Politics and the Great Commission

What does the Great Commission have to do with a Trump presidency? How do we live with integrity like Daniel? What is the church to do in crazy political days like these?

Our church recently concluded a series on the book of Daniel. If you have ever tried to read or do any kind of in-depth study on Daniel you have probably noticed that it is just a wee-bit hard to interpret once you get past the sixth chapter and into all the bizarre lingo and imagery. However, Daniel speaks into the awkward cultural position many Christians find themselves in these days. Two things in particular stand out: First, Daniel shows us how to thrive spiritually in a place of “exile” – that is how to be a godly influence in a culture that is becoming increasingly less open and hospitable to all things Christian; Second, Daniel reminds us no matter what God is in control of all things – and is the one who raises up and casts down civilizations, kingdoms, kings and even U.S. Presidents!

Given that we did this series in the midst of one of the most bizarre and contentious election cycles that we have seen in recent history, this last point became especially relevant. Ironically (or maybe not?), the last sermon in the series came the Sunday following the election.

While many Christians and political conservatives were fearful for how a Clinton presidency might have curtailed religious freedom (a valid fear, in my opinion!), my concern with a Trump presidency is that the church might lose sight of what its true mission and purpose on the world actually is: to go and make disciples of all the nations (cf. Matt. 28:16-20). It is on this point that we need to some very careful thinking, and be sure that our political moorings are firmly anchored in what I am calling the politics of the Great Commission and not the politics of this or that political party.

Here are three lessons from Daniel’s life that are very instructive for life under President-elect Trump:

Daniel had to disassociate himself from the King’s influence

Given that such a high number of professing evangelical Christians voted for Trump, in the minds of many people outside of the church is that what Trump believes and affirms and in the way he says it is what all Christians themselves also believe and affirm. Whether that is accurate or not, the simple reality is that in order to have voted for someone like Donald Trump Christians had to be willing to overlook some significant flaws in his personal life and moral character. I heard time and time again that people were voting not for the “candidate” but the “platform” which the candidate is supposed to represent. While I understand that sentiment, my question back is can you really separate the character of the leader from the platform they claim to represent?

Given this, Christians who voted for and support Trump will now need to the difficult but essential work of what I am calling disassociation – that is, intentionally disassociate our witness, values and beliefs from the more negative ones that are associated with Trump. This is exactly what Daniel himself had to do. In the opening chapter we find Daniel and his friends have been invited to participate in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court and learn the ways of Babylon? Life in the king’s court offered them ease, affluence and a chance to be part of the king’s dynasty (all of which was dedicated to a different god than the one whom Daniel and his friends were taught to worship!). How did Daniel and his friends respond?

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
— Daniel 1:8

By refusing to eat the king’s food, Daniel and his friends not only stood out from among the crowd as being different, they also placed themselves in the care of God for they were risking their lives in going against the king. In other words, this act of faith by Daniel and his friends was also a witness to the king concerning who the true God of Babylon (and all of the nations!) actually is.

Likewise, there is “food” which Donald Trump offers that Christians simply cannot partake of. In particular, the way in which Trump talks about and refers to other people (be they women, ethnic groups, or simply those with whom he disagrees) is not an example that Christians should follow. In terms of how we use our speech (and by “speech” I include also social media like Facebook posts, tweets, etc.), we should be governed by Paul’s words to Titus:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
— Titus 3:1-2

Daniel made a difference – not just a point

Based on what I hear and read from a lot of Christian media, it seems to me that we are often more concerned about being right and making our point than we are in truly making a genuine difference in the lives of others. Our goal should be bigger than just begin “right” – we should aim to make a difference in the lives of others.

In Daniel 6, we find that some were jealous of Daniel’s good standing with the king, and so they came up with a scheme to get Daniel into trouble for praying to the God of Israel by tricking the king into making a decree that no other god should be prayed to except for him. Note Daniel’s reaction:

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
— Dan. 6:10

Now there is a statement being made! AFTER the decree is set, Daniel openly defies it but does in a very humble manner – by simply continuing to pray to His God. We don’t find Daniel staging a protest or inciting some kind of riot or writing angry letter against the king, but rather he offer a witness to whom the one true God is! Later in the chapter after Daniel is miraculously rescued from the lion’s den, King Darius himself undergoes something of a conversion by calling the nation to worship Daniel’s god. In short, Daniel risks his life with yet another act of faith aimed at trusting that God Himself will not only rescue Daniel but use his witness to make a spiritual difference in the nation.

Friends, be aware of the temptation to always have to be “right”, and have the last say in every political argument. Our goal is not necessarily to always show how “right” we are and how “wrong” everyone else is, but rather to win people to the greatest news in all the world: that Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners and bring about God’s promised kingdom.

Again, note Paul’s advice to Timothy in how to conduct himself towards those outside the faith:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
— 2 Tim. 2:22-26

Daniel sought the glory of God and the good of others

In chapter 7, Daniel has this amazing vision:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him, his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
— Dan. 7:13-14

Here we see that this “Son of Man” (whom we believe is fulfilled in Jesus Christ) establishes his rule over all the nations. We get a clearer picture of what this was to be like in Revelation 5:

And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’
— Rev. 5:9-10

I suggest that Daniel’s vision, which we see fulfilled in Christ in Revelation, is for the glory of God spreading throughout the earth, inhabiting the praises of the people. It’s a beautiful picture of the nations of the earth receiving the good news. Together, Daniel 7 and its fulfillment in Revelation 5 forms the heart of Jesus’ commission in Matthew 28 – to see God glorified amongst all the peoples of the world in deep celebration of Christ and the kingdom of God!

So here is a question for us to seriously ponder as evangelical Christians: Is the good news we have to share with this world only good for those who agree with us politically?

Friends, there is nothing wrong having your own political views and commitments. But know that Christ is calling us to a greater political commitment and vision beyond what the Left and the Right offer: We are called to reach all peoples in all nations with the best news ever! But if we allow American partisanship to define who we are and what we are about, then the mission of Jesus will suffer.

Listen to the words (again!) and heart of Paul, who as former Pharisee was about as “partisan” as you could be in the first-century:

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
— 1 Cor. 9:20-23

The temptation for evangelical Christians is to view themselves as yet another “tribe” or just another lobbyist groups vying for their own agenda and trying to get a seat at the political table. We are not a “tribe” or lobbying group – we are a mission. For Christians who are seeking to follow the politics of the Great Commission, the world does not divide between “Left” or “Right” but rather darkness and light, lost and found, with Jesus or without Jesus. And our goal is to bring light to the dark places, so that lost people may be found and those without Jesus may learn what it means to be with Jesus.

So let us pray for success of President-elect Trump. Let us pray that there would be “Daniels” around him. But whether or not he succeeds, let us not lose sight of what our true mission is, and the kind of “politics” Jesus calls us to in laying down our lives so that the best news in the whole world can reach the ears and hearts of more and more peoples. Amen.

Grant Clay

I am the pastor of a great flock of Jesus-lovers in a far-flung corner somewhere in the Midwest. I am a Seattle native who hates coffee (sorry Starbucks fans!) but loves Husky football. I am married to the best woman in the world and have three amazing kiddos – all of whom keep me on my toes and are a constant reminder of God’s goodness and grace. My life’s passion is know Jesus more in order to help others do the same! You can learn more about our church at claycentercovenant.com