Stained glass question jeremypryorwordpresscomThe other day I ran across a blog wherein the author — a seminarian — said, ‘This site concerns Christianity. It does not discuss politics’.

Hmm, those two sentences have been going around in my head ever since.

It’s now been a fortnight. Part of me thinks, ‘As it’s his site, he can write about what he wants. Perhaps he is not interested in politics. Maybe he doesn’t know enough about today’s issues to comment.’

The other side of the question is avoidance. From my reading, all the best pastors weigh in from time to time on socio-political issues, even if they do not make a habit of it. Those who do not, it seems, might not wish to offend anyone.

Perhaps it is up to laypeople to dabble in both sides of the Two Kingdom world in which we live: one eye on Heaven and the other on Earth.

Bill Muehlenberg is a Christian commentator from Australia. You can find his CultureWatch in my blogroll.

Recently, Muehlenberg wrote two posts about Philippians 4:8:

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

He posits that some Christians use this as a get-out card to play in refusing to discuss the issues of our day. In ‘I Just Don’t Want To Think About It’, he writes (emphases mine):

I have even had these people tell me they get “sad” when they see some of the stuff I post here and there. They say they don’t want to be sad by seeing and reading about this stuff, and they don’t really enjoy folks like me even raising these issues.

Well, respectfully, I have a few words for such folks: I am sorry you were made sad by all this. We can just all go back to our little closed world and see no evil. We can all just keep hiding our heads in the sand and pretend none of this stuff is happening. We can all just live in our little isolated world where we are oblivious to what is happening around us.

That is one way to proceed. But of course it is not the way of Jesus Christ. It is not how a biblical Christian should act. We are called to be salt and light in a very needy world. That means getting our hands dirty and working against evil. And to do that, we must be aware of what is happening in our world.

Pretending all these evil things are not taking place helps no one. It only helps the enemy, and allows more evil, more injustice, more abuse, and more suffering to take place. Thus those who don’t want to know about it are actually complicit in evil. They are allowing this great evil to take place.

It is just like all those Germans – including German “Christians” – who just did not want to know what was happening in those concentration camps. They probably consoled themselves – and deluded themselves – by repeating Phil 4:8 over and over again, like a mantra.

To be a genuine Christian influence in a very needy world means confronting evil – not hiding our heads in the sand. It means being willing to have our hearts broken with what breaks the heart of God. It certainly does not mean living in our little spiritual bubble where we ignore all the suffering and evil taking place everywhere around us.

Indeed, I suspect that some of these confused Christians who seek to hide behind Phil. 4:8 are really not as spiritual as they think they are. They may in fact just be apathetic, indifferent and unloving – even un-Christlike. They really don’t give a rip about all the evil around them, and they use passages like this as a cheap excuse to get completely uninvolved in all the suffering and sin of our world.

They are really like all the religious Pharisees who, when they saw a needy man lying on the road, crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid the problem, to not contaminate themselves, to not be “sad,” and to not have any “negative thoughts”.

These folks pretend they are keeping themselves pure and unspoiled from the world, but all they are doing is telling their Lord they have no intention of loving their neighbour as themself, and have no intention of obeying the command to be salt and light.

He follows this with several quotes from pastors, theologians and famous Christian laity on the importance of knowing about socio-political issues and bringing evil out into the open. He concludes his article with two verses from the Old Testament:

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see.” (Lamentations 1:12)

“Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?” (Psalm 94:16)

However, what if someone is offended? Muehlenberg says in the comments:

And forget this baloney about them being offended. Just think about the obvious here:

-If you preach the biblical truth on adultery, adulterers will get upset and offended
-If you preach the biblical truth on theft, thieves will get upset and offended
-If you preach the biblical truth on arson, arsonists will get upset and offended
-If you preach the biblical truth on murder, murderers will get upset and offended

So of course if you preach the biblical truth on homosexuality, a homosexual will get upset and offended. So what? Should we stop preaching truth because it makes people feel bad?

Jesus spoke truth and it made people feel bad. The crowds were always divided because of him, and many hated him for speaking truth. Indeed, they crucified him because they were so offended and mad at him for throwing the spotlight on their sin. Simply reread John 3:19-21.

Those verses read as follows:

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Doing nothing and discussing nothing is not an option.

In ‘Difficult Bible Passages: Philippians 4:8’, Muehlenberg says:

Now here are some true things – things which we must therefore consider:

-the terrible persecution of Christians around the globe
-the rape and abuse of children
-the slaughter of millions of unborn babies each year
-the breakdown of marriages and families
-the many lives destroyed by drug and alcohol abuse
-the widespread carnality, compromise and lukewarmness in the churches
-the proliferation of cults and false religions
-the scandalous cases of apostasy, sexual sin, and abuse in the churches
-the many cases of false doctrine, false teachers, and false prophets causing all sorts of mischief

These are just a few things which happen to be true, and which we must consider. It certainly does no one any good to close our eyes and try to wish all these problems and tragedies away. That has nothing to do with Christian witness in a fallen world, and it has nothing to do with what this verse is attempting to convey.

And bear in mind that the Word of God itself is true – and it gives us the full picture of life in a fallen world with all of its sin, suffering, degradation and evil. Our calling as believers is to deal with all that and seek to be salt and light in this very needy world, and not pretend it does not exist.

So just what is Paul saying here then? First, a bit of context. In this brief letter Paul talks about joy and rejoicing more than in almost any other book in the Bible. And that is quite amazing because he wrote it while in a Roman prison. The point of the epistle is to encourage believers, and to get them to focus on Jesus, not just their circumstances.

Of course that does not mean Paul is just trying to wish away his difficulties, or do some mind-over-matter routine about his actual condition. Paul is a realist and he knows his situation is not so great. But he knows his God is great, and whatever happens, he wants to see Christ glorified.

Gordon Fee, a Pentecostal pastor and New Testament scholar, who wrote a devastating little booklet back in 1979 called The Disease of the Health & Wealth Gospels, writes in his commentary on this epistle:

What Paul says here is much less clear than the English translations would lead one to believe. The impression given is that he is calling on them one final time to ‘give their minds’ to nobler things. That may be true in one sense, but the language and grammar suggest something slightly different. The verb ordinarily means to ‘reckon’ in the sense of ‘take into account,’ rather than simply to ‘think about’. This suggests that Paul is telling them not so much to ‘think high thoughts’ as to ‘take into account’ the good they have long known from their own past, as long as it is conformable to Christ….

“Thus, he appears to be dipping into the language of Hellenistic moralism, in his case tempered by Jewish wisdom, to encourage the Philippians that even though they are presently ‘citizens of heaven’, living out the life of the future as they await its consummation, they do not altogether abandon the world in which they used to, and still do, live. As believers in Christ they will embrace the best of that world as well, as long as it is understood in the light of the cross.”

And this is not mere happy reflections, daydreaming, or theoretical musings. Right thoughts are meant to be coupled with right actions, as verse 9 makes clear. As Gerald Hawthorn remarks, “These verses constitute a single sentence in Greek that is marvelous for its rhetorical expression and for the loftiness of the moral standards it sets forth….

“They fairly well sum up what is involved in standing firm in the Lord: (1) ‘you must think’, and (2) ‘you must act’. . . . The Philippians must ever be critical towards heathen culture and evaluate carefully its standards of morality. But certainly he does not intend by [the use of ‘consider’] any encouragement to reflection without action.

This is something worth remembering when we are tempted to say that the evil we are experiencing is ‘all part of God’s plan’, a comment which actually showed up on my blog a few years ago.  The commenter meant that the end of the world was coming, therefore, he was just going to sit back and let events unfold. However, we do not know that this is the end of the world. No one does.

As Jesus explained (Matthew 24:36-44):

36“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.