From Second Philippians
(with thanks to the apostle Paul)
As I was directed to several verses this morning, it seemed to me a letter is in order to the politicians running for the United States Presidency.
As a reminder, the apostle Paul, who was in jail in Rome, wrote to the church in Philippi to encourage them to grow and mature in their faith. He knew what staying immobile and stagnant would look like – he had already written to the church in Galatia about the problem of stagnation (Galatians 5:19-20) – and he didn’t want this to happen to the church in Philippi.
So, I address this letter, borrowing heavily from Paul, to those candidates who claim to be Christians (or who claim to uphold Christian values or who wish to appeal to voters who claim to be Christian or Evangelical or any other denomination who claims to uphold Christian values).
To All Candidates,
Grace and peace to you. May Christ’s Spirit bring you wisdom, integrity and compassion.
As you travel on this journey, we can all admit it is fraught with temptation. Those even in your midst would attempt to exert influence over you, gambling with your heart and mind to battle those also seeking office. Their intention is resolved to keep your focus away from the true struggle. It is not with your campaign opponents.
Those of us who follow Jesus ache as we watch you flail about in immature pursuits and misdirected messages about our Lord. We cringe because we know the world is watching. We grieve because we feel the Holy Spirit’s grief as you attempt to represent us and speak to our values.
As the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians:
Some people tell the message about Christ because of their jealousy and envy. Others tell the message about him because of their good will. Those who tell the message about Christ out of love know that God has put me here to defend the Good News. But the others are insincere. They tell the message about Christ out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1:15-17)
Pretending you are someone you are not is not the way. Denigrating one another is not the way. Spewing hateful words is not the way. Being spiteful and contentious is not the way. Being boastful is not the way. Telling half truths is not the way.
Certainly you can find ways to disagree while remaining respectful and humble. Clearly you can find ways to point out differences without sarcasm. Undeniably, as presidential material, you can find ways to lead the pack on higher ground.
If there is any encouragement in belonging to Christ, any comfort from His love, any fellowship in His abiding Spirit, any affection or compassion, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being united in that same Spirit. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, be moved to think of and treat one another as more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:1-3)
You see, we Christians who are watching but silent, we Christians who are waiting to cast our votes will determine who you really are by two criteria. And interestingly, they have nothing to do with party affiliation. They have everything to do with leadership qualities.
Again, let’s turn to the apostle Paul. Before he was saved, he had status and wealth, education and title; he persecuted zealously those who he saw as a threat to the established leadership. Yet after Jesus opened his eyes and heart, Paul realized after a lifetime of evangelism what was truly important:
I consider everything else worthless because I’m much better off knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It’s because of him that I think of everything as worthless. I threw it all away in order to gain [knowing] Christ…Whoever has a mature faith should think this way. And if you think otherwise, God will reveal it to you and make it plain. (Philippians 3:8, 15)
So are you mature in your faith; do you follow Jesus above all else? Do you show all people you follow him by illustrating your love through your words and actions?
In 1982, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman wrote a book called In Search of Excellence. The authors coined the term MBWA – management by walking around. One of the points of walking around was to look for things people were doing right.
Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes egregious mistakes. Do we honestly – honestly – believe our presidents are or should be pure as the driven snow? Or is it more important they humbly own up to past mistakes and let us know how they have overcome? And is it your job as a candidate to point out the splinter in someone else’s eye without first revealing the log in your own?
Wouldn’t it be something if each of you actually pointed out something the current President and the other candidates did right?
Here’s how the apostle Paul puts it:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
And sorry, using the excuse, “There’s nothing there to find,” just doesn’t cut it.
At some point, you and possibly some other folks decided you have the qualities and character to be President of this fine country. You entered the race.
Now it’s time to flip that old adage: Put your mouth where your money is.
May the grace, love and wisdom of God be with you.