Community Group Study Guide — The Christian and Civic Engagement
Most of us can go through our life for weeks, months or years without thinking too much about politics and government. However this year has felt different. Things like local policy on COVID prevention, rallies and protests in our streets and the election have all brought politics into our homes and lives a little more than normal. For the most part there are some of us who are somewhat addicted to politics and others who avoid it with all their power. That means that some of you may be reading this may even feel like “why did we even write a study guide around this issue?” Do not worry, our hope and goal is to help all of us lift up our eyes to the Lord, understand the kingship of Jesus and therefore be equipped in how we may engage with our city and nation.
The people of God have always been called to civic engagement. God established his people and gave them the Promised Land in Canaan, a place where three continents collide (Europe, Africa and Asia). It appears that God did this because of his desires for his people to model to the world life in His kingdom. People from all around the known world would be traveling through Canaan and see what it would be like to follow God. Even during “the exile”, where the people of God were removed from the Promised Land and taken to Babylon, God commanded them to seek the prosperity of the city where he had planted them (Jeremiah 29:4-7). This means they were called to be engaged in seeking the civic good of where they lived. In the New Testament, we have many passages of scripture that talk about how to bear witness to the world, follow unjust governments and live as citizens of heaven but residents in this world. The word “politics” has its roots in the Greek word Polis which means “city”. At its core, we all are rooted and grounded into a community and we should be actively praying for the city and seeking the goodness of God in the place where he has planted us.
This study guide will consider three areas to frame our thoughts about civic engagement this is by no means the limit of what we could talk about.
First, There is a King
Daniel 2:20-23, 44-45, Colossians 1:13-14
What makes our faith unique is that we are subjects of a king who is ruling and reigning on a throne in heaven. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and rules even now. When questioned by Pilate, Jesus said that his kingdom was “not of this world” and if it were of this world his disciples would fight and he could call down legions of angels to establish his rule. Yet we do see by the simple fact that he took on the title Christ which meant messiah or “king” Jesus was implicitly saying that he was Lord and not Caesar. To call Jesus “Christ” was a political statement in the 1st century. We need to remember that first and foremost we are followers of a king who reigns and who is working in and through his subject in the world.
The Prophet Daniel got a glimpse of this reality. Daniel was taken captive at a young age by a superpower in the Babylonian empire. God put Daniel in a place of influence and responded to Daniel’s bold faith by enabling him to interpret dreams for the king of Babylon. In one such dream, the king was shown by God a heavenly truth that even as these various kingdoms looked impressive they would each come to an end until there would be a kingdom established by God that would never be shaken (Daniel 2:44). This is a reference to what God was going to establish in Christ and what God will establish in the future for those who follow him. Likewise, every earthly king or ruler is established by God or removed by God (Daniel 2:21). So regardless of who wins election or what propositions pass we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken and God is not at a loss or out of control; in fact he is using everything for his purposes including things we may find disappointing. His kingdom is never at risk, and that should give us confidence and hope.
Second, There is a Battle…
… but it’s not what you think.
It is easy in our world today to get caught up into various tribes or groupings that becomes an us vs. them battle. We can see people created in the image of God as enemies that we are battling and our side is righteous and the other as wicked. Yet, the scripture would lift our eyes up to see a different kind of battle taking place, a spiritual battle. The reality is that our Enemy is at work in the world. Jesus talks in the gospel of John of the devil as “the ruler of this world” and Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air”. You can read books in the Bible like Job and see this power at work or more modern books like CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and get a fictionalized sense of how he might be at work in the world. Regardless, we would do well to remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against cosmic powers and spiritual forces at work (Ephesians 6:12). We would do well to be prayerful in how we vote and how we engage in our city, knowing that there are forces at work that we cannot see. Likewise, since these are human institutions we should not expect there to be just one righteous side or one grouping or tribe that reflects all the Christian values we can have when it comes to government. We can disagree with others without viewing them with hatred or seeing them as an enemy because there is a real and greater battle we cannot see. The admonition of Paul is to take up God’s armor and to be filled with righteousness, truth and prayer. Our enemy loves division, lies and for us to focus on worldly matters. Let’s strive to engage prayerfully and filled with the fruit of the Spirit, knowing that our enemy is not “flesh and blood”.
Finally, Your Attitudes and Actions matter
Our attitude as a citizen of God’s kingdom should be marked by peace. In this passage, Paul addresses the call to be joyful, reasonable and non-anxious… why? The answer is: “The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5). If God is for us, who can be against us? It is easy to get caught up into doom-scrolling, fear-filled news cycles and a mentality of anger, yet the Lord would have you turn your eyes to heaven and recognize the reality that we can be filled with joy, sober judgment and peace because God is with us. Likewise, Paul directs us to act and to act by prayer and putting our mind on what is good. We may think these are two underrated actions in a time like this, but in prayer we can bring our anxiety to God, ask for him to be at work and find peace in the midst of the turmoil around us. Dwelling on what is good also leads to greater peace. Paul would have us think about what is “true, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise”. To do this is a counter-cultural choice because it requires that we actively seek out things that stir up our affection for God and to be filled with his word where these things are found. Instead, many of us often choose to turn on the news, youtube or scroll through instagram. These are not always bad things but let’s be honest, these things are not neutral they have an agenda for how they desire to form you and usually that leads to anxiety and not not to reasonableness, joy and peace. Remember the Lord is at hand, meaning he is not absent in this season and God has filled us with his presence in the Holy Spirit. So vote and vote your conscience with an informed background to the candidates and the issues, but also vote with joy and peace.
Main idea: As we are more aware of politics and turmoil in our world remember that Jesus is establishing his kingdom and has called us to be his subjects. Know that the battle is a spiritual one and fight the tendency to see others as your enemies. Finally, be filled with peace, reasonableness and joy through bringing your anxieties to God, dwelling on what is good and through prayer.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
On a scale of 1-10 (1 being the lowest), how comfortable are you with talking about politics and faith? Why do you think you feel that way?
How does the reality of Jesus being king and our citizenship being in heaven help us to engage in our communities and or nation?
In what ways are we tempted to see people who hold opposing views as our enemies? Have you noticed the use of battle language when witnessing political conversations? How does Paul’s admonition that our battle is not against flesh and blood change our perspective?
According to Philippians 4:4-9, what kind of attitude should we have and what actions should we take? Are there specific things you feel called to do in response to this study guide, these passages and the message from Sunday?