Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Christians and Patriotism

They say that there are two things to never discuss:  Religion and Politics.  But, being more than a little hard-headed and never one go along with conventional wisdom, I’m going to go ahead and discuss both!

This lesson may ruffle some feathers and step on some toes, but I think it’s particularly needful given the current situation our nation finds itself in at this time.

To say that this election season has been tumultuous would be a massive understatement! Unfortunately, when politics are involved, it seems that the worst in people is typically brought out, regardless of whether or not a high-stakes election is coming up.

Through the course of it all, I have been forced to examine myself in many ways.

Can Christians be Patriotic?

Consider this a confession of my shortcomings:  Several years ago when I first graduated from college I became very interested in politics.  I was constantly reading articles on political news and sharing my opinion with others, many times trying to defend my viewpoint against theirs.  It got to be so bad that I couldn’t hardly stand to watch certain political figures or listen to them speak without my blood pressure rising.  I would say things in political debates that I would later be ashamed of saying.

After years and years of this I looked back and realized that I needed to make some changes.  I made a pledge to myself that I would do my best to tone it all down, keep my opinion to myself as much as possible and maybe not get caught up in the news so much.  Of course, this is something that is obviously easier said than done!

I have always been proud to call myself an American.  I feel that in many ways our country is uniquely blessed.  I respect the sacrifices that have been made by so many for the freedoms that we enjoy, so envied by others around the world.  Certainly, the freedom of religion is something I am particularly thankful for as a Christian.

However, despite all this I sometimes wonder:  Can Christians be patriotic?

A Christian’s Obligation to Government

Certainly, Christians have obligations to whatever government of whichever nation they reside in.
Christians must submit to the government’s authority. We are told that governments are put into place by God Himself for our own good.

Romans 13:1-2 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

1 Peter 2:13-14 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme,  or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.

(Side note:  We can even take advantage of our citizenship to further the Christian cause, just as Paul did in Acts 22.  Some in our own society seek to silence the spreading of the Gospel in reminding us of the Bible’s commands to submit to the government.  In such situations we can gently remind them of our freedom of religion and First Amendment rights.)

Christians must pay taxes.

Mark 12:17 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.

Christians must obey the law of the land.

Titus 3:1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good…

Of course, if the laws of the land go against God’s commandments then God’s law supersedes the laws of man.

Acts 5:27-29  And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men…”

However, in spite of our obligations to the government, we must remember that Christians are in a very unique position.

A Christian’s True Citizenship

It is Christ who has ultimate authority, even over all the governments of the world.

Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”

We are called to be in the world, but not to go along with the world.

Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…

We are told to not get too caught up in the temporary matters of this world and focus instead on the work that God would have us to do.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Therefore, while we all may be Americans and we all may care very deeply about the course of this nation, we cannot allow our zeal for the United States overshadow our devotion to Christ!  We can’t allow ourselves to get so caught up in being Americans that we forget to be Christians!

Patriotism as Idol Worship

Patriotism could in some ways be considered a form of idol worship.  As we have already established, our faith and adoration should be for Christ alone, all other things should be secondary at best.
Some people have elevated the Founding Fathers of our country to a very revered status.  To some, the U.S. Constitution is almost as highly regarded as the Bible.  While America is indeed quite exceptional, we must realize that like any other man-made institution it is ultimately fallible and therefore imperfect as anything else in the world.

1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Matthew 6:19-21 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

So many seem put all their hope, trust, and faith into a political party or candidate, but we must recognize that no politician can save us.

In fact, one could make the argument that the very reason our nation has come to be in the state it is in is due to the individual citizens.  Recall that the Israelites desired to be like other nations and demanded that they have a king to rule over them.  God relented and allowed them to do as they pleased and have their king (1 Samuel 8).

When we lift up any candidate in such a way, we are rejecting God and His authority.

Matthew 6:24  No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other…

(While this verse is describing how Christians cannot serve God and riches I believe the same point could apply to anything we allow to supplant God’s authority.)

Political Disagreements

Further problems can be caused by yielding our allegiance to a political party instead of trusting God is that we can allow ourselves to lose focus on God’s will rather than man’s.

Furthermore, many people are so dedicated to their chosen political party that they may make compromises when it comes to being a Christian.  If we are going to be completely honest with ourselves, no political party’s ideals or platforms completely align to God’s commandments.  Conservative or Liberal, Democrat or Republican, these man-made ideologies all fall short of God's standard.

People are very passionate about their opinions and in the course of disagreeing with others, they can be very unloving.  They may call each other names, spread vicious rumors about a particular candidate, or flat-out lie to make some kind of point.  Christians cannot allow themselves to participate in such vile discourse!

Matthew 5:22  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[a] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

We are only temporary residents of this world.  Again, if indeed our true citizenship is within the Kingdom of Heaven, then we need to conduct ourselves accordingly.

1 Peter 2:11-12 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,  having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

When we get caught up in political discussion, find ourselves in the heat of the moment and subsequently lose our cool, we misrepresent our calling.  Jesus reminds us of just how important it is that our conduct remains holy in all situations.

Matthew 5:13-16  “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

We Must Love Christ Over All

Christ tells us that He is to be loved and adored over all.

Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

We have discussed this verse before.  When Jesus used the word “hate” in this verse He used a hyperbole to emphasize His point.  Of course Jesus doesn’t want us to actually hate anyone, but He does want us to love Him above all others.

If Jesus made this demand in relation to our earthly families whom we love so dearly, then don’t you think that He expects that we love Him more than our home country as well?

Walking the Tightrope

I want to be sure to clarify that the point of this lesson is not to say that we have to do away with any sense of national pride that we might have or that we shouldn’t participate in the upcoming election.

My point is that we cannot allow ourselves to forget that our true citizenship is the Kingdom of God, that Christ is the one to whom all authority belongs, and that we need to let those  our devotion to these truths define us rather than anything within this world.

But as we live in this world, we walk the tightrope of the Narrow Way.

Matthew 7:13-14 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

If it were easy, everyone would do it.  As it is with so many other things in the Christian walk, striking just the right balance is the key.

How do we find the equilibrium of being both a proud American and a dedicated servant of God?

Pray for God’s Will to be Done – Ultimately, it is God’s will that shall be done...  Regardless of the world's stubborn resistance.  Therefore we should always pray for God’s hand to guide us in all things.  With this in mind we should thusly pray for our nation and our leaders.

1 Timothy 2:1-2  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

How do we interact with others when political disagreements become the topic of discussion?

Remember the “Golden Rule” – It’s OK to disagree with the political ideologies of others, but let’s be very careful to not let things get out of hand if we do respond.  We don’t want to be marginalized or insulted, so let’s not ridicule others.

Luke 6:31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

Listen – Sometimes we need to temporarily forego those First Amendment rights and bite our tongue in certain situations.  We should listen to someone else’s viewpoint rather than merely seek to make a rebuttal of some kind.

James 1:19 So then,  my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…

Be Loving – When we inevitably meet someone we don’t see eye to eye with and they begin to say awful things to us, let’s resist the urge to retaliate.  Let Christ's love be evident in our words and actions.

Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you

Conclusion:  Our Heavenly Citizenship

A point that resurfaced time and again throughout this lesson was the idea of citizenship within the Kingdom of Heaven.

While here on this Earth so many revere America as a united nation, the Kingdom of Heaven is even greater as it sets aside all ethnicity, social status, and gender.

And as sad is it is to say, it’s simply the truth that America is only temporary.  Whether it ends tomorrow due to threats from without or within or it lasts even until the Day of Judgement, America will end.  But that greater kingdom will last forever.

But how do we obtain citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom?

Galatians 3:26-28 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

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