It’s been an interesting week since Barack Obama’s reelection. I’ve spent the week pondering, among other things, the national reaction. I’ve gauged conversations with friends, op-eds, news articles, blogs, and of course my FB newsfeed. As could be expected, my friends who voted for him are thrilled, while my friends who voted against him are crushed.
Regardless of our political affiliations, how should we then respond?
For my answer, I find it helpful to look to the most politically savvy person in the New Testament. Like us, Paul enjoyed dual citizenship: he was a citizen of Rome and the Kingdom of Heaven. I personally glean a great deal of wisdom from observing how Paul intentionally prioritized the two empires he was subject to. Admittedly, Paul was a citizen of a dictatorial empire, while we are citizens of a representative democratic republic–these are obvious and significant differences. Even so, certain principles still carry over.
For starters Paul, like many of today’s evangelicals, took full advantage of the legal and political structure available to him for the sake of the gospel. He routinely exercised his various rights as a citizen of Rome in order to further the kingdom of his primary citizenship. Paul’s teaching on personal responsibility, integrity, and submitting to government also indicate that he took his civic responsibilities extremely seriously.
Of equal importance, while Paul was an upstanding citizen of Rome, he left no doubt as to his true political affiliation. Everything about who he was and what he did made it clear to any and all who knew him that he placed a greater priority on his Kingdom citizenship than his Roman citizenship.
Perhaps these clear priorities kept Paul from being overly enamored by the political structure of his day. His actions as a Roman citizen were always clearly encapsulated within his objectives as a Kingdom citizen. He seemed satisfied, but not overly euphoric, when the winds of political favor blew in his direction. For example, consider when his Roman rights procured his release from prison and the subsequent humbling of the magistrates who imprisoned him.
On the other hand, this may also explain why he was so impossibly sanguine when the same political winds stormed decidedly against him. Late in his life, Paul appealed unsuccessfully to the Roman emperor, leaving him imprisoned and likely headed towards death. This was a considerably worse blow than the one my friends who voted against Obama received Tuesday. Yet Paul’s tone during this time could shockingly be better characterized as victorious than defeated. His enduring rejoinder from this period was his triumphant reminder to “Rejoice!”
What seems insane to us was actually Paul’s default setting: simply rejoicing in the evidence of the redemptive apparatus of the Kingdom, even while suffering defeat at the hands of the political apparatus of Rome.
Paul was able to rejoice rather than mourn because of his priority of citizenship. In his mind, he was never chiefly a citizen of Rome, so his focus was never on the preservation of Rome. He refused to limit his freedom to his Roman rights, and accordingly never threw himself into preserving and protecting those rights. Paul had no children, but even if he had, his hope for their future was clearly, solely on the return of the true Emperor who would bring everything under His control.
Whether free or in chains, whether in plenty or in want, whether with friends or isolated, Paul’s sole objective in life was to find his joy and sense of gain in Christ, to preach Christ with words and actions, and share in the work of Christ’s Kingdom.
Some of us voted for Obama. Some of us did not. ALL of us who believe that Jesus is active and returning have ample reason to rejoice.
Hopefully we’ll all act like it.