What do I mean by Christianity and politics? It’s a really broad question, but let’s focus on this: how can we take a Christian view of the politics involved in the world today? How about this for a starting point on how to view the charges being leveled back and forth between the two political parties in the U.S.? Also in many other countries. And between countries. Let’s look to part of Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica.
We’re going to look at 1 Thessalonians, but I want to include a brief look at the background related to 2 Thessalonians. That’s because the church didn’t really understand, whether intentionally or mistakenly, what Paul told them in the first letter. (Underlines added for emphasis.) I’m doing this as an extra incentive to really pay attention to what Paul writes, and to evaluate ourselves against his “Final Instructions” to be sure we follow them.
Purpose. As in the pauline practice, Paul never writes a church but what he commends them. This is his purpose here as well. But the overriding purpose is the correction of errors.
The Thessalonians had misread Paul’s intentions in the first letter.
This epistle, written to Gentile believers, is especially helpful to new converts to Christianity. New Christians need to understand God’s prophetic program and the work ethic of serving until the Lord comes. 1Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2483). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
I don’t believe the exact misunderstanding is relevant. The idea is to take the larger purpose of this letter, to correct misunderstandings, and use it to view how we treat each other in the political arena. That’s where we have misunderstandings, some of which are unfortunately quite intentional. I further believe those types of scenarios make it even more important to remember that we, the people I’m addressing most directly here, are Christians.
So, with that in mind, let’s go through the short passage Paul writes. The NIV calls it Final Instructions. As such, they should serve as good reminders for us as we go out to “do battle” in the political arena. In other words, a reminder that we are to show kindness and love, not try to destroy each other.
Does The Bible Tell Us Anything About Christianity And Politics?
1Th 5:12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.
First off, working hard doesn’t mean following our political goals. But before I comment more, let’s look at this from a Biblical point of view of the situation in the Thessalonian church.
12. The first exhortation concerns the leaders of the Thessalonian church who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you. The words who are over you (Gr proistēmi) obviously indicate a governing leadership, and refer to spiritual leaders like pastors, elders, or bishops. Since the church was very young, its leaders must have been appointed by the apostolic missionaries in a manner similar to that mentioned in Acts 14:23. Paul asks his readers to know or recognize and appreciate the spiritual leaders. The spiritual nature of their leadership is indicated by in the Lord.
No, politics isn’t the church. But then, as Christians we (should) believe that governments are instituted by God. And that we should obey them, even when we disagree with them. Just look at the Roman government in Jesus’ time and think about what goes on now.
We also learn in the Bible that leaders are appointed by God. The question is, does God choose them to teach us a lesson, or because we are being blessed? Although, after writing that sentence, I must point out that even being taught a lesson by God is a blessing.
Anyway, the point is that as Christians, whether we be in the government ourselves or voting for someone, we must pay attention, not to our own desires, but to God’s. Maybe not to what’s best for us as individuals, but to what’s best in terms of God’s plan.
Live in peace
13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.
13. Esteem them very highly in love. The adverb here (Gr hyperekperissōs) is a double compound with a very intensive meaning which is probably quite adequately translated by very highly in the English text. The means of this high regard is suggested by in love. The reason for the high regard is that they have earned respect by their work. Paul in fact used the same word to describe their labor as he had used earlier for his own.
You may already be thinking, what does all this Christianity stuff have to do with Congress? Well, it turns out, a whole lot. Just check out the numbers below, from the Pew Research Center. I was astounded by them.
There were 531 members of Congress at the time of the survey, plus 2 empty seats. 468 of them claim to be Christians! In the overall population, only 65% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. But in Congress, it’s a whopping 88.1%. As I said, I was shocked!
So my comments here are even more relevant to the current Congress than they are to the general population. However, by the time we’re through, we’ll see huge differences between the way Christians should act and the way Congress and too many American Christians really do act. The lack of respect is just the starting point.
14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
14. This verse sums up the responsibilities of Christians one toward another in three areas of ministry. A different imperative verb is used with each distinct group, implying that one’s method must change according to the type of ministry. The first imperative (Gr noutheteō), warn, denotes a rather firm reminder to be used with the unruly (Gr ataktos, meaning, “incorrigible”). The second imperative (Gr paramytheō), comfort indicates soothing and comforting words for those who are “depressed” or discouraged (feeble-minded has other connotations not found in this verse). The third imperative (Gr antechomai), support calls for a supportive ministry for those who are weak or sick. The fourth exhortation in the verse is general, be patient, and encourages true patience toward all men.
We need to consider the terms timid and weak. Timid, for our purposes, should be those who are afraid to act according to the Christian beliefs they claim to have. Weak should be those who go along with the crowd, rather than follow their self-claimed Christian beliefs.
In that light, based on the number of self-identified Christians in the current Congress, there should be plenty of appropriate warnings when they’re needed, comfort when it’s required, and support for those who need it – all in order to practice Christians values in the course of doing Congress’ work. Finally, there should be patience galore. More than enough to go around.
And yet, it’s difficult to see any of those things going on in Congress. It’s equally difficult, to no surprise, to find it among voters in America either. It seems, after only a few verses, another letter is going to be required, just like the one Paul had to send to the Thessalonian church. Obviously, we Christians aren’t getting the message today either.
Be kind, joyful, and pray always
15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
1Th 5:16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
15–18. Paying back evil with evil, in a manner similar to the Old Testament “eye for an eye,” is not a part of the Christian philosophy; we must pursue what is good in our relationships to all men. Paul encourages other positive attitudes: a continual joy, or looking for the positive possibilities in every situation, persistent prayer, and thanksgiving. These are the things which are in accord with God’s will for the Christian.
Wow. An eye for an eye doesn’t quite describe the current Congress. Maybe two eye for one eye? They remind me of my father in many ways. Do you remember what Jesus said about love for enemies?
6:29, 30 pp — Mt 5:39-42
Lk 6:27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Lk 6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Well, my father’s version of that was: do unto others before they do unto you. That sounds mild compared to the way Congress acts today. Clearly, these self-proclaimed Christians in Congress don’t seem to be acting in accord with God’s will for the Christian. That is, unless, they are in power to teach us one heck of a really huge lesson! One that we aren’t learning very well at all, since things are getting worse, not better.
With the Holy Spirit, test everything
1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.
19–22. Quench (Gr sbennymi) means in this context to “suppress.” It is, in fact, a synonym of the word despise in verse 20. The work of the Spirit should never be quenched, stifled, or suppressed. Verse 20 is parallel to verse 19; a gift like prophesying is not to be despised or belittled. Yet, in spite of the fact that the Thessalonians are quite literally called upon to stop these kinds of activities, they are encouraged to continue “testing” all things, that is, applying Christian principles to all situations, and to continue holding fast to that which is good. The idea is that, while they should not hinder someone who is genuinely working for God, neither should they be gullible and accept anyone who claims to be religious. Paul also reminds them that they should continue to abstain (Gr apechō) from every possible kind of evil. What Paul is calling for here is balance; Christians should neither be overcritical nor gullible.
Don’t quench the Holy Spirit? If our Congress people are truly Christian, what we’ve seen so far seems to indicate a lot of Spirit quenching.
There’s another line in there that we need to really pay attention to as well: neither should they be gullible and accept anyone who claims to be religious. That’s especially important for those of us who vote for these people. Rather than vote on what someone says they believe and claim to be Christian, we should evaluate their words, actions, how they live, and how they treat people. And by people I mean all people – friends or enemies.
And finally, don’t forget: abstain from every possible kind of evil. Think about that, and consider just how much evil goes on in Congress.
Remember, and live like, we are sanctified by God
1Th 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
23–24. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians here is put in the form of a wish (optative of wish) and might better be translated as, “may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely.” The word sanctify (Gr hagiazō) is related to the word “holiness” and implies that God himself is the ultimate influence in changing a man’s life. Holiness is more than a set of rules which can be legally imposed. Holiness or sanctification is the work of God’s Holy Spirit who indwells us. Paul, having done all that is within his power to teach the Thessalonians to be holy, now commits them to God who alone can make them holy. I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless, should rather be translated “may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is not here giving us a list of the separable parts of man, but is simply asking God to preserve the whole man in safety and holiness so that there will be no reason for shame or punishment at the coming of Christ (cf. Phil 1:10). Again, verse 25 emphasizes that, as it is God who saves, so it is God who keeps; God called them in the first place, and He will preserve them.
Here comes some evaluation. Evaluation for the people in Congress, when they look at themselves in the mirror. But also evaluation for us – to evaluate both them and us – before we vote, as we talk about them amongst ourselves, anytime we get into political issues. After all, as Christians, everything we do is supposed to be for the glory of God. How many of us really think God is glorified by the leaders in this country? And keep in mind, nearly 90% of those leaders claim to be Christian!
Remember this letter and the grace of God
1Th 5:25 Brothers, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
1Th 5:28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And with that, Paul closes the letter. I can’t help but feel that as far as too many Christians in America are concerned today, there are too many places where we don’t live as if the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is with us. And political issues seem to be right up there among the worst areas.
Conclusion – Does The Bible Tell Us Anything About Christianity And Politics?
Yes, the Bible does tells us about Christianity and politics. Actually, Christianity and anything. And in this “Final Instructions” section, Paul tells us a lot. Like:
21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.
So yeah – we should look at things and come to conclusions. But then, before acting on those conclusions, or before just going off without thinking, we should test everything to be sure it’s good. Good in God’s eyes. As part of God’s overall plan. Not that we’ll know for sure what that plan is. We won’t. But God did give us the Holy Spirit to help us discern, among other things, the truth. And remember what Jesus said –
22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31
Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
God gave us our heart, our soul, and our mind. We should, and must, use all of them in everything we do. Including the political stuff, to be sure what we do is really in line with what Jesus taught, and not what someone else says or what our selfish desires tell us.
That’s what the “God and Politics” category is all about. I invite you to see what’s there right now. And to subscribe to this site to be notified when something’s added here.