One of the things that has perplexed me in recent years is the absence of patriotic enthusiasm and the desire to be involved in the political process of voting in our nation. We don’t even hear singing of patriotic songs like we used to. Now, I feel I know most of you in church today well enough to say that most of you feel very passionate about the kind of people we vote into leadership positions in both our nation and our state. But how about your children, and even more importantly, your grandchildren? Do they understand the importance of being a part of the political process? Do you talk to them about it?
I have really been troubled by this because of the lack of concern I see in some of our families, especially in the younger generations. When you speak to them about it, they see the political process as hopeless, they feel that they are helpless, and even more, they do not see their responsibility to be a part of it as a Christian. When most of us were young it was drilled into our brains that as a citizen of this country, it was our duty to take time to vote, and not just whimsically, but intelligently. In other words, you found out all you could about the candidates and the issues and you voted according to that which best strengthened what you value and what best supported your world view. This doesn’t mean that you only vote if there is a candidate that aligns perfectly with your views, but you vote for the one that comes closet to standing for the things you would stand for.
One conversation I heard recently was that a person did not vote in the presidential election because they could not vote for either of the major political party candidates. Neither of the candidates stood for the values they hold dear as a believer. What is interesting is that this person not only did not vote for a president, but by abstaining from voting, they did not vote on any of the elected offices or the proposals that were on the ballot. So, based on that kind of thinking, if you don’t like the presidential candidates, no one or nothing gets your vote.
As the conversation continues, it becomes evident that this person didn’t vote in the primaries either. Many young people complain about the Republican and Democratic candidates that were on the ballot and yet they were not involved in the primaries. Evidently, they do not understand the importance of primary elections. For instance, in the last presidential election, the Republican party had several candidates in the primaries, some of whom I feel would have been excellent Presidents, but most people did not take the time to go out to vote in the primaries. So, the few who do go out and vote in the primaries, selected Donald Trump as the Republican candidate. I wonder, would there have been a different candidate put forward for the Republicans if Christians, especially our younger generations, were involved in the primaries?
I am concerned about our nation because we have such a lack of concern with our young people when it comes to the politics of our nation. I am concerned because of the lack of encouragement from most churches in our country to be involved. Some churches and their pastors say we should stay out of politics because it is divisive. Other pastors say we are citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom and shouldn’t show any patriotism toward the citizenship we have in this earthly kingdom called the United States of America. Is that true? What does the Bible tell us about our relationship with governing authorities on earth while we live as citizens of Heaven?
Does God Expect Christians to Vote? (Matthew 22:17-22)
Turn with me to Matthew 22. Jesus tells an interesting parable about invitations being sent out by the King for a wedding feast. Jesus uses this parable to illustrate God’s invitation to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, in other words, to accept the invitation of salvation. As you read through the parable, we find that many who received invitations paid no attention to the invitation, and even treated the messengers who carried those invitations to them badly and some were even killed. The parable talks about those who try to get into the wedding feast without the wedding garment, which represents God’s righteousness. In other words, trying to get into heaven another way. In the parable, the King who extended this invitation to those who refused His invitation and to those who tried to enter the wedding feast another way were cast into outer darkness, a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Clearly, this parable is talking about those who receive God’s invitation of salvation to become a part of God’s Kingdom. The Pharisees sought for a way to entrap Jesus by asking Him a question about their involvement with earthly governments. If a person receives this invitation for the Heavenly Kingdom and becomes a part of that Kingdom, how does that person respond to the government of this earthly kingdom? In other words, how should a believer who is a citizen of Heaven respond to our human government? Let’s look at Jesus’ response in Matthew 22. We will begin with the question they ask of Jesus in verse 17.
17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?
19 Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" 21 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." 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
Most people relate what Jesus says here to paying taxes and rightly so. Certainly, taxes were a volatile issue in the times of Christ. People would pay a Temple tax, give tithes, and gifts to God at different times, but what raised so much ire was the occupying Romans charging a government tax. So according to Jesus’ response to the question, we should give to the government the taxes that they charge us with and we should also give a tithe to God. But is that all Jesus was talking about here? Is it just about taxes? The word Jesus uses is “things.” God’s things and Caesar’s things. I believe that what we see here is an interesting intersection between our involvement in earthly government and our being citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom. We as Christians, citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom, in America’s style of government, can influence this earthly system for good if we chose to get involved.
Listen to the note recorded in the ESV Study Bible on this passage:
“Jesus is not establishing a political kingdom in opposition to Caesar, so his followers should pay taxes and obey civil laws. There are matters that belong to the realm of civil government, and there are other matters that belong to God’s realm. Jesus does not here specify which matters belong in which realm, but many Christian ethicists today teach that, in general, civil government should allow freedom in matters of religious doctrine, worship, and beliefs about God.”
The note goes on to say that we should not attempt to use government to enforce a particular religious viewpoint, but we should be involved in keeping religious liberty a part of our nation. As believers, if we are not involved in voting for candidates who have a similar view, we can expect to lose the liberties we treasure so dearly. We have this being illustrated clearly for us in China as the government clearly wants to stop the Christian church.
There is a powerful intersection that takes place when we are rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. If we are to remain free in our worship to God and have the freedom to stand for the things we believe in, we must influence our nation by voting for leaders who see religious liberty as a vital part of our land. I believe God expects all believers to use the freedom we have to vote, but as you know, many Christians do not. Here is another question.
Does God Expect Christians to Pray for Government Leaders? (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
A few years ago, I was asked to pray for the Presidential leadership of our nation during the National Day of Prayer because the pastor that was supposed to pray for the President, refused. I heard that was because he did not support that President in any way and he could not pray for him. I certainly did not agree with most of what that President stood for, but I feel we have an obligation to pray for all government leadership. Those who join us in prayer on Wednesdays know this.
Turn with me to 1 Timothy 2. The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, who was a part of the leadership in the church of Ephesus. Now, Ephesus was a port city under the control of the Roman government during this time. The Roman government gave some freedoms to the Jews for worship but wanted all people in obedience to the government and to show veneration toward the Caesar. As Paul writes to Timothy, he desires to give instruction concerning church order and qualifications for church leadership and that is found in chapters 2 and 3 of 1 Timothy. But what I find interesting is that Paul begins chapter 2 by addressing how the believers in Ephesus are to pray concerning those who govern and make laws.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
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. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Certainly, the people in government control were not people who Paul, Timothy, and believers in general would agree with. Most likely the Kings and those in high positions did not want to please God or even care about any worship other than for people to worship them. But once again, we see the intersection of Kingdom citizens and as the subjugates to Rome and as Roman citizens, playing an important role in how freely people can worship God.
We need to pray for those who lead in our government. We should pray in thanksgiving that we have a government system that gives us the freedom to worship God at this time. We need to intercede on their behalf for their wellbeing, for their salvation, and most of all, we need to pray for their desire to make it so we can all live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. I believe God expects us to pray for government leaders, whether they are believers or not.
We live in a day, when Christians and churches no longer feel the importance of being involved in our political system or because they are not happy with our leadership that we withhold our prayer for them. Much of the persecution and suffering that takes place in our world is because of godless leadership. Christians should vote, and not whimsically, but intelligently. We need to pray, diligently for those in leadership. Why? Because religious liberty is vital to peaceful and dignified worship.
What about Conflating Church Worship and National Celebrations?
This is an issue churches need to address. It is obvious that Church worship should not celebrate something that is evil. It is also clear that we should never have any kind of loyalty or patriotism that exceeds our love and loyalty to God. But when there are good and godly aspects of government that take place, should we not give God the glory in celebrating what He has done to bring about those good blessings? Should we not praise the men and women who have stood in service for our country and the freedoms we have because of their sacrifice?
We live in the only nation on earth that attempted to establish its government system on biblical principles without forcing people to be Christian or making them support the Christian religion. The reason for that is clear. God blesses, when people seek to honor Him. Psalm 33 is a great passage that teaches us about God’s love and His sovereignty. He is pleased when a nation seeks His counsel. We are not God’s chosen nation, but the principles of His blessing a nation is true for America. We know that.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! 13 The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; 14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. 16 The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. 18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19 that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.
You see, God blesses nations who listen to His counsel. In fact, God heals and strengthens nations who turn back to him. Listen to this very familiar verse that we often pray for America.
2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Certainly, God is pleased when nations seek Him. I believe that the celebration of the godly foundation of our nation can certainly be combined with worship of God. We thank Him and praise Him for the people willing to stand for right and sacrifice even their lives for our freedom. As we celebrate what God is doing in our nation, we are worshipping Him for His goodness and blessing in our lives. It is not in our own strength that we are a blessed nation, it is only by God’s power. So, as we celebrate the blessings of our nation, we are giving praise to God!
In our day, I think we take for granted something that is vital to peaceful worship of God, something many believers in other countries do not enjoy. It is what we call religious freedom. In fact, it is so overlooked that we forget that we could actually lose this. Just try to imagine what it would be like for this meeting today to be illegal. It is in some countries!
Is Religious Freedom Really that Important?
Today is Religious Freedom Sunday. It is always the Sunday before Religious Freedom Day which is January 16th. Every President since 1993 has declared January 16th as Religious Freedom Day based on a piece of Virginia Legislation that was enacted on January 16th 1786. Thomas Jefferson drafted this legislation that ended state government established religion and protected the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination.
The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States was based on Jefferson’s legislation in Virginia and George Mason’s draft of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. In 1791, the first amendment concerning religious freedom was added to our Constitution.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
We know that in many countries around this globe, that Christians are oppressed and persecuted. They suffer under the heavy hand of government systems that they have no power to change. Many preach the saving Gospel risking their lives to do so. But we live in a country where we not only have a constitutional right to worship God, but we have the freedom of speech to tell others about Him.
There are many today who would love to change that and they are slowly making progress to do that very thing. If the direction we are going continues, we may very well lose this freedom. Is religious freedom really that important? I am not sure we can fully understand its importance until it is lost. Personally, I believe it is vital for a peaceful and dignified life of worship.
Many churches in our nation don’t encourage their people to go out and vote. Many churches do not pray for our government. Many churches do not want to have patriotic themes involved in their worship. We no longer sing songs like “My Country Tis of Thee.” Christians are no longer writing patriotic songs that bring glory to God. Christian young people do not know our national heritage and principles upon which this government was established. If churches and Christians no longer care about religious freedom, how long will it be before it is gone?
In an article written by Pastor Nelson in October of 2018, he said that “in recent elections, about 2 of every 5 of self-professed Christians took that right [freedom of religion] for granted and did not vote. About 1 in 5 self-professed, eligible Christians are not even registered to vote.”
I believe the Bible is very clear about our relationship with the government. There is a divine intersection of influence we can have. Even when the government does not live up to its God given role, we must live up to ours. If all Christians were involved, we could see this nation move in the right direction over time. Listen, I can understand why a young person would be discouraged about the political process. But we must encourage them that they can make a difference.
John Adams, who later became our nation’s second President said, “Statesmen…may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand” (founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-02-0011).
Our children and grandchildren need to be encouraged to be a part of the political process as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. They need to know that God is sovereign, but He works through our lives to impact not only this nation, but the world. Encourage them to never take the liberties we have in America for granted.