Written by: Bishop Doug Beacham
In a few [days], Americans will head to voting booths around the nation to elect men and women to serve on national, state, county and municipality levels. As we prepare for this important event, I find myself reflecting on a particular episode in the life of the Apostle Paul.
I like to read Paul’s journeys in Acts in conjunction with the letters he wrote to the cities on those journeys. In this instance, Paul’s experiences in Philippi (Acts 16:12-40) should be read with his letter to the Philippians in mind. The letter was written following those episodes, and Paul’s comments are better understood when viewed in light of Acts 16.
In our media-driven world, where politics is a rough and tumble “contact sport,” it is tempting to avoid the distortions, accusations and downright lies that accompany most political campaigns. But Christians should not avoid the playing field.
One particular comment comes to mind as IPHC members in the United States prepare for national elections. In Philippians 3:20 Paul wrote, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ …” (NKJV). The Greek word for “citizenship” is politeuma, from whence it is easy to divine the notion of “politics.” On first reading, one might think that Paul was advocating an absence of any political activity on this side of heaven. But that is not the case.
That is where Acts 16:35-40 enters the picture. Following Paul and Silas’ arrest, physical torture, imprisonment and deliverance through an earthquake, the Philippian politicians realized they had made a mistake in violating the civil rights of Roman citizens. They tried a form of “cover-up” by secretly urging Paul and Silas to “depart and go in peace” (16:36, 37). But Paul would have nothing of it! His rights as a citizen had been violated and he was determined to make a point about it (vv. 37-39).
Paul was outraged at how he and Silas had been treated. But his point was more than personal satisfaction at making city politicians publicly admit their injustice. He was driven by his desire to see the gospel preached in Rome and to prove that the “good news” of Jesus was greater than the “good news” of the empire. His citizenship in heaven was meant to inform his other citizenship, in this case, as a Roman citizen.
What does that mean for us now? As citizens on this earth, we have responsibilities. First, as both the Apostle Paul and Peter affirmed, we must respect and pray for those in leadership (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-3; 1 Pet. 2:13-16). It does not matter whether the leaders, or even the political structure, are righteous or unrighteous in God’s eyes. What matters is that prayer is the link between the righteous kingdom of God and the temporary and often unrighteous kingdoms of men.
Second, we do not set aside his rights and privileges as a citizen of the empire. Paul understood that his participation involved calling for justice when needed, as Acts 16 showed. Later Paul used his citizenship to appeal to Caesar in order to preach the gospel before the throne of the empire (Acts 25:11). Thus, establishing righteousness and furthering the gospel drove his concern for how he lived as an earthly citizen.
Unless one lives in a totalitarian state with severely limited rights—and some IPHC members do (may we earnestly remember them in prayer)—there are additional responsibilities we have as “dual citizens.”
First, godly people need to run for public office. We are not called to establish a theocracy, but we are called to consider political and social issues from the perspectives of God’s Word and the governing documents of our nation. In our media-driven world, where politics is a rough and tumble “contact sport,” it is tempting to avoid the distortions, accusations and downright lies that accompany most political campaigns. But Christians should not avoid the playing field. Let’s live godly lives by guarding ourselves from the temptations of money, power and immorality that often attach themselves to public office. Let’s run honest campaigns, and by all means, let’s govern with truth and righteousness.
Second, all of us can vote. There is nothing illegal about a local church promoting a voter registration drive. We leave voters freedom of conscience regarding whom they choose in the privacy of a voting booth. But we should strongly appeal for every adult to take the time to register and vote.
If we don’t pray and vote, then our protests at the outcome are hot air. But if we take the time to pray and vote, regardless of whether our candidate wins or loses, we at least fulfill the admonition of the New Testament. We do our part as citizens of heaven and of a nation. We bring earthly matters into contact with the spiritual matters of that eternal kingdom. And sometimes, that makes all the difference.