Christians vary in their views of politics. Some evangelicals have become so disgusted with the political process that they have withdrawn from it entirely while others are so devoted to partisan politics that it appears to overtake their allegiance to Christ. Christians can easily err on both sides of the line. As Martin Luther has said, “The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side.” So do we avoiding being like “drunken peasants,” falling on the side of total political apathy only to go to the side of total political immersion? How should Christians view politics or political leaders? What is the role of the government and its citizens? Should we place any hope in our political system?
These questions have been debated throughout the centuries, as politics have always played a significant role in the health, good or ill, of a nation. Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs so that his readers would, “know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight and to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice and equity.” (Prov. 1:2-3) One of the key arenas in which Solomon desires these principles to be displayed is in the arena of government and politics. Some scholars believe that Proverbs was written specifically for the young men in Solomon’s court who were responsible to help govern the nation. As we struggle to process our role as Christians within a pluralistic, secular society it would be wise for us to glean wisdom from one of God’s kings who was inspired to write about God’s world, even the messy world of politics.
The Wisdom of Political Separation
Christians are citizens in two kingdoms. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the earth. Our primary citizenship is that of heaven, for God’s kingdom is not of this world (Phil. 3:20, John 18:36). Therefore we have to be very careful to make a strongest allegiance that of our citizenship of our earthly nation. We are fundamentally aliens and strangers in this land for our home is heaven. We are citizens of the King of kings living in a foreign land.
Separation of Church and State
In 1802 Thomas Jefferson wrote to Baptists in Danbury, CT introducing the concept of the separation of church and state into the American political lexicon by saying,
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Jefferson believed that it was not the right of the government to dictate matters of the conscience, but to empower people to freely express their beliefs in worship of God.
The idea of separation of Church and State has been misunderstood to mean a “religion free” public square. Jefferson never meant to limit the conversation, but to inhibit the government to dictate matters of conscience. Christians should rightly desire a separation of church and state as it was originally introduced into our country. We should fight for the government to be limited as to not infringe the conscience of believers.
Separation for the Gospel
The church should never wed itself to a political party. Our primary mission should never be to elect someone from a certain political party into office, for our mission is far more important than the political activism. Our mission is the proclamation of the gospel. Our King has given us a task to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. The only saving message of the world is not through politics, but through a Savior. Men are going to perish for eternity in Hell if they do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior. Therefore the church must never waver in its primary mission to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sin in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The keyword is “primary.” We should be actively involved in our world, but our primary mission will always be to makes disciples of Jesus through word and deed. If we extend a hope in anything other than Jesus Christ, we are putting people in danger of eternal fire. The only lasting hope is the living hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
The Wisdom of Political Suitability
What is the purpose of government according to the Proverbs? Solomon believes kings and/or political rulers should enforce justice. Thus a suitable government promotes justice and punishes evil. Proverbs 16:10-15,
An oracle is on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment. A just balance and scales are the LORD's; all the weights in the bag are his work. It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right. A king's wrath is a messenger of death, and a wise man will appease it. In the light of a king's face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.
Kings lived under the rule and reign of the Lord. Kings were to administer justice to the land which is why it is an abomination to kings to do evil. Their very purpose was to order a society that praises those who do good and punishes those who do evil. This is how a king is measured through 1st and 2nd Kings. The king either did what was right in the eyes of the Lord or he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. They were judged well if they promoted righteousness and justice.
People often talk about president’s political legacies, but the way we should judge a successful government is their ability to promote justice. Peter echoes Solomon’s exhortation in saying, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” (1 Peter 2:13-14). Paul says we should obey earthly governments, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.” (Romans 13:3-4) Rulers are placed in authority by God to bring about his justice. When a government does not punish evil and praise righteousness, it has forgotten its purpose.
The Wisdom of Political Servants
In a democratic republic we have the responsibility to elect representatives to help fulfill God’s mandate of justice. What should we look for in our political servants? Well we should first look for servants. Politicians are supposed to public servants not self-servants. We should work to elect servants of the people who:
Serve in Humility
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God sets up and removes kings. Daniel 2:20-21, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” Kings and rulers serve because God has placed them in that position.
Nebuchadnezzar is a great historical example of someone who had to learn this lesson the hard way. Nebuchadnezzar was ruler over Babylon. He served for himself and thought the power of his kingdom was because of his hand. He was on the roof of the royal palace looking over his kingdom and said,
“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field …until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:30-32)
Nebuchadnezzar lost his power, his palace, and his position to live on the grass like an ox. At the end of his life, Nebuchadnezzar was moved to “praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and all his ways are just and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37)
Let us choose leaders who understand that all God’s ways are right and that God is able to humble the proud in heart. “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)
Serve in Wisdom and Justice
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Rulers are given wisdom to govern justly. Proverbs 8:12; 15, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion…By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.” The state should not rule the church and the church should not rule the state, but that does not mean that God’s wisdom should not be applied to the government. The best governments are those who seek God’s wisdom in their rule.
Proverbs 20:26, “A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.” A wise king understands his rule to punish the wicked and promote justice. Proverbs 20:28, “Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king, and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.” The king defines righteousness and love by the commandments of the Lord. The king’s throne is upheld by his steadfast love to the Lord.
We have all seen political leaders in our day that have not lived under the authority of the God. And those who have not lived in and for righteousness, cause grief among the people. Proverbs 11:10, “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.” Proverbs 28:28, “When the wicked rise, people hide themselves, but when they perish, the righteous increase.” Proverbs 29:2, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” The joy and sorrow of a nation can be traced to its leaders. If leaders are honorable, they will lead in justice and the people will rejoice. If leaders are dishonorable, they will extend grief and sadness to the people.
The Wisdom of Political Struggle
Many evangelicals think it is best for us to retreat from the public square and to ignore the political partisanship that dominates national discourse. They rightly believe the Great Commission is our number one priority, yet they wrongly apply that belief by retreating from politics. We are called to struggle for justice. We have an obligation to speak the truth in love. We have an obligation to command people to repent and believe in the gospel and live in a way that honors the Lord. We are called to struggle.
Struggle for Wisdom with Fools
We see Solomon pleading with his readers to pursue wisdom over folly. Lady folly calls aloud leading people to ruin and destruction. We have to battle against Lady Folly by being those who call aloud with wisdom. We believe God’s ways will ultimately be better for our neighbor. If we love our neighbors, we should engage in political discourse which will lead them to wisdom.
The spirit of the age wants everyone to accept everyone else's ideology.Islamic ideology cannot coexist with Judaism. Judaism and Islam cannot coexist with Christianity. Judaism and Islam are enemies of the cross of Christ. They do not believe in the gospel, but offer another way to salvation. If Jesus Christ is man’s only hope for salvation, it is wicked to offer hope in anything else. It is naïve to believe that the cross is compatible with any other religion. Jesus Christ says, “I am the way and the truth and the life and no man comes to the father except through me.” We can leave peaceably with others, but we cannot accept their ideology. If we accept false ideology, we are abandoning the gospel.
We are in a real battle with foolishness. We have to struggle for the wisdom of the Cross in a world of folly.
Struggle for Preservation of Morality
Jesus has called Christians the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are called to slow the moral decay of our world by preserving it with righteousness. When we work for justice and peace, we are restraining the moral evil in our day. We cannot retreat into the shadows, but continue to be heralds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We know that God will,
Render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:6-8)
We know judgment is coming so we must speak. We do not have the option to be silent.
Struggle for Engagement
Non-involvement is a vote for the wicked. If Christians are silent, they allow wicked to rule. A non-vote is still a vote and God will still hold you accountable for inaction. Proverbs 24:10-12,
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we do not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay according to his work?
The silence of the church is a great tragedy while the innocent unborn children are being led to the slaughter. The silence of the church is a tragedy for those who are deceived in their sexual immorality that will exclude them from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Beloved, we must open our eyes and continue to struggle for wisdom. We must engage in the political process.
The Struggle for Honor
We may dislike our leaders, but we must continue to walk in respect and humility. I do not love the policies of our current president, but that gives us no right to malign him. Proverbs 24:21, “My son, fear the Lord and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise, for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?” 1 Peter 2:17, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” The early church was called to fear Nero, who was far more brutal a leader than our country has ever seen. One way we honor them is by praying for them. 1 Tim 2:1-2, “First of all, then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
The Wisdom of Political Savior
Proverbs 29:26, “Many seek the face of a ruler, but is from the Lord that a man gets justice.” God will ultimately be the one to establish justice. He should engage in political action working for God’s justice to reign, but we should never put our hope in our government. Our hope should always be in God. God promised in the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ, in Isaiah 9:6-7 that,
The government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Jesus has inaugurated his kingdom in his first coming and will fully establish it on his second. The kingdom of God is already here, but has not yet been fully realized.
Beloved, we were once under the domain of darkness. We were sinners in rebellion against God. We do not fear God or keep his commandments. We were destined for ruin and destruction because of our foolishness, but in God’s loving kindness he sent Jesus Christ. Jesus lived in perfect fear of God and embodied wisdom. He died as a sinner hung on the cross. Cursed by God. He was dead and buried, but God raised him from the Dead. His resurrection validated his Kingship. He ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirt into the world as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance of the kingdom of God. Jesus has begun the kingdom of God and one day he will fully establish it.
Every earthly kingdom will one day perish. America will not last forever. There is coming a day when God will shake not only the earth, but the heavens and will remove all things that are shaken. Jesus Christ offers us a place in his kingdom if we confess him as our King, for all who confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus Christ is Lord will be saved and will receive the kingdom of God. Jesus is the only forever King of a forever kingdom. Right before Jesus ascended to heaven the disciples asked,
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
Beloved, we do not know when the Lord will ultimately establish his kingdom, but we have received power to be his witnesses. Therefore, live as citizens of heaven as we await our King’s return. He is our only hope and is and will always forever be our only true political Savior.
 Luther, Martin. Table Talk 630, 1533. LW 54:11