When I was a boy, my parents belonged to a politically conservative organization that included both Christians and non-Christians. I remember hearing members of this organization ridicule Christians who thought we should emphasize preaching the gospel. “You just preach the gospel,” they would say, “and when the Communists take over, you won’t be allowed to preach the gospel anymore, and then what will you do? First we need to prevent that from happening, and then you can preach the gospel all you want!”
I was reminded of that when a friend of mine posted a similar thought on social media the other day—just replace “Communists” with “Democrats.” (And yes, I have friends who would say that’s no change at all.)
That got me to thinking. And it brought to mind the Pauline observation that “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty through God to the pulling down of fortresses” (2Cor 10.3-4).
Like every biblical passage, that one has a specific historical context, to which Paul is specifically applying it; but no one would argue that the principle applies to only one historical situation, the participants in which are all long dead. The principle is timeless.
God’s people, Paul says, don’t fight like the world; they use a different, more powerful set of weapons.
What are the world’s weapons? A few come immediately to mind.
- Political power. History well bears out that when the church has held political power, things didn’t go well—for the church or for anybody else.
- Populism. Get a big enough crowd on your side, and you’re bound to win. But the church has never been a majority, has it? Nor will that ever change, apparently (Mt 7.13-14).
- Pragmatism. If we do it this way, it’ll work, doggonit. Don’t be so, um, purist. Do you want to be ideologically perfect and puritanically untainted, or do you want to win?
- Deception. This is a subcategory of pragmatism. A little head fake here, and a feint there, and we can get this done. “Republicans vote on Nov. 6; Democrats vote on Nov. 8.”
And there are many others.
By contrast—and Paul’s whole point in this passage is that there is, indeed, a contrast—what are the divinely ordained weapons, the mighty ones?
- Scripture. Preach the word; take the gospel story to the ends of the earth. This book is alive (Heb 4.12).
- Prayer. Call on the God who rules in the affairs of peoples and nations, who sets up kings and takes them down again. He hears, and he answers (Dan 2.21).
- Evangelism. Changing hearts requires, well, changing hearts. There’s only one effective way to do that—by introducing people to the Spirit of God, who changes them from the inside out, from the bottom up (Rom 8.6-9).
- Love. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to do good to those that curse us (Lk 6.27-28). Paul extended that thought by telling us to feed our enemy if he’s hungry and to give him something to drink if he’s thirsty (Rom 12.20). Frankly, I haven’t seen a whole lot of that lately. I have seen a lot of retributory execration, though—“to give them a taste of their own medicine.”
Now, I’m not suggesting that we should not be politically involved. Unlike pretty much everyone in biblical times, we don’t live under an authoritarian regime; we not only have the ability to speak up and be heard, but our system is at its best when we do. By all means, vote. And better yet, interact with your fellow citizens about how you’re voting, and why. That’s a great opportunity not merely to change somebody else’s vote, but to introduce him to the biblical worldview that informs (it does, right?) the way you vote.
But in the end, politics is temporary and—relative to the issues God has called us to attend to—trivial. All political power eventually goes away, and usually far more quickly and dramatically than anyone expected. Yet as a matter of stewardship, we should attend to those matters. And as a tool for the Prime Directive, politics can often serve to provide us some leverage.
You want to change the world? Only the gospel does that. While political kingdoms have come—in great power—and gone—every one of them—the gospel has been changing the world one heart at a time ever since it was unleashed on an unsuspecting planet.
Fight to win. Use the right weapons.