“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” ~1 Peter 2:13-17 (NIV)
Did you know that Peter penned these words during the reign of Nero? The guy who burned Rome to the ground, blamed the Christians, and ignited one of the most deadly persecutions Christians have ever faced?
I’ve been thinking. What if we need to let go of what our country used to be, accept the reality of what it is now, and try to live Christ and his love to a world that is dying? What if Jesus actually expects us to reach out with practical, loving help to the broken, hungry, alone, imprisoned, and the sick?
I don’t think Jesus expects us to “fight for our rights.” Honestly, I’m not sure our “rights” are very high on his priority list. Perhaps, instead, we are to give up our rights and help the least of these, wherever we find them. The widow. The orphan. The prisoner, the sick, the poor, the immigrant?
I am not saying we should surrender to the world and its fallen principles. As Americans, we do have the awesome privilege and responsibility to be involved in our governmental processes. We ought to vote. We ought to speak. However, at the end of the day, when the world is in concert against us, it might be time to turn the other cheek, and get on with the good works we were saved to do.
What if turning our collective cheek means abandoning our political causes, no matter how moral we think they are, and submitting to the authority of an ungodly government? What if we learned to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s? What if we keep working to further God’s Kingdom, by our love, in spite of how Caesar rules his earthly kingdom?
What is the worst that could happen if we lose our rights here? Persecution? Loss of our businesses? Our churches? Imprisonment? Fines? Death?
To live is Christ, to die is gain.
In light of that, what matters more than seeking and saving the lost? It makes political agendas seem petty. Sure, they have their place, but I don’t think they’re as all-important as we want to believe.
Ultimately, it’s not how loudly, intelligently, or eloquently we voice our political opinions. It’s not how convincing we are in our arguments. It’s how well we live Christ. It’s whether we give cups of cold water–literal and spiritual water–to the least of these, in the name of Jesus, starting with our own precious children. (I have failed in this, which I hope to write about soon.)
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ” ~Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)
This passage goes on to say that we can look like shiny, new Christians, with all the right opinions, and following all the right do’s and don’ts, but if we do not love and care for the least of these, then we don’t know Christ. More importantly, he won’t know us.
Each one of the least of these in desperate need of God’s grace, just as we were before we placed our lives in Jesus’ nail-scarred, bloody hands. Just as we still are, especially in our most hypocritical, prideful, spiritually arrogant moments. Which of us is not in need of the blood of Christ?
In light of all of this, I am under conviction. I look at my life, my decisions, and my special privilege as an American citizen, and wonder if I am doing enough. I want to live Christ. What if that means that my “rights” really don’t matter, and widows and orphans really are at the heart of what matters most to God? How does that change the way I live?
I honestly don’t recall instances in Scripture where the Apostles were called to change their governments, or to demand religious freedom. They simply obeyed God rather than man when it came right down to it, and they each went to their deaths because of it. (Except for John, of course, who went into exile.)
Granted, they lived under essentially totalitarian rule, so political activism was less an option for them than it is for us. Still, they seemed focused wholly on sharing the Gospel, and encouraged the churches they planted to care for the poor among them.
I think it’s time for each of us to examine ourselves, look God in the face, and decide what to do with what time we have left. Will we continue to yell and argue as our rights are eroded slowly, or will we put our shoulder to the plow and keep our furrow straight and narrow as we share our yoke with Jesus, and scatter seed in the hopes of helping him reap a great harvest in the end?
Sometimes, those things may go hand in hand, but not as often as we seem to believe. What if our rights don’t matter, and what if all that matters is Jesus Christ and him crucified?
This has been on my heart for a very long time. I have written and re-written this post, so many times, but I finally need to just put it out there. I really do believe God’s command to love the poor (in material goods and in spirit) is a very literal one. What will that look like as I struggle to grow in my faith? I don’t quite know yet, but I have ideas.
Thanks for reading.
Grace & Peace,