The elders asked me to speak about the elections well before the primaries were held and we knew what would happen. They did not tell me what to say.
This morning I want to talk about something the Lord has lain on my heart, the chance for Christians to provide a positive, God-honoring witness to the world we live in.
If we were to describe the feeling and sense of many Americans, they would describe the election process as one of darkness. I have listened to Republicans, Democrats and Independents speak about our choices this year. Never have I seen so much conflict over how to vote. This conflict is not based on the clash of ideas, but on the perceived lack of character found in the candidates. One is accused of lying, breaking national security, questionable financial dealings and saying things in public that are different than what was said in private. Another is accused of being a bully, racist, opportunist and the kind of person that no woman would feel safe being alone with. Whether the perceptions are true or not, they are still there. It is not my purpose to give a partisan message, rather a Biblical one.
In the midst of this there are voices on every side of the aisle asking for civil discourse. The California League of Woman Voters are calling for civil discourse, asking for people to respect one another as they engage in the political. Former Senator, George Mitchell, called on clergy to model civil discourse with their congregations. He entitled his talk, “From Mudslinging to Mutual Respect: How To Make Politics More Civil.”
Civil Discourse is not like the Civil War. The meaning of civil goes in two directions. Civil is used first to distinguished ordinary citizens from the government or military. We are called civilians. The Civil war was a war between civilians, neighbors, relatives, countrymen and women.
Civil also speaks about polite, courteous speech. Swearing, slandering, personal attacks and the like are not good examples of civility.
This is an area in which we as Christians should shine.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
(ESV) —6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
(ESV) —29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
If we use this as a litmus test for our speech, how do you fare on this?
This is a golden opportunity!
When the world around us is disgusted by the negative tone, what do they hear from us? Do they hear gracious speech that builds up and ministers grace? If so, then we are taking advantage of the opportunity that lies before us.
How do we navigate the rough waters in our country? We have opinions. We endorse certain candidates. That is our right as US citizens. As Christians, we should use our Bibles to determine what is best for our country. The way of the Lord is right. People will disagree with us. Disagreement does not change reality.
I want to make two points to help us as Christians take maximum advantage of the golden opportunity before us.
First, we must obey God rather than man. Second, we must honor those who rule over us.
A close look at the first century Christians sees that they were constantly under fire with the political and religious leaders of the day. The religious leaders had limited political power, so they were able to punish those who opposed them.
They told the apostles that they were no longer to preach about Jesus. This was after they had escaped from jail.
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
(ESV) —29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
We do pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, but we pledge a higher allegiance to the Lamb of God.
Many countries have tried to suppress religious freedom and activity. One reason is that they understand that the church will speak with an independent voice. They did not want that to happen. But we must obey God rather than man. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all did. Nehemiah did when he rebuilt the walls. The Book of Revelation speaks of martyrs who died because they refused to take the mark of the beast.
I have made a pledge to myself that if the government forbids me to speak on any topic on which God has spoken, that the week after the law goes into effect, I will speak on that topic. Many of you know that I am not a revolutionary. But this is so important that I will do it.
I am often called to pray before the House or Senate. They ask me to pray a non-sectarian prayer. I don’t know exactly what that means, but if it means that I can’t mention Jesus then I applaud their work, but I can’t go and pray for them because I can only approach God through my savior, Jesus Christ. So far I am not aware that has been any problem.
Our government may enact laws and ask us to do what conscience does not allow. We must obey God rather than man.
Honor Those Who Rule Over Us
We also have as much right as every other citizen in our great country to express our opinion. As followers of Jesus, others may think that we should be silent and not impose our religious beliefs on others. I say that our beliefs are our beliefs, no matter the source. Our country respects the right of individuals to express their beliefs. We must not allow others to silence our voice.
Yet, what comes out of our mouth must be pleasing to God. It is the sanctified voice that people need to hear. That voice must reflect the honor that God wants us to have for our leaders.
Paul tells us in
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.
(ESV) —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.
Paul instructed Titus to 1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
We must remember that the charge to be submissive and honor and respect proper authority came to those that the Jewish people thought were invaders. They were the enemy.
Our president, vice-president, members of congress, governor and state legislatures as well as town officials are worthy of honor and respect. We can honor and respect people with whom we disagree.
This is our golden opportunity. We don’t have to get down into the mud as many in our world do. We can live at a higher plane. We can honor God first, stand up for what is right, but do it in a way that does not dishonor or disrespect human government.
Peter helps us with this.
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
(ESV) —12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Keep your conduct honorable! If you don’t like what you see and hear, don’t repeat what you don’t like. We can live on a higher plane.
People may speak against you. There are a lot of people who view Christians as evildoers. They feel we threaten their freedoms, are old fashioned, are out of touch with the real world. We think they are out of touch with the spiritual realities of life.
How do we react? We let them see our good deeds.
I remember someone telling me about a town meeting that took place years ago. Two men argued vehemently for their position. When the break came for lunch, they were seen eating together and laughing and joking. I don’t know if they were Christians or not, but anyone looking would see that their disagreements didn’t lead to disrespect and hatred.
Here is the beauty in this. What will happen when they see our good deeds? What happens when we display honorable conduct?
When they see your good deeds they will glorify God on the day of visitation.
I learned something this week. The word “visitation” is from the Greek word, Episcopos. We know of the Episcopal Church in the United States. This Greek word is also used as a synonym for Elders in the church. It literally means “overseer.”
Jesus gives a parable of a landowner who took a trip. When he came back, his first task was to evaluate the work that his workers had done. This day was the day of visitation. This day was the day of evaluation. This day was a day of judgment.
Some of the workers remember that the owner was returning. They wanted to make sure that all was done that needed to be done. Some of the workers forgot or didn’t care.
Jesus is coming again. On that day of visitation, those who lived honorable lives in the face of false accusation would be honored by God.
The verse tells us of something different, however. The very ones who accused the Christian of wrong-doing would glorify God on that day. Why? They would glorify God because they had seen our good deeds.
One of two things would have happened.
The first thing that might happen is that they would see how wrong they were and glorify God for the way his strength had led the Christians to do what is right in the face of their attacks.
The second thing that might happen is that our reaction to their attacks might cause them to come to Christ. When Christ returns, they will glorify God because we refused to let their actions stop us from showing grace, mercy and love towards them.
We may have turned the other cheek, returned good for evil, given water in Jesus’ name. We may have refused to get into the mud with everyone else over these highly emotional issues. Because we took the higher ground, they saw our good deeds and glorified our Father in heaven.
A number of years ago, a pastor friend of mine was involved in the battle over gay rights. After speaking to our legislature about this, a woman came up to him and said, “I don’t agree with what you said, but you are one of the few Christians I have ever met who presented their argument in such a loving way.”
What a golden opportunity we have. We can let our light shine. We can engage, but engage in a different way than the world around us. We can let Jesus be seen not only in what we say, but in how we say it and in our attitude towards those who strong disagree with us. We can stand with God and still show proper honor and respect for human government.
In the next couple of weeks, listen to what people say. Make it your goal to honor God and honor people with your response.
It may be difficult. People may not agree. Disagreement is not the same as dishonor or disrespect. We can disagree without becoming disagreeable.
Take advantage of this golden opportunity to glorify God in a very contentious election period.