Our nation is in a constant uproar. Amid accusations and recriminations from the political left and right, we hear frequent statements that our nation has never been more divided. The Civil War, 1861-1865, gives the lie to such hyperbole; nevertheless, the present climate suggests that rioting and mayhem, if not anarchy or another civil war, are far from unthinkable. By nature, Christians tend to be patriotic, law-abiding citizens who sincerely desire what is best for the United States and become rightly grieved when disregard for the law or other public sins run rampant. And certainly it is right for believers to be “salty” and to have a preserving effect on society. But wanting to be good citizens, we may find ourselves far too exercised about the state of the world. Certainly, we should obey all moral laws and perform the duties of citizenship. But we must always remember that neither our hope nor our help has temporal roots. Neither the U. S. Constitution, nor the right elected officials, nor the right court appointments will cure America’s problems because sin, which is the basis of our problems, is a spiritual issue that can never be rectified by human institutions. Though speaking in another context, the apostle Paul gives us two remarks that will help genuine believers navigate the treacherous waters created by today’s political climate.
We live on earth for the moment. First, Paul warns us against those (including ourselves) “who set their minds on earthly things” (Phil. 3:19). He had in mind, particularly, false teachers who focused on rituals, ceremonies, and every sort of false external religion. But the principle has general application. In a similar fashion, he exhorted the Colossians to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the thing that are on earth” (3:1, 2). When we brood, stew, worry, when we become exasperated or angry, when we lose our peace or joy because of the state of our nation, we have begun to set our minds on earthly things. Our thoughts are not to be focused on the temporal, which is different from giving thought and prayerful consideration to the needs of our nation. When we become consumed with the state of society, when that drives the decisions we make and how we live, we have begun to set our minds on earthly things. Paul was by no means oblivious to human government: he used the laws available to him, he stood before kings, he even appealed to Caesar. But this realm is not our focal point and should not determine the course of our lives or the quality of our existence. Believers are commanded to exercise our wills in order to continually seek eternal things and to keep our minds on heaven, not on earth.
We belong to heaven for eternity. Second, the apostle assures us that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). It is our birthplace spiritually, if you will. Our eternal life comes from God in heaven, in Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, all our obligations and responsibilities as well as our privileges and blessings derive from heaven—not from some human document or government. When the Constitution turns to ashes, the United States government to dust, when the world is ablaze, and then completely disintegrates, we will still belong to heaven. We will still be safe and secure. We will still be basking in the presence of God and in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Should things grow worse here (as they inevitably will [II Tim. 3:1, 13]), we still belong to heaven, we still belong to our God and Heavenly Father, “who sits in the heavens” and “laughs, the Lord scoffs at them [the rebels who think they can overthrow the Lord]. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury” (Psa. 2:4, 5), “waiting . . . until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet” (Heb. 10:13; also Psa. 110:1; Mk. 12:36; Lk. 20:43; Acts 2:35; Heb. 1:13). All our actions on earth should be for the sake of heaven. Earth is temporal, heaven eternal. Time is short, eternity long. As representatives of an eternal kingdom, we must live as pilgrims here. As ambassadors for Christ (II Cor. 5:20) we must bear the credentials of heaven: the character of Christ. And others should begin to “recognize” us “as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
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