The first time I viewed the Vietnam Memorial with those fifty thousand plus names inscribed on it, I could not help but wonder what those men and women, who gave their lives in the jungles of Southeast Asia, would say if they could see America today. When they died abortion was a crime, homosexuality was viewed as deviant behavior, divorce was rare, our educational institutions were the envy of the world, fathers were honored on sitcoms, families could watch a comedian’s routine without being compromised or embarrassed, and a child being murdered by a fellow student while attending a local high school was inconceivable. The President having an affair with an intern half his age in the oval office and the using his Cabinet to perpetuate his cover-up was incomprehensible; that he would finally admit it and be exonerated by the Senate of the United States of America was simply unimaginable. The country believed in and practiced free enterprise and the thought of the government owning two car companies as well as controlling health care was, well, unthinkable. Does anyone truly believe that what we have come to know as America today, with her 30 trillion-dollar debt that continues to explode upwards, is what those men and women died to secure? Yet that is America.
Paul understood his responsibility to leave a legacy for those who would come after him. It is nothing short of sinful for Christians in a free and democratic society to disengage from civil affairs. We must, of all people in society, be more involved in politics: taking the time to stay informed and exercise our civic responsibilities by voting our consciences. Who in our society is better qualified to serve in public office than a well-informed citizen who is grounded in Biblical truth? This is someone who is going to pass the laws that shape our lives and living conditions. Unfortunately, with tragic consequences, most Christians have chosen to withdraw. Satan is delighted with these results. Every day our civility is further assaulted and our sensibilities more dulled while sin abounds in our country. As a culture, we are becoming increasingly jaded.
The Philippian Church was a Special Church. Might pastors and Christians follow the example of Paul. Few people disagree that the Philippian church was among the strongest, if not the strongest church in the New Testament era. From a prison cell later in his ministry, Paul wrote to the Philippian believers:
“I thank God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-8).
Paul developed an abiding love affair with the courageous believers that were born out of his ministry in Philippi. From a Roman prison where he was being confined for his faith, he wrote:
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, I will continue to rejoice…” (Philippians 1:12-18).
This passage was confusing until one began to apply Christianity to moral and political issues. How could men who preached Christ out of selfish ambition, with intent to stir up trouble for Paul while he was in chains, do so without also endangering themselves? That seemed to be so contradictory to human reasoning before the great moral issues of the day were considered. Issues like homosexuality being immoral, or abortion being murder, or demanding that President Clinton resign for his immoral affair and lying under oath. Today, questioning such issues will bring on the sting of being branded a troublemaker or a right-winged, self-religious, fanatic by the press. No one enjoys being marginalized or slandered publicly. But the greater pain and damage comes when a preacher then goes before the press and condemns such preaching as being unloving and judgmental. They then declare that in their pulpits they only “preach Christ and His forgiving love.” Intentional or not, they stir up trouble for those who truly believe the Scripture condemns such acts as wicked and immoral.
Visualize this…some very polished pastor of a big church…standing outside the courtroom granting an interview with the ‘Roman Daily Press’ or the ‘Roman Empire Today’ newspaper, condemning Paul as a bigot for calling Caesar worship idolatry and confronting Ceasar with his penchant for orgies and homosexual activities, and then, pointing to the Parthenon and declaring how proud they were to live in a country where all gods are equal and rejoicing that Jesus is included with the other gods?
Paul rejoiced that even in such an environment some were still saved, but his greater joy was that “because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:14). He concluded this exalted passage with the secret of his life: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. (Philippians 1:21). Paul was not politically ignorant. We must not be either. Thank God that Paul’s…Saul’s…earlier failures were not held against him for the rest of his life. How many today are being condemned for failures in their earlier life? Failures that have been corrected and forgiven by God, yet not so by certain self-righteous politicians who gain confidence in themselves by condemning others?
Next week we will take a look at how Pastors and Christians CAN make a difference.
“Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” Romans 12:21