Independence Day, 2021.
In spite of all the problems in our country, I am thankful to be an American. The problems discourage me, but never to the point that I want to move to Iraq or China.
In Jeremiah 29:7 Jeremiah tells the people to “seek the welfare” of their city and “pray for to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7, ESV). That seems to me like a good thing for us to do, and I believe it is a pretty precise description of what many Christians in the United States are doing. So far so good.
But things are difficult in our nation right now. There are changes, demands, and polarization. It’s easy to become anxious about what is happening in our country without even realizing that we are. And when we are anxious, we are not at our best. We may well do or say things that are not true to our calling. Honestly, I am concerned about some of the ways I have heard some American Christians talking about our nation over the last little while. I think we know what is right, but our anxiety over all that is going on sometimes leads us to act out inappropriately. So on this Independence Day, I want to share some reminders that I think can help us have a healthy, biblical perspective on our nation in the midst of the current political chaos.
- Don’t forget we are called to be more devoted to God’s Kingdom than our country.
We all know this, right? God is more important than anything. Some of us might even say our devotion to God is a given or an assumption and then go ahead and spend more time and effort on our country than our faith. I’m wondering, though, if a neutral observer, watching us and listening to us, would think our ultimate devotion really is to God. Besides, no one likes to be reduced to a given or an assumption. I know your spouse or best friend wouldn’t, and I know God wouldn’t either. In spite of all the political turmoil, the attention it is getting, and the anxiety it creates, we must hold steadfast to our devotion to God as the most important thing in our lives.
Paul states clearly that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We are expecting and waiting for salvation from heaven, not earth (v. 20). Our salvation will come about by his mighty power when he transforms us to be like him (v. 21). Having this mindset, in contrast to those who set their minds on earthly things (v. 19), is the way we are to stand firm in the Lord (4:1).
Similarly, the people of exemplary faith described in Hebrews 11 were much more devoted to their heavenly homeland than their earthly one. They were willing to move from their home country to another land if God required it (v. 8). They were willing to live in tents, which appears to be literal but also to include an attitude of transience about where they lived (v. 9). They looked forward to heaven (v. 10). They acknowledged they were strangers and exiles on earth (v. 13; cf. 1 Peter 2:11). They were seeking a homeland elsewhere (vv. 14-15). And they desired a better country, namely heaven itself (v. 16). The writer later says they were willing to follow Christ even if it meant suffering, for they knew they did not have a lasting city here and were instead seeking the city that is to come (13:13-14). Their focus was clearly on heaven not earth.
Likewise, we, as people of faith, seek God’s kingdom first of all (Matthew 6:33).
2.Don’t forget that the primary means we have for changing the world is not political but spiritual.
Again, I think we all know this. But as with the previous point, our actions may sometimes suggest otherwise. Many Christians on both the right and the left seem much more heavily invested today in changing the world politically than spiritually.
I want to make clear that I am not opposed to voting or doing what we believe is right politically. I’m just opposed to putting more stock in politics than in God.
In the Jeremiah passage mentioned above, the true deliverance of the people would not result merely from their seeking the welfare of the land. Rather, it would come when God chose to act. He is the One who would restore their fortunes (29:10-11). By the way, if we keep the ever popular verse that mentions the people’s welfare, future and hope (v. 11) in context, we’ll realize that God’s plan for them also included seventy years of his discipline before the blessing (v. 10). We mention verse 11 a lot more often than v. 10. God hoped that his discipline would lead them to seek him with all their heart (v. 13), but it is still clear that he is the one who would provide the deliverance, not them.
The plan God conceived millennia ago to intervene in the world and bring about better days on earth was not political but spiritual. His plan was to establish his kingdom through Christ. When God reigns and people submit to him as King, things get better. True, his reign is still rivaled and there will be many problems in the world until Christ comes back again and defeats all his enemies. But we do now have now a foretaste of the kingdom that will be fully realized kingdom in heaven. And the more people submit to Christ as King, the better things will be. That’s God’s plan for making the world better. It’s not political. It’s spiritual. Things will be better when God’s kingdom comes (more fully) and his will is done (more fully) on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
3. Don’t forget that God cares about the whole world, not just the United States of America.
In Scripture, God blessed various nations at various times, most notably Israel. But this was never so that they could hoard his blessings. It was always so that they would share his blessings with others.
Early in Scripture God blessed Abram in hopes that the whole world would be blessed in him (Genesis 12:1-3). Red and yellow, black and white—they are precious in his sight. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He cares about them all and wants us to as well.
Likewise, it is worth noting that Jeremiah 29:7 is not urging God’s people to seek the welfare of their home country but of a foreign land. The place referred to in that verse is not Israel or Judah but of Babylon—Israel’s enemy! I realize I’m the one who brought up the verse, and I did so because it sounds so much like what many of us are doing today—seeking the welfare of a land because that will be to our own welfare. And it does indicate that it is good to do that whatever you are. But it doesn’t seem like it supports a focus on seeking the welfare of one’s home country.
One of Israel’s major mistakes is that they took God’s blessings to mean that they were special and so hoarded them instead of sharing them with others. Old Testament scholar John Willis says Jonah was a “typical Israelite” in that he didn’t want to share God’s blessings with the rest of the world. That’s why he fled when God wanted him to preach in Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria and another of Israel’s enemies. When he finally did preach there, the Assyrians repented and God decided not to destroy them. Remarkably, this made Jonah angry! (3:10-4:2). He didn’t want Assyrians to enjoy the blessings of God’s mercy. This “children’s story” has a lot of grown up things to say to those of us who believe our country has been especially blessed by God. Instead of hoarding, we must share God’s concern for all nations. It is also interesting that Nineveh was located in what is now Iraq, a country most American Christians are not especially concerned about.
I realize this isn’t a typical, patriotic fourth of July post. And I do want to encourage us to be thankful for what we have and to be good citizens. But I also want to remind us that we are more like sojourners on earth than citizens. Our true citizenship lies in heaven. Maybe some prayer and reflection about all this is in order, I don’t know. But I at least hope you’ll remember we are called to be more devoted to God than our country, to seek his kingdom first of all. We are called to make the world better through the spiritual resources of the gospel, more so than through the secular forces of politics. And we are called to seek the welfare of the whole world, not just our own country.