Saturday, January 25, 2014

War, government overreach, bigotry and money--a Christian perspective

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2).

Our world is in turmoil.  There is war.  There are power struggles in the halls of government.  There is bigotry and discrimination.  Many struggle to keep food on the table. 

Everyone has an opinion about these things.  Politicians, the news media, bloggers, family members—all sorts of people try to sway your opinion to think as they do. 

But what views should a Christian hold?  Paul tells us to keep our eyes focused on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  He tells us to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things.  So today  let’s look at war and government, bigotry and money from the perspective of Holy Scripture.

Whether you think it is justified or not, war is part of the human experience.  Our oldest written documents include references to armed conflict between different groups of people.  War was commonplace; in the Old Testament we read that spring was the season when kings went off to war.  As soon as the crops were planted and the weather was favorable, men took up arms and marched off to shed blood.

There are several reasons for declaring war.  The two most common are greed and safety.  One country will invade another to get more land for growing food, acquire valuable resources needed for economic growth, or to increase the population for tax purposes.  Countries will also launch a preemptive strike if they fear a military build up on the other side. 

War has also been used for internal reasons.  A government might prepare for war to get factories reopened and unemployed citizens back to work.  If a nation is troubled by social unrest, the ruler can unify his people by declaring war on an enemy that everyone fears and hates. 

Countries often get dragged into war because of international treaties—if one nation is attacked, its friends are obligated to assist.  And sometimes wars are fought over matters of principle—to bring freedom to a suffering people, or to enlighten them with a different culture and religion.

But when is a war justified in the eyes of God?  He doesn’t tell us when we should send in troops and when we should mind our own business.  Still, the teachings of Holy Scripture can guide us. Greed is a sin; war is evil if its purpose is to make one nation richer at the expense of another.  Jesus invites people to believe in Him, but He never uses force; war is wrong if it is used to make others believe as we do.  But God did establish government to protect people from harm and allow them to live in peace; war is an option when national safety is at risk. Still, human lives should never be taken casually—the Lord made us all, and He wants everyone to experience His love through Christ.

Conflict is not limited to the battlefield—it also reaches into the halls of government.  Republicans and Democrats constantly argue about how much power and reach government should have.  Republicans believe that small government is better; they fear loss of freedom if there is too much regulation.  Democrats worry about the rich and powerful trampling the poor and weak; they want government to protect the common man against abuses of power.  But what should a Christian make of these arguments?  We know that God establishes government for our good, but how much should government affect our lives? 

When Jesus was asked to offer an opinion on paying taxes He said, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:21). Caesar was the emperor—he represented the rule of government.  Jesus taught that government and religion both make claims on us, and we have obligations to each of them.  But in the book of Acts chapter five, when there was tension between government and religion, Peter said we must obey God rather than any human authority.  In other words, we are to obey the government so long as it does not contradict what God commands.

Governments are expected to organize soldiers for national defense. God expects government officials to protect the defenseless from exploitation.  But how big or far-reaching does government need to be? The Bible does not say.  Jesus did say let nothing be wasted (John 6:12); we can infer that wasteful government spending does not meet with God’s approval.  The Lord commands judges to look out for the rights of victims; since judges work for the government, we can conclude that the Lord looks favorably on government assistance to those suffering from poverty or disability.  In the Old Testament, God issued laws regarding business and commerce; clearly, the government is expected to regulate such things. 

But government exceeds its authority when it tries to overwrite God’s commands.  The Lord forbids homosexuality; the government has no right to legalize gay marriage.  God sees all children as a precious gift originating in His love; the government has no right to legalize abortion.  Jesus commands us to speak of Him to all people; the government has no right to regulate where and when people can pray, distribute Bibles, or tell others about the Son of God who suffered and died that we might live forever in paradise. 

Government has a big job to do—but it dare not overstep its bounds.  And in many situations, government only has limited effectiveness.  Take, for example, the problem of racism and discrimination.

How does it make you feel when a group of people is chatting away in a language that you don’t understand?  Are you uncomfortable around people whose skin color and choice of clothing are different than yours?  Do you fear that your community is changing because minorities are moving in? 

Most people are comfortable with the familiar and uncomfortable with things that are out of the ordinary.  This is especially true of people who don’t share our language or culture.  When meeting someone who is quite a bit different from what we’re used to, most of us act differently than we typically do around strangers.  There is curiosity that makes a person want to stare.  There is a trace of fear that makes one hesitant to say “hello”. 

Some people take their discomfort into the realm of hostility.  How many times have you heard someone grumble about people who are different taking our jobs and dating our kids?   How many of these people are the target of nasty jokes?  How many are denied decent housing and can’t get a promotion at work?  How many are singled out for mistreatment because of how they speak or how they look?

We are all descended from two people—Adam and Eve.  Despite outward differences, we are all members of one extended family.  That’s how God looks at things. Scripture says, The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  Peter struggled with prejudice against non-Jews, but eventually he came around: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (Acts 10:34-35).  In Galatians chapter three Paul writes, There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Jesus suffered and died for every single person, regardless of background. He does not favor one skin color over another; He does not favor one language over another; He does not favor one cultural background over another.  Jesus is interested in the contents of the heart.  If we share His focus, bigotry and discrimination won’t put up barriers between us. 

If there is anything on this earth that unites people, it’s their concern about money.  People are always thinking about money.  Our government runs on tax revenue.  Our economy is based on money changing hands.  If people hold on to their money, the economy suffers and tax revenues go down.  Economists urge us to spend, spend, spend.

The only reason that you have money is because of God.  Moses said, remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). The Lord gives us money to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothing on our backs.  But we are not given money for our selfish consumption.  The Lord expects us to share with those in need; Proverbs 22 says, A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.  Most important of all, the gift of money can be returned to the Lord to show Him thanks for His goodness and to support the spreading of His saving message. Jesus said, go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19); you might not be able to serve as a missionary, but you can financially support those who do this vital work.

Sadly, a lot of people use money poorly.  Some waste it on short-term pleasures like gambling, drugs, or Internet pornography.  Others hoard money instead of putting it to use.  The desire for money drives many to crime; others worry about money so much that it steals away the pleasure of living in the moment.  This is why Paul wrote, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Jesus warned, No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24). Money is a tool that is to be used according to God’s law.  The love of money can lead to long hours at work and the neglect of your family.  The desire for money can lead to price gouging and deceptive advertising.  And money is abused when so much is spent on entertainment that bills go unpaid and charities are ignored.

When Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will demand an accounting of how we have used His money.  We don’t want to hear Him say, throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness (Matthew 25:30).  We want to please the Lord with our careful use of His property.  We want to hear these words come from His lips: Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness! (Matthew 25:21)

Our world is full of conflict—war, political struggles, and inter-racial tension.  Our world is also full of worry, especially over money.  We can be thankful that Christ rules everything from His heavenly throne, that He’s on our side, and that He speaks about the things that trouble us.  Listen to Christ, align your attitudes and priorities with His, and you can be a voice of reason when everyone else is panicking.

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