In seasons filled with division and loud voices, do we listen for the still small voice of God whispering peace into our souls? Do we let the Word of God trouble us, shake us up, challenge our notions and change our thinking? Today, I come preaching about seven qualities that God loves in any nation. I do not come to proclaim my list as definitive, but as one gleaned from the main stream of Scripture. Your list might add a few other attributes. You might cross one of my seven off your list. That is fine. I am not here saying “thus sayeth the Lord” but simply asking you to “take every (political) thought captive” under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
- The Nations that God loves are governed by eternal principles, not present power or popularity.
As you read through your Bible, especially the Old Testament Laws, you will see that God judges governments with a very different standard than most political analysists use. God cares little about aircraft carriers, leading economic indicators, GDP, approval ratings, or the latest polls. God judges the nations by two leading indicators: love and justice. God gets stirred to action by deep inequality and injustice.
Listen to God’s common governing concerns from Exodus 23: “You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; you shall not side with the majority and pervert justice; nor shall you be partial against the poor in a lawsuit. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you feel like holding back from setting it free, you must help. You shall not pervert the justice due to the poor in lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts justice. You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23: 1-9)
God judges a nation by its principles, not its power. National greatness does not come from fire-power or economic clout, but from ethics. Our high-minded American forefathers looked to principles as our national foundation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among (People)” (Declaration of Independence). These eternal truths make a nation great. These guiding principles help a nation land on the right side of the political whirlwinds when history and God judge a people.
“Oh, People … God has told you-all, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!” …and then Micah the prophet flashes his teeth a bit: “The voice of the Lord cries to the city: Can I forget wickedness? Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence with tongues of deceit. (Micah 6)
- The Nations that God loves defend the rights of the poor and needy.
You might want to plug a few words into a Bible app and read the verses; punch words like poor, alien, stranger, oppression, or justice. You might be shocked to see how much Scripture is devoted to protection and some liberal scholars call God’s preference for the poor. Indeed, I was a bit surprised how often the word justice appears linked with the word “poor”- justice for the poor is a major OT theme! Indeed, God may judge a nation by the way it treats its poor people.
The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him… Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:1, 8-9)
“How long will you judge unjustly? Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! (Psalm 82)
Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; they have become great and rich,
they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make them prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord, and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this? (Jeremiah 5:27-29)
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ … And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-46)
- God loves the nations that provide justice and equality for all.
Give the king your justice, O God, …May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. …he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72 1-2 & 12-14)
You simply cannot have justice for some and not others. That sort of system is the very definition of injustice. Your principles and laws either apply to everyone or you do not have principles. The law of gravity to applies to everyone, or it is not a law.
For the Lord your God is God Alone, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18)
We believe God has created a moral law that supersedes any nation’s laws. Doctor King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” reminds us that everything Nazi Germany did was legal per their twisted immoral legal code. The Word of the Lord endures forever as the standard when we stand before the Great Judge Our God- the King of the Universe. That early on our founding fathers adopted a Bill of Human Rights helps us square better with God’s moral law.
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism, really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? …Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved: Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin. (James 2)
- God loves the nations that uphold everyone’s freedom of worship.
When God calls Moses to confront Pharaoh’s oppression of the Jewish people, part of that oppression is the suppression of the people’ fundamental right to worship. “Say to King Pharaoh, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” (Exodus 7:16). Indeed, God breaks Egypt the most powerful nation on earth for oppressing the Hebrew slaves, in part by not allowing them to freely worship. A soul forced to or restricted from worship- as is not free. Freedom to worship is a basic human right.
We see God’s love for free worship again in the Exile. The King erects a huge statue and requires that everyone bow and pray before the statue. God rescues the young Hebrew slaves who will not conform to the civil religion despite the impressive listing of ancient bureaucrats! “So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire’”… (Three young Hebrews slaves) “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let God deliver us. But if not, please known, Oh king, we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’” Daniel 3
After Easter, Peter and John are arrested by the High Priest and the Religious Police and Temple jailed overnight. “So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” Act 4
Any nation that suppresses a person’s freedom to worship is denying that person’s core identity. It is strange to me that some Christians want the government to give favor to a certain popular expression of faith. We Christians might do well to remember that the religious thought police, working in conjunction with the civil authorities, crucified Jesus. Jesus warns us in Matthew 23:29 that the very folks who build monuments to the previous generations’ prophets are the very people helping silence and kill the modern prophets.
In some Old Testament books, people fought Holy Wars to drive out Baal worship. Even during these times God was calling Israel to be a nation of priests. After the Exile, the Jewish people offered another model- a God who ruled not from a throne but over righteous hearts. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego show another way of living out one’s faith as civil disobedience. In the New Testament Jesus moved about in gentile cities. The historical and archeological record tells us these cities were filled with pagan temples. Jesus never suggested those profane pagan temples be torn down. Perhaps Christians should focus on winning souls in the marketplace of ideas and not be as worried about the legislature, for God always longs for his people to shine as a “nation of priests” living righteous lives.
I love Acts 17. It offers a Christian response for a pagan age. “In Athens, Paul was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he debated in the synagogue and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there… ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. (Complementing their pagan religiosity) For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, Today, I proclaim to you…Jesus’”. ( Acts 17)
It seems a strange thing for people to defend people’s right to be wrong about matters of faith, but does not the Golden Rule demand this? I believe we must defend the human rights of others to worship freely. That would seem to be the way of our God who loves the world enough to give us all freewill! (God rejects compulsion 2 Cor. 9:7 & 1 Peter 5:2)
“First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” (Martin Niemöller was a young protestant pastor imprisoned in Nazi Concentration Camps from 1937-1945),
- God loves nations that protect everyone’s freedom of speech.
Jesus was crucified for the unpopular things he said. “Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard (Jesus’) blasphemy. What is your verdict?’ The Council answered, ‘He deserves death.’” (Matthew 26:65-66)
The whole of the prophetic tradition is speaking truth to power. The prophet is always correcting the King. God speaks to Isaiah, “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1)
In fact, the truth will always win out of those who want to silence it. 1 Peter echoes Isaiah 40 “The word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25). The truth will be standing at the end. More than this the Eternal Truth will uncover all secret deals, decalcify callous hearts, judge all laws, and measure all our words. ( Matthew 12:36)
The Prophets are always speaking truth to power- the role of the prophet comes as a check against the kings the power. The truth must be said. When a ruler seeks to stop speech they are suppressing the truth that always liberates, and in due season, conquers.
- God loves nations that welcome strangers.
“You shall love your neighbors as yourself.” Jesus in Matthew 22:39
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus in Luke 6:31
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25
“There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.” (Exodus 12:49)
You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans (Exodus 22:21-24). This is rough OT stuff and we read it through a lens of grace and love. Perhaps God is speaking of the geopolitics that oppression stirs by breaking immutable eternal laws. But even as we interpret these Scriptures, let us remember, God gets fired up when any of his children are mistreated.
Next week we will explore the tough sayings of Jesus like “turn the other check” and how they apply on a personal and national level. I am not sure a court system rooted in forgiving someone 7×70 times is what God wants for a nation, although, a state of continual forgiveness is what God calls each of us as individuals to live into. Still, we must not so personalize the Word so as to regulate God’s enduring principles away from our voting and governing. One day all people and nations will stand before the Judge of all!
And that brings us to my final proclamation of the kinds of nations that God loves. You might add a few others as you explore the Scriptures, but I thought my list of 7 made a good start.
- God loves nations that protect and preserve life.
Paul tells us the role of a government is to protect people from crime, murder and malice. Where many people saw the occupying Roman force as an unwelcomed, foreign, tax collecting evil, Paul wrote, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. … the government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13). Indeed, Paul offers no blanket endorsement of every police action, but reminds us that in our sinful world the preserving of one’s life may result in the use of force and loss of another life.
When any life is lost, our Creator mourns. When earth’s first murder occurs, God confronts Cain saying, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” Curiously, the later OT commandments demand “an eye for an eye”, but in Genesis 4 God does not demand Cain’s life, choosing rehabilitation over the death penalty. Do you remember the sin that stirred God’s anger and sent the Noahatic flood? In Genesis 6:13 God is lamenting ever making people because “the earth is filled with violence!” Later, God assails Baal worship for the taking of lives of firstborn babies. Mother Teresa notes that “A child is God’s greatest gift to a family, to the nation, to the world. The child is a life from God, created in the image of God, created for great things to love and to be loved.”
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the religious police come with clubs, torches and swords. One of Jesus’ disciples draws a sword cut offing off a policeman’s ear. Luke tells us Jesus touched the soldier’s ear, healing it. In the Matthew telling, Jesus rebukes the sword wielding disciples with a warning, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 26:52
As a pastor, I see the deep hurts of parents grieving over children who have wrecked their own life and the lives of others with drugs, crime, or reckless living. Despite their children’s bad behavior and even criminal missteps, parents keep on loving their broken children to the very end. So does our Loving Creator weep for every lost life! God cares when anyone dies by violence by drug, sword or gun. The God of all life seeks to preserve every life.
That is my list. You might add even more or drop one. I care more what do we do with these eternal principles that the list itself. Do we listen for the Word of God? Let me suggest a few things we do with our list. a) Evaluate our leaders by these principles. b) Write, lobby, and vote based on such ideals. c) Run for office. d) Stop listening to spin and commentary: that might mean picking up the newspaper and reading about facts that occurred and ignoring the talking heads who make their living with clever lines that divide us. e) Pray. f) But foremost let us offer an alternative witness to the present politics by living out a moral code that:
- Is governed by eternal principles, not present power, party or popularity.
- Defends the rights of the poor and needy.
- Provides justice and equality for all.
- Upholds everyone’s freedom in worship.
- Protects everyone’s freedom of speech.
- Welcomes strangers.
- Protects and preserves life. Amen.