Focus on Eternal Things, Not Temporary Things
As Christians, how easy it is to focus on earthly things which do not save, rather than on Jesus, the only Son of God, who alone saves. The Enemy of our souls is happy when we focus on earthly things which do not save, but I believe Christians should primarily focus on the things which are eternal and not temporary. In many ways, this will distinguish us from non Christians. We live at a moment when some seem to suggest a conflict between devotion to our nation and devotion to liberty and justice for all. And they expect those who are devoted to one or to the other will do a particular thing—stand or kneel. Christians should take this disagreement in our culture with a grain of salt. Neither a certain vision of patriotism, nor a certain vision of justice, and certainly not a game---football--- should get Christians to be divided or to take our focus off of Jesus.
I am not saying patriotism is not important, because it is, but if you are a Christian and it gets you angry and gets your eyes off of Jesus, then maybe it has become a false god. I am not saying concern for those who may be treated unfairly or even killed because of race is not important, because it really is, but if you are a Christian when this concern is expressed in a way that confuses people or gets your eyes off of Jesus, then even this particular response to injustice can become counterproductive---if not a false god.
As I read II Corinthians 4:18 (see below), football and our flag, and even a particular form of protest, though of some importance in this dying world, are ultimately earthy things which are dying and passing away and which are not eternal, (see also Philippians 3:19--more about it farther into this column.) To repeat, I believe Christians should primarily focus on the things which are eternal and not temporary, and this will distinguish us from non Christians.
Some of the first Christians who came to these shores were the Pilgrims, and as their name suggests, they knew Christians are strangers and aliens in this world, and indeed in every nation. Here are some scriptures which make that point that Christians are aliens, strangers and pilgrims in this world and that the things the world is deeply concerned about are not necessarily the first concern of Christians.
“For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:18-20. Our citizenship is in heaven!
I was a pastor in a church for 31 years. It was a wonderful time. Our church displayed an American flag and a Christian flag, and I was happy we displayed both. Occasionally over the years, though, I expressed my opinion that the Christian flag should be flown higher than the American flag because we are “one nation under God,” because He is Lord over every nation, and because all nations, even ours, are temporary, but His kingdom is forever. My idea was not acted upon, and that is OK. I did not really push it because I did not want to divide people, but I also believe that if Christians are more focused on our flag than on Jesus, that too can divide.
A second scripture: “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” Hebrews 3:14. This means that our city, state, nation, and world are temporary. Heaven is our eternal home.
A third scripture: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” II Corinthians 4:18. The things dividing some in our nation are not eternal things, they are temporary things. Ask yourself: How much will they matter in heaven?
In the current climate of division in our nation, Christians should be people who are calmly looking past the temporary to the eternal. Tragically unless they come to know Jesus as Savior, many people who out of great respect stand for our national anthem will not find themselves in heaven, because, as I read scripture, the only way to be saved is to trust in Jesus. You are not saved by whether you stood or not. And unless they come to know Jesus, many people who, out of deep concern for justice, bend to one knee during the anthem, as I read scripture, will not find themselves in heaven either because the only way to be saved is to trust in Jesus. You are not saved because you knelt. These are hard truths. They are inconvenient truths. They are counter-cultural truths. They are not popular truths. They are truths for which the church may be persecuted.
These things the world is arguing about are earthly things, and they are of some importance. But they are also temporary things, and they do not and cannot save. They can so easily get the church to take our eyes off of Jesus. Only Jesus saves, and only Jesus truly unites. Christians should focus on Him. The world, and our nation, need people who can remain calm in the midst of strife, and who can keep focused on God, trusting in Him.
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor. A shorter, and less-thought out version of this column appeared in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News. Rev. Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.