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We continue our series on Christian maturity and the pursuit of excellence, and we turn to what the Bible teaches about political maturity. In the midst of the mud-slinging of much political discourse, it can be easy to lose sight of basic Biblical principles, much less, long term goals. Apathy, perfectionism, and compromise are all enemies of political maturity. Central to mature thinking, planning, and acting politically is understanding the Lordship of Christ over all, and the different jurisdictions he has assigned to different authorities.
“… Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told Him by certain which said, ‘Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to see Thee.’ And He answered and said unto them, ‘My mother and My brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it’” (Lk. 8:19-21).
NATIONS AND FAMILIES
The Bible teaches that nations are the natural extension of families multiplying. It frequently refers to nations as the “families of the earth” (e.g. Gen. 28:14, Ps. 22:27, Zech. 14:17). In Eph. 3:15, Paul writes, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” The word translated as “family” in Greek is patria, which is derived from the root word pater, which means “father,” but it can also refer to a much larger sociopolitical group such as an entire nation of people. Patria is where we get the words “patriot” and “patriotism” and the notion of right love and loyalty to one’s nation. This family-nation connection is true biologically, but Paul is clearly insisting that it goes deeper and broader than that, since every family is named after God the Father. And this is precisely what God began to teach His people early on through the gift of His covenant. To Abraham, God said, “As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee” (Gen. 17:4-5). While biological conception was always an important part of the growth and expansion of families/nations, from this very moment, God also instituted circumcision, in effect saying, but do not think of this covenant as a purely physical/blood relationship. Abraham’s entire household, including his male servants, were circumcised, Israel went up out of Egypt as a “mixed multitude” (Ex. 12:38), and Paul goes to great lengths to insist that this covenant was by faith not by the power of the flesh (Rom. 4:16-21). “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7ff). God has always taught His people that water is thicker than blood.
JESUS, LORD OF ALL NATIONS
All of this means that the Bible views the governments of the family, church, and state, as different sorts of families, nations, or covenants. While we have already seen this with families and nations, the Church also has “fathers” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:15) and is called the “household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), “the household of God” (Eph. 2:19, 1 Tim. 3:15, 1 Pet. 4:17) as well as a “holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9) in which Christians have a citizenship (Phil. 3:20). And this brings us full circle to the words of Christ: “‘My mother and My brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it’” (Lk. 8:21). The point is not merely one about biological family (although it includes that); it’s far more expansive, including all of our “mothers and brothers,” in our families, churches, and nations – all natural loves and kindred are subject to God’s word. When Jesus rose from the dead, He said, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me, therefore go and disciple the nations…” (Mt. 28:18ff). Jesus is Lord of the nations: Lord of family-nations, church-nations, and country-nations. In the ordinary course of things, there are spiritual and physical relations and loves, similarities and differences running through all of these nations, including language, culture, belief, tribes, practice, land, work, marriage, children, history, symbols, and more. But only allegiance and obedience to the Father who is over all and in all can rank and sort these allegiances rightly (Eph. 4:6). How do you build a family, a church, or a nation? By hearing and obeying the Word of God.
HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE?
Family: The marriage covenant is the core of this governmental jurisdiction, and it constantly pictures the Covenant of Grace in which Christ is Head of the Church (Eph. 5:22ff). As Lord of the family-nation, Jesus assigns the tasks of education, health, and welfare to this jurisdiction (Eph. 5-6). This includes care for elderly parents or other needy relatives (Mk. 7:11), the first line of defense for orphans and widows and similar needs, and a man that does not provide for his own household is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:1ff). Our fundamental allegiance to Jesus sometimes does mean losing or straining family relationships where there is a refusal to hear God’s word and obey. But the gospel turns the hearts of fathers and children (Mal. 4:6).
Church: The church has been given the keys of the Kingdom by Jesus Christ and is commissioned to preach the gospel to every nation, teaching them to obey the entire Word of God, calling the saints together for worship, admitting disciples through baptism to the Table, and barring those from fellowship who do not obey Christ (Mt. 16:17-19, 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:1-5, 2 Thess. 3:14-15). The church proclaims the water of the Word – which is the Word of the New Covenant in the shed blood of Christ that cleanses families and nations from their animosities and feuds. But the church is not partisan to any other government. It teaches all men to honor all of their fathers (at every level), and so it teaches true family loyalty and patriotism in Christ. A patriot honors his fathers. But the church is a completely independent government from all other governments. This is why it is unseemly and confused (at best) and idolatrous (at worst) for churches to conduct worship services that confuse national identity with Christian identity.
State: The civil magistrate has been given the sword by Christ to punish criminals and keep good public order (Rom. 13:4). Civil magistrates receive their power from God and are established to praise the good and be a terror to those who do evil (Rom. 13:3). Just as God establishes the authority, He also establishes the standards and the definitions. A magistrate who ignores or openly defies the One from whom he receives his authority is cutting off the branch he stands on. Magistrates are true “foster fathers” (Is. 49:23) who hear the word of God and obey it in their offices, laws, and judgments. And those nations that keep covenant with the Lord of the nations will bring their glory and honor all the way into Heaven (Rev. 21:24). But all dogs, sorcerers, whoremongers, murderers, and idolaters will be shut out (Rev. 22:15). So it is right and good to ask God to cast down all evil, to thank Him for the true glory He has given to our nation and celebrate it, and ask Him to grow and safeguard it all the way to Heaven.