Christian Citizenship

Bible Book: 1 Timothy  2 : 1-3
Subject: America; Freedom; Independence Day; Citizenship

Our democracy is threatened by the complacency of its citizens more than it is by the hostility of its enemies. Americans are more intrigued with personal gossip than with public issues and often care more about who wins the Super Bowl than they do about who wins the highest offices in our land.

Our apathy and unbelievable sense of priorities is illustrated by the reaction in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Thousands of people called radio stations to complain that their regular programs were interrupted in order for the momentous news to be broadcast.

Many people drop out of the democratic process because they feel insignificant. They say, "My vote won't make any difference!" But recent close elections have proved it does.

In New Testament times there was no democracy. Therefore scriptural guidelines are scarce. But let's consider four Biblical commands concerning a citizen's duty:

I. Pray for our Leaders

Paul said, "I urge that . . . prayers . . . be made on behalf of all . . . who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity . . ." (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

Many leaders have worked to ensure the freedom of speech and voting rights we have today. Moses put his nation above his own interests. He could have become a ruling pharaoh; but gave up the possibility. He typified the quote, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Esther put her duty and love for her people above her own safety when she approached the king to intercede for the Jews who were scheduled for execution.

David pleaded with the Lord to allow the punishment to be his rather than his subjects. "Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Thy hand be against me . . ." (2 Sam. 24:17).

David would have agreed with Harry Truman that "The buck stops here." He accepted responsibility for his actions. Too many politicians express the opposite attitude. They blame everybody but themselves for mistakes in judgment.

Responsible leaders have to take moral stands that are not always popular. Harry Truman was given a low approval rating and yet today he's greatly respected. He would always say to an aide, "John, how's this going to affect the people, not me, not my administration, not my party, but the people?"

Lincoln said, "If what I do is wrong, a thousand editors praising me won't make it right; but, if what I do is right, a thousand editors criticizing me can't destroy the validity of my decisions."

Yes, good leaders need our prayers.

II. Be Law-Abiding Citizens

Paul said, "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities . . . For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good . . ." (Rom. 13:1,3).

Yes, Christians must do what is good; but that's often hard to determine. Knowing what is good for the moment isn't enough. A present good can be a future evil. Persistence and patience are essential.

The most important attribute of any statesman, or citizen, is farsightedness. In matters of government, we must develop a historical perspective. Choosing the difficult permanent solutions over the easy temporary ones requires strength of character and moral courage. Expediency may win elections, but it doesn't serve civilization.

Paul said, "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58).

Shortsighted remedies are like the little old lady who made some curtains. When they were finished, she hung them and to her dismay they were three inches too short. "Oh my!" she said. "What will I do? I don't have any more cloth." "Ah hah!" she exclaimed, "I know what to do. I'll take them down, cut three inches off the top and sew it on the bottom. Then they'll be long enough."

Now, don't laugh! That same process is used every day in politics and business. They lower income taxes and raise sales taxes-cutting off one end and sewing it on the other. They add $1,000 to the price of a car and give a $500 rebate and you think you've gotten a bargain. That's cutting off one end and sewing it on the other. Doing away with educational grants and then supporting the unskilled through welfare is likewise unproductive.

Christians must point out and eliminate such inequities and foolishness in their government. We have a promise: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:3).

That's important because we desperately need intelligence in complex matters. It's been said that, "Smart rascals haven't done our world as much harm as ignorant saints." Also, narrow evaluations of character are shortsighted. The fact that a candidate goes to church or abstains from alcohol doesn't necessarily make him an excellent political statesman. Many misguided German Christians supported Hitler at the beginning of his rule because he didn't smoke or drink.

We have to understand what is at stake in legislation and foreign policy. We must not be unduly swayed by emotional rhetoric and patriotic propaganda.

For example, although an adequate defense is important, we should be aware of the terrific trade-off it demands. The money necessary to fly one bomber on a "four hour practice run" is enough to give a bright young person a college education. One such bomber costs enough to build homes for almost four thousand families.

Factual information should be obtained before we make decisions. We're too prone to make snap judgments and take illogical stances. For instance, in the New Haven study, a huge majority favored a "free press"; yet, over a third said they wouldn't permit a newspaper to criticize America. Now these two attitudes are mutually exclusive. The press is either free or it's not! We can't pick and choose.

Christians must do what is good.

III. Make Fair and Balanced Decisions

Jesus said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:21).

In America we say, "The majority rules." But Christians must go further than that. The rights of the minority have to be protected. We should not vote for laws that will benefit only us. Everybody, even the "least of these" must be allowed an equal voice in decision making. If Christians demand the right to give a public prayer in the classroom then you must be prepared to allow the Moslem, the Buddhist, and every cultist that same right. If you force Jehovah's Witnesses to pledge allegiance to the flag, or Quakers to engage in combat, then you must be willing to compromise your precious principles when the time comes when you and yours aren't in a majority position. In short, all people's faith must be respected, not just ours.

The total picture should be studied before we jump on popular political bandwagons. For instance, if we teach the Genesis creation story of Adam and Eve in public schools, we must be prepared to study the Turtle Back Theory of creation, the Giant Egg Theory of creation, and a hundred more. Every culture has its mythological explanation of the origin of life and all of them have a right to teach theirs if the Christian teaches his.

You see, we can't always impose our will, even if it's actually best. We must persuade and influence, but not coerce. Some well-meaning people would force their religious beliefs on the multitudes. This has led to inquisitions and persecutions. Burning someone at the stake to save his soul is never justified. Passing "Blue Laws" to ensure that all people observe our Sabbath doesn't make them more moral. It merely makes them resentful.

Freedom isn't just an abstract principle, it's a precious and fragile gift. If we abuse it, we lose it.

President John F. Kennedy said, "This nation will not be free until all her citizens are free."

So Christians must be fair.

IV. If Spiritual and Government Standards Contradict we are to Follow God

Peter said, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

Handling diverse secular issues is hard, but it's negative and nonproductive to simply condemn and write off a sinful world. It's our world, and we're to be its light, and salt, and leaven.

Optimism and hope are essential. The majority of the spies who went into the Promised Land said, "We are not able to go up against the people; for they are too strong for us" (Num. 13:31).

Negative thinking, like that, leads to negative speaking, and negative speaking leads to negative action, and soon the bleak prophecy becomes self-fulfilling.

History is filled with manufactured disasters. "Fire in the theater!" "A crack in the dam!" "A stock market crash!" Such phrases, even if they are baseless, can produce a stampede that results in more destruction than a real catastrophe would have caused.

We've always had fear mongers. In the early 1800s, Wilberforce said, "I dare not marry. The future is so dark." Disraeli said, "In industry and agriculture there is no hope."

The point is this. If the church crusades against too many things, it won't be heard. We have to be selective. If we use up our credibility on insignificant things, then when real danger appears we won't be heeded. Christian concern demands conviction but not overreaction.

Also, selfishness is non-productive. There's an old saying, "My ingrown toenail takes precedence over a devastating famine in China." I can see and feel my little inconvenience and that makes it of more importance to me than great suffering which I can't see and experience.

Christians must be altruistic and unselfish. A pious person once remarked to Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War: "Oh, Mr. President, I hope the Lord is on your side." Lincoln's shocking reply was, "I'm not too much concerned about that."

“Why not?" gasped the man.

"Because I'm so much more concerned as to whether I'm on the Lord's side!" the President answered.

As Christians, we must seek God's purposes.

We live in a world of change. That's going to continue and accelerate. The only certainty is that tomorrow won't be like today.

The church's task is not easy. It's not simply an organization to give comfort or an institution to provide escape. It's not a court, to give prohibitions against wickedness. Instead, it's a positive force that effects positive change.

Democracy doesn't encourage the strong to get all they can at the expense of the weak. "One nation indivisible," means more than a political alliance. We must be united in more than name.


Once there was a man who had three sons. They were good boys, but were constantly arguing and fighting. They found it hard to agree and work together. One day the aging father called his sons to him, and handed each a stout stick. "Break these," he commanded. Each boy easily broke his stick. Then the wise parent took three sticks and tied them together with a cord. He gave the bundle to the first son and said, "Now break them." He tried, but couldn't! The others tried and also failed. Finally the old man spoke. "I don't want you to forget this lesson. One stick by itself is easily broken, but when the sticks cling together, no one can break them. There's strength in unity."

That's true of our churches as well as of our nation.