“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matt 28:19-20)
In the commercial real estate appraisal world there is a method for valuing property called Highest and Best use. It anticipates a value on a property based upon what it would bring if it was used for the purpose it is best suited for. What are we, as followers of Christ, best suited for during our limited time here on earth? During seasons like this when I often enter in to debate with other Christians over the wisdom of entering in to the political arena, those who do often cite circumstances where suffering in the world was alleviated by believers engaging in politics. I have two thoughts to consider on this subject.
First, there is a notable difference between having to enter in to the political world in pursuit of a particular cause, like Nehemiah did when approaching King Artaxerxes to gain permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and entering in to be a part of legislating morality upon the kingdom of man in a general sense. I know people who have been called by God to fight human trafficking, abortion, and the assault on marriage, but those are their specific calling. To be effective they must engage politicians and fight political battles. But politics is not their cause, their particular mission is. Those, on the other hand, who wish to enter the political arena to rule over the affairs of the kingdom of man, wish to clean up a world that doesn’t want to be cleaned up.
The kingdom of man and of flesh has always been a dirty, unjust, evil realm. In fact, it was far more so when Jesus walked the earth than it is today. The Romans were brutal, godless, and as unjust as any nation ever was. Did Jesus enter in to political debate with them? Did He set up the government the Jews wanted Him to, and proclaim Himself king to stop all of the injustice. No, He escaped the Jews when they took Him and tried to make Him king (John 6:15), and told Pilate His kingdom was not of this world when asked why His servants were not fighting for Him (John 18:36).
My second thought is tied to the highest and best use concept. Is it really the highest and best use of a Christian to alleviate suffering in this world, as noble as that may be? After all God is love, and so those in whom God’s Spirit dwells naturally love. Alleviating suffering is a natural part of that. I’ve seen alleviating suffering as an opportunity to exercise my Christian faith many times since coming to know Jesus. But He said the poor would always be with us (Matt. 26:11-12), indicating no matter how much money or how many programs we threw at it poverty, with all of its suffering, would never be alleviated. Jesus’ entire life history was marked by suffering. How many infants died at Herod’s hands as he tried to eradicate the future “King of the Jews?” He foretold the suffering He would endure on the cross to His disciples, and then He endured it. The prophet Isaiah said He would be “Despised, forsaken of men, acquainted with grief, not esteemed, a man who carried our sorrows and bore our griefs who was stricken and smitten of God” (Isa. 53:3-5). There was far more suffering in His world than any we know today, and yet He did not tell His disciples to go out and alleviate it. No, He told them to do what He Himself did: proclaim the Gospel and make disciples.
About a year ago I had an article entitled Hiding Behind Ladles published by TBN’s online magazine, in which I confessed I had spent years in “Christian service” that was little more than social work. What brought about this revelation? I came across a teaching of Jesus that was very familiar to me, but suddenly got through to me: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul” (Matt. 16:26)? We can alleviate all the suffering in the world, restore prayer to public schools, reverse court rulings on gay marriage and fix all the other ills of society it would be wonderful news for the kingdom of flesh, but if we don’t share what will save people’s souls and then disciple them on to maturity it means little to the kingdom of heaven on earth. Will alleviating certain forms of suffering give people a better chance of hearing the Gospel? Perhaps. But also consider the old adage: “Few people have ever met Jesus on mountaintops.” So perhaps so, perhaps not.
The question remains: what then is our highest and best use in the limited time we are afforded during our time here on earth? Is it alleviating suffering, or making first converts then disciples of men? Our first priority must be the latter and we don’t need the blessing of politicians to do that. Jesus said we were to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and everything else would take care of itself. If we focus on our highest and best use will not suffering naturally and, in God’s timing and way, be alleviated? Does not God care more about the salvation and discipling of people than alleviating suffering? Does it say there will be rejoicing in heaven over one person whose suffering is alleviated? Is the Great Commission to go make people whose suffering has been alleviated? Jesus refused to alleviate His own suffering for the sake of advancing the kingdom of heaven on earth and the Gospel, for that was His highest and best use.
The point is this: if we alleviate suffering as a part of a particular mission God gives us, and that forces us to appear in Caesar’s courts, then like Nehemiah that is what we must do. Nehemiah did that, and then as quickly left the king’s courts to be about his mission. Jesus didn’t approach Caesar until He was forced to. But you will not find Him, any of His disciples, apostles, or anyone else in the New Testament who entered the political system to try to legislate morality upon the kingdom of flesh, even though the injustices of Rome upon the Jews far outweighed any we have seen in recent history. The only such people you will find doing that were Judas when he engaged the temple leaders [in his attempt to “take Jesus by force and make Him king”] and the temple leaders when they engaged Pilate [because to have Jesus crucified would have violated their own laws]. How did that work out for them?
So I ask once again, what is our highest and best use as followers of Jesus? Is it to make disciples of all nations, or legislate morality upon all nations? Is it to spread the Gospel or alleviate suffering? If we were more about what we should be about, “all these things would be added unto us” and there would be far less need to alleviate suffering or legislate morality in an unbelieving world.