Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 29-31; James, chapter 1
Scripture: Isaiah 30:1-5, 8-15a (NRSV) – Oh, rebellious children, says the Lord, who carry out a plan, but not mine; who make an alliance, but against my will, adding sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt without asking for my counsel, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt; Therefore the protection of Pharaoh shall become your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt your humiliation. For though his officials are at Zoan and his envoys reach Hanes, everyone comes to shame through a people that cannot profit them, that brings neither help nor profit, but shame and disgrace…
Go now, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, so that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever. For they are a rebellious people, faithless children, children who will not hear the instructions of the Lord; who say to the seers, “Do not see”; and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel: Because you reject this word, and put your trust in oppression and deceit, and rely on them; therefore this iniquity shall become for you like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant; its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a sherd is found for taking fire from the hearth, or dipping water out of the cistern. For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
Observations: For a number of years I have had a sense of unease about the Church’s ever-growing identification with political parties. Depending on our view of the Church and of its role in society, we identify ourselves with the parties which promise to work toward the goals that we think are most important. The danger is that when we do that within the context of the Church, we tend to spiritualize our views and assume that God agrees with us. That becomes more dangerous because no matter which views we adopt, we can find Scripture to support them – and then we demonize anyone who disagrees with us.
As I was reading this passage today, one phrase that struck me was this: Oh, rebellious children, says the Lord, who carry out a plan, but not mine; who make an alliance, but against my will, adding sin to sin…Whenever we align and ally ourselves with other people on any basis other than their membership in the family of God, we are at risk of acting outside God’s will. (Being “unequally yoked together.”) And whenever we take it upon ourselves to decide who is “really” part of the family of God, we’re at risk of violating Jesus’ command against judging others.
I was talking with someone the other day about the danger of making those sorts of judgments. At one place in the gospels, Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23), while in another place he says, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50). Those two statements are not the same! “Whoever is not against us is for us” is a much broader statement. Paul puts it this way: “Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) We have a tendency to judge people on how much they look like us, sound like us, and act like us, rather than on their confession of Jesus as Lord.
When we start evaluating each other on how we obey God’s Word, we need to be careful, because we have a tendency to decide which parts of the Word are “most important.” Jesus told us the answer to that question: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” When we need help understanding what it means to love, we can go back and read 1 Corinthians 13 again.
I need to be clear about something: I’m not telling anyone not to participate in the political process. Every Christian should be informed, and every Christian should vote. I’m not telling anyone not to support candidates and parties that they believe offer the best policies for the country. I’m not telling anyone not to run for office as a candidate, if they believe that God is leading them to do so. But it is very dangerous to judge someone’s spiritual state by their politics – to say, “If you’re really a Christian, you have to agree with this…” I’m reminded of John Wesley’s quote on this subject: “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against; And, 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
Applications: God is reminding me of two things: first, that part of my responsibility as a pastor is to encourage people to be informed about the issues, and to give them Biblical direction relating to those issues; second, to remind them of the supreme command to love one another. We should never allow political views to hamper our ability to share the gospel with anyone, and we should never allow political views to cause division within the body of Christ. Our supreme allegiance is to God and his Kingdom, not to any country, and certainly not to any political party. We need to be careful not to make an alliance which is outside God’s will, as God cautioned his people in Isaiah 30. Rather than trusting in candidates, and parties, and governments, we need to trust in God; as God says in the passage quoted above, in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
Prayer: Father, thank you for your faithfulness in speaking to me each day, and for your patience in helping me to understand what you’re saying. Help me to reflect the love that you call all of your children to demonstrate; help me to never let any purpose, goal, or alliance to become more important than daily seeking you and obeying you. Help me to seek first your Kingdom and your righteousness, and to trust that you will work according to your purposes through the obedience of your children. Amen.