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Navigating our Tensions with Government


Is it okay to view politics from more than one side? 

The early church both honored Rome’s leadership and saw Jesus’ kingship over the cosmos. How can you have two world rulers? “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’” (Isaiah 45:23). Paul paraphrases this in Philippians 2:9 to mean Jesus. In contrast to this, we are told to “honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). It is a tension to determine what ruler we should honor.

Paul saw his imprisonment in Rome (an injustice of government) as an advantage for the gospel. (See Philippians 1:12-13) This is functional paradox. 

Jesus’ statement about taxes, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (Matthew 22:21) acknowledges tension regarding governmental versus church rights, but it is not a clearly resolved problem. How do we navigate? 

This kind of tension can be seen as dialectical theology — differing or opposing forces at work. There are several critical elements that we should bring into play when wrestling with a biblical tension: 

  1. Worship — we need to keep our hearts on the right person, otherwise we will be conflicted in our realtime decision making process.

  2. Love — this is similar to point one, but also opens us to the human side. How are we loving our neighbor (or government) and specifically, how well are we listening to their side?

  3. Inform — Don’t assume because you listen well, or worship wholeheartedly you’ve got things figured out. Be teachable and be challenged. Gain context.

  4. Prayer — When we don’t have a clear way forward, we have to get into conversation with God to gain dynamic direction.

  5. Dialogue — This connects with all of the above. Worship, love of neighbor, learning curve, prayerfulness, all of these should bring us into dialogue with others when possible. That dialogue should either be the hope of our gospel or the mutual encouragement of community.

Tension is highly valuable in protecting us from hypocrisy as it forces us to move relationally with God versus out of a set of rules. Rules are useful, but they can be followed without the internal adherence that carries us the distance with deep peace. 

Are you able to apply this concept of tension into any current political events in your own nation?