How Should Christians Vote in the #IndyRef?

On Sunday evening past, I preached on what God’s Word says about how Christians should vote in the #IndyRef.   As the campaign reaches its closing stages, Scotland’s Christians need to be reminded of these things.

IndyRefSept

In 1 Peter 2:13-17, Peter takes some time to tell persecuted Christians how they are to relate to civil authorities – especially civil authorities they find they have little common ground with.   Polls are showing it’s going to be a narrow vote this Thursday, meaning about half of people – possibly half of Scotland’s Christians – are going to be disgruntled with the outcome.

So what does Peter say about how Christians should vote in the Referendum?   I suggest five things:

Submit to the result for the Lord’s sake

Peter urged Christians to respect the persecuting authorities in much the same way as Paul does in Romans 13.   Ultimately, they are appointed by God – a sovereign God who is working out a plan for his own glory, and the salvation of the saints.

There are going to be some Christians who really don’t like the #indyref result.   It’s important to therefore avoid bitterness, by walking into the polling booth with a heart resolved to submit to the result, because we love and trust a sovereign God who knows what he is doing.

Live as people who are free

Peter was writing to people who probably didn’t know a lot of freedoms.   Some were slaves, but even your average non-Roman had few of the civil liberties we take for granted today.   So why does Peter write to them, crushed under the heel of a persecuting government, to live as people who are free?

It’s actually because they were free.   They were set apart as a holy priesthood by God.   Christians need to grasp this – our unique status in Christ: as Jesus promised, free indeed.   The #Indyref can be dangerous for Christians, because it offers some sort of liberty (whichever way you see things!).   We need to vote on Thursday remembering this: the greatest liberty we want for our fellow Scots is freedom from sin and death.   We can’t go to the ballot box with confusion about this.

Have God’s heart for our nation

Along with living as free people, Peter (curiously) also reminds them that they are to live as servants – or literally, slaves – of God.   How are free people also slaves?   In Roman culture, the slave was expected to share his master’s goals and objectives.   He was, in a way, an extension of his master’s arm.   Christian freedom is actually a freedom to live our Master’s agenda: the counter cultural agenda of the Sermon on the Mount.

One danger for Christians voting in the #indyref is to accept the world’s agenda and priorities.   While the whole world sees the debate framed in essentially economic terms, maybe Christians want to remember they have counter cultural priorities?   When we go to the ballot box we ought to bear in mind that we have been given the heart of a servant of God, and ask ourselves hard questions accordingly.

Honour the Emperor.   Fear God.

Peter concludes the section with four people or individuals worth special mention.   I’ll come back to the brotherhood of believers last, but note the extraordinary thing he says about the emperor: honour the emperor.   That was probably Nero – of fiddle fame, who scapegoated the Christians while he torched Rome.   Peter’s point seems to be that the emperor ought to be treated with same honour given to all men.  But God alone is to be feared.

For Christians voting in the #indyref, it is alarmingly easy to fall into vitriolic or disparaging remarks of David Cameron and Alistair Darling, or Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.   We need to treat them with honour and respect.   But also with the right sort of respect.   After all, it’s not to them that we will one day have to answer.   Our vote shouldn’t be cast to impress people, or to fit in with the approval of peers.   Whatever hopes we have for the outcome of Thursday’s vote, again, God alone is to be feared – for he alone can deliver.

Finally: Love the Brotherhood of Believers

Peter, like other New Testament writers, expresses a common concern for the unity of the Church.   Groups under pressure are always likely to implode into angry recrimination and blame.   But the chief guard against that is to recall the brotherhood – the family ties – shared by believers.

At risk of cliché, we know the vote is on a knife edge.   Scotland is divided.   We really don’t know how that will play out over the coming months, but we do know this: Jesus meant for a united Church to be a powerful evangelistic message.   If we can go to the ballot box on Thursday resolved to be united with our brothers in Christ, whatever the outcome, then Scotland will be considerably well served.   It’s not about being seen as the broker of reconciliation for the political classes: it’s about being seen as loving people who are themselves reconciled around the risen, loving, Lord Jesus Christ, who died for all his children.

That’s how Christians should vote on Thursday.

God willing, we’ll have a bloodshed free final four days.

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The Glory of God in the Lord’s Prayer

Listened to an excellent sermon this evening, from Iver Martin, at Stornoway Free Church prayer meeting.   It was just a brief overview of the Lord’s Prayer, touching on each of the petitions.

Iver’s main idea was the orderliness of the prayer – and how the order is a help to Christians not in the specific layout of their prayers, but in the priorities that move them in prayer.

I was incidentally struck by the orderliness of the prayer in terms of the work of the Gospel.

  1. The God we pray to has made himself known to us as our Father, but also as the one enthroned in Heaven.   We need to see God in this way, because if we don’t, we cannot clearly continue in this prayer.
  2. Our first priority in prayer is to pray for the widespread reception of and respect for his reputation (I take “name” to equate to “reputation”, and “hallowed” to mean “reverently or worshipfully set apart”).
  3. When we think about Paul’s understanding of what happens in conversion (2 Cor. 4) it is in relation to how people see the glory of God revealed in Christ.   In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus moves from the Father’s reputation (what we see) to the “coming of the Kingdom” – a reference to, among other things, the bringing in of new worshippers through conversion.
  4. It is only after this that the chain of priorities moves on to the Father’s will being done.

With all the pressing moral issues of the day – be it same-sex marriage, or Sunday opening at the Stornoway Golf Course – it’s helpful to remember that the Kingdom isn’t built up be men and women becoming more outwardly righteous.    In fact, outward righteousness is very seriously offensive to God.

The outward “will of the Father” righteousness that we want to see expressed in the land can only really come about if people are brought to see the marvel of the reputation God jealously wants for himself.   If people are brought to respond to Grace with Faith in Christ.

That doesn’t mean the outward righteousness “will of the Father” stuff doesn’t matter.   But it does mean that there is a huge danger the Church will not see the desired return to righteousness if it over-prioritizes the outward doing the Father’s will ahead of the publishing of God’s reputation.   The order matters – and time and time again the Church has lost sight of this, even to the point of possibly no longer being the Church.

A real danger?   Yes, because Christians can, and do, find greater temporal satisfaction in the cut and thrust of winning political victories, than in the dying to self that is involved in winning souls.

Applying the Lessons of Galatians

Occasionally, once a month or so, I’ve been preaching through Galatians on Sunday evenings. At the moment, I’ve reached Galatians 4, and have been struggling to apply it to my congregation directly – there are, after all, no people pitching up and telling them to ignore what I’m preaching on Salvation by faith alone. Or are there?

In Galatians 4 the case Paul contrasts the rule-bound minority of being under the law – the elemental principles – with the wonderful liberty of both the legal and experiential reality of adoption. In Christ, and in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, believers really are sons of God. And we really do experience son-ship in meaningful ways.

It strikes me that in my context, this is about the path to maturing faith. It seems that returning to slavery of the elemental principles is all about living out discipleship constantly obsessing about rules. “Is it right to wear skirts just this length?” “What about the Sabbath – how do I keep it holy?” There are plenty believers around who will say that ongoing Christian growth depends on working hard make sure we “go and sin no more.”

But Paul sees the path to maturity in other things. The path from minority to maturity seems for him to be all about Christ – the Timing of his coming, his divine Origin, the Manner of the incarnation, the Conditions he lived under (i.e. the Torah), the Purpose for which he came (i.e. to redeem) and the Outcome of his coming (i.e. the reality of our adoption). That makes us sons! And no longer minors!

Not only is the work of Jesus vital to really making us sons, but the work of the Holy Spirit enables us to experience it. He is the one who confirms to us the loving fatherhood of God, so that we can cry with trusting affection, “Abba! Father!”

So, application time – do you learn more of what it means to cry “Abba! Father!” through obsessing about law keeping, or through meditating on what your Father has done, and resting on his provision for your life? I suspect it’s the latter.

And what of these elementary principles? Well, is it possible that Paul is talking about them the same way we talk about elementary math? You don’t obsess (normally) about the detail of what exactly happens when you add things. You just know that if you had two apples, and you buy four more, you have six. The same in the disciple’s life: if you are maturing, you don’t obsess about the rules of a Godly life too much. instead, you live them in the life the Spirit is working in you. Such obsession will reward you with frustration, because your life is in Christ, not in the rules he has taught you.

What should I be praying for the Church? (2)

Second in a series looking at the priorities Paul had in his prayer life, particularly as he prayed for the church.

These verses in Ephesians 1:15-23, teach us to pray:
1. Giving thanks for believers in the congregation, particularly as you think on their faith and love.
Verse 15 – because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you
2. That the choices we make through life would be governed by our covenant relationship with God.
Verse 17 – A spirit of wisdom, in the knowledge of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. That we would not live by perceived wisdom alone, but also by the revelation we have received from God in his word.
Verse 17 – A spirit of revelation, in the knowledge of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4. That we would be able to continually live in light of grace and the Gospel.
Verse 18 – That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.
5. That we would be enabled to have the full assurance of the hope of the resurrection.
Verse 18 – So that we may know the hope to which he has called us
6. That we would have the full assurance of knowing we belong to God, and he will never fail us.
Verse 18 – So that we may know the riches of his glorious inheritance
7. That we would have a full assurance of God’s power graciously disposed towards us.
Verse 19 – So that we may know the immeasurable greatness of his power
8. More a point of note really: The same hope, inheritance, riches and power which he makes ours, and which we pray for assurance of, are given to us through the resurrection and exaltation of Christ

Prayers for the Church (1)

I was recently reading Mark Dever and Paul Alexander’s The Deliberate Church. There Mark Dever talks about the 4 priorities he had in taking up his ministry in Washington D.C. His priorities were Preaching, Prayer, Personal Discipleship & Patience. His points on the place of pray in the ministry have led me to think for a few weeks now about beginning a series of bible studies on Prayer for the Church. The first is a collection of some thoughts on Philippians 1:9-11.

I’m in a blogging mood today, so here’s what I’ve been thinking:

This prayer in Philippians 1:9-11 teaches us to pray:
1. That we would never be satisfied with the love we already have, but would long for it to deepen.
Verse 9 – “That your love may abound more and more.”
2. The this deepening love would grow, not out of our own possibly wayward thinking, but rather out of a knowledge of the word, and of the character of Christ, which we would seek to emulate, and knowledge of the love that he has shown us.
Verse 9 – “That your love may abound with knowledge”
3. That this love would be willing; willing to be quick to do the right thing, not just thinking about doing something, but to actually do it.
Verse 9 – “That your love may abound with discernment”
4. That this deepening love would result in growing discernment between right and wrong actions, resulting in a pursuit of righteousness and godliness.
Verse 10 – “so that you may approve what is excellent”
5. That this desire for righteousness would be displayed through perseverance and godliness in the life of believers.
Verse 10 – “and so be pure”
6. That there would be a real desire for the good of others, and an active movement away from causing hurt and offence.
Verse 10 – “and so be blameless”
7. That we would all keep the goal – the return of Jesus – in mind, and that we would live in as people looking forward to that.
Verse 10 – “so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”
8. That the fruit of righteousness, that is the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification would be evident in the lives of believers.
Verse 11 – “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Chrsit”
9. That ultimately God would be glorified in this church, through the walk of the saints, as they proceed into deeper godly affections for one another and for God himself.
Verse 11 – “to the glory and praise of God.”

Point 3 probably bears some explanation. It’s a tricky word to pin down, but I’ve taken the meaning not to be limited to the sense of discerment, but more linked to the power or manner in which that discerment actually works. This can be somewhat supported by the appearance of something similar in the following verse – the power to approve what is excellent. The idea is that not merely have a sense, but having that sense sharply tuned is paramount.

Anyway, God willing, the folk at Greyfriars will be encouraged to make these points part of thier prayerlife over the next week or so.

The closeness of Jesus

Everything in the Christian life revolves around proximity to Jesus Christ. Sunday past I was reflecting on Philippians 4:4-7, and how Paul’s repeated reason is the closeness of the Lord.

V4 – Rejoice in the Lord – the Christian’s delight reaches its highest when the Lordship of Christ is clearly seen in relation to whatever brings us joy. A beautiful landscape might bring someone joy, but add Christ to that – the creator and sustainer of the universe, and that joy becomes enhanced, an act of worship as we see creation itself pouring out glory to our king.

V5 – Let your reasonableness be known to everyone (for the Lord is at hand) – how we live as we wait for the glorious appearing of Jesus is driven by the proximity of Christ. Hold him at arm’s length, and the effects of sanctification will be minimal. Paul’s desire was that believers reflect the character of Jesus, and that comes about through the Spirit of Jesus at work within us.

V6 – Don’t be anxious, pray – Paul’s language here expresses our approach to a sovereign of unimaginable power. But the way we approach that power is through Jesus Christ, in whom we find our only right of access to the thrown of Abba.

V7 – You will be guarded in Christ Jesus – the Bible is replete with references to the way God watches over his people, and generally that protection comes through closeness – e.g. Psalms 17, 36 or 57 – where the place of safety is under the shadow of his wing. The safest place for the Christian is close to Christ; our best armour his righteousness imputed to us, and worn not loosely, but strapped on tight.

I was wondering about two things in Paul’s line of thought in concluding his letter to the Philippians:

1) How does the closeness of Jesus impact on our Christian unity (v2-3)?

2) How does our desire for purity impact on our closeness to Christ (v8-9)?