Today’s post has been written by Steve Wicking, one of the Elders at Jubilee Church.
The Election, Unity and the Emperor Nero
Anyone with shares in the company that makes the mini pencils used at polling stations must surely be laughing all the way to the bank! Just when we thought it was safe to put the ballot boxes back in storage, Theresa May goes and calls a snap election!
Whether invigorated or wearied by this new round of campaigning, we can’t deny the enormous privilege we have in this nation to exercise our democratic vote. I firmly believe that our ability to reason and engage in debate and our freedom to make choices that shape our future are gifts from God. They are part of being created in His image.
Political debate is important. It generates ideas, holds our leaders to account and helps to articulate a shared vision for the future. But political debate can also be divisive. It can get nasty and personal and can polarise nations, local communities and even families. I saw this after the Brexit result. Young people took to social media to accuse the older generation of betrayal whilst grandparents responded to grandchildren, upset that their best intentions had been misunderstood.
The human tendency towards division is well documented. Sometimes it’s easier to find a sense of identity and belonging by emphasising the differences between us rather than the similarities. And the church isn’t immune from this either. In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul had to challenge them about their partisan spirit which had led to squabbling and jealousy. The Corinthians were divided by arguments about their favourite apostles rather than celebrating the blessings that came from having real diversity amongst their leaders (1Corinthians Chapter 3). Unity isn’t just a nice idea for us, it’s an intrinsic to being part of God’s heavenly family. To be united is to be like God, who is three persons perfectly united as one. Unity is also important because it creates an environment of blessing where the Holy Spirit can be poured out (Psalm 133). Paul’s answer to the division in Corinth was a reminder of their true identity. Together they were God’s house; a temple of the Holy Spirit.
A chosen people
In his letter to the churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) Peter says something similar. He tells them that they are like living stones that God is building together into a spiritual house, before going on to say:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…” (1 Peter Chapter 2 Verses 9 & 10).
In other words we belong together, not because we share the same nationality or hobbies or even political convictions but because we’ve been chosen by God and brought together by him for His glory. Peter then draws an interesting conclusion. Standing in the security of this God-given identity and the solidarity of our supernatural unity, Peter tells the believers to “honour the Emperor”. That’s incredible when you consider that Peter is referring to the Emperor Nero, the Christian killing despot. Honour him! You can only do that if you powered by God’s grace! This reminded me of Paul’s instruction to his spiritual son Timothy:
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1Timothy Chapter 2 Verses 1 to 4).
A call to prayer
As followers of Jesus who want everyone everywhere to encounter the truth of the gospel, we are called to pray for our national leaders and all those in authority, that there might be peace in which we can lead godly, holy lives that advance His kingdom.
So during all the political debate, inevitable disagreements and accusatory news headlines this week, let’s remember that as believers we not only have a unity in Christ that overrides anything that could possibly divide us but our unity also points to the future when people from every nation, ethnic group and language will join together in worshipping Jesus.
And let’s honour our political leaders – in our speech and in our prayers as polling day approaches – especially those we don’t agree with. After all, however bad you think they might be, they are no Emperor Nero.