Redeeming Politics: Almost nothing is more divisive (and ugly) than politics today. How should Christians engage politically? Whatever issues, candidates, or parties you support, you must connect the values of God’s Kingdom and your allegiance to Jesus, your true King, to your politics — especially with people with different political views than yours! Recorded on Dec 4, 2022, on 1 Peter 3:8-18, by Pastor David Parks.
“Redeeming Regular Life” is a sermon series from the Epistles of the New Testament in the Bible. The Epistles are letters from the Apostles to the early Christian churches helping them understand and apply the gospel to life. “To what part of life?” you might wonder. The answer is: to every part! The way of Jesus changes everything, including marriage, sexuality, singleness, parenting, work, politics, friendship, and more. In Christ, regular life is a gift.
This year, the annual theme of our preaching ministry is Learning the way of Jesus. And right now, we’re in the middle of a series called Redeeming Regular Life. This series is from the household codes found in the epistles/letters in the New Testament in the Bible, from the Apostles of Jesus to various churches around the Roman Empire. Now, in their day, household codes were common and addressed the way our basic relationships (regular life) ought to work. But the apostles wrote on these things from a uniquely Christian perspective, showing how the gospel and the way of Jesus changes everything. So far, we’ve covered redeeming marriage, sexuality, singleness, parenting, and work. If you missed any of those messages, you can always go back and watch or listen online. But today, we’ll move on to a topic many of us would desperately like to avoid, while others of us get maybe a little too excited to talk about, that is, our politics. I understand that by choosing this topic, I have chosen to willingly walk into a minefield with danger in every direction we go. What could be more divisive in our day than talking about politics? For that very reason, as Christians, we must think through these things from a Christian perspective. So what in the world does the gospel have to do with politics? And what does the way of Jesus mean for how we treat people who might have very different political views or beliefs than we do? Those are great questions. But it was really no different back in the first century AD. The Christians back then had political views and issues. They wrestled with how to interact with their political leaders and systems of government. And the instruction the apostles of Jesus give them remains helpful and wise to this day. So if you have a Bible/app, please open to 1 Peter 3:8. We’ll read through this and then unpack it together.
1 Peter 3:8-18 (NIV), “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” So 1 Peter is a letter from the Apostle Peter, obviously, to the Christians throughout the Roman provinces which make up the modern country of Turkey. Peter writes to remind his audience of what the gospel is, of “the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.” But then, similar to Paul’s letters, Peter moves from what the gospel is to what the gospel does, especially in chapter 2 and after, where he applies the gospel to various relationships/situations in life. Let’s start back with v. 8 and unpack this.
1 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV), “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Let’s pause here. So, remember that Peter isn’t writing to people who are considering the Christian faith; he’s writing to Christians. And he calls us to have a radically better relationship with one another than what we see anywhere else in the world. He gives five attributes here in v.8, which define what a Christ-like relationship looks like. First, he says we are to be like-minded. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we all have the same preferences and opinions. Unity in the church doesn’t mean uniformity. Just as we have different gifts but are part of one body, so we all have different preferences and opinions but can still be like-minded on the main points of Christian doctrine. What we say here is we try to keep the main things the main things and not be divided over minor doctrinal issues. If we can agree on who Jesus is, then everything else is secondary. It doesn’t mean that other things aren’t important at all, just that they’re far less important. Second, he says we’re to be sympathetic, noticing, and being sensitive to how others are doing or feeling. This is intuitive to us since our culture today is so influenced by emotions, but it probably would’ve been very countercultural in Peter’s day. Third, we are to love one another, with love, of course, being the defining characteristic of Christian friendship. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:35). Fourth, he says we’re to be compassionate. The Greek word here literally means that your guts (or, we would say, our hearts) are moved with care/concern. Other Christians aren’t an inconvenience or an obstacle; they’re fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who deserve our emotional investment and help. Fifth, he says we are to be humble. Later, Peter would write, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” Humility is a key character trait for the follower of Jesus. Remember, no one deserved more glory than Jesus, the Son of God, and yet he was willing to come in humility in order to seek and to save the lost. So humbly putting the needs of others ahead of our own (and sometimes their opinions/preferences, too!) is very Christ-like. Now, I could pretty much stop here, and we’d have more than enough to chew on as far as how these values apply to our politics. Is this how we treat one another in the church when we have different political views or vote for different parties or candidates? But this was only the first verse! Ok, well, we better pick up the pace then. V. 9 says we’re not to repay evil for evil or insult for insult, but rather we’re to be a blessing to those who are insulting or do harm to us because “you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Now here, I believe there’s a subtle shift from relationships inside the church to the relationships Christians have with people outside the church. Of course, it’s sadly possible to find evil and insult inside the church. We’re not here because we’re perfect; far from it! We’re Christians because we know we need the grace of God. But still, it seems that Peter is now focusing more on how we treat people who don’t believe what we believe. So first, what is the blessing Peter refers to here? He says Christians ought to play by different rules, responding to evil and insult with a blessing “because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Peter is thinking about the blessing God promised in Psalm 34, which he quotes in v. 10. Let’s look back at that.
1 Peter 3:10-12 (NIV), “For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”” So why shouldn’t we repay evil with evil or insult with insult? Why should we seek to bless those who are opposed to us or are even our enemies? For (because) God is committed to those who seek to do what is right. His eyes are on them; his ears are attentive to their prayers. Now, this is a broken world, so people don’t always get what they deserve. But in general, if you want your life to go well, if you love life and want to see good days, then watch your mouth, and things will usually go better for you. And this is true! Even if it seems like good will come from speaking ill of someone or to someone here and now, even to someone who lied to/about you or insulted you, rest assured that the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. Even if it appears that someone has gotten away with evil or insult, they will not. Jesus said, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” (Mt 12:36). Instead, we’re called to the blessing of having a right relationship with God. And this blessing starts today by faith in Jesus and continues on forever in the Kingdom of God. This present and future reality of blessing in Christ means we’re free to seek peace and pursue it today. Notice there are no qualifications to this calling. It doesn’t say to seek peace and pursue it, but only from people who like you or who are like you. But wait a second, you might think, if this is how we are to act, isn’t this risky? Won’t this mean we’ll be taken advantage of or harmed in some way? Let’s continue with v. 13.
1 Peter 3:13-14a (NIV), “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” Now, notice he doesn’t say if you should suffer for being a jerk or being insensitive/insulting to others. Some people think they can treat others however they want, and if they ever get any pushback or anger, they’re being persecuted. This is foolish. If you’re a jerk and people get upset with you, it’s a natural consequence of your actions, not religious persecution. But Peter says if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness or for what is right, you are blessed! Now let’s think about this. Even if you adopt the five attributes of Christ-like relationships with others, and even if you repay evil with blessing, and even if you watch your mouth, refusing to speak ill of others, and even if you do good, and even if you seek peace and pursue it, there still might be people who harm/mistreat you. Again, this is a broken world, and sometimes people are offended by our mere presence, even if we’ve never done wrong to them. Sometimes, even when we’re eager to do what is right and good, we still suffer under the words/deeds of others. But Peter says when this happens, we are still blessed. And this is a uniquely Christian perspective. Why? Because our blessing, first and foremost, is Jesus — and no one can take us away from him. This is such a helpful perspective to have when we suffer the insults/misunderstandings/lies/evil from others. Even when I suffer, I must remember I am still blessed. And nothing and no one can take my blessing from me. Because my life is built on the rock of Christ Jesus. And nothing can shake me. But what then? Even if we adopt this mindset, how might we respond to evil or insult? Look back at v. 14.
1 Peter 3:14b-16 (NIV), ““Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” Now, Peter quotes from Isaiah chapter 8 here, and I think it might be helpful for us to look at the whole quote. Isaiah 8:12–13 (NIV) “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” As long as there have been people, there have been various rumors, conspiracies, and controversies that cause fear, mistrust, and division. These things didn’t start with Covid in 2020; as far back as we have a written record, we find the same dark/divisive forces at work. But rather than getting caught in these common snares, v. 15 says, “But in your hearts revere [that is, sanctify or set apart] Christ as Lord.” Why? Because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Pro 9:10). This doesn’t mean we must be afraid of God. But the fear of the Lord recognizes that God is infinitely more powerful, more wise, and more glorious than anything and anyone else we might be afraid of. The fear of the Lord is a healthy and reverent awe of his majesty and his holiness. When this is our perspective on God, as we saw last year, when God is big to us, then we can have hope no matter what. In peacetime and in war, in the good times and in a recession, whether Christianity seems to be strong and vibrant or we become a minority in our culture if this is who God is, then we have so many reasons for hope. This is why we can respond, even to those who speak maliciously against us, with gentleness and respect. They cannot ultimately harm us. So what do we have to gain by responding to them according to worldly values? Nothing! In fact, if we do, we jeopardize our witness for Christ and the truth of the gospel. However, when we respond to others as Jesus did, refusing to repay evil with evil, and even forgiving those who were actively crucifying him, then we testify to the glory of God and our faith/hope/blessings in him. This is the way of Jesus, which Peter makes explicit starting with v. 17.
1 Peter 3:17-18 (NIV), “For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” Now, the gospel is the story of who God is, what he has done, and what he is doing today through his Son, Jesus. And ultimately, in the gospel, we see that Jesus was the type of person that Peter is describing here. It was Jesus who was moved by his love/sympathy/compassion to humbly come down from heaven into the world he had made. It was Jesus who was willing to bear insult and abuse and even death on the cross (suffering once for sins), not to be blessed, but to be a blessing to a world that was lost without him. It was Jesus who was zealous in righteousness and eager to do good works, healing, protecting, and providing for us, even when we were his enemies. It was Jesus who was willing to sacrifice himself, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God. And if this is what God in Christ did for us, then this changes everything about how we treat others. Now someone might be thinking, wasn’t this message supposed to be about redeeming politics?? And the answer is yes, it is. The reason I chose this text, which seems to be more of a general instruction on how we are to treat others, is this: The main problem American Evangelicals have today is our failure to consistently apply the values of the Kingdom of God (which we see here) and our allegiance to Jesus, our true King, to our political dealings with the people and kingdoms of this world. You see, the type of person Peter describes here is a typical Christian, not a super Christian or a Christian who only interacts with people who think/vote like them. Peter is describing a typical Christian living in a pluralistic society. This is a political world full of different preferences/opinions/beliefs, a world full of fears/threats/conspiracies, and a world full of real persecution/harm/suffering for what is good/right/true. And it’s in this same world that we must connect the values of God’s Kingdom — including the values we see here: unity, sympathy, love, compassion, humility, truth, gentleness, respect, and hope — we must connect these values to our politics, including (I think most importantly), how we think and speak about our political opponents. But it’s not just our values. We must also see how our allegiance to Christ, our true King, comes first over every president, governor, judge, and congressman, over every candidate, party, and policy. One of the ways Christians can love their neighbors on a social level is through our involvement in politics: to think about issues, learn from others, share your perspectives, take action, and vote. And we must bring our faith with us when we do, just as others do in a democracy. The believers in Peter’s day couldn’t vote, but we can, and I’m thankful for that. But I know that this is also very difficult. Some political issues are clear, while others are not. And even when the ethics of a particular issue are clear from a biblical perspective, how the law should be written or enforced in such a way that is good for all people is often not as clear. Because of this, I know it’s so tempting to ignore the way of Jesus, to demonize your political opponent, to slander, dehumanize, and believe the worst about them while using power and money to get your way. This might be the way of the world, but this is not our way. Some might say, “But our country is growing less Christian all the time. We’re losing our cultural power and influence and so we must use any means necessary to achieve our goals.” Now, it might be true that we’re losing our cultural influence, but this is no excuse for thinking the ends justify the means. We must do God’s work God’s way, even if it’s costly. But this was true for the Apostle Peter as well. Remember, Peter was not writing this letter in a culture that was highly open and receptive to Christianity. Many Christians faced severe persecution in their day and died for their beliefs. Peter referred to Christians as exiles, not as the powerful or the majority. Peter himself would be put to death under Emperor Nero, the same emperor he said Christians should honor. So Peter knew what he was writing here would be costly for many, and some might even lose their lives as a result. But that didn’t stop him. That didn’t dissuade him from trying to get his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to speak/act/live in light of the hope held out in the gospel. To connect their faith to their politics. And no matter what happens in the kingdoms of this world, to set apart in their hearts, Christ as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the main thing. And only in him do we find our hope. So how are we doing with this? Do we see our political interactions, especially with people who have different views or beliefs than we have, according to the values of the kingdom of God and our allegiance to Jesus, our true King? May we never forget who we are or whose we are in him. Let us pray