Politics — Whose Side is God On?

Title: Politics – Whose Side is God On?
Text: Joshua 5:13-15
Time: June 7th, 2012

We’re into the 2012 presidential election year so you can be sure we’ll be hearing plenty of political ads and news from now until voting day. While it’s important to elect the right political leaders, especially in a democracy, the political bombardment in the form of media messages is not something I look forward to all year long. It seems as if there never really was a break in the political campaigning from the last presidential election four years ago, so maybe this year won’t be any worse. But I have a feeling that it will only get more intense as we get closer and closer to Election Day. Now as citizens of a democratic government and as Christians committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, what should our response be to the political process taking place this year? On the one side, you have Christians like the Amish who basically ignore the whole political process and go about their lives just as they’ve always done without giving much attention to what they see as a worldly activity. In the midst of a political election year, after having heard or seen what seems like thousands and thousands of negative political ads we’re all tempted to take the Amish approach to politics and basically forget the whole enterprise. But as responsible Christians we know that we just can’t withdraw from the process because it’s our duty to be salt and light in society (Matthew 5:13-16). So we really can’t take the approach of the Amish, although at times it would be easier and simpler to do so. On the other hand, there are those Christians who seem to pour themselves into the political process as if everything depended on it – as if the fate of the whole world hung in the balance and voting for the right candidate or party was all-important. Now this approach is easy to understand because of the media coverage of the upcoming elections and because of the daily reports on candidates, parties and political strategies. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of seeing every twist and turn in the campaign as critical because that’s the way it’s reported in the daily news. Reporters tend to present their stories as if they are all vitally important. Political parties also contribute to the hype by feeding the public the message that this year’s election could be the most critical in the history of our nation — that everything hangs in the balance this year, and so forth. The forces in society combine to constantly feed us the message that politics is the most important thing going on, that we should all make politics a priority in our lives. But as Christians we have to stop and ask ourselves, “Is politics really so important?” I think if we seriously search the scriptures we’ll find that the answer is, “No.” While important, politics isn’t most important or shouldn’t be most important in our lives. We think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God,” and we are reminded that there are more important things than elections and politics. Although politics is important, it’s not all-important. This is what the Bible teaches. Today I’d like to look at a passage from the Old Testament that teaches us that God doesn’t necessarily take sides in the political process as we often find ourselves doing. God is above it all, although he is definitely concerned about issues that he’s clearly revealed in his Word. Let’s look at Joshua 5:13-15 (read). Let me say three things about this passage in relation to the upcoming election.

First, it’s not always an “us” against “them” situation in politics. Joshua 5:13, “Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’” Joshua was taking the typical political or ideological approach to everything – “Are you with us or against us?” Or in other words, “Are you on our side or the other side?” Or put in more hostile terms, “Are you a friend or an enemy?” And that’s exactly what we see in our society today in this presidential election year – we are seeing people polarizing around ideology, politics, party affiliation and candidates. This is one of the disadvantages of a democracy, that is, you always have constant political posturing and agitating for one side or another, on almost every issue. So the result is that it pits citizen against citizen in an almost endless state of conflict. In other forms of government, such as a kingdom, for example, since the King makes the decisions, the people are pretty much stuck with the results, which they can all complain about together against the King. But they aren’t always fighting amongst themselves as much as accepting what is and that they can’t do anything about it anyway. Now don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t want to go back to being ruled by a King. But at least in that form of government you don’t have the constant push and pull of everyone trying to strive for power and political control, as we see happening today in our form of government. As Christians we must avoid the either/or mentality in politics. Even though we can hold to strong convictions about this or that political position, it doesn’t mean that our opponents are bad or evil people. There are just too many political issues and too many different ways of approaching each issue to consider that, on most or all of them, we are absolutely, 100% correct – and our opponents are all wrong. Yet that’s what we are tempted to do in the current political climate. For example, on the issue of abortion, I’m pretty firm that I’ll never vote for any political leader who supports the killing of unborn children – or support any political party that promotes abortion. Now that might lead me to see any political candidate or party that does support abortion as evil. Yes, abortion is evil, sinful and wrong, but the politicians or the people in the party that supports it aren’t necessarily evil people. Wrong, yes; misguided, yes; but evil? Not necessarily. On some other issues, these same people might have some very good ideas that I can agree with, or even support. Of course, like I said, no matter how many other good ideas a politician could have, if he supports abortion or gay marriage, for example, I could never vote for him, period. But that doesn’t mean he’s my enemy. Joshua, in typical warrior style, wanted to make everyone into either “friend” or “foe.” We need to avoid that approach in life, especially today when there is already so much division in society.

Second, we shouldn’t always assume God is on “our” side in politics. Joshua 5:13-14, “Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’” Joshua was surprised that the angel of the Lord wasn’t on one side or the other. He was probably even more surprised that the messenger of God wouldn’t clearly state his allegiance to Joshua’s cause – after all, wasn’t Joshua leading God’s chosen people into battle? But the angel refused to take sides. What is God saying by taking a neutral stand in this instance? He’s trying to communicate that it’s not as easy as saying, “God is on our side.” I remember reading the accounts of President Abraham Lincoln during the great Civil War. There’s the story of someone asking Lincoln if God was on the side of the North. He answered, “It’s not a question of God being on our side, it’s a question of us being on God’s side.” In other words, It’s not up to God to take sides, it’s up to us to be on God’s side. We follow God, not God following us. We need to remember that distinction in politics today. For example, just because the Republican Party opposes abortion and gay marriage doesn’t mean that everything else the Republicans favor is good or best for our country. It also means that just because the Democratic Party favors abortion and gay marriage doesn’t mean that everything Democrats favor is all bad. The truth is, nobody has all the answers; nobody is completely right. Many issues are not clear cut, black and white. There is room for healthy debate and dialogue on most issues. The Republicans don’t have all the answers; neither do the Democrats. It’s easy to take side in an election year and label our opponents all wrong or all bad – or label political parties either good or bad. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “There is none that is righteous, no not one,” Romans 3:23, 11. There’s no room for a self-righteous attitude in our political cause. Clearly there are right causes and wrong causes, but in neither instance should we act self-righteous. God is judge. On one cause we might be in the right, but we might also be in the wrong on some other cause. We can’t automatically assume that our candidate or party is right on everything, or that our opponents are wrong on everything. And above all, we must remember that God is God; we can’t just recruit him for every one of our political causes. Instead, we need to make very sure we are following him in our beliefs and actions, not trying to get God to follow our lead. On most things, he’s above our petty politics – that’s what the angel’s words mean in this passage.

Third, God’s kingdom is more important than politics. . Joshua 5:13-15, “Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’ The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take of your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” The angel’s message is – remember what is holy. That message can easily be forgotten in politics, as candidates and parties try to win at almost any cost. We need to remember to “seek first the kingdom of God” and not forget our priorities. I’m afraid many Christians lose their priorities during an election year. They seem to seek first the kingdom of man in times of intense political struggle. I remember reading historical accounts of pastors and church leaders during the time of the Revolutionary War pleading with their congregations to not make the cause of Liberty and Freedom into idols. What was happening during the time was that good Christians were getting caught up in revolutionary fervor to the point they were neglecting the basic Christian disciplines in their lives, such as prayer, reading the Bible, church attendance and other forms of devotion to God. They were making the cause of Freedom and Independence their primary motivating factors in life. Instead of seeing these political causes as important, they were making them all-important, and not keeping a healthy balance. I’m afraid I see Christians today falling into the same unhealthy trap. It’s so easy for idols to creep into our lives. An idol, after all, isn’t necessarily some carved figure that we bow down to, as a Hindu or Eastern religious practitioner might. It can be anything that we put ahead of God in commitment and devotion. Politics can become an idol if we let it. A political cause can become just as big an idol in one’s life as any cast figurine that Hindus bow down to. If we aren’t careful, especially during an election year, we as Christians can allow political idols into our life to the point where we neglect the things of God in favor of the worldly, temporal things of man. The angel tells Joshua to bow down and remember the holy – to remember God and the things of God. It’s not all about winning on earth, defeating the enemy, getting one’s political or military way. If we win the war, get our way, gain power to control things, but lose our walk with God in the process, we ultimately lose.

For the next five or six months here in the United States, we’ll be bombarded with political talk and campaign ads on radio and television, on the Internet and in the newspaper. We’ll be tempted to make politics into the be-all and end-all of life. We’ll be tempted to see everything in terms of politics – our side vs. their side, friend or foe. We must resist that temptation and remember that politics isn’t the ultimate thing. We are Christians first and foremost. We are to seek God’s kingdom above all earthly kingdoms. Yes, we should vote come Election Day. We should be fully informed and vote for the leaders who best reflect our Christian values and who are best qualified to lead. But we must remember that politics is not most important and we shouldn’t put too much hope in the solutions that politics and politicians can bring. We shouldn’t look to government to meet our most basic needs; we should look to God for these. We also need to remember that Christianity has survived all kinds of different forms of government throughout the ages. The Christian church is bigger than any type of earthly government. The work of the Lord will continue no matter who is in office, no matter what form of government rules. While many of the issues we face today are important, most of them are not ultimate or all-important. Yes, abortion is important – and we should work to eliminate abortion as best we can by voting for pro-life candidates and voting against pro-abortion candidates. Yes, gay marriage is serious and we must vote against it and all those who support it, and vote for candidates who pledge to support the traditional, biblical definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. And there are a handful of other issues that are very important also that we must be aware of and vote appropriately for or against. But we must remember that most issues are debatable. Most issues are not clear-cut. We must be careful to not become overly political or ideological – which is to say, thinking that everything is always easily black or white. That kind of narrow-minded thinking is partly why our nation is so divided today. Let us as Christians not contribute to the cultural divide by narrow thinking. Others don’t always have to agree with our political views on every issue. After all, on a wide range of issues, we could be wrong, right? Can we learn to take a humble attitude as Christians towards debatable issues? Can we discuss issues without getting offended and without resorting to fussing and fighting? Can’t we make our points without seeking to destroy other people? We can make an impact on our culture for Christ not only by being on the right side of the great moral issues of our day, but also by the way we conduct ourselves when we are given the opportunity to speak. Can we speak the truth in love as Ephesians 4:15 commands us? That is our challenge in this election year.


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