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Oct 25, 2020

Stewardship of Citizenship

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Christian Citizenship

Keywords: stewardship, citizenship, voting, responsibility, pro-life

Summary:

While a Christian's primary and preeminent citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, all of us are also citizens of at least one country in this world. As such, we all have certain responsibilities to earthly nations as well. Living in this country we have more than most. This message looks at why we are still responsible to earthly nations to good citizens and what good citizenship means.

Detail:

Stewardship of Citizenship

Part 2 in Christian Citizenship Series

October 25, 2020

REVIEW:

  • Short series on “Christian Citizenship”
  • Dealt with “Dual Citizenship” last week: our primary and overriding citizenship as Christ-followers is in the Kingdom of God.  As such, that kingdom, its rules and laws, its King/Head of State determines first and foremost how we live in any earthly kingdom. 
  • Scripture is clear that we are to live as “foreigners and aliens” in this world, living righteously in the midst of moral and spiritual corruption (I Peter 1:17, 2:11). Our dominant citizenship is “in heaven”, not on earth (Phil. 3:20-21).
  • My primary calling as pastor is to lead you to Jesus Christ to trust him for the forgiveness of sins, to treasure him above all else and to live out our love for Him in every arena of life—politics included.
  • I share the concern of many pastors that our gospel witness has been compromised, especially among the younger generations, when we fail to speak against the moral failures of public officials in both dominant political parties and only focus upon policy differences. Both are important.  But, I would contend, both are not equally impactful on the future of billions of people. 
  • So when “push comes to shove” and earthly governments either prohibit/punish us from doing what God says we must do or demand that we do something God says we should not, which kingdom’s laws and ruler should we obey? (Heavenly… every time…without question.)  This is why governments around the world and throughout history have persecuted Christians:  they want to lay exclusive claim to citizenship and obedience to leaders or laws.  Their failure to recognize Divine Law and a Divine Lawgiver puts them in direct conflict with the claims of Christ and both Old and New Testaments.
  • We should always have a “feeling of foreignness” and a deep, homesick-like heart-longing for the Kingdom of heaven. Our encounters with things like injustice, suffering, hunger, poverty, isolation…all that is not like heaven…should serve to remind us every time we encounter them that this is not our real home country.  They should serve to point us to love our real home more…and work in this world, as much as is within our power, to see God’s kingdom values and truths implemented in this world’s kingdoms.  

TODAY:  we’re going to focus upon our biblical roles, rights and responsibilities in regards to earthly citizenships--whatever country or nation we may find ourselves living at any time.  While the Bible affirms the truth stated in our Declaration of Independence that “all men (people) are created equal”, not all nations are created equal.  As such, there are vast differences between various nations in terms of types of governments, types of rulers, types of laws and thus types of responses and actions in which God’s people must engage.  Determining what is right citizenship in any given country at any given time requires that we know two things:

What is the responsibility of every Christian towards every government, i.e. the minimum bar of behavior for Christians in relationship to any government?

What is the proper role of government over people and when do governments/laws cease to be “legitimate” and rather become illegitimate, tyrannical, unbiblical, ungodly and must be disobeyed by God’s people in order for them to continue to be good citizens of the Kingdom of God?

To know the answer to either of those questions requires that we know what the Bible says about citizenship on earth and governments on earth.  It demands, in essence, a theology of citizenship.  Any biblical theology of citizenship must acknowledge the following:

  • We are to “do all” for the glory of God—I Cor. 10:31. This must include politics.  (See also 2 Tim. 2:17—equipped for “every good work.” 
  • God cares about secular government and leaders. (See Daniel 4:27; Paul w/ Felix in Ac. 24:24-25)
  • Preaching “the whole counsel of God (Ac. 20:26-27) must include preaching about civil government. The word “king” is used 112 times in just Psalms, Proverbs and Ecc.  If the Bible is not relevant to the pressing political questions of our day, how will people believe it is relevant to other pressing issues?
  • Pastors throughout history have preached about politics. This is nothing new. 

So, let’s start with the most fundamental question of how are we to determine what “good” is, be it a ‘good citizen,’ a ‘good government,’ a ‘good law,’ or a “good ruler?” Consider a few EXAMPLES:

  • Marxist communism will say that a ‘good citizen’ is one who teaches their children that atheism is right and good; that private property is an old, outdated, bourgeois notion and that everything belongs to the government (including your children);  that rights come from the state/gov., not from God and that, therefore, the individual’s rights are subservient to the needs of ‘the people,’ the masses.
  • Monarchy will say that the king/queen is the source of law and the final word on what is ‘good’, not God; that power and authority are granted to certain individuals based on their blood-line, wealth, landholdings, etc. that the people exist to serve the monarchy/king/queen/nation; that the best economics is what the monarchy says is best, etc.

Those are just two of many possible forms of government. But you can see the difference regarding how the definition and determination of “good” is arrived at, right?

Q:  Other possible forms of government? 

  • Autocracies—power rests with one person (dictatorship, monarchy),
  • Oligarchy—power rests with a small group of people—by wealth, position, birth, etc.); is closely related to fascism (right-wing authoritarian rule) or communism (left-wing economics and social structures).
  • Republics—power rests with the people (direct, democratic, constitutional)
  • Theocracy (a system in which priests/mullahs/prophets/judges rule in the name of God)

Biblical form of government? The Bible bases “good” government in that which conforms to the just nature of God while understanding the fallen nature of man. 

  • This is why Israel started as a theocracy—the most direct expression of the nature of God was the Law of God. This is why the first thing God did when the Israelites left Egypt (dictatorship—Pharaoh) was to give the law.  Moses was initially responsible for hearing cases and applying this law.  When the court docket got too full, his father-in-law suggested he develop a sort of municipal and superior court system where only the toughest cases would pass to him. 

This is also the basis for the Western belief in “rule of law.”  The law (God’s law) is supreme, not the government or any particular ruler. 

Have you ever heard the Latin terms Lex Rex?  That was the title of a book written by a Scottish Presbyterian minister named Samuel Rutherford in 1644.  Translated literally it means “Law King”.  In the day when the King of England saw himself as the law of the land, Rutherford maintained that everyone, king and peasant, were under divine law, God’s Law.  Thus his title was a play on words that could either mean “law is king” or “the king is law.”  For that challenge to power, Rutherford was arrested and nearly beheaded.

  • Israel then wanted a king so it moved to a BUT, God’s law didn’t change and even kings were to be subject to God’s truth, no exception. 
  • ANY form of government can, apparently, be acceptable to God as long as it is under the law of God. FORM does not dictate function according to God.  Government is to function as an implementor of God’s justice in human affairs.  When it fails to do so (which is quite often and in virtually every form of government…particularly those that deny the supremacy of God), government ceases to BE what God has created it to be. 

So, did we answer what a “biblical/good” form of government is?  (Anything that properly institutes the justice of God in human relationships.)

BTW, what is the PURPOSE of government?  To protect human beings from each other’s evil tendencies, i.e. to promote justice. 

What is JUSTICE?  “Justice is the practice of truth (i.e. God’s truth) in human relationships.”  (E. Calvin Beisner)  It is rendering to each person their due according to a right standard.  Result:  promoting justice is THE most important function of government.  APP:  Justice is more important than most of the “rights” we hold dear—voting, arms, speech, assembly, etc.  If the outworking of those rights does not reflect God/His law, i.e. justice, then those “rights” will not produce the practice of God’s truth in human relationships. 

ILL:  The most tragic current example of this is the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to abortion based on her “right to privacy.”  Regardless of what you may think about abortion, let’s look at this “right” through the lens of Scripture.

  • Is there a “right to privacy” in God’s word? No.  God outed people’s sins and has always held us responsible for our ‘private’ sins. 
  • Is there a “right to life” in God’s word? Most assuredly.  That is the first and primary “right” for any human being because without that right, ALL others are useless at best and expendable at worst. 

So, we’ve talked about what a good government is according to God:  that which promotes truth in justice. 

            But the next question is, “What is ‘truth’?”  We could ask it another way: “What is the good we should all be seeking in our human relationships, i.e. in government?” 

As Christians, “good/right” is defined by God’s nature and law (instructions about what is good and evil).  It is not changeable over time.

APP:  herein is the problem with most governments including our own right now—once you unhinge your definition of ‘good’ from God, you will inevitably drift into calling evil good and good evil…because you will have no ruler by which to measure good.  It will become my opinion of ‘good’ over yours…or your idea of ‘good’ over mine.  Consequently, today what God says about sexual ‘good’ has been completely replaced with anything anyone wants…short of sexual perversion with children (which is being chipped away at year by year through lowering the ‘age of consent’ from 18 to 16 to 14 to….).

 

RECAP:  Government may, therefore, take many different forms (whether monarchy, constitutional republic, dictatorship, democracy, etc. ) and still be good or evil depending on how well it conforms or fails to conform to God’s nature and law.

A truly biblical understanding of government must especially be built upon and recognize two areas of truth:  truth about…

  • the nature of God: perfect, just, holy, supreme, sovereign.
  • the nature of Mankind: fallen, sinful, prone to abuse power, needing checks and balances in the exercise of government. 

To fail in the latter (to misunderstand the nature of man) will lead to…

  • Unchecked power and thus corruption of that power.
  • To deeply flawed attempts to create utopia through government—communism, Marxism, unfettered capitalism, socialism…all without a recognition that in order to change society for the better, people’s hearts must become better.

EX:  Humanism says that ‘society must be changed in order to change people.’ 

Christianity says, ‘people must change in order to change society.’ 

Those are two very different understandings of human nature!

 

Now let’s talk about what good earthly citizenship in any nation of the world is to look like.  What elements are required of every Christian, regardless of the country they live in, to be a “good Christian citizen”? 

  • A preeminent commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the living out of His truth/word. NOTHING consistently, more deeply and more faithfully produces people who treat their fellow humans justly/right than people who truly live for and follow Jesus Christ.  NOTHING! 

ILL:  That doesn’t mean that others will always appreciate our commitment to Christ.  In fact, they may hate it!  Hitler hated Christians like Corrie TenBoom’s family who hid Jews and believed they were responsible to love every human being as Christ loved them.  And they paid for Christ’s lordship over their lives by hiding Jews in WWII and eventually being discovered and shipped to Nazi concentration camps where most of them were killed.  Evil governments/rulers will always hate good people.  But God will always condemn them and reward good, if not visibly in this life then eternally in the next.

Living Christ-like lives will both be THE best we can do for our neighbors and THE best we can do for our government. 

Peter told us “as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires…to live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse [us] of doing wrong, they may see [our] good deeds and glorify God….” (1 Pt. 2:11-12).

 

Now let’s get as specific as the Scriptures do about what that looks like in relationship to any government.

  • An attitude/spirit of submission to and respect for authority: as Christ-followers, this is to be the most visible and evident display of godly ‘good’ in relationship to government. 

1st Peter 2:13-17—Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

  • Praying for our rulers: Paul called for the church to “first of all” pray for rulers in authority (1 Tim. 2:1) so that we might lead peaceable and holy lives—just what we’re called to be in Christ’s kingdom. NOTE: What kind of rulers should we thus be asking God for?  Those who know how and value peace among citizens and with other countries.  (We may differ on HOW that peace is achieved—through strength or appeasement or punishment, etc.)
  • Paying taxes: 22:21--Jesus affirmed paying taxes to governments, even an occupying government (Rome).  But he also drew a clear boundary around government when he rebuked those same rulers for claiming worship that is due only to God himself.  Clearly, government’s authority and power is to be limited. 
  • Be a GOOD STEWARD of whatever form of government God places you under!

Here is where our paths may diverge in some ways from our brothers and sisters living in other countries.  What is required of us in the U.S. of A. is going to be MORE than that required of our brethren in, say, China, Iran, Myanmar, Vietnam or Russia. 

Parable of the Talents/Bags of Gold in Matthew 25—this “kingdom parable” tells us about 3 servants of the King, each given differing amounts of wealth—5, 3, 1 bag of gold—while the Master went on a journey.  When he returned, they each had to give account of what they had done in terms of investing and multiplying his wealth.  ALL were commended except the one who did nothing with it, i.e. wasted and squandered it.  That servant was thrust into darkness where there was great suffering.

            Now, I do not think it is, in the least, a stretch to apply this parable to the kind of government WE have been ‘given’ in America.  It is a Republic—strictly speaking it IS a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”  Unlike all other forms of government, WE the PEOPLE are the government!  Whether we choose or reject certain laws that govern us by direct vote (Referendums or Initiatives on the ballot) OR by representative elections (choosing WHO will represent us be they mayors, congressmen, senators and presidents, etc.), WE…individual voters…are THE FINAL SAY in both who rules over us and what kind of laws they subject us to. 

            Very few people in human history have had this sort of privilege.  Even fewer have been placed in a country where virtually everyone who formed this type of government believed in God and His Word and tried to form a government that would implement His truth into human affairs and safeguard future generations from tyrannical abuses and tyrants. 

            Let me just set the record straight about our founding fathers because there is so much misinformation, mischaracterization and outright lying going on today about them that I feel compelled to give you the facts.

Of the 55 men who wrote the Constitution of the U.S., only Benjamin Franklin was a known deist.  (But even deists believed in a God, removed though they conceived Him of being from the universe.)  NOT ONE of them were secular humanists, atheists or agnostics!  ALL of the other 54 (with the exception of 1 whose church cannot be ascertained) belonged to established Christian churches and denominations:

  • 28 were Episcopalians
  • 8 were Presbyterians
  • 7 were Congregationalists
  • 2 each were Dutch Reformed, Methodists, Roman Catholics and Lutherans.

BTW, 4 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were active or former clergy and many were sons of ministers.

            But back to being GOOD STEWARDS of this government we have been given. 

What does “good stewardship of government” look like in a democratic republic/constitutional republic?

  • VOTING wisely: 97 million (40%) eligible Americans didn’t vote in 2016.  6 million Evangelicals didn’t vote!  Not all Evangelicals think we have a responsibility to vote…despite the Parable of the Bags of Gold…despite the millions of Christians suffering in other countries under brutal regimes who would love to have a say in the selection of their own leaders (though they never will).  I contend that we as Americans have an added responsibility to good stewardship of our government that most people alive today and having lived in history did not have.  God, I believe, will hold us accountable for how we stewarded the gift of government we hold in our hands, particularly the right to vote and chose our own leaders.

So, let me illustrate:  Let’s say instead of being born in the U.S. in the 20th century, you had been born in England in the 17th century?  Instead of being born to middle class parents in the 20th century, you were born to the royal family, the House of Stewart, James I?  What would you say James responsibility before God was to his country?  BE KING!  (BTW, James I, for all his faults, commissioned the first widely used English Bible, what we know as “The KJV”.)  What if James had the same attitude many Evangelical Americans have: “I don’t need to vote…participate in government…fulfill the role assigned by God to me”?  He would have abdicated the throne, right? 

What happens when someone “abdicates their responsibility,” especially a God-given one?  They LOSE that privilege and its attendant responsibilities.  They never get that opportunity, that privilege, that responsibility back.  Kings who abdicate are not reinstated.  Just ask Edward VIII who abdicated the English throne in 1937, just before WWII, to marry a divorced American woman and pass the weight of being King of England during its darkest days of WWII to his stuttering but noble younger brother, King George VI.

So what happens when WE abdicate our God-given responsibility to make our own laws and choose our own leaders?  I believe we fail to value what God has given us and He will take it away!  He might take it away by putting us under evil, irreligious leaders or by replacing the kind of government we’ve enjoyed for over 200 years with one we will not enjoy. 

APP: 

  • register to vote TODAY if you aren’t (see bulletin).
  • Educate yourself on the position of candidates, their party platforms and how they either have voted or will vote. (Go to resources like We Believe, We Vote.
  • VOTE biblically! What does that mean? It means we apply the truth of God and His word as the measuring stick of WHO we should vote for. 

I know this is not as cut-and-dried as some might want to make it.  There are a myriad of biblical issues to consider when electing someone.  The Bible speaks about foreigners/immigrants…care of the poor…penal/prison systems…crime…war…taxes and money …property rights…economics…defense…greed…envy… covetousness…freedom…human rights…the intrinsic value of every human being…and much more.  If you don’t know what the Bible teaches about these things, ASK SOMEONE WHO DOES!  Discuss it with respected Christian friends and leaders.  We cannot afford to vote for people who do not value nor respect what God does. 

            Now I’m going to make a claim that that may bother some of you…and you’re welcome to push back if you like during the question time. 

            As a follower of Jesus, not all political issues are of equal moral impact.  (i.e. religious freedom, right to life)

ILL:  If you’re passionate about health care for all, that’s great.  But if that passion outweighs your passion for the right of every human being’s life to be protected (at least until tried impartially and proven guilty of taking another person’s life…which is another issue related to the right to life), you need to rethink your priorities.  WHY? 

  • Is there any more fundamental or critical “right” a human being can have than the right to exist, live, be alive?  
  • If our leaders and laws don’t protect all human life then every human life is potentially in danger of being ended by another human being. The unborn yesterday; the elderly today; the infirmed, disabled, costly, problematic, politically different, the obstinately religious tomorrow!
  • This is why voting pro-life is so central and critical to the exercise of our privilege of voting. A government and society that will not discourage the killing of innocents, especially the most helpless and vulnerable among us, is not, in God’s eyes, fulfilling the most basic responsibility of government—the peace, safety and opportunity to flourish of ALL its citizens.
  • To support politicians who support abortion is, I think I can safely say biblically, worse than supporting slavery or human trafficking of other human beings. Why do I say that?  Because as horrible as slavery is, it is not condemning every slave to certain death.  Abortion does.  Yes, God hates slavery …and that can be proved from the Bible.  That’s why historically the one consistent group of people to fight slavery has been Christians, whether in England, America or across the world today. But not every political issue is of equal weight and importance.
  • A word about health care:
    • Does God care about our health? YES.
    • Do we have a measure of responsibility for stewarding our own health? YES
    • Do we have a Christian responsibility to help those suffering and ill?
    • Do we have a biblical right to force someone else to do that for us?  
    • Does the health and suffering of people in America matter more to God than the health and suffering of people in the rest of the world? NO

So how does “universal health care” fit into all that?

And what might some of the other quick questions be that we need to answer before we decide to vote for someone who advocates for universal health care? 

 

You get the idea.  These are very important issues we should be talking about together as believers (not shouting at each other about…or name-calling…or dividing over).  I would love to have deeper conversations about a whole host of issues that touch on the voting decision you and I have to make.  Which ones are factor into your decisions?

  • Economic policies
  • Monetary policies
  • Military policies
  • Immigration policies
  • Racial policies
  • ???

CLOSE:  Final thought.  No one…including Christians…can separate their religious life and spiritual values from their political life.  Your “political life” is simply another arena of your spiritual life.  You may think you can avoid it, but even in trying to avoid all political issues, you are taking a political action.  You are saying, at least in deed if not word, “I do not value the freedoms and attendant responsibilities God has granted me as an American.  I refuse to steward this gift of the nation I live in.  I choose to abdicate my role as a chosen child of God responsible for choosing my own government and leaders. And I don’t care about the impact it has on me or my children or my neighbors.” 

            Or you can say, “I don’t particularly like having to choose between imperfect people, but I’ll do my homework, I’ll try to figure out what God says about the important issues of my day, and I’ll at least vote for and possible work for, advocate for, volunteer for or run for people/offices that try to do the best at governing according to genuinely biblical, Christian priorities, values and principles.”

            On June 6, 1944, some 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy.  It was D-Day.  Thousands of them would die that day and for the remaining year of battles as they pushed the Nazi’s back to Germany.  Just between June 1944 and May 8, 1945(VE Day), there were 552,117 U.S. casualties in the European theater of operations. Of those, 104,812 were killed in action.

            Folks, this is a parallel of what life as a Christian is like in this world.  Jesus stormed the beaches of this world’s Normandy 2,000 years ago, took a bullet intended for us…and triumphed over sin and death.  The ultimate victory is not in question.  God and the church will win this war…but there will be many casualties in the process.  We will not all live to see the return of Christ.  But we will all reign with Him in the Kingdom in one capacity or another.  Until then, we’re in the in-between zone—the life of fighting for truth, for good against evil, for pressing back against the darkness…not with guns and bombs but with faithful living and dying, godly living and dying…and godly, good citizenship is part of that, no matter in what country we live and die.

            Don’t leave the battle field before God sends you home.  Don’t run away from the battle and hide in a fox hole of your own making. Don’t lose heart when there are temporary and temporal set-backs.  Don’t think the war is lost just because the battle is fierce right now.  Live as a “good soldier of Jesus Christ.”  And get ready to reign with Him when His Kingdom comes and His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

 

PRAY

 

BENEDICATION:

2 Timothy 2:2-4  (NIV)

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. 3Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

 

 

NOTES:  Passages on abortion

  • 21:22-25
  • Psalm 51:5
  • Psalm 139
  • 30:19-20
  • 1:5

 

Q & A—

  • One I received this week: How do I vote? One candidate is good for the country, but is not the best person. The other is bad for the country but a better person?  My answer:  It depends on what you are voting for.  If you’re voting for the next pastor of Mosaic, character matters more than that pastor’s public policy ideas.  If you’re voting for a high office in the country/state, character still matters but that person’s/party’s policies matter even more.  While their character will impact many of their citizens in terms of modeling, their policies are going to affect all of the citizens under their leadership for good or ill. Fact is, we never have perfect candidates.  We must choose between imperfect men/women every election.  The results and impacts of their policies concern me far more than the relative imperfections of their personalities or character.  
  • What if Candidate A is pro-life but his decision about handling the pandemic have resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of people while Candidate B is pro-abortion? What’s the difference?  My answer: without addressing the issue of whether or not any or all of those pandemic deaths could have possibly been avoided, the difference is actually quite striking.  In the case of Candidate A, while the resulting deaths may or may not have been avoidable, they were not the result of a policy that advocated for the deaths of pandemic victims.  In the case of Candidate B who is pro-abortion, he is advocating for policy that we know without a shadow of a doubt will produce the death of millions of our most innocent, vulnerable and defenseless fellow-citizens—the unborn.  There is no moral equivalence here between these two candidates. 
  • What if both candidates are pro-abortion but one is biblical on just about everything else regarding policy? Should you still not vote for either?  My answer:  While I’m tempted to fudge and want to be more ‘pragmatic’ and go for the lesser of 2 evils, the protection of human life is so fundamental that I don’t think you can vote for either in this case.  Find a good write-in but don’t engage in this horrendous evil for the illusion of some other possible good.