Render Unto Caesar: Seek the Welfare of the City

This sermon is the final sermon of a 4-week series I am doing on faith and politics. My goal is not to tell people what to think or who to vote for, but rather to address some of the underlying spiritual issues at play in our national and global politics. I want to help Christians learn how to think about politics. You can listen to audio of the sermon HERE.

Today I finish my 4-week sermon series on faith and politics. I have tried to speak truth, but not give my own opinion. I wanted to give background to change how you approach politics as a Christian. It has been funny, as the series has gone on, that a few people have come up to me and said something like, “Jordan, I wish you would just tell me who you think I should vote for?” Now, I don’t think that everybody wants me just to tell me who to vote for, and I am guessing if I told you then you would just ignore it anyway unless it confirmed what you already wanted to do.

I am still not going to tell you who to vote for, but I think that some of these questions and others I have gotten are coming from a desire to some more practical advice on how to take this background and turn it into positions and voting decisions. So today I want to lay out the process that Christians should go through to think about their politics. In fact, this is not only applicable to politics, but also to our whole lives. This is my way of thinking about it, but I think it is a helpful start for your own thinking.

The problem begins with the very questions that we ask. We ask—who should Christians vote for? What should Christians think about partial birth abortion? We ask these kinds of questions about other things, too. How do we know if someone is a Christian or not? What do I have to do to be able to partake in communion? What does it mean to be a church member?

We want the boundary. We want to know where the line is. Where is in and where is out. Where is the point where we disagree with others? Other religions, like Islam, are defined by these edges. But the Christians faith doesn’t work that way. It is not defined by its boundaries. In fact, the edges are kind of fuzzy in our faith. (DRAW OUTSIDE CIRCLE IN DOTTED LINES)

model-on-flip-chartOur faith is a center-set faith. It is a faith based on a core, a middle, a center… Think about somebody who has children and lives in a house in the country. How do you keep your children from getting lost in the woods? You either have to build a fence and have clearly drawn boundaries, or, if they are older, you have to tell them to stay close to the house. Christianity uses this second strategy. It says, “This is the house. Stay close to the house.”

The center of our faith is Jesus Christ.  (DRAW CROSS AT THE CENTER OF THE CIRLCE) at the heart of our faith is the reality that God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to earth. Jesus died on the cross to free us from sin and death and give us eternal life and right relationship with God the Father. We need to live with an awareness of how much God loves us and how much Christ has sacrificed for the world.

Supporting that center is the Bible. The Bible is the main way and the authoritative way that we can know Jesus. All other ways that we meet Jesus must submit to the Bible. (DRAW A BOOK UNDERNEATH THE CROSS) Anything we think about Jesus or apply from Jesus needs to be measured against the book.

But Jesus gave us a quick way to think about the book. Jesus was once asked the greatest commandment in the Bible. He answered:

[37] And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment. [39] And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [40] On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

For Jesus, all of the laws in the Bible are centered on the idea of loving God and loving your neighbor. Or, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. So the core of this book, and the core of our response to Christ, is that we should love God and love our neighbor. (WRITE LOVE GOD ON ONE SIDE OF THE CROSS AND LOVE NEIGHBOR ON THE OTHER)

This is the core of the Christian faith—the saving action of Jesus Christ and our relationship with him, testified about in Scripture, and leading us to love God and love neighbor. This is the house. Rather than give us the exact boundaries around the faith, you and I are meant to stay around the house. That may mean that we can come to different conclusions on particular issues, and that is ok because it is the center that keeps us together.

Too many Christians have lost this center and they make the faith about their boundaries. Then, when someone disagrees with their view on an issue, they can’t stay in relationship with them because they have made the boundary the defining thing. The issue of homosexuality has been particularly problematic for Christians in this regard, as people on both sides of the issue have made that boundary the defining issue of the church. So when people disagree on the issue, they have no choice but to break relationship.

You need a strong core. You need a defining center. That allows you to critique your own views and to disagree with other people and still be in relationship with them. The church needs to make Jesus the center.

Now, outside of the center, but near the center, there are other core biblical values that should define how we think about our lives and our politics. These are fundamentally extensions of this core. They are reflections of how we lift Jesus high, follow scripture, and love God and neighbor. We could talk about these in different ways, but I want to talk about six core biblical values.

 Christians need to care about CREATION. The Bible is clear that [1] The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, (Psalm 24:1). When God creates Adam and Eve, he tells them:

[28] 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 ESV)

Human beings were put on this earth for the purpose of being God’s workforce in creation. We have to do our part to pick up trash, recycle, develop and support sustainable farming, and be careful in our use of natural resources. We can disagree about pipelines and trade with Middle Eastern countries, or if we should be forced to drive energy efficient cars. Those are boundary kind of issues. What is not up for debate is that we should care about creation.

 In the Bible, CHARACTER is important. The Bible puts a high value on truth, on honesty, and on integrity. James 5 tells us to let your yes be yes and your no be no. Paul sees the importance of this development in Romans 5:3-4:

 [3] Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

God is at work in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. God is changing us. God loves us as we are but God also loves us enough to not leave us like that. We need to be honest and moral people and to strive to develop character in the world around us. So, can you vote for candidates that are dishonest or brash? Those are boundary issues that we have to think about and pray about.

SERVICE is a critical element of the Bible. Jesus doesn’t rule over his disciples with power. He washed their feet. Paul develops this example from Jesus in Philippians 2:

[5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus leads with Humility and Compassion. These are things we should value as Christians. We should people that go out of our way to help serve others, including the poor, the disabled, orphans, widows, and the elderly. How is it best to serve others? How do you prioritize serving Americans and also caring for those who are here illegally? Boundary issues.

 This is not a topic that people like to talk about in church, but the Bible has a lot to say about WEALTH and how people relate to money. The Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil, as it is often quoted. I Timothy 6:10 tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil. In the chapter before Paul tells us: “The laborer deserves his wages.” (from 1 Timothy 5:18 ESV) I like how the King James used to say it, “A workman is worthy of his hire.” People have the right to glorify God by creating value in the world, and they have the right to be rewarded for the value they create.

The Bible does not have positive things to say about greed, and especially greed at the expense of others. The Bible also does not care for the idea of debt. Proverbs 22:7 warns that [7] The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22:7 ESV) In Israel, debt was supposed to be forgiven every seven years in what was called The Year of Jubilee. People and nations getting strapped by their debt is contrary to the values of the Bible.

But what about tax breaks for the wealthy versus a flat tax, and what about economic regulation of trade with other nations? These are boundary issues.

 Issues of wealth are related to another core value. One of the critical words of the Bible that people frequently use but rarely understand is the idea of JUSTICE. Justice in the Bible is not equality or fairness. Justice really means that things are right and as they should be. The phrase that sometimes gets used in America that captures this well is the idea of “equal opportunity.” It means that people have the chance to make the life they want or God is calling them to. They are not abused and not held back because of the color of their skin, the belief on an issue, or where they are born. It means that you can work hard and learn things and make a life for yourself and be rewarded for your efforts, or you can be lazy and do nothing, but you can make your choice.

 I think that America has had a problem in that we have begun to think about equality instead of equal opportunity. We want everybody to have the same and equally distribute wealth instead of fighting for everyone to have equal opportunities. 

 One of the core and unmovable values of the scriptures is the inherent value of LIFE. In the Bible, people are made in the image of God and valuable not because they can offer something to society. The least valuable to the town can be the most valuable to God. We are accountable for what we do to others.

 For me, the issue of abortion is a core issue and not a boundary issue. You may not agree, but I think that the unborn are to be protected. Psalm 139 proclaims:

          [13] For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
[14] I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
          Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

Abortion is not the only issue that I base votes on, but I think it is critical. If we do not respect unborn life, then what about the disabled? What about people who are elderly and in nursing homes? Please know, you can disagree with me, but this is one of my biblical convictions.

How can we disagree? Because we are not boundary set. We are center set. We try to stay close to the house. And all these other issues—immigration, taxes, education, marriage, welfare—these are all things we have to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider out of this core.

But how do you do that? How do you take these core values and turn them into votes and political positions? Let me quickly lay out how to think about these other issues.

 First, your overall goal in voting and in your political positions is to seek the welfare of the city where you live. I pick up this language from the book of Jeremiah:

[7] But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV)

These are instructions to the people as they are in exile in other countries. Jeremiah instructs them with a message from God saying they should seek the welfare of the city where they live. What is the best thing for our nation on these issues?

I think that you should be informed and should vote. But also understand that voting is not the end-all-be-all of our involvement in the world. You need to be involved in the issues. For example, I have told you that I deeply care about abortion, but I think that there are practical ways to help with that issue. When women are asked about why they have abortions, they often feel like they don’t have the personal support, the medical services, or the financial ability to care for the child. I think those are issues that we as Christians can actually be helpful in. If we can help the poor and give support to mothers, then we can lower the abortion rate.

 Here is another example. If you look at the orphans in this country that are waiting for families, it is a pretty big list. But I recently saw a statistic that said that if every church in America could support one family to adopt a waiting child, the issue would be solved. No more orphans on the waiting children list.

We should submit to governing authorities. Paul makes this very clear in Romans 13:

[1] Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (vs. 1-2)

A couple of verses later Paul also makes it clear that we should pay our taxes:

[6] For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. [7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7)

One of the other areas that we are responsible as Christians is to pray for our leaders:

[1] First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, [2] for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV)

Anytime I hear people complain about our president or a candidate, or post something very political on Facebook, or forward one of those emails, I want to ask them, “Tell me about how your prayers for that person are going.” Don’t complain about them is you are not going to pray for them.

So, let me address the topic that is the crux of the discussion right now. Did you know that there is an election coming up? Some people are really excited about one candidate or the other. Many people seem at least hesitant about both. Some are terrified of both.

Some Christians are not voting or are writing in a candidate. I am not sure that is the answer. I think there are two main people in this race and one of the two is going to win. I feel like we have to decide between the two whether we like it or not.

 I think what we all have to do, with all this background in mind (POINT AT THE DIAGRAM), is to look at each candidate as a whole—their character, their platform, who they have said they will appoint to their government—and prayerfully seek the welfare of the nation where God has planted you. I think one of the most important things in this election is who they will appoint as judges. The question is: which candidate do you think will do the best, or maybe the least amount of harm to our nation and our world. Pray about it. Think about. And vote.

 And I think I am going to vote for…Nope. I am not going to tell you. But listen to me as I tell you this: Don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Remember who your king is and to what kingdom you truly belong. You are part of God’s eternal kingdom. In the Bible, God uses storms to have his will be done. He uses pagan kings to accomplish his purposes. He uses a cross to give him victory. And he even speaks out of the mouth of an ass. Whoever is elected, find your hope in Christ.

 

 

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