our parents and those older than us is vitally important. We encourage our generation to rebel against low expectations — including the expectation that we are going to disregard the wisdom of past generations.

  • @Ruth – I think that Alex & Brett are saying we rebel not against authority of elders, but against the low expectations of our culture. By the grace of God, we are honoring our parents and elders (while much of the world’s culture, especially America and Europe) expects us to rebel. In doing so, we are “rebels with a cause” rebelling against low expectations. This is something that pleases God and shocks the culture. 🙂

    Thank you for posting the message, Alex & Brett. It was excellent!

    I think I have leaned towards tribalism in the past. Throughout church history, I think we see a temptation and snare of both tribalism and assimilation. Focusing on service means I shouldn’t care about myself or my tribe, but should care about others.

  • My small group listened to Keller’s bible study series on the city, and although I must say that it didn’t help me as much as, say, D.A. Carson’s “The God Who Made Everything”, it offered a unique perspective. If anyone is unsure about their role in society, I would recommend this series, or this sermon.

  • This is a wonderful sermon on Jeremiah 29. I love how Keller talks about praying for the shalom of our city. Now that I understand the real meaning of that word, it encourages me to go out and work in my city for God’s glory. I realize that as a rebelutionary it really isn’t about taking power for our little tribe. It’s about “my life for yours”. Thanks so much Alex and Brett!!!

  • I was wondering if the Rebelution has a blog roll or a list of rebelutionaries’ blogs and websites, so that rebelutionaries could read other rebelutionaries’ blogs. If you do have one where could I find it? Thank you so much!

  • Does anyone know where I can download this sermon from? I would like to be able to put it on my iPod, but I am having trouble finding it. Thanks.

  • It’s hard for me to accept christ i want to, but things in my life seem to push the reality of him away. it just seem some how unreal.

    and rebelling aginst low expectation is a good idea but its hard becuase we have lived with them all out lives and now it just seem comfortable to stay in that spot. i dont want to change who i am but i want to be able to grow and do things that i want to do. i want to do online high school beucse i think i will conitrate better but i dont know how to convice my parents it will help my grades. i need help

  • i jsut read the “real women” thing i disagree on alot of it, women should not let them selfs be pushed around by men

  • @Sarah – Maybe this will help. First, right-click on the link and click “Save target link as” or something like that. It will allow you to save the file to your computer. From there, you open iTunes and you should be able to do the rest. (You may need to convert the file – I don’t know too much about it because I don’t have an iPod. 🙂 )

  • Ducky-I just read “A Real Womn” and i did not see where it said to let yourselves be pushed around by men. On the contrary, I read How we are to control ourselves, and keep our emotions and judgments under control. To not gossip or participate in immoral living…How we are to seek knowledge and wisdom… Many people choose to take the scripture and turn it into “a men are better than women” seminar. But that is NOT scripture at all!! God set up an authority chain. God-man-animals why, you ask? because mankind needs it! Men and women were created different so as to help one another, not hurt. it is like a partnership in a lawfirm. Both partners have different qualities that make the firm a better business. One is not more important than the other. They just have different roles. Man is head of the house as Christ is head of the church. So if you look at the example Christ gave to men it is very clear. No where in scripture did Christ push women or anyone else around. Actually it was quite the opposite. If you study the life of Christ he was selfless, loving, patient, tirelessly teaching the truth in love, challenging their faith, encouraging and admonishing his followers….Men are to be strong leaders of the home following Christ’s example. Not pushing women around. Loving them and caring for them.
    My husband and i work with teens and i would love to help you sort through all this stuff if i can. If you are searching for truth and answers and would like some help…i would love to help you.

  • Our most recent approach at serving others has been through online. We are going towards serving others by giving them wholesome, FREE things to read instead of the junk this world offers. Also, because we are so young, we will be able to reach a totally different group of people than adults could. ALSO, the fact that we’re homeschooled gives us a chance to reach even a DIFFERENT group of people. There are so many things like this that could change our community…and our world if only kids would take time to realize their potential!!! =)

    Our mission/rebelutionary website is: if you wanna check it out!

  • Good message! It is really eye opening. I believe that my approach towards “changing the world” is most of the time for my own personal gain. I do good deeds so others see what a good Christian I am, and forgetting who should receive the glory in the process. But the times that I do things for others to see God through my good deeds, I find it more satisfactory. I believe that tribalism and assimilation is what causes downfalls in most churches. If a church only seeks out the well being of its members and not the city’s, then it doesn’t play the correct role of a church.
    I believe that serving selflessly has to be a constant reminder. Waking up every morning and asking God of more of Him and less of me. Take time before doing something and ask ourselves why are we doing what we are doing. I also believe that is very important to remind ourselves who we are in Christ and what he did on the cross for us. Like Tim Keller said “Jesus won our hearts not with swords in his hands, but nails.” We need to remember that we have evrything we need in Christ, therefore we shouldn’t do thiings to get, but to give.
    Thank you again for sharing the message 🙂

  • Yeah, sounds great, I’ll look it up on someone elses computer cause ours is terribly slow and won’t show videos, but I will look into it!!!!!!!!! The message you are sharing is so important for teens to hear and what God’s done through you is amazing!!!!!!

  • Hi Andrea, you mentioned that you’d like this sermon typed out. I have a rough outline of notes on this sermon on my blog.

    Here is the link:

    I try to post notes to one Tim Keller (or Redeemer, his church) sermon per week, for the encouragement of any interested folks.

    Thank you to Alex and Brett for pointing out this sermon!

  • Hi Alex and Brett,

    I saw you guys at the CHEA conference and was really inspired and I want to start living my life doing hard things. I bought both of your books and am starting them today I’m very existed. And I tried to email u guys but in the contact information it only gave the website address so if u could tell me how to contact you that would be great. Thank u again, God Bless.


  • i am having trouble socialy as i need to make more friends, my mom said that last year but i didnt care. Me micah and zach have formed our own clique with just us guys, and as i said i didnt really care but now its coming back to haunt me. I am starting to feel depresed, does everybody feel that way? And now im starting to feel like theres a curtain around me and nobody hears me, i think thats just because i just dont stick my neck out and make new friends. i used to be happy alone as some might say im not a “people person” but now im more lonely. so i was wondering if anyone had suggestions?:)

  • Dear Alex and Brett,

    I Went to your Phoenix conference and it really made a mark on my heart. I literally just completed your incredible book. I have some questions for both of you guys. I had to write 100+ word essays for any one of the questions in the study guide for each chapter for summer reading. In chapter ten I wrote about question five about my holy ambition. I have been thinking about what your holy ambitions are? If you could try to respond it would be awesome. Do Hard Things is the best book I have ever read. I also have an idea about spreading the rebelution to other people. I thought that if I purchased a Do Hard Things book to five cousins or friends, that would be an idea for spreading the rebelution. Then each one of those people that I sent it to would send it to five other people and so forth. Think about it, 5 people, 25 people, 125 people, 625 people, and then 3,125 people! Please give your full and honest answer, I am open to anything. Thanks for leading me.

    Kyle Limpic

  • Alex and Brett,
    I’m reading your book right now and right now it seems like you wrote it just for me. I love it and it’s so inspiring. Last night during dinner they put some ideas in the open. Like how they want to move and that they have been thinking about it for some time. I was on the verge of tears thinking, “I don’t want to move! I hate snow! It’s going to be horrible because I won’t know anyone and that I love everything here.” Then I realized it’s not about me. And even though I know that I still don’t want to leave because I love it here and I’ve always imagined living here my whole life. Do you have any advice?

  • hello!
    ive been reading this book for about a month now with the rest of my 8th grade class, we have all enjoyed this book because it makes us all feel like we are ment for something in life. we love what your doing and we wish there was a way where we could all do something as great as you two did. You have affected my classes lives. my friend has taen what you guys have said so seriously that she is ready to start doing mission work and helping kids in foster homes. We just wanted to say thanks for all you do. and wish you the best.

    xx Lyssa xx

  • Alex and Brett,

    My family and I went to your last conference, and after the conference I determined to “do hard things.” Well actually my dad determined that I was going to do hard things. I was just fine with it until I found out what the hard things were. I am 14 and just to let you know my parents didn’t get the memo ether. I am now cleaning my room every day with no help from mom or dad. I am actually perfectly fine with that now though because I can walk in my room now. I am also home schooled so my dad determined that I was not going to do anything from sun up to 2:00 but school and reed your book. This is a hard thing that I am trying to master. to day I am allowed to do other things because we have speech and debate to do. I am thankful that my dad went to your conference because if he wouldn’t have then I would have just left and said “I am going to do hard things” I would then get home make my bed, clean my room, and the next day do nothing. If my dad wouldn’t have went I wouldn’t be doing hard things today.


  • Thank you a lot for sharing this with all folks you actually know what you are speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Please also consult with my website =). We could have a hyperlink alternate agreement between us

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  • Hey, the link is dead for the sermon! Just passing it on 🙂

    Thanks, Kurt.
    PS: went to your conference in Surrey bc a while back. The impact hasn’t left, you guys rock. God bless

  • Can’t load this sermon from your link. You might want to look into for great link help that works. Seriously, it is a cutting edge company 🙂

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →