Fifth Sunday after Trinity July 4, 1999
“And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”
In the name of the triune God, who has given us a wonderful country as our homeland on this earth, dear Christian friends, dear fellow redeemed.
Two days ago we celebrated Independence Day, or as most people call it, the Fourth of July. I’m starting to wonder if people reflect much on the significance of this date. We’re not celebrating the invention of gunpowder or other explosive devices. July 4th is not “National Picnic and Parade Day.” On this day when colonial leaders signed the Declaration of Independence, we Americans have opportunity to celebrate our nation’s birth. We look back over 200 years to a rich history of battle, turmoil, struggle, and progress. People died to establish the national framework of American culture. Immigrants struggled with many hardships to bring our family roots across the ocean and plant them firmly on American soil. Our forefathers worked hard and sacrificed much to build communities where peace, commerce, cooperation, and freedom can truly bless us all. As we celebrate the Fourth of July, we can see the big picture and recognize that God has smiled on our nation and given us one of the greatest countries in the world.
We take pride in America, because we have something special. Our greatest feature as American citizens is the fact that we are free. We are free to live and work and think without the shackles of human tyranny. This freedom is a delicate gift that must be handled with care. If we abuse it, we could actually become slaves to our own sinful ways. The way you live as an American should really be no different than the way you live as a Christian. As believers in Christ, you’re free from sin, death, and hell. As a citizen of this country, you are free from slavery, oppression, and tyranny. As a believers in Christ, you volunteer to serve the Lord. As citizens of the USA, you volunteer to help your country. That is the direction God is taking you. The verse of our text spans over centuries of time and miles of real estate. It is talking to you and me today and telling us the truth of our theme:
What type of person would you choose as the model American citizen? We don’t need to list a bunch of characteristics. The Bible gives us a clear picture. The model citizen would be the Christian who practices what the Bible says. What better citizens could a country possibly have? As followers of Christ, we are led to uphold certain values and certain virtues. We learn to respect the moral absolutes that God has laid out in His Word. We learn to love our fellow man on the basis of God’s love for us. Of course, our sinful nature will create many bumps and diversions in our quest. But God has captured our hearts and filled them with faith and loyalty to Himself. When you’re loyal to God, you also become loyal to the family God has given you, loyal to the community God has built for you, and loyal to the nation where you live. As loyal citizens, God is leading us to seek the good of the nation.
We hear this direction given to the Jews long ago. It was a completely different situation back then. These people were going into exile. They were going to live in a strange land with a foreign government ruling over them. During this time of exile, they did not have permission to rebel. God did not tell them to isolate into their own clannish group. He told them to be a part of the community. He told them this: “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”
The word “peace” is the English translation for a common Hebrew word. The word “peace” refers to the word Shalom. Shalom, according to ancient Biblical Hebrew, covers a lot of territory. It can mean health, well-being, or welfare. God makes us responsible for the well-being of our neighborhood, our community, and our nation. But notice what happens. If we’re truly responsible to our community, then the city becomes a better place to live. When the city is better off, the residents are better off. When the nation lives in peace and harmony, that becomes a blessing to the citizens. God gives us a little incentive in our civic duty. If we seek the good of the nation, the result will be good for us.
What God told the Jews long ago is still in force for Christians today. God has spoken to us through the apostle Paul: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” As loyal citizens we operate under the authority of government. That authority includes the police officer, the judge, as well as the President and the Congress. Obeying the government is the same as obeying God, because God is the one who placed the government over us. We must set political disagreements aside when giving our obedience to the government. We must even set moral lapses aside. When God told the Roman Christians to obey their emperor, their emperor was anything but virtuous. Men like Nero allowed the persecution of Christians to take place. Yet that abuse of power did not allow the Christians to set aside the Fourth Commandment and rebel or even despise the one in power. Even in reference to the persecuting emperor and other troublesome rulers, Paul said: “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
Loyal citizenship would be more difficult in a country where leaders rule without checks and balances. God has been so gracious in giving and preserving our democratic form of government. We can actually play a part in choosing who will lead, who will make the laws, who will administer justice. Part of our civic duty includes the duty to vote. For the good of the nation, we should get to the polls and choose a candidate that will do what is right and moral and decent for the people. Many issues come into play, not the least of which is the abortion issue. Our nation’s leaders have legalized the killing of the unborn. You can help the unborn child by supporting the candidate who will fight to protect God’s precious gift of life, which no person or government has the right to end.
We consider many things when we vote. Those considerations should not focus on what is good for us personally, but rather what is good for the whole community. Voting is a duty that we should carry out with wisdom. God wants you to be patriotic in the voting booth. He also wants your patriotism, your loyal citizenship to follow through in other ways too. If you’re ever summoned to be on a jury, go ahead and serve. Christians can apply their moral convictions to help administer justice. Likewise, military service, police work, fire and safety services can be done with honor and faithfulness to the Word of God. Our nation needs men and women to stand guard, to deal with crime, to protect our borders and the welfare of our citizens.
On a day to day basis, there are various ways to help, which truly add up for the betterment of our community and the good of our country. We can volunteer our time to help those in need. Donations to charity, picking up litter, helping your next-door neighbor, giving relief to disaster victims—any help that we can give with our time, effort and money will make our society a little better off than it was before.
Of course, keeping people safe and secure, keeping them fed and clothed is only part of the battle. As you encounter your fellow Americans, you need to look beyond their faces and realize that a soul is there inside the body. Your fellow citizens need the Gospel more than anything. That’s the best way that you can help them individually and the nation as a whole. Just think of the effect if we carried out the Great Commission as thoroughly as we could in this country. The more we shared the Gospel with neighbors and citizens, the greater opportunity there would be for conversion. With more and more conversions taking place through the Gospel, there would be more and more Christians. That is, more and more people led by God to pursue the virtues and the attitudes that make for a healthy society. Only the Gospel of Christ crucified can change a heart and make it more loving, more patient, more giving and fruitful and virtuous.
Your civic duty has a spiritual side. You can view your fellow citizens as people who need a Savior. Jesus Christ is good for America. He’s the one who died to set us free forever. He’s the one who heals guilty hearts with forgiveness. He’s the one who conquers death for all who trust in Him. He’s the one who takes American sinners and turns them into heavenly saints. Let’s do what’s really good for this country. Let’s give people the freedom that lasts forever. Let’s point out the Savior to our fellow citizens and share with them the benefits of a King who gives eternal life.
Let’s also pray for God’s blessing. As one nation under God, we are ever dependent on Him to bless and protect, to heal and provide. When you help out in your community, it’s a worthy effort that reaches out to some. When you pray, you tap into the power of the Almighty and seek the good of thousands, even millions of people. God wants you to be patriotic…not only with your efforts, but also with your prayers.
We need the reminder. Usually we remember to pray for ourselves, our family, friends, and other people that we know. But we forget to pray for the faceless masses who oftentimes are suffering more than we are. God told the Jews to pray for the city of Babylon, the heathen community where they lived. Paul told Timothy and every other believer: “I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” Again we should notice the trickle down effect. We pray for the government. God hears our prayer and blesses the work of government. Through that blessed work, the community has peace and safety, a good environment for us to do our work and live our lives as Christian witnesses in this world.
You can do tremendous good for this nation, even though the nation does not see what you’re doing. So often we pray in private, in the silence of our thoughts. But the prayer has far-reaching effect. As James points out, “The fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” God has promised to help and to serve when we ask Him for His benefits.
We can start with our government, asking God to work His positive influence on the leaders of our nation, state, and community. We can ask God to keep people safe from war, crime, accident, and disease. We can pray for God’s healing on those who are sick or injured. We can pray for the poor, the prisoners, the travelers, the victims, the harvest, the schools. I remember suggesting the use of the CLC Mission Newsletter as a tool in your prayers. When you read it, you can circle the names of churches, missionaries, and activities that you can pray for in your church body. You could do the same with the newspaper. As you read about specific problems and tragedies in the lives of your countrymen, add those people to your prayer list. Ask God to help them in their time of distress and their time of need.
Finally, when you pray, remember the spiritual needs as much as the physical needs. Ask God to make His Word a power in this country. Pray that God would convert more and more of your fellow Americans. Pray that God’s Word would be the guiding light for morality. Pray that God would squelch the delusions that lead people astray. Pray that God would make us faithful witnesses of His Word and loyal citizens of our nation. Keep on praying, because everything that we need in this country will have to come from the One who answers prayer and blesses people.
I can predict how presidential candidates will end their speeches. I’ve seen enough to know that the pattern doesn’t change. They always end with the phrase, “God bless America.” Hopefully, it’s more than a ploy to win votes. We too can say “God bless America” as a prayer for the good of our nation. God has placed us in this country, not only to gain from its bounty, but also to serve its needs and help the people who live here. God has blessed us richly as American people. May He help us become the patriotic citizens that He wants us to be. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.