Paul is using loaded, political language (whether we like it or not) that is much more than mere advice for Christians. It ultimately got him killed.
There is so much here for followers of Jesus that helps us understand what it means to be citizens of God’s subversive Kingdom. At UPPC, we don’t “preach politics” by worldly standards. We preach the Word of God as it is revealed in scripture…which sometimes has unavoidable public implications.*
Some people feel that Christian faith is a private thing that has no place in the public sphere. And others feel that there’s no place for dialogue about public life in the private faith of the church. But that leaves us with nowhere to process it! So it’s important to remember that Jesus led people in public life, as well as private spirituality, and Jesus’ followers are called to engage in both.
Polis is a Greek word that refers to the “city” — an organized people under an organized government. The “politic” therefore had to do with the ruling of the people. So you can see how disruptive it would have been to the power-holders of Paul’s day to proclaim that Christ was ultimately ruling the empire.
What does it look like to be ruled by Christ in our cities?
- To love our neighbors as ourselves. And yes, there is no qualification on the concept of “neighbor.” Our challenge is to get over our presuppositions and love those whom God puts into our lives. Always. As a Christian, we are not permitted to view and treat people differently than what God sees and values. We are not permitted to demonize or lionize people for political gain, as though they are the ultimate “problem” or “solution.” If your politics are shaping your faith, you’ve got it backward. Our faith is to shape our politics.
- To demonstrate Christ’s values in the public sphere. Peterson’s translation of Paul’s words reads: “I want you woven into a tapestry of love” (2:2). We do have predecessors in our nation’s history: the abolitionists, child labor laws, and civil rights, among others. But this does not mean to christianize a nation by defeating opponents. The Church represents Christ’s love in the public sphere because Christ is victorious, not because we want to be victorious. Christ motivates us because in our baptisms his life is our life, and he is our Master. We are shaped and driven to act by his grace and mercy, and because he is the one to whom we must give an account.
- How aware are you of local public life and how it’s affecting people within our 5-mile radius? Are you more or less aware of that than you are of national or global public life?
- What would it look like to demonstrate Christ’s values in the public square from a posture of victory, rather than from a posture of striving for victory?
- How uncomfortable does this topic make you? What do you do when you feel uncomfortable about something in scripture or from the pulpit?
*I just arrived home from a week in Washington D.C. and thought it was worth noting that “public life” represented by federal government is, though often the most visible in the news and social media, not the most influential in our daily lives. The public life at the city, county, and state levels tends to have far more day-to-day influence over us. Are we as aware of local public life as we are of national public life?