4 Principles of Good Citizenship

Election season increasingly brings an attitude of bitterness and division to a people barely clinging to the concept of unity. This rancor has seeped into the souls of Christians as well, creating a toxic atmosphere where some grasp at any and every cause to support and politicize as a desperate attempt to validate their own worth. As such, some people have grown to view their fellow citizens as inherently evil and enemies of the state. Sadly, God’s people have proven susceptible to this phenomenon too, allowing political identity to trump spiritual identity. This does not infuse politics with spirituality; it only infuses spirituality with politics. This does not imply that Christians should abstain from all involvement in society but rather that the focus must change so that principle leads rather than personality or party. We must return to higher priorities as we approach the challenges in society, and for this the ancient wisdom provided in the scriptures provides not only principled but also practical guidance. Proverbs 28 offers a rotating commentary on societal issues centering on four basic components: morality, leadership, economics, and law. These have changed little in principle despite the passing of three millennia. As Solomon demonstrated, the individual attitudes people have in these areas affect the basic tenor of society, for good or for ill.

First, Christians should live to the highest standards rather than simply calling others to avoid the lowest. Saints should stand up for righteousness (Prov. 28:1-2) and encourage one another to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age (Titus 2:12) rather than accepting the lowest common denominator (Prov. 28:10). Furthermore,  we must take responsibility for our actions, especially when in the wrong, so that we take responsibility for correction as well (Prov. 28:13) and show reverence rather than arrogance or defiance (Prov. 28:14). A society filled with people who do not think they need God is a society destined to need Him desperately just to survive. That begins by maintaining strong relationships within that society so that by policing one another and holding one another accountable (Prov. 28:23) we all have less need to be policed by others.

Second, seek upright leadership. We have reached such a low ebb in political expectations that few Christians hold out any hope that anyone running for official office even aspires to uprightness in life, and so they no longer bother evaluating it. Worse yet, they excuse character flaws in their favored candidate. Some excuse bad personal behavior; some excuse immoral policies. But Christians should excuse neither. However, this creates greater responsibility to evaluate policy implications and personality implications with spiritual principles in mind. We should evaluate the morality and immorality of governmental officials and governmental policies because these affect governance and what is valued in society (Prov. 28:12). Wicked leaders undermine righteousness by their very nature, leaving a path of destruction in their wake (Prov. 28:15). More than that, leaders who govern to their own benefit rather than the nation’s will ultimately compromise the very nation they lead (Prov. 28:16). Wicked men create problems for the righteous (Prov. 28:28), and that makes it essential for us to seek out upright leadership even more.

Third, value people over programs. Money tends to dominate discussions today in two different ways—taxes and spending. On one side the emphasis is on saving your own money by lowering taxes, and on the other side the emphasis is on spending someone else’s money on programs. However, the Christian’s emphasis should be on valuing people over either. We must learn to take a personal interest in people in need (Prov. 28:3)—not just a political interest. We should neither love money nor despise those who have it in abundance, but we should always value integrity over wealth, our own or others’ (Prov. 28:6). This is the path to generosity (Prov. 28:8) so that the people of society value one another and display that personally. It can be easy to approach every issue through a business lens, but greater wealth does not equate to greater wisdom—about people or about society—so we should not treat the wealthy as if they are wise (Prov. 28:11). However, the worker has a responsibility to labor too rather than expecting someone else to care for his needs (Prov. 28:19), making the most of consistent work rather than in constant search of getting rich quickly (Prov. 28:20, 22). But one purpose for this work includes the ability to help others (Prov. 28:27). In other words, our preference should always be for people to help one another rather than relying on impersonal programs.

Fourth, look to the law—not rioting or vigilantism. Justice in society depends upon people respecting the laws of that society (Prov. 28:4-5). But respect for law in society begins with respect within the family unit (Prov. 28:7, 24) where so many today lose trust at an early age. Regardless, failure to respect the law shows a failure to respect God as well (Prov. 28:9). Indeed, stirring up problems in society demonstrates a lack of faith, a lack of patience, and a great deal of arrogance (Prov. 28:25). Seeking justice of any kind depends first on trusting God and living accordingly (Prov. 28:26). Additionally, wise members of a civil society do not attempt to protect those who break the law (Prov. 28:17) but rather expect the law to protect the innocent and hold the guilty accountable (Prov. 28:18). While this can fail through abuse, rejecting it in principle produces anarchy rather than justice. Therefore, impartiality and integrity in dispensing the law is essential from all who judge (Prov. 28:21).

These principles can sometimes put God’s people at odds with their fellow citizens on both sides of the aisle today, but that does not change their validity. During tumultuous times when it seems all sense of decorum, respect for truth, and civility have disappeared from the public stage, Christians have a greater responsibility to be bold as a lion in standing firmly on righteousness—not for the sake of a candidate or a political party, but for the sake of truth. When Christians compromise God’s priorities in order to promote their own, they have ceased submitting and begun rebelling. God expects more of us. And we should too. Because we are not just citizens here; we are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20).

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