A sure word
Applying Scripture to our hearts, not just our politics
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One of the more interesting moments in a recent Texas State Senate hearing on voting laws came when a leader of a watchdog group quoted from 2 Peter to underscore the importance of election security: “Brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure, for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”
“I love that Scripture,” the woman told the Senate panel, “because this is what our [election] watchers do.” The next speaker politely noted: “I do believe Saint Peter was talking about the election of the saints, not the election of Texas state senators.”
A few weeks later, after former President Donald Trump urged an audience in Alabama to get a COVID-19 vaccine, a rally-goer told CNN she doesn’t trust the government or the media: “I think it is a time when God is separating the sheep from the goats.” She added, “I’m a goat, because I ain’t a sheep. I’m not doing what they tell me to do.”
Misunderstanding or misusing Scripture to make a point isn’t new, and it’s not relegated to one side of the political spectrum.
When President Joe Biden defended his administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, he commended the sacrificial service of the U.S. military by quoting from the book of Isaiah, where the Lord says, “Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?” Biden added: “The American military’s been answering for a long time, ‘Here I am, Lord, send me.’”
It’s true that U.S. service members and military groups have quoted the same verse for comfort and inspiration. But Paul Miller, a research fellow with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (and a U.S. veteran who served in Afghanistan), wrote about the problem with Biden’s analogy: “It says U.S. troops are like Isaiah, and their mission is akin to preaching God’s truth.”
Miller noted he’s not against an appropriate use of Scripture in public speech, “But Biden’s use of Isaiah was wildly out of context and did violence to what the text actually meant. It just came off as an attempt to borrow the gravitas and moral authority of religious-sounding rhetoric for political purposes.”
If borrowing religious rhetoric for political purposes is a common temptation, perhaps it’s less common to do what’s more difficult: apply Scripture first to ourselves. Here’s a helpful place to start: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
That’s not a checklist for the timid but a framework for the godly. While we rightly wrestle with how to apply the Bible to confusing conundrums, and though Christians sometimes disagree, the Scriptures provide a clear guide for how we ought to conduct ourselves in the process.
The more intense the environment—political or otherwise—the greater the opportunity to follow Christ, who perfectly embodied the fruit of the Spirit in a corrupt and sinful world. Jesus didn’t hold back righteous indignation, but He also didn’t withhold kindness from sinners, including His closest friends.
In some cases, the Bible is abundantly clear about issues often considered political. When the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld Texas’ pro-life “heartbeat” law, many Christians rejoiced because they understand Scripture’s clear command: “Thou shalt not kill.”
Abortion advocates and some media outlets decried the court decision with painfully strained arguments. NPR quoted a San Francisco physician as saying the term “fetal heartbeat” is misleading at six weeks’ gestation: “What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity.”
King David had a higher view in Psalm 139: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. … My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret. … Your eyes saw my unformed substance.”
That’s a Scripture every man, woman, and child should apply to themselves too, along with the clear prayer David offers at the end, even in perplexing times: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! … And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
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