In a Time of the Pressing of Men's Hearts, What Are We Called to Be?
Matthew 22:18-22 (ESV) But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
In last the last few months, our government has taken a turn that few of us could even of imagined in prior decades and the question of, "How do you honor a government that has begun to be dishonorable?", "What are the limits of godly civil disobedience?", and "When does a social or political edict change our response and become a kingdom matter?" are now questions that move to the front of the cue. Also, here is one, "Should a Christian ever resist the government ?" "How does our faith affect our citizenship?" Finally, "did Jesus or the disciples ever use their citizenship to resist or shape their standing in the government?"
That's what I want to write to you about today and I will also touch on some of this in the teaching of September 18, 2021.
Okay. What is the difference between the kingdom of God, Christendom, and Nation States?
First, Jesus drew a distinction between God's kingdom and the kingdom of the worlds that is best exampled in his dialogue with Pontus Pilate, the Roman governor of an occupying force that had ultimate jurisdiction over Palestine.
John 19:9-11a (ESV) He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above...”
Jesus, in a brief phrase told Pilate about the reality by which he was given authority, namely that God was overseeing the events of men and that the kingdom of God is separate and yet influencing the events of man's kingdoms. As it says in the Proverbs, "Proverbs 21:1 (ESV) -The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will." God is in direct influence and sometimes overarching control of the events of mankind. Let me say it this way, history will come to the Lord's pre-determined conclusion.
As far as Christendom is concerned, it was first as a term in the ninth century in. the court of Alfred the Great of Wessex and it referred to being a Christian and the profession of faith through baptism, which was extremely essential in this feudal time of Vikings (yes, those guys on TV), and Nordic expansion into the Anglo Saxon areas of England. It came to mean, the area and impact of Christianity in the world, including nation states that would have adhered to Christianity as a nation. The faith was felt in every area of life: economic, social, religious, family, political and Christendom referred to the faith and the propagation of it through universities and institutions.
The long and the short of it. We do not seek Christendom in how it has come to mean a "theocracy" (rulership by God through proxies), or by its means justifies the ends. We simply do not do that.
So, what role do we have living in a nation state, members of the kingdom of God, the greater reality of heaven on earth?
Our allegiance is first and foremost to the kingdom of God. Civil disobedience and defiance begins where we see a law, proclamation or mandate violate the nature of the kingdom and we simply say, we are not going to bow to any idol. We don't do so with rancor, but with resolve. We resist from a quiet strength and not a riotous dissipation of influence. Our goal is not the dissolution of the state, but a return to righteousness within the state. As the scriptures say, "Proverbs 14:34 (ESV)
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."
We have a duty, first and foremost, to show allegiance to God and His kingdom, but because of how righteousness is a blessing, we as citizens should make the city, state, country, and business we live and work in better, more just, and more profitable for people and the rest of the citizenry, and to that end I would point you to Daniel and Jospeh as prime examples of this.
So, when and how do we use our citizenship?
When we talk about being a citizen, we must remember that those who govern in our nation do so by the consent of the governed. Our constitution recognizes that our rights come from God and not the state, and are unalienable. In other words, you, the state didn't grant them and you cant take them away.
Did anyone in the Bible use their rights as a citizen?
You will find Paul did. Read this:
Acts 22:22-29 (ESV) Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.
Paul was unafraid to use his citizenship to avoid a beating from the Romans. But, it is not the only time he used this. Check this:
Acts 16:19-24 (ESV) But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Now, you all know what happened next, a very strategic earthquake, and Paul leading the jailer and his family to the Lord. However the next day came and this happened:
Acts 16:35-40 (ESV) But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.
Again, even though it was after the fact, Paul was unafraid to use his Roman citizenship as an advantage, this time to help the new believers.
If I Say, "I love my country", Am I Dishonoring God and the Kingdom?
Well, then let's talk about the word love. In the Greek language which we received our New Testament, there are four words for love: storge, phileo, eros, and agapao. Here's the basic breakdown.
I love my dog. I love apple pie. I love cars. - storge - this is saying "I enjoy this immensely", but, you wouldn't propose to a pie or a Porsche.
I love you, man. I love you, too. (You still can't have my _______). This is phileo, like Philadelphia - the city of brotherly love. This is love between siblings or friends.
I love you. (The newlyweds stare into each other's eyes and then seal the vows with a kiss...and the little brother says from the second row, "Ewww!" Even these two above experienced that....) - Eros covers both romantic love and sexual love, which in a covenant relationship is good, very good!
I love You, Lord! or I love you and there's nothing you can do about it. - Agapao, love that gives of itself without transaction or return. A selfless, giving love.
John the Apostle said, 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV) 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. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
N.T. Wright, in commenting on this passage says, (For Everyone Commentary Series - New Testament Set (18 Vols.)) So the command ‘not to love the world’ refers not to the physical stuff of this world, but to ‘the world’ as it is in rebellion against God: ‘the world’ as the combination of things that draw us away from God. The flesh, the eyes, life itself – all can become idols, and like all idols they demand more and more from those who worship them. And all idolatry draws us into the lie, or if we’re not careful into The Lie. We must celebrate all the goodness of the world, all God’s goodness to us within his creation. But we must not worship it. We must thank God for it – and pray and watch for the day when it will be transformed by the royal appearing of his son.
The believer always has to be mindful of the power structures, money, influence, fame, control, that always seek to seduce us from Christ, yes, even in America. We must check our heights to make sure our highest allegiance is not to the flag, but to King Jesus.
The word love in every case here is agapao. Self sacrificing, giving love. That love is reserved for Jesus and His Kingdom.
So, the bottom line is, you can love your country, even sacrifice for your countrymen and not disturb your standing in Christ.
How do I use my citizenship in this current time?
First, your rights, even in your citizenship are God given. They are yours to exercise, not the governments to tell when and where it is acceptable.
Second, if the rights benefit you, your family, your business, your church family and your community, then use them, or you may find you will lose them. It is the nature of government systems to keep what has been ceded to it from the local institutions and individuals. When you exercise your rights, you are filling a power vacuum that the state will have a check in when they go to deprive or bypass your rights.
Third, be vocal in this time. Write, call, text and email your leaders. Speak up in local conversations with grace and insight and don't be filled with cynicism or rancor. Be firm and kind. Look at the response of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in their interaction with King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Fourth, know where your push line is. A push line is that place where you cannot be pushed further and is different for everyman. For some the push line is already past, others haven't reached that point yet. Just know your heart and convictions.
What Else Should We Do?
Honor. We are called to honor the king and to honor all men. (1 Peter 2:17). I don't believe that shouting or writing a sign that uses "F*Biden" is honoring. It is a sign of the gracelessness of the age we are in. Sentiments should be expressed within the context of the kingdom of God and its dictates and not the worlds, not matter how cool it seems. Really. Whether we agree with the leader or not. Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this while under the rule of the Emperor Nero, who blamed Christians for the fire destroying Rome and then used them as torches as he rode his chariots through his gardens at night. If Peter could be gracious and honoring in that hot mess, surely we can too.
Act in faith. (ESV) For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:23b Move with conviction in what God gives you to do. If you vax, do it with faith. If you don't, do that in faith. Just remember this, for the sake of the church, preach Christ, live your convictions. Let me say that again, "Preach Christ, live your convictions".
Lean into relationships. This challenge should result in a desire to be closer to Jesus and to gather more with the body of Christ and not less. I need you and face it, you need me. We really do need each other in this present age! More importantly, we should lean into our relationship with Christ. Let's pursue Him with everything.
Finally remember this from Phillip Schaff, famed historian of the Church, "One man with truth on his side is stronger than a majority in error, and will conquer in the end." (History of the Christian Church, Vol. VII, ch. 3, sec. 56)