In this session of Secret Church 20, Pastor David Platt helps Christians to think about their responsibility to submit to the government. Having examined God’s Word and the truths of the gospel to better understand how we are to think about government in other sessions, this session looks at how we can apply those truths to our everyday lives in interaction with our various governments and government leaders throughout the world.
- Recognize clearly what God has said in His Word
- Unite joyfully around God’s Word in the church as we
work charitably in the world according to our wisdom
- Live justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God
in our nation
- Live zealously for the spread of God’s love and the
glory of God’s name among all nations
So what does this mean for our lives? How does this affect the way we live tomorrow? How does this affect the way we vote this year, if you’re in the United States? What do we post on social media? What are our political opinions? How do we interact with others in the church who have different opinions? How do we watch or read the news? How do we pray? How do we talk? How does this effect our lives?
Here are some practical takeaways. I took the five purposes that we set out at the beginning tonight and put them here at the end. Under the banner of these purposes, I want to offer a slew of practical takeaways. I haven’t listed all the Scriptures over again, just a few, but have tried hard to just offer takeaways that align with what we’ve already seen in God’s Word. So these are not just out of nowhere, but are hopefully grounded in the exhaustive time we’ve spent in God’s Word already tonight.
1. How Should Christians Submit to the Government and Recognize clearly what God has said in His Word about government.
So here are some practical takeaways based on what we’ve seen.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel… (Philippians 1:27)
Recognize the role of God in government.
He is the God of all the kingdoms of the earth.
LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. (Isaiah 37:16)
- He is the Creator Who has authority over all, which means we can rest in His authority.
- He is the Judge to Whom all will give account, which means we can rest in His justice. We can know justice is coming one day because God is just. At the same time, we want to be ready to stand before Him as our Judge.
- He is the Savior Who desires the redemption of all in this fallen world.
- He is the King to Whom all glory belongs.
So we see God over government, yet working in and through government.
Recognize the responsibility of government.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13–14)
God has given government responsibility…
- To do justice.
- To promote good.
- To punish evil.
So if someone were to ask you after tonight, “What is the purpose of government?” I hope you’ll be able to say that God has instituted government by His design to do justice, promote good, and punish evil.
Recognize the limits of government.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26–27)
There are critical things a government cannot do:
- Government cannot remedy human depravity.
- Government cannot change the human heart.
Only God can do these things by His grace and the power of His Spirit, so don’t expect government to do what only God can do.
Recognize the power of government.
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! (Psalm 72:1)
Yes, government is limited but it is also powerful. By God’s design, government has a significant influence on the spiritual makeup of a nation, especially when you remember that government is a battleground of the gods of a nation. So recognize how massively…
- Government influences the spiritual makeup of a nation.
- Government influences the moral fabric of a nation.
Don’t overestimate the power of government; it is limited. But don’t underestimate the power of government either. So our first purpose is to see God in relationship to government.
2. Distinguish carefully between God’s Word and our wisdom regarding government.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1–4)
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:1–7)
Here’s a reminder of how we defined these two concepts in our first session. God’s authoritative Word in Scripture, then our attempts to wisely apply God’s Word in the world in which we live.
God’s Word ↔Our Wisdom
“Rules of the Game”
- Biblically mandated
- Direct, straight line to positions and policies
- Binding on a Christian’s conscience— “must do”
- Clear and unchanging across cultures and times
- Firm Grip / Closed Hand
“Strategy for the Game”
- Biblically informed
- Indirect, jagged line to positions and policies
- Freedom in a Christian’s conscience— “can do”
- Complex calculations in various cultures and times
- Loose Grip / Open Hand
*The diagrams and images used in this Study Guide are adapted from Jonathan Leeman’s course titled “Christians and Government” at 9marks.org.
Here is a litany of distinctions we need to make as we seek to understand God’s Word truly and apply God’s Word wisely when it comes to politics and government. So the first takeaways here, based on all we see in God’s Word, is to…
Distinguish between primary and secondary political positions.
Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true. (Psalm 119:142)
We set the stage for this in the beginning, but let’s recap what we’ve said. Christians divide over political positions of primary magnitude
- Primary: That which is essential to the integrity of Christian faith and practice.
- Christians—Bible-believing, gospel-embracing followers of Jesus—divide over political positions of primary magnitude that are clear in Scripture and essential to Christianity. For those who do not share these political positions, it is questionable if they are Christians and is likely cause for church ex-communication.
So what are you going to put in this primary category based on what we’ve seen in God’s Word? What are you going to say if you don’t agree with this? It’s questionable whether or not you’re even a Christian and should be part of the church.
Then what are you going to put in the secondary category?
- Secondary: That which is not essential to the integrity of Christian faith and practice.
- Christians disagree over political positions of secondary magnitude that are less clear in Scripture and not essential to Christianity. While these Christians may remain together in the same church, these differences may mean less partnership with one another in the political arena, even as these Christians are glad to still stand together around political issues of primary magnitude.
What I’m after here is fighting to maintain a Romans 14–15 type of unity in the church, despite a variety of disagreements, even ones we may feel strongly about. So I want to encourage you to be very careful about putting things in the primary category that don’t belong there. For everything else that is in the secondary category, see it as such. Yes, have strong opinions about these things, but not to the point where it hinders your fellowship with others in the body of Christ.
You’ve already heard some of the things I would put in these categories, like aborting babies, overt demonstrations of racism, promoting an unbiblical definition of marriage, showing a pattern of recklessly disregarding injustice. I would put these things in the first category. But I may have strong feelings about these issues but would put them in the secondary category: who you vote for, what policies you support that you believe best work against racism or injustice. These are less clear and not essential to Christian faith and practice.
The big picture point is, have a category of distinction in your mind between primary and secondary political positions.
Distinguish between church and state.
Think about why this distinction is important based on everything we’ve seen.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:33–36)
- Government, not the church, has authority to use the sword. That’s the language we saw in Romans 13. God instituted government for justice along these lines to make arrests and enforce civil regulations. The foundation for this goes all the way back to Genesis 9.
- Church, not the government, has authority to declare salvation. The church has the authority to declare someone is in Christ, a follower of Jesus. The government does not declare someone a follower of Jesus; the church does that through baptism. So keeping this distinction is vital and requires wisdom. Another example not listed here goes back to 1 Corinthians 6 where there were some disputes that should have been handled primarily in the church. There are other issues that should immediately involve the state, like abuse. Making this distinction is really important and really wise.
Distinguish between rigidity and flexibility.
The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. (Proverbs 14:8)
So on what issues of politics and government should you be rigid, inflexible or immovable? What issues should you be flexible and more open about? Here’s how I would encourage you to think based on what we’ve seen tonight. This goes back to the primary and secondary categories, but go a little deeper.
- On one side: rigidity regarding issues of God’s Word. As we saw in Romans 14, where God’s Word is clear and essential, be rigid and hold tightly.
- On the other side: flexibility regarding issues of our wisdom. This is the application of God’s Word to issues that are less clear or essential. This is similar to the primary/secondary principles, but it’s helpful to look…
- Across the spectrum of issues:
- Competing injustices.
- Potential compromises.
For example, maybe there’s a bill in the United States Congress that involves substantial and needed relief for the poor, but also loosens restrictions on abortion. Or maybe there’s a policy that would tighten restrictions on abortion, but would loosen the definition of marriage. What you’re facing at that point are competing injustices, where you have to make hard decisions. Ideally, you want to work on all injustices, but inevitably along the way in this fallen world, it’s likely you will face potential compromises.
Knowing where different issues lie along this spectrum is really helpful, like how you understand issues on immigration, abortion, poverty or systemic racism. Where you place things along a spectrum is really important for discerning when you’re going to be more rigid and when you’re going to be more flexible.
For example, think of the evil and horror of abortion. Many Christians would say they would never vote for a candidate who could balance the nation’s budget tomorrow and end all taxation if he/she supports the killing of babies. Do you support a law that still affirms abortion but places more restrictions on it? Or do you hold out until the total eradication of abortion is on the table, allowing for looser restrictions in the time being? That is a potential Christian position to take, staking a weight of rigidity on that issue for good biblically reasons.
But it’s not just which issue might weigh heavier than others, because you may value policy that cares for the poor, but as you do, you know that policy may risk devaluing personal responsibility or private property, which means that at some point you’re going to start dealing with some tradeoffs or compromises. Think about a proposed law that means improving an injustice slightly, but still affirms the bulk of an injustice. What about proposed laws that still discriminates in some way, but discriminates less than the current laws? Do you support that or not?
These are the kind of complicated questions we face and none of them are easy. In all of this though, you want your level of rigidity and flexibility to be informed by God’s Word, not personal preference or party opinion as much as possible. Discern between rigidity and flexibility as you think through these things.
Distinguish between prescribed and criminalized.
Along with a framework I would offer for thinking through this, look at this passage all the way back in Genesis 9.
And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:5–6)
- Sin should not ever be prescribed by government. Government should not mandate, require or encourage people to sin. This would include laws that encourage abortion, but also laws that encourage gambling or sexual sin. The Bible compels us to work against government prescribing evil.
- Not all sin should be criminalized by government. This means, for example, all sexual sin should not have a criminal penalty according to government, right? There are all sorts of sinful thoughts, words, or actions, as well as other things like pride, gossip or lust that should not carry a specific criminal government penalty. So at what point should it be criminalized? I think the foundation Genesis 9 gives us is that when an action brings clear and positive harm to another person, like murder, stealing or physical violence, then it should be criminalized by government. Even there though, it’s not always easy to determine. For example, gossip at one level should not be criminalized, though it is still harmful to people; at the same time, it is good to have slander and liable laws that rightly guard against defamation of character.
So we need wisdom, right? At what point does sin cross the line in such a way that it should be criminalized by government? We need wisdom to distinguish between prescribed and criminalized.
Distinguish between creating and executing, knowing that both are important.
So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people. (2 Samuel 8:15)
- We create laws rightly. On one hand, in government we want to create laws that are right, just and equitable. But it’s not enough just to create laws rightly if those laws are not executed impartially, so it’s also important that…
- We execute laws impartially.
So think about racism and civil rights as an example here. In the United States, Jim Crow laws were enacted between 1876 and 1965 that mandated racial segregation in public facilities in ways that led to all sorts of economic, educational and social injustice. Clearly those laws were unjust and needed to change, but just changing laws—creating laws rightly—is not sufficient if those laws are not executed impartially.
I remember hearing Tom Skinner, an African-American man, share at a mission conference years ago about growing up in Harlem with thousands of others living in run-down, rat-infested, dilapidated apartments. It was not uncommon for the landlords to never came around to provide services. He described a mother who woke up in the middle of the night and sent a piercing scream throughout the complex because her two-week-old baby had been gnawed to death by a vicious rat. The reality is that rat never would have been in that building if the landlord—to whom she had been paying high rent—had been providing the kind of services she justly deserved under the law for the kind of rent she was paying. The problem is not that the laws were not in place; the problem was there was a city building code inspector who was supposed to check out violations in buildings. He was by that building the day before, was met at the front door by the landlord who palmed $100 into his hand and the building inspector kept going. That landlord did not get arrested. The building inspector was not lock up. Instead the one who was penalized was that mother’s frustrated, embittered 16-year-old son, who after seeing his two-week-old sister die went out in the street and threw an object through a window.
It’s one thing to create laws rightly; it’s a whole other thing to execute laws impartially. So this question leads into an entire discussion in our day about excessive police force, incarceration or rapes. These are not discussions for Christians to avoid; these are discussions for Christian to engage in fully. Why? Because we care about justice and want to work for just laws and just implementation of those laws. We don’t just care about creating laws rightly; we care about executing laws impartially. We need God’s Word to wisely inform us on how we do that.
Distinguish between process and opportunity.
- Justice means fair process. We just said all people deserve a fair process, fair rules to live and play by. I suppose we would all agree on that.
- You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 16:19–20)
- Justice means fair opportunity based on all we’ve seen in Scripture, because not all people are starting from the same place. There’s no question that a child in my home, in a family with a mom and dad, a stable income, access to health insurance for the best medicine in the world and access to high-quality education has far more opportunities than a child born in an at-risk home with no mom or dad, no stable income, a totally indifferent insurance plan with far less medical benefits and far less access to quality education.
At what level is government responsible for helping provide fair opportunity for that child? As soon as I ask that question, some people are shouting, “Yes, we need to work for that.” Other people are shouting, “You’re a socialist who is ready to ruin America.” I want to be clear. I’m not proposing a solution here; I’m just saying based straight from Scripture, we need to wisely think about these things from all kinds of angles according to God’s Word. •
- May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! (Psalm 72:4)
- The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice. (Proverbs 13:23)
Christians of all people should be concerned, not just about children and families who have much opportunity, but also about children and families who have less opportunity. Think about abortion again. We know that some children in a mother’s womb are at greater risk and danger than other children. We work hard so they will all have an opportunity to live and thrive in their world, without exception. So why would we work for them to be born, then forget about them once their mom gives birth? No. We care about their lives, not just in the womb, but out of the womb. We care about their good in all of life, not just the first nine months. We want process and opportunity for all.
Distinguish between personal responsibility and systemic realities.
It is really at this point in political discussions that Christians divide big time. The most stark way we divide is over racial background and thinking about personal responsibility and realities, at least in the United States. Disparities do exist. This is admittedly a broad stroke; I’ll go ahead and acknowledge that. It may not apply to the exact city or community where you live, but the reality is when it comes to disparities in jobs, income and housing, African-Americans in the United States are much more likely to be unemployed than white Americans. The current ratio is two unemployed African Americans to one unemployed white person. This ratio has held pretty constant since 1950. When you measure household wealth, on average the medium net worth of African-Americans is 8% that of white Americans. African-American babies die at a rate over twice the frequency of white babies. African-American mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white American mothers. Young African-American males are six times more likely to be murdered than young white American males.
Put this all together, look at all the studies and you will see that white Americans are far more likely than African-Americans to have quality education, high-paying jobs, and to live in more affluent neighborhoods with less crime. This is the reality.
Now, I need to make a couple caveats here. First, I mentioned this is a broad stroke. The last thing I want to do is equate African-Americans with poor and uneducated; we know obviously that is not the case. One of my concerns with even talking about this disparity is it might create some artificial sense of pity that actually contributes more to the problem. My point is just to make it clear that skin color, specifically black of white, actually affects one’s life in the country in which I live.
The other caveat is that I’m not even saying why this disparity exists. We have all kinds of ideas about why it exists; we’re about to get to that. My point here is that a disparity exists; we can’t deny that. It’s not an opinion; it’s fact. Now here’s what’s interesting. A large research project was done where people heard these disparities and then were asked why they exist. Basically, respondents could answer along a spectrum.
On one side, they could say these disparities were primarily due to lack of individual responsibility, a lack of personal motivation in individuals to work hard and climb out of poverty. In the middle of this spectrum, they could say disparities were primarily due to unequal education or lack of access to quality education. Then on the other side of the spectrum, they could say these disparities were due primarily to systemic problems, like unjust systems and structures of discrimination in society.
So the researchers questioned people—white and black, men and women—then they asked if they were professing Christians. Here’s what they found:
- White non-Christians explained these disparities more according to the first side of the spectrum. So more white non-Christians were prone to answer that racial inequalities and disparities are due to individual factors. Some responded lack of education; even less chose systemic problems, unjust systems and structural discrimination.
- On the other hand, more black non-Christians were prone to answer that these disparities were due to discrimination in structures and systems—systemic problems. Including education, but less so personal responsibility over here.
- Here’s what’s really interesting. Among professing Christians, the researcher found that white professing Christians were even farther over here on the first side of the scale, even more likely to explain these disparities due to a lack of individual responsibility.
- Then, black professing Christians were even further over on third side, explaining these disparities due to discrimination in American systems and structures.
Now here’s the point. I’m obviously not saying that all white people believe this or all African Americans believe that. I’m not even saying this is the perfect way to ask these questions; I’m not the one who came up with the research. But here’s what I took away from it. What was so eye-opening for me was to realize that basically the more Christian you are, so to speak, the more divided you may be on this question of individual responsibility or systemic reality. Seeing this was so humbling and helpful.
I started thinking about the tension that exists, not just in the culture but also in the church when statistically more white brothers and sisters in the church are immediately prone to think on the first side; more black brothers and sisters in the church are more immediately prone to think on the third side, which affects our thinking on a lot of different things when it comes to economic policy, social structure and social systems. Christians are on different pages. And this is just one example of white and black brothers and sisters on different sides of an issue.
Then think about all kinds of other people. The people at the church I pastor represent over a hundred ethnicities. That’s a whole lot of different perspectives! The whole point is, we need wisdom from God as we think about both personal responsibility and systemic reality. I would say that what we’ve seen in Scripture is that both are biblically important.
Exodus 1 gives us a picture of system realities that are important. When Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to work as slaves, that had a massive impact on their lives.
- But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. (Exodus 1:12–14)
So how does God’s Word lead us to think wisely here? I think we would all say that based on God’s Word…
- Opportunity in any nation is a right. For example, the opportunity to live is a right; that’s why we work against abortion, not just for opportunity for people to breath in the world, but to thrive in this world. God wants all of His image bearers to thrive in this world for His glory. So we work toward that for all people in any nation in the world, at the same time…
- Privilege in any nation is a reality. Think about Exodus 1. Egyptians had privileges that Israelites did not have. Today, Americans have privileges that Somalis don’t have. Some Americans have privileges that other Americans don’t have. This is simply an acknowledgement that in any nation, some groups of people experience different realities than other groups of people. There are many reasons why this is a reality in a fallen world. Some of these reasons in some circumstances do involve oppression or discrimination. There’s no question the history of slavery and civil rights in the United States has contributed to disparities mentioned earlier. Other forms of oppression and discrimination have affected other groups of people we haven’t even talked about.So I should mention at this point that I know even privilege is a charged term. Just because someone has privilege does not mean they are responsible for oppressions or discrimination that led to their privilege. Just because someone is born with certain privileges, even if those privileges are a result of oppression, that person is not suddenly guilty of oppression. Now, is that person in some sense responsible to use their privilege to work for others, to have similar opportunities? That’s a question that God’s Word compels all of us to answer wisely. How do we wisely do justice according to God’s Word? I think a starting point is to…
- Acknowledge every individual within a surrounding structure. So we should care for individuals and value individual responsibility; at the same time, we should realize individuals exist within a surrounding structure and certainly we cannot ignore that structure. Instead we need to
- Acknowledge how the surrounding structure affects every individual. In so far as we ignore surrounding structures, inequalities will remain and injustice will reign.
So it’s right and good for all of us to consider any and all evidences of systemic injustice and to work against it, while promoting personal responsibility every step of the way. God’s Word compels us to wisely do both.
Okay, let’s look at two more areas where we need wisdom based on God’s Word.
Distinguish between rights and right.
There’s a significant different between these two.
Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Genesis 18:25)
- Justice is not simply giving people their rights, according to their definition of rights. There are all kinds of rights my kids think they have that are not right. They cannot demand a right to ice cream every night, a midnight bedtime or not going to school.
- Justice is ultimately doing that which is right, according to God’s definition of right.
There are so many discussions in government and politics that revolve around rights that totally ignore God’s definition of right. We must distinguish in these discussions between rights and right.
Distinguish between temporary and eternal.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17– 18)
What I’m acknowledging here is that there are many things we’re called to do in this world, some of which are temporary and some of which are eternal. I think a practical takeaway from all we’ve seen tonight is that we want to…
- Work hard for that which is temporary.
- Work hardest for that which is eternal.
So think about this example in light of an issue we have not talked about much, like immigration policy in your country. Based on God’s Word, we want to work hard to wisely care for sojourners, especially in a world where the migration of peoples is so prevalent, often due to extreme poverty and/or injustice, often in ways that those two go hand in hand. What we’ve seen in Scripture compels us to work hard to do justice and love kindness when it comes to men and women who need homes, long for freedom, needing food and water. While at the same time, we need to realize the greatest need for every immigrant man or woman in the world is ultimately the gospel. A temporary home on this earth with food and water—as necessary and vital as that is—will not get anyone to heaven.
Now, I want to be careful when I say that because the need for the gospel has led some Christians throughout church history to sometimes totally ignore injustice on the earth. We talked about that earlier. Church leaders told Martin Luther King, Jr. while he was in jail to just relax, stop protesting, just preach the gospel. No. That’s why I include both of these things. We work really hard to do justice and show mercy in this world, while never forgetting that people’s greatest need is the gospel. Doing both in a way that honors God requires much wisdom based on the Word of God. That’s what all this is about.
These are obviously heavy issues to think about as we’re now in the middle of the night, but we want to distinguish carefully between God’s Word and our wisdom regarding government. We are to apply God’s Word as wisely as we possibly can in the world in which we live, knowing it’s not always easy or simple. We must make different decisions or take different courses of actions in our efforts to wisely apply God’s Word.
3. How Should Christians Submit to the Government and Unite joyfully around God’s Word in the church as we work charitably in the world according to our wisdom.
I think to this point we’ve seen issues of government and politics where we’re going to come to different conclusions that we believe are wise on God’s Word, but we’re going to disagree on what’s wise. Into that reality, God urges us as the church through His Word…
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1–6)
So how do we do that amidst all our differences and complicated decisions in politics?
Prioritize the church, not political positions or candidates or parties. This flows straight from the Ephesians 4 passage above.
- Jesus does not tie Himself to a political party; Jesus ties Himself to a local church.
- We don’t prioritize political party; we prioritize local church. I don’t see political parties in Scripture, but I do see a priority in the local church. Think about this example: Most people who identify as evangelical Christians in the United States are Republicans, which leads some people to think or even say, “Well, the Republican Party is the Christian party.” But that is an extremely unhealthy thing to say. Why? Well, for one reason, not all Republicans are Christians. You would be tying the name of Christ to an institution where many participants and leaders do not believe in Christ. The Republican Party is not Christian, which might lead some people to say, “Well, maybe we should start a Christian party then.” But we know from all we’ve seen in Scripture that’s not good either because that would be tying the name and reputation of Christ to an institutional structure and set of policies that Christ has not Himself tied His name to. What institution has Jesus Christ tied His name to? The church. The community of people called by Him to be ambassadors for Him in this world.
- The most important thing Christians can do politically is to be the church. We are to be the people God has called us to be together. In Acts, we saw this unique political community which is to be united by God’s grace, devoted to God’s Word, committed to caring for one another, gathering to worship regularly, interceding in prayer continually, showing the goodness of God and spreading the gospel of Christ as we bear His name in the world. Prioritize that. That’s what Jesus prayed for us—for you and me—in this passage. He prayed for our unity, then He went to the cross.
- I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20–23)
- Unity in the church is so important that Jesus died for it. He gives us unity, not around our ethnicity or socio-economic status, not around our political policies or positions. Jesus died to make us a people united by His blood.
- The unity that the church displays to the world affects the spread of the gospel in the world. He prayed, “May they be one as We are one, so the world may know Your love.”
- I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20–23)
So how do we prioritize the church. Consider these points:
- Live in diverse community. Let’s not form churches based on ethnicity, socio-economic status or political policy or position. Come together in churches…
- Across political lines.
- Across generational lines.
- Across racial/ethnic lines.
- Where we acknowledge and appreciate our differences. Where we don’t pretend like we’re the same in every way. We’re not the same which is the beauty of the church. We see throughout the New Testament that we are people coming together with differences…
- Where we address our disagreements.
- Listen to and learn from one another.
Think about where we started tonight when I shared about the president of the United States visiting our church unexpectedly. Different people reacted in different ways; people were firing all kinds of messages on social media at one another and at me, without sitting down to listen to and learn from one another. Why would some people think it’s a good idea to pray for the president in a church gathering? Why would some people think that is not a good idea? That’s the question. The question is not whether or not to pray for the president privately or publicly. Of course we do that; every follower of Jesus believes we do that. That’s clear in the Bible—1 Timothy 2:1–2 tells us to pray for all kings and those in high positions. This totally was missed in that whole media firestorm.
People thought, “Are you saying we should not pray for the president? What kind of pastor are you?” I would be thinking the same thing if I heard a pastor say we should not pray for the president. That goes totally against God’s Word. That’s a closed-hand thing; we pray for leaders and presidents—no question. But that was not the question that Sunday. The question was do we bring a president out on the stage, in our church gathering, to pray for him publicly in front of all kinds of cameras? We don’t have a Bible verse for that one. First Timothy 1:3 does not say, “When the president is on his way back from playing golf and stops at your church, here’s what you do.” So followers of Jesus who believe the Bible might answer these questions in different ways.
On one hand, some might say with deep conviction, “Absolutely, 100% yes, we should bring the president on stage in our church to pray for him. What a unique opportunity to obey 1 Timothy 2 together and to do so publicly as an example that could encourage a lot of people to pray for him, modeling how to pray for him, knowing that honors him.” That’s a biblical thing to do. Romans 13 teaches us to respect and honor governing authorities. First Peter 2, honor the emperor. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the president, honor him. Count it an honor. Don’t you think it’s an honor, not just in private but in public, to pray with and for him, just like you would do for any president, regardless of party affiliation?
This is not just for the sake of the president, but we care for the good of our neighbors. It’s good to pray publicly with and for our leaders so they would work for justice and mercy for our neighbors in our country, particularly when it comes to such important issues as the sanctity and dignity of every human life in all kinds of spheres. In this prayer, you have the opportunity to pray the gospel, not only over the president but in front of all kinds of people who need to hear the gospel. I think there are probably some pretty good reasons to pray publicly for the president on stage in a worship gathering.
Other followers of Jesus would say with deep conviction, “Yes, by all means pray for the president and yes, pray publicly in a worship gathering. Absolutely, for all the right and good and biblical reasons you just listed. But do not bring the president on stage into the church gathering when so much of politics in our country is about appearances. You’re taking a holy moment and turning into a public spectacle that can and will be and has been twisted, used and abused by the media or politicians for all kinds of agendas.
“Some, maybe many, will view this as our church’s endorsement of the president or his policies. At the very least, they will think it is our pastor’s endorsement of the president or his policies. That would be really discouraging to some, if not many, members of the church who also devalue the sanctity and dignity of human life, yet disagree with some or many of the president’s policies, finding some of his words or actions offensive, not just personally but biblically offensive to God. Not to mention those outside the church who have been so turned off by the church because of all the ways they have seen the church coopted by political party and position. What will they think when they see this on the news and want nothing to do with McLean Bible Church? Yes, we want the gospel to spread, but don’t mix the gospel with political party and position.
“On top of that, what about the clear warning in James 2 to not show favoritism or preferential treatment in the gathering of the church? That’s a command in the Bible, too. There is even a biblical precedent of challenging leaders in political positions. John the Baptist did not hesitate to do that; he lost his head for it. So if you’re going to bring the president on stage, why would you not speak more clearly about what God’s Word says to him? In the end, does bringing the president on stage lead the church toward unity in the gospel? If not, then don’t do it.”
Now, again I’m not saying this represents all the reasons, but it’s definitely possible for followers of Jesus who fully believe the Bible to have different convictions here. One side argues to bring the president up on stage for the advancement of the gospel in one way; the other side argues to not bring the president on stage for the advancement of the gospel in another way. One side says we need to be unified by bringing the president up; the other side says we need to be unified by not bringing the president up. Both sides can actually be passionate about the gospel and unity, which is why some people were really disappointed that Sunday in our church, thinking their pastor was compromising the gospel and what truly unites us. Others were really disappointed with what I wrote on Monday because they thought their pastor was shrinking back from the gospel and trying to manufacture a false unity. So what do we do then?
I don’t think there’s a tidy answer to that question, but I think the answer starts with stopping, listening to and learning from each other. I think about things I heard or read that week that said, “Don’t listen to people in the church who think this or that.” I thought those people are our brothers and sisters whom we love, which means, yes, we listen to them. At the very least we listen to them. James 1:19 instructs us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to tweet or post. We live in a culture that entices us at every moment to speak our thoughts from behind a screen instead of looking in the eyes of our brothers and sisters in love and listening to them. God, help us to listen and understand what is happening, instead of jumping to conclusions. Help us respect the convictions of those in the church who disagree with us.
Let me ask, how many people do you know and have close relationships with who might approach this issue or other political issues differently than you? If you don’t have many friends like that, let me encourage you to ask why not. Have you united in your church around Christ or just around people who look and think like you? How can you seek relationships with brothers and sisters in the church who may have a different perspective than you on some of these things? Unite around core essential truths and practices here. I’m not talking about a fake unity, but when differences are less clear, nonessential truths and practices. Next time before you post or tweet or go on a rant about what you think, sit down with another brother or sister in Christ who might think differently, ask some questions and actually listen. Don’t post, tweet or share what you think; sit down face-to-face, ask questions and see what God might teach you about how He’s leading others to think through these issues. Again, they want to be driven by the Word; you want to be driven by the Word—so stop, listen to, learn from one another and look for opportunities to do the following.
- Love and defer to one another. That’s what Romans 15:1 says—look for opportunities to please your brother. I think there are so many applications of this. That week in particular, this is one of the things I was so convicted about. I was faced with a decision and I chose what I thought most people in our church probably would have chosen. I don’t think it was sinful; I really think I did it to honor the Lord. But I also know that it was not edifying for some people in our church and that’s why my heart was really heavy, because I love every member of the church that I pastor, on both sides of this issue and a number of other issues. I really want to look for opportunities to live for the good for Bible-believing, Bible-obeying brothers and sisters in the church who may have different convictions than me. This is what the gospel compels us to do. “For Christ did not please himself…” (Romans 15:3). So I don’t know what all this means in the past or the future, but I do know that if we would learn to love more this way, the gospel might be a lot more clear to a watching world around us. Along these lines in particular, I just to add here a…
Particular application for pastors and church leaders.
… I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1–4)
Based on the exhortation to preach the Word in this next passage, I want to encourage pastors to…
- Proclaim God’s Word , not your wisdom. Meaning proclaim the authority, boldness and humble unction—that which is clear and essential in God’s Word—but then…
- Work hard not to bind the consciences of church members over that which is not clear in God’s Word. If God has not spoken, let’s not speak like He has. The pastor tells people what they must do and how they must think according to God’s Word, so let’s not speak about what people must do or think if that’s not clear from God Himself.
- Work hard not to make statements that ignore proficient knowledge and practical nuance. Pastors are called first and foremost to be experts in the Bible, so let’s not quickly assume that we’re also supposed to be experts in economic policy and a whole host of political issues. The pulpit is not the place for us to do our political experimentation; it’s the place for us to declare what God has said. So on one hand, yes, speak on abortion because God has directly spoken on His work in the womb in Psalm 139. Yes, speak on racism because He has clearly created every person in His image (Genesis 1). Yes, Jesus fundamentally died for every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Revelation 5). On the other hand, you may not like President Trump’s executive order on immigration, but the biblical command to love the sojourner does not prescribe what the specific details of an immigration police in a 21st century republic filled with 330 million people should look like. Or you may not like President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, but there’s nothing in the Bible that directly commands Christians to be originalists when it comes to the constitution of the United States. So let’s be careful to proclaim God’s Word, not our own wisdom.
- Place your emphasis in the church on that which promotes unity around Christ. Let’s be careful not to throw our weight as pastors behind causes that Bible-believing, gospelembracing followers of Jesus might disagree on.
- Work hard not to alienate church members over non-essential differences of conscience. Not just in the pulpit, but also what we post on social media. If we’re only attracting Republicans or Democrats who are churched, if we’re only attracting people from a certain ethnicity or background, then we’re likely emphasizing things in the church that detract from unity around Christ. Afterall, He is the goal.
- Work hard not to tie the name of Jesus where Jesus has not tied His name.
- Jesus has not tied His name to certain political parties.
- Jesus has not tied His name to certain political candidates.
The church is not for Obama or Bush, Trump or Biden, or any other leaders in the world. The church is for Jesus. The danger is when a pastor in the church, or the church itself, ties the name of Jesus to a political candidate, then we’re tying Jesus to the words, actions, decisions, agenda or platform of that candidate in a way that Jesus has not said to do. There’s a not a verse in Scripture that says who to vote for. As Christians, hopefully we all make biblically-informed decisions on these things. We don’t sit back and do nothing.
As pastors and shepherds of God’s people who may have different convictions that are just as biblically-informed convictions as you do, but are a little bit different, we have to be careful in our positions within authority that is totally derived from God’s Word. We need to be careful to faithfully proclaim God’s Word, not our opinions, even our biblically-informed opinions. And we need to zealously guard the name of Christ from anyone or anything that would risk His reputation.
Exalt the name of Christ.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
- Jesus does not tie Himself to political parties or candidates; Jesus ties Himself to a local church and Christians. So how does this apply? Not just to pastors, but to all followers of Jesus in the church, many of the exhortations are the same:
- We don’t tie Jesus to political parties and candidates; we tie Jesus to local churches and Christians.
- The most important thing churches can do is exalt the name of Christ.
- Now, this leads to the question, “Well, I’m going to vote for somebody or some people, including many in the congregation I pastor, so I’d like to work for them. I’m going to work for a political candidate (there are people who do that across the church I pastor).” We have many people in our church who work in the current president’s administration at different levels. Is that wrong or unhelpful? Based on all we’ve see in Scripture tonight, I would say absolutely not. It is not wrong or unhelpful; it’s good for followers of Jesus to work in government. But whether we’re plain old citizens or government leaders, we still must all be careful with how we use the name of Jesus. Be careful when labeling something as a Christian position. No one can say their position on heath care, tax policy, immigration or foreign policy is the Christian position unless Jesus has stated this is His position, which in almost every case, He has not spoken in that way. As soon as we say that, we’re basically saying that anyone with a different position from what we’re saying is in sin. If you do, we’ve just raised things to the primary level where anyone who disagrees should be excommunicated from the church.
- Be careful with how we use His name.
- Be careful when labeling something “the Christian position,” as if it’s the standard of righteousness before God. There are times mentioned already, like abortion, when there better be a firm, biblical basis for that.
- Be careful when labeling someone “the Christian candidate” for all the same reasons. Unless Jesus has said, “I endorse him or her,” that statement is not true. You might say, “Okay, what about a politician who is actually a Christian, a follower of Christ?” I would say, “To the extent that person is actually a Bible-believing, gospel-embracing follower of Jesus in a church that has said yes, this person is a Christian, then yes, absolutely call them a Christian just like you would any other Christian. But beware that as soon as you say this is a Christian candidate, you’re likely saying more than that, at least in the ears of what most people hear. You’re implying this is the person whose platforms and policies align with Jesus. Undoubtedly there are some things that totally align with God’s Word, but there’s going to be some parts of that candidate’s policy or platform that Jesus has not spoken specifically on. Based on all we’ve seen in God’s Word, what I’m advocating for here is more careful use of language. It would be better to say, “This person running for office is a follower of Jesus who is trying to make Gospel biblically-informed decisions on public policy” instead of saying, “This is the Christian candidate” as if Jesus has officially endorsed them, their platform and positions.
- Be cautious with how we use our words.
- Be cautious when labeling something “a gospel issue.” Yes, we want all our political calculations to be informed by the gospel—that’s why we’re doing this Secret Church. But when you say immigration reform or affordable housing or environmental care is a gospel issue, you’re in danger of saying this policy or that position on this issue is what people who believe the gospel must embrace. For all the reasons we’ve already discussed, we need to be very careful with this kind of language. I would encourage reserving that language for primary, clear, essential issues in Christian faith and practice, the kinds of things you would excommunicate people from the church over.
- Be cautious when labeling someone “God’s person.” Going all the way to the beginning of tonight, people hear different things when you say that. That could mean all kinds of different things. Afterall, Pharaoh was God’s person in the sense that God raised him up to show His power, but that certainly did not mean that God endorsed him as a person or any of his policies. Come back to why this is all important. Whenever we use language like this, we’re not helping promote the unity of the church; we’re taking matters not specifically addressed in God’s Word, matters of our wisdom and good-faith efforts to apply God’s Word, but we’re requiring others in the church to be like us in a way God has not called us to be. I hope these exhortations to prioritize the church encourage us to be the church, live in diverse community with one another, listen to and learn from one another, love and defer to one another, exalt the name of Christ together, being careful with how we use His name and our words. Doing these things will help us unite joyfully around God’s Word in the church as we work charitably in the world according to our wisdom.
Okay, two more purposes we’ve set out for tonight.
4. How Should Christians Submit to the Government, Live justly, love kindness and walk humbly with God in our nation?
In the countries where we live, we want to practice Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
We have talked about 64 biblical truths and 12 gospel conclusions to stand on, but how do we do Micah 6:8 in a world of political ideologies, constitutions, parties, candidates, and policies? Look at the diagram we started with again.
The big picture, represented at the top of this diagram, is that we live justly. What does that mean practically?
- Live with integrity.
- Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9)
- Strive for justice in your political positions for that which is right and good in all the ways we’ve see in God’s Word.
- Strive for justice in your personal life, meaning justice and righteousness at home, in your marriage, family and parenting. Are you often more unkind to your family members than you are to other people? That is not just. Be just in your work and all your personal dealings. For example, have you ever employed someone who is an immigrant to do something for you and figure you could barter the price down real low? That’s not justice. Strive for justice in your personal life and every facet of your lives. It makes no sense to argue for justice in the public forum, but ignore justice in our private lives. It makes no sense to campaign for justice when others are listening, but close our eyes to injustice when no one is watching.
- Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9)
- Care for family. From the very beginning of the Bible, this is one of the clearest ways we can carry out justice in the world.
- And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
- Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
- Steward our God-given responsibility for exalting Christ in marriage.
- Steward our God-given responsibility for raising children through parents. Let’s care for families in the church, supporting one another’s families. As the church, live with integrity and care for families.
- Work for liberty.
- Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:16)
- Freedom of religion is ultimately given by God.
- Freedom of religion is rightly granted by government. This really is the most foundational freedom we have. If government can mandate what you believe or deny you the opportunity to live within your beliefs, then where will its reach end? What would keep it from dictating what you can read or write, hear or say, how you should live?
- Government does not exist for the establishment of religion—any religion, including Christianity. Unfortunately, this is a reality for many Muslim nations around the world where governments exist for the establishment of religion.
- Government does not exist for the elimination of religion. That’s a reality for communist regimes around world. While not at all at the level of communism, I’m concerned that this is increasingly the trend in my country where we’re setting up an increasingly secular state that leaves no room for religion in the public square.
- Government exists for the exercise of religion. This language is crucial—exercise. It’s not just freedom to worship; it’s exercise that affects the way we live.
- Not just in episodic gatherings, but in everyday life.
- Those who gather for worship in private settings scatter to live out their faith in the public square.
So faith, by its very nature cannot be private; it’s inevitably public. Faith is an exercise that affects the way we live. As Christians who live, study, work and play in every sector of society, we live out our convictions in every sector of society. That’s the exercise of religion.So we have the freedom to worship, ultimately given by God, granted by government to live out our faith, not just in episodic gatherings but in everyday life.
I think about my friend Carl who is behind the scenes, making this simulcast happen right now. He and his family have been in the center of a case here in the United States with their video media business. They have stated that they will not video or support certain events that go against their convictions as followers of Jesus. Their case has risen to the highest levels of government and I thank God for Carl’s courage. It’s not been easy. I know others who are humbly and with compassion, yet conviction, applying their faith to every facet of their work at great cost because of this foundational reality. Freedom of religion is granted by God.
- Wisely engage in the struggle for liberty in your nation, wherever you live.
- Work to stay out of jail for your faith. Work to promote religious liberty to the extent that you can. At the same time…
- Prepare to go to jail for your faith, knowing there may come a day when any one of us might have to choose between obeying God and obeying government. We want to give our ultimate allegiance to God, which is so much easier for me to say in the United States than it is for many followers of Jesus who are listening right now in places of the world where this liberty is not a reality. This is a fundamental part of why we do Secret Church.
- Appropriately engage in the struggle for liberty in other nations, on these different levels:
- Generally, on behalf of all people. I am thankful for people in my government, including some people in the church I pastor, who are actively working in different ways to promote religious liberty around the world through the means of government. That’s an expression of justice.
Let me pause and point out here that we did not dive specifically into foreign affairs or the use of military might in a government. We did not talk about just war theory, immigration reform, tax policy, redlining, housing regulations, incarceration rates, gender definition, or discrimination. We could keep going, but I trust you get the point. Some of you may be disappointed that we did not dive into all those issues, so if that is you, feel free to stay up for the next seven hours thinking through all those issues, then you’ll just be getting started.
My aim tonight has been to lay biblical foundations for thinking through these kinds of issues so we can work through them with God’s Word as brothers and sisters in the church who believe the same truths about God, government, and the gospel.
Back to the outline. We engage appropriately in the struggle for liberty in other nations…
- Specifically, on behalf of the church. The Bible beckons us to…
- Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)
We have family members right now who are in prison for their faith, who are being persecuted for their faith. We cannot ignore them. Instead we need to…
- Learn about the persecuted church.
- Listen to the persecuted church. Get to know their stories.
- Pray for the persecuted church, as though in prison with them.
- Serve alongside the persecuted church. Let’s look for opportunities to go to them and serve with them. One of the reasons we’re kicking off this urgent initiative tonight is because we want our brothers and sisters in the frontline of persecution to know they are not alone; to know we are with them, behind them, for them, as their brothers and sisters so they are not alone.
- Be the best citizen possible, in whatever country you live.
- For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (1 Peter 2:15)
- Work for the poor and the oppressed. This is pleasing to God and good for others.
- Persuade people for the good.
One of my concerns we see is not being careful with our words, dividing over less clear and non-essential things. One of my concerns is people walking away thinking, “Okay, I shouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about those less-clear or non-essential things. I shouldn’t talk about them with other Christians, or non-Christians for that matter.” We can almost sink into political passivity; that is certainly not what the Bible is encouraging us to do. I believe the Bible is telling us to live justly and do good in the world, which means wisely apply God’s Word as best we can in the world around us.
We need to think about politics and political issues, being informed by God’s Word to think well and wisely about these kinds of issues we’ve talked about. We need to make reasoned arguments for how to do justice that are biblically informed, even when we disagree with other Christians and certainly with non-Christians. We need to persuade people to do good in our government, whether it’s everyday citizens or leaders in the political sphere. We live justly, not by sitting back and staying silent, but by being informed citizens with good recommendations that we share with others about how to promote justice in our government. We should always keep in mind that unless we’re speaking authoritatively from God’s Word, we should be speaking humbly in all our efforts as we aim for wisdom. Live justly by persuading people for good and…
- Pay your taxes to the government. Paying taxes is doing justice. April 15th every year is an act of worship to God by obeying God.
- Vote for just policies and candidates. Obviously, this applies to those in democracies who have a vote. When that’s the case, we have a responsibility before God to use our God-given opportunity to vote and effect policy and candidates who lead in government. So vote for just policies and candidates, knowing as we’ve seen, such voting most often involves complicated calculations because there’s hardly a policy that is perfect; there are definitely no candidates who are perfect. So how do you decide who to vote for? Here is some practical encouragement based on all we’ve seen. You can decide what order to put these in, because I assume you’ll end up weighing factors in different ways.
- Evaluate personal character.
- Evaluate professional judgment, wisdom, and skill in the work you’re electing them to do.
- Evaluate political ideology. What are the political foundations upon which a candidate is running? What are that candidates’ political priorities? What is their political platform?
- Evaluate cultural direction, knowing that political decisions affect cultural direction. Which direction will this candidate lead the culture around me?
- Evaluate ultimate commitments. What is driving these candidates at the core? What is non-negotiable and essential to them, evident not just in what they say but in how they live?
Now, I’m not proposing these recommendations make voting easy or that we would all be on the same page if we just evaluate in this way. Some will look at this list and say, “There’s no question that I would vote for Donald Trump for president.” Others would say, “There’s no question that I would not vote for Donald Trump for president.” I’m not saying who you should vote for because God has not spoken on that. I’m just saying vote because God has called us to live justly and has given those of us in a representative democracy a responsibility to choose the people who govern and the policies according to which we organize ourselves. So let’s live justly by being the best citizens possible.
- Be the best Christian possible, living…
- Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel … (Philippians 1:27)
- Love your neighbor.
- And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39)
- Neighbor love realizes that our rights are not most important. This is a different way to live.
- Neighbor love realizes that others’ needs are far more important than our rights. Let go of our rights for others’ good.
- For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19– 23)
- Become like your Savior—like Jesus Who loves justice and laid down His life for others.
- Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1–4)
- By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16–18)
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5–6)
Here are some practical questions to ask yourself when you think about life, but particularly about your inner actions and politics:
- Are your thoughts, desires, actions, and words gracious? Are they seasoned with salt?
- Is your tone authentically empathetic?
- Is your timing appropriately patient?
- This is where I guard you against going public with your thoughts when you’re angry. There’s a time for showing righteous anger, but make sure it’s righteous and at least consider waiting for a clearer mind. Maybe a good night of sleep would be the wiser way forward.
- Are your thoughts, desires, actions and words charitable? Particularly when you’re thinking about interacting with people with whom you disagree. So think right now about some politician you don’t like, or a news commentator you can’t stand, then ask these questions?
- Are you assuming the worst in others?
- Are you acknowledging good in others?
- In disagreeing about ideas, are you demonizing people? Remember, this is the name of the game today. People who think differently than us are not just mistaken. According to us they are a toxic combination of ignorance, conniving and evil; a moral threat to everything that is descent in the world. Is that the train of thought your mind is going down?
- In your zeal for truth, are you acknowledging trade-offs? Are you acknowledging that everything is not going to be exactly as you think it should be? Are you considering tradeoffs? Potential compromises, even incremental steps that you can agree on with others? Consider that your view is probably not perfect; it probably comes with some difficulties as well, so are you being honest about those or are you ignoring them?
- Are your thoughts, desires, actions and words intentional? Do you ask these questions of someone with whom you disagree? If you don’t know that person, do you stop to listen and learn, as best as you can, based on where they are coming from? Do you step into their shoes to really ask what they think is best or what is most just? Ask them…
- “How did you come to that conclusion?”
- “Help me understand your perspective.”
- Are your thoughts, desires, actions, and words fair? One of the easiest things to do in an argument, even in our own minds, is to present someone else’s argument in a way they actually never said, then to attack it as if you’re attacking what they were actually saying. I’ve been guilty of this and certainly have had this done to me. It’s an easy way to make ourselves feel superior over someone else’s ideas, instead of fairly and justly dealing with what they were actually saying.
- Are you assembling “straw men”?
- Are you attacking “straw men”?
- Are your thoughts, desires, actions, and words fitting? Are you recognizing that…
- Not all issues are equally important. Do you argue with the same zeal for every single policy, as if the world will fall apart if it does not pass? Or do you kick the conversation into a higher rhetorical gear for so many reasons that you lose sight of what is really most important?
- Not all errors are equally evil.
- Are your thoughts, desires, actions, and words intelligent?
- An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. (Proverbs 18:15)
- Most of the problems plaguing any one of our countries are probably not going to be solved by 90 seconds of reflection. If there was really a simple solution, it’s at least worth considering if maybe it has been tried by now. Before stating your thoughts on something, at least ask yourself…
- Have I researched responsibly?
- Or am I responding ignorantly?
When in doubt, it’s probably wise not to pontificate on a complicated issue that we just started thinking about after reading one article about it. The purpose of these questions is to help us love kindness, meekness, and gentleness in a Christ-like way as citizens in our countries.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience… (Colossians 3:12)
What does it look like to walk humbly…
- In your approach to politics and party. I’ve mentioned political parties many times tonight, knowing this is more applicable in some contexts than others, but I trust we all realize that…
- Most any political party has strengths and weaknesses, including anyone we might identify with.
- Most any political party has idolatrous trajectories, including any party we might identify with.
- No political parties have a justice monopoly. Democrats don’t have a monopoly on justice in the United States; Republicans don’t have a monopoly on justice in the United States. This is really important to know, particularly in a place like the United States where there is a two party system and Christians often feel squeezed into a mold when the reality is biblical principles are not isolated to one or two of these options. Both platforms are flawed. That does not mean all political parties are equal in their moral bearing; it does mean that it’s at least helpful to look at what good concepts of justice might be driving positions on a wide spectrum instead of just two particular options.
- Sometimes, God’s Word may lead you to unlikely alliances. In the end, you may be standing with a political opponent on an issue which you believe is a wise application of God’s Word, even though it takes you out of step with those you normally stand with.
- Other times, God’s Word may lead you to stand alone. This is humility, right? Not being concerned about what others say or think, which is the ever-present temptation in politics. Instead, we are to be concerned about what God says in His Word and leads you to do by His Spirit. Walk humbly in your approach to politics and party.
- In your posture before God and others.
- Acknowledge grace from God in your life, knowing that anything good in you is evidence of the grace of God.
- Celebrate grace from God in others’ lives, even those with whom you disagree.
- In their motives and their gifts. Maybe they are not out to ruin the world, including you and everyone in it. Maybe they actually think what they are doing is best and most loving and most right, even if they are mistaken. After all, you’ve been mistaken a few times before, too. Aren’t you thankful for grace that has been given to you?
- Even (or especially) when their views are different than yours.
All of this is under the banner of our fourth purpose together tonight, that we might live justly, love kindness and walk humbly with God in our nation. And that leads to this quote. which is technically from Wayne Grudem, but it’s based on research from Alvin Schmidt, a church historian. I include this here because I hope it will be an encouragement that when God’s people live justly, love kindness and walk humbly with God, we can and will have an effect on the world around us for the glory of God.
“Christians have influenced governments positively throughout history. Historian Alvin Schmidt points out how the spread of Christianity and Christian influence on government was primarily responsible for…
- outlawing infanticide, child abandonment, and abortion in the Roman Empire (in AD 374);
- outlawing the brutal battles to the death in which thousands of gladiators had died (in 404);
- outlawing the cruel punishment of branding the faces of criminals (in 315);
- instituting prison reforms such as the segregating of male and female prisoners (by 361);
- stopping the practice of human sacrifice among the Irish, the Prussians, and the Lithuanians, as well as among other nations;
- outlawing pedophilia;
- granting of property rights and other protections to women;
- banning polygamy (which is still practiced in some Muslim nations today);
- prohibiting the burning alive of widows in India (in 1829);
- outlawing the painful and crippling practice of binding young women’s feet in China (in 1912);
- persuading government officials to begin a system of public schools in Germany (in the sixteenth century);
- and advancing the idea of compulsory education of all children in a number of European countries.
“During the history of the church, Christians have had a decisive influence in opposing and often abolishing slavery in the Roman Empire, in Ireland, and in most of Europe (though Schmidt frankly notes that a minority of ‘erring’ Christian teachers have supported slavery in various centuries). In England, William Wilberforce, a devout Christian, led the successful effort to abolish the slave trade and then slavery itself throughout the British Empire by 1840. In the United States, though there were vocal defenders of slavery among Christians in the South, they were vastly outnumbered by the many Christians who were ardent abolitionists, speaking, writing, and agitating constantly for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Schmidt notes that two-thirds of the American abolitionists in the mid1830s were Christian clergymen, and he gives numerous examples of the strong Christian commitment of several of the most influential of the antislavery crusaders, including Elijah Lovejoy (the first abolitionist martyr), Lyman Beecher, Edward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Charles Finney, Charles T. Torrey, Theodore Weld, William Lloyd Garrison, ‘and others too numerous to mention.’ The American civil rights movement that resulted in the outlawing of racial segregation and discrimination was led by Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian pastor, and supported by many Christian churches and groups.” – Wayne Grudem
Now, even as I read that quote, I want to offer a caveat, because I think it fails to acknowledge other ways that Christians have unfortunately promoted injustice in the world at different points. Even in this description of those who opposed slavery and the recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work, it does seem to gloss over all the active and unjust work that was happening in the name of Christ during that time. It almost seems to make the church out to be the hero when sometimes the church was the opposite. But I think that’s part of the point. How we act as the church and as citizens in our government will affect the shape of our government for better or worse. It will affect the shape of people’s lives for better or worse. God has clearly and unequivocally called us, throughout His Word, to live justly, love kindness and walk humbly with Him for good in our nations.
And here’s the last purpose for which we set out a long time ago. You’ve hung on this far, so here’s the final purpose.
5. Live zealously for the spread of God’s love and the glory of God’s name among all nations.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9– 10)
This is the Great Commission Jesus has given us (Matthew 28), and this is where all eternity is heading (Revelation 5). So what do we do on this earth?
Pray for God’s Kingdom to come.
- Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9–10)
- And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:3– 5)
Just like we saw in Revelation 8, the prayers of the saints will usher in God’s Kingdom, so let’s pray for God’s Kingdom to come.
Live for God’s commendation alone.
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Let’s say with our lives, wherever we are in the world because this is our faith, “We must obey God rather than men.” No matter what it costs, let’s…
- Cling to the truth of His Word, knowing that it will stand forever.
- The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)
- Follow the leadership of His Spirit, as wisely as we can and wherever He leads us in the world. May our “Yes” be on the table. God, lead our lives, our families, and our churches with all of our resources however You desire.
- For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:14)
- Long for God’s Son to return.
- Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:13–18)
- Proclaim His gospel…
- To everyone you know, right around you, far from you, particularly in these days of a global pandemic, proclaim His good news with urgency to everyone you know and…
- To every nation on earth. To all the people groups, particularly to those who have never heard His name. God, spend us for Your glory among all the nations, among the hardest to reach peoples on the planet. Let’s proclaim His gospel in a 2 Peter way in order to…
- Hasten His coming …
- With godly holiness in countries where injustice abounds, wherever we live, striving for holiness, living for justice, loving God with all our hearts, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
- With all our hope in a Kingdom where righteousness dwells.
- He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20–21)
So let’s wrap this up. I started tonight talking about a surprise visit from a president one Sunday in my church. Someday, if we’re still alive on that day, you and I are going to wake up in the morning and we’re going to have no idea what’s going to come later that day. We will have no idea Who is going to make a surprise visit. We’ll be going through our day, business as usual, when all of a sudden, instead of a voice calling you or me from backstage, we’re going to hear a trumpet boom from the sky above. Then in a moment we’ve waited our whole lives for, we’re going to see the face of our King. You and I won’t have any problem making a unified decision that day. For all who have put their trust in Jesus from every nation, tribe and language, we will fall on our faces in adoration, then rise with all those who have gone before us, entering into eternal joy under His rule and reign for all eternity. “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
As I close in prayer, I want to invite you, to the extent to which it is possible where you are, to get on your knees before God. I’m picturing tens of thousands of people scattered around the world right now, in this moment, on our knees before God, just crying out to Him, “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
So would you get on your knees now? I want to lead us in prayer, calling out to God as His people, His children, scattered among the nations.
God, we pray like You taught us to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name! Hallowed be the name of Jesus! Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we pray. God we pray that Your great, glorious, majestic, holy name—Jesus that Your name as Savior and Lord and King— will be made known among all peoples, among people in our nations wherever we’re living right now, from the United States to Australia, to Afghanistan, to Cambodia, to Laos, to Turkey, to Kirgizstan, to Vietnam, all the places where we’re gathered right now. God, we pray Your name will be exalted in our nations, that You would use our lives, our families and our churches in these nations, to make Your glory known. God, we pray that You would spend us as you send us into other places for the spread of Your glory where Your name is not known now. God, we pray for Somalia, North Korea, Yemen, places in the world where there is so little access to the gospel. Please send us out; please cause laborers to go into these places; please use our lives, our families, our churches, our resources for the spread of Your glory to every corner of the earth.
God, we praise You for Your Word. We praise You as our King. We pray that You would help us with these two passports You’ve given us to faithfully glorify You as citizens of this earth and ultimately glorify You as citizens of Your Kingdom in heaven. We long for the day when we will see Your face and pray You will help us glorify You maximally from this day until that day. In Jesus’ name, we pray. All of us around the world in this gathering say together—Amen!
Session 6 Discussion Questions
1. We need to recognize truths that God has stated clearly in His Word, truths that all Christians should agree on regardless of their political positions. List some of those truths.
2. In what ways do many people confuse the respective roles of God and government?
3. Government cannot change the human heart. How should this reality affect our expectations of government policies?
4. How do governments influence the moral fabric of a nation?
5. What are some examples of temptations we might have to rely on our own wisdom rather than God’s Word regarding government?
6. What are some issues that you’ve put in the “primary” category that should not be there? What’s the danger of viewing issues as primary that shouldn’t be primary?
7. Is the tax rate a “primary” or “secondary” political issue? Explain your answer.
8. Should all sins be criminalized? Why not?
9. What’s wrong with the approach that explains all injustices by simply claiming that people “just need to take more personal responsibility”?
10. There is a lot of talk of Christians pursuing justice today. What is a biblical definition of justice, and how is this different from the way many people use the term today?
11. What is the most important thing Christians can do politically? How would you defend your answer?
12. Why is unity in the church so important?
13. What does it mean to say that freedom of religion is ultimately given by God?
14. What are some examples of ways that Christians can be the best citizens possible?
15. How are we to hasten the coming of the true King?