The cultural turbulence present in the United States of America in 2018 resembles that of the 1960’s. As the axiom says, “History doesn’t repeat; it rhymes.” We can see in our day it’s the same old song, just a new verse. As pastors, it’s easy for us to look through the corridors of the past and call out the blind spots of church leaders 50 years ago, all the while neglecting the ones staring back at us.
As our church, Reach Fellowship, has been walking verse by verse through the book of James, the opening verses call my attention to the fact Christians in America are indeed exiles in a foreign land. Since our primary citizenship is in the city of God, not the city of man. The challenge that accompanies our citizenship is to engage in the mission of Jesus while living as exiles, not expatriates, who have no investment in land they dwell in.
As I read James 1:1-4 it seems his takeaway truth from this passage is that a Christian’s behavior is an outward expression of their inward belief system. This system traces back to the words of Jesus their king. James spends the next few verses reminding his fellow believers, who have scattered like buckshot through the expanse of the then known world, of what the lifestyle of a Kingdom citizen should look like.
God’s people living as exiles is not a foreign concept in Scripture. King David said God’s people are “sojourners” walking with God (Psalm 39:12). Paul called the Philippian believers “citizens of heaven” (Phil. 2:20), and it was Peter who addressed his letter to “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1) and “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). We must also consider the author of Hebrews, who said the fathers and mothers of God’s one Body of redeemed were “strangers and exiles on earth” who were looking towards the heavenly city of God (Heb. 11:13-16).
As American Christians, we must be diligent to remember three truths as we live on Jesus’ mission in a cultural turbulent society:
- Our primary citizenship is in Heaven, not America. Our eyes, like our fathers and mothers of our faith should be fixed towards the City of God.
- The primary document that shapes what we believe and how we live is God’s Word, the Bible, and not the Constitution. Our minds, like our fathers and mothers of the faith, should be renewed through the reading and studying of Scripture.
- The ruler and Commander-in-Chief that we bow to first is Jesus, not our president. Our hearts should chase after Him who guides our steps in righteousness.
These three truths have not been formed to align a rebellion against our government or taken as a cry of anarchy. Rather, they have been written to serve the American Church as a recalibration of our priorities to remove the syncretic and unholy draping of Christ’s cross in the American flag or in the political party of our choice.
There is too much division in the Body of Christ here in America. Many of us have chosen to pledge allegiance to fighting for one political party over the other, while others idolize one or two social issues and go to war with other believers who take an opposing stance. James 3-4 seems all to real as tongues (via Twitter) are setting ablaze fires that are burning bridges among believers. Ungodly wisdom fills Facebook posts and selfish ambition and bitter jealousy keeps quarrels and fighting among us alive.
So what are we to do? How should we then respond? I think James clearly tells us: it is in confessing and repenting (James 4:7-12). Perhaps if this were our move, we would then realize the culture war we’re trying to keep alive is actually distracting us from living on Jesus’ mission because we’re overlooking our own sins! Instead of writing blogs to be seen as right, we should make the move to look the ones we’ve gossiped and slandered in the eyes, confess our sin, and repent.
The fact of the matter is this, when it comes to the Body of Christ, we need to support each other. The trials that accompany holy living will bring physical and social persecution. James commands us, all of us, to “consider it all joy” when we, followers of Jesus, “meet trials of various kinds.” These trials come to test our faith, meaning to produce maturity in us. How can we grow in our faith by suffering well when we keep attacking each other because of our immaturity?
Living as exiles means that fighting for political power isn’t our main objective, suffering together well as we reach the lost in our society is. The fathers and mothers of our faith, living on mission outside of Jerusalem, were known to spiritually flourish while they were socially oppressed and persecuted. Many of them held no power, yet they preached Christ in boldness and loved those living on the margins of society with them. The result was the spreading of the Faith at a rate that has never been seen in America. May we repent and walk in repentance by representing our King well, as we live as exiles in a foreign land.