You are likely reading this article a few days after the 2020 election. For reasons related to the Messenger printing schedule—and my too busy schedule—I am writing this a few days before that election. This provides an opportunity for me to write a non-partisan article. I am writing this without any idea of who will be our nation’s president in 2021. No matter who is in office, what are the basics of Christian citizenship?
The New Testament speaks to our duties as citizens in four key texts: Matt. 22:21; Acts 5:29; Rom. 13:1-7; and 1 Tim. 2:1-7. In his first letter to young Timothy, Paul lays out the basics for Christian citizens. Allow me to summarize a few relevant points:
Be thankful. Paul calls us to gratitude. In verse one of 1 Timothy chapter two, he says we should be praying with thanksgiving. Now, reflect on Paul’s context. Paul was in prison for preaching the Gospel. He had been beaten with rods, stoned, received the 39 lashes (5 times!). If any man had a right to be bitter it was Paul. Yet he writes to call the church to give thanks as they pray for their leaders.
I don’t think Paul was grateful for Caesar. He was not calling Timothy to give thanks for the injustices involved in Roman rule. He was, however, reminding young Timothy that even in tough times we have much for which to give thanks
The opposite of giving thanks is grumbling. It is altogether appropriate for Christian citizens to engage our leaders, debate the issues and defend our rights. We should be careful as we do so to never lose that basic Christian virtue of gratitude. Followers of Jesus ought to be people who are always giving thanks.
Be loyal. Christians are to be loyal citizens. Of course, we can never render to Caesar that which belongs to God. Our ultimate loyalty is always to Christ as King. However, as much as possible, we are called to support our government leaders as we live godly, dignified, peaceful lives. Christians should be easy to govern. We are people who respect public servants, participate in the public square, pay our taxes, obey the laws of the land and always pray for our leaders.
Tertullian lived in the second generation of the church. He once wrote, “For the Emperor, the Christians pray for long life, secure dominion, a safe home, a faithful senate, a righteous people and a world at peace.”
We should be vigilant to carefully judge ourselves as Christian citizens before we run to find fault in our government leaders.
Focus on advancing the Gospel to all. This paragraph of Scripture in 1 Timothy is dominated by the word “all.” Pray for all; God desires all to be saved; Jesus died as a ransom for all. Since Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and men, He is the way for all people to be saved. Even when Paul writes about the duties of Christian citizenship, his true passion is the advance of the Gospel to all.
Identity politics dominates the public debate today. Media pundits and pollsters appeal to interest groups and endlessly divide people based on sex, race, class, region, age, education— you name it! This is an appeal to self-interest over the common good; us against them.
As followers of Jesus we are interested in one particular group of people—ALL. It is not us against them. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all. We know that only Jesus can give people the character they need to govern themselves as a stable, strong nation. A people who are spiritually sick cannot be morally sound for very long.
Unfortunately, too many people in our pews seem to be more passionate about advancing their political agenda than advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our one compelling issue ought to be souls—the souls of men, women, boys and girls. All!
Oklahoma Baptists, the best thing we can do for our country is to focus on these basics. If we would be thankful, be loyal and be zealously committed to sharing the Gospel with all, most everything else would come into place.