Jesus and Policy Agendas (II Corinthians 4:15)
I. The King's Agenda?
If you and I were able to ask Jesus about his policy agenda, how might he respond?
A policy (or public policy) agenda is a set of social or political issues that represent the legislative and leadership priorities of a politician, an administration, or a political party or group. Understanding a leader or a candidate's policy agenda, along with the platform of his or her party, is one important way for us as voters to assess whether or not a candidate deserves our vote.
But what about Jesus? If he really is, as we talked about last time, the perfect leader, and the leader to whom we should be looking above every other leader, the leader who has our undivided allegiance, then we need to think about his policy agenda. This is critical, not simply because we are inundated in this election cycle with so much policy talk, but because genuine, born-again, followers of Christ should be eager to advance our King's agenda.
And when we understand and are fully invested in the policy agenda of King Jesus, we are well-equipped to consider the policy agendas of our earthly leaders or candidates.
II. The Passage: “As Grace Extends” (v. 15)
Let's explore this issue by looking together at Romans 1. Our main verse this morning will be over in II Corinthians 4, but I thought it would be helpful to begin here. Why start here in Romans 1? Because this is how the Apostle Paul begins to talk about the human condition.
Political leaders, whatever their motives, attempt to address the real concerns, real needs, real threats facing our community or state or nation: taxes, unemployment, illegal immigration, pollution, terrorism, corruption, racial injustice, public health, civil rights, and the list could go on. What Paul is doing for us here in Romans 1 is bringing us back to, what I described last time as, “the dark well from which all of our social, relational, and political problems spring up and spill out.” Listen to how Paul describes the root issues, the 'Problem of problems'; v. 21...
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Though it may seem strange to some, this is the root of our corrupt human condition. What Paul has described in this one verse is the reason behind every human problem, every human conflict, every human failure. As Paul will go on to explain in verses 29-31, it lies at the root of every instance of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice... envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness... foolish[ness], faithless[ness], heartless[ness], ruthless[ness].
How did Paul sum it up? “...they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him”. That's it. It is a worship disorder, a worship deficit, a worship distortion that affects every single one of us, including every leader and all those being led. If it were not so, if it were not true, there would be no political problems or social injustice or moral decadence or corporate greed or civil unrest. They simply would not exist.
So if Paul, under the inspiration of God's Spirit, explained the human condition in this way, what did he reveal about the human transformation we clearly need? Well, that brings us to verse 15 of II Corinthians 4. Navigate over to that verse, if you would. This is what Paul writes in II Corinthians 4:15....
For it is all for your sake [i.e., our suffering in ministry is all for your sake], so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Now, if you didn't already notice, look at how the end of verse 15 connects us directly back to Romans 1:21. In Romans 1 we heard about a lack of giving thanks, but here, we read about an increase in thanksgiving. In Romans 1 Paul described humanity's failure to glorify God as God, but in this verse, everything leads “to the glory of God”. How are we to explain this seismic shift? Paul's answer is clear: this seismic shift happens “as grace extends to more and more people”.
Interested in the policy agenda of Jesus Christ? Here it is. Number one on his list: “grace extend[ing] to more and more people... to the glory of God.” Politicians today will emphasize this or that social benefit or tax break or civil right extending to more and more people. But the number one concern of King Jesus is that grace extends to more and more people. What kind of grace? Gospel grace. Redeeming grace. Transforming grace. The grace of God that saves, is saving, and will save... “...for by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
Now, some may ask, “Yes, but is that the only policy item on Jesus' policy agenda?” In one sense, yes. Every call of the kingdom, every kingdom emphasis, every detail of a kingdom ethic serves, in this age, that policy priority: grace extending to more and more people.
So in light of this, every sincere and devoted follower of Jesus should eagerly ask, “What can I do? How can I serve? How can I advance the King's policy agenda in this world, starting in my life, in my own circle, my own community?” If Jesus is the perfect leader, and his leadership is more important than the leadership of any earthly king or ruler or president or prime minister (past, present, and future), then our undivided allegiance, our activist passions, our moral concerns, our societal voice should first and foremost be given to his policy priority.
III. Good News & Good Works
But how do we serve our King's agenda? How do we help God's grace in Christ extend “to more and more people”? Well, Scripture is clear about our role in this work of grace extending. Here it is: Good News and good works. Let me explain...
First, as most of you already know, the primary way we advance the policy agenda of the Lord Jesus is by sharing the Good News about who he is and what he's done; about his life, death, and resurrection. Grace spreads as the gospel of grace spreads.
Earlier in II Corinthians 4, Paul described this very work. In verse 4, he reminds them of how...
...the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
So using language straight out of Genesis 1, Paul confirms that faith in the gospel is evidence of God's new creation taking place in an individual's life, a new creation that heralds the new creation to come; that new world that, in some sense, politics and politicians often promise, but can never deliver. Jesus can... “as... grace... extends”.
Are you eager to see real and lasting change take place in our country? If you are, then share Jesus. Share the Good News. Plant a seed. Pray for or with a neighbor or coworker. Share an encouragement. Pursue questions and conversations. Write a letter. Send an e-mail. Share an article. Give a book. Read a book... about sharing your faith. Send a text. Invite someone to tune in on Sunday mornings. Don't be afraid or ashamed to talk about how God has worked in your life. Be thoughtful. Be deliberate. Listen carefully. Make room in your life.
Be able to articulate, to whatever extent, what you believe. As I Peter 3:15 instructs us, “[be] prepared [that means prepare... be prepared] to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”. Brothers, sisters, if you cannot, in some form or fashion, articulate for an unbeliever what you believe, be suspicious of how deeply you actually believe it.
And of course, sharing the gospel is only one aspect of the disciple-making work that Jesus has entrusted to his church. Transforming grace doesn't work instantaneously to make us like Jesus. It works over time, and through the channels of the word, the Spirit, and the church. So our commitment to the agenda of Jesus is not simply a commitment to sharing the gospel. It's also a commitment to helping people grow in the gospel. How is God using you? How do you want God to use you? Please make that your prayer, even now.
But God's word tells us there's another way that grace extends. It is not an alternative to the gospel. It is a complement to the gospel. In concert with the Good News, a second way that we can carry out the policy agenda of Jesus is through what the NT calls “good works”. Paul encouraged his co-laborer Titus to encourage the believer in Crete to “be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8). And again, “...let our people learn to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:14).
But lest we think Paul is only talking about within the church, we need to remember how he instructed the disciples in Galatians 6:10: So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. So that's believers and unbelievers. This simply reflects what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:16... In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Why were/are these good works so important for Christ-followers? Well, there are a number of reasons, including the fact that our love reflects the fact that He who is love is in us. (I John 4:8)
For Paul, a key reason for the importance of good works is their relationship to the Good News. Going back to Titus, Paul instructed the believers, through Titus, to live and labor for Jesus in every area of life so “that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:5) To express that positively, disciples should live and labor for Jesus so that “in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” (Titus 2:10)
Do you see what Paul is saying? Our devotion to good works can beautify the Good News to which we call others. If we are talking about the love of Jesus, but not walking in the love of Jesus, there's a problem. If we declare Christ's sacrifice for all but do not demonstrate Christ-like sacrifice for all, there's a problem. Brothers and sisters, good works are pleasing to God, and it pleases God to use them to point those loved to the love of Christ; to point those helped to the help of Jesus; to point those blessed to blessings of new life.
But what about the OT? Well listen to how Job described his life of God-honoring good works:
...I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him.  The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.  I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban.  I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.  I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know. (Job 29:12-16)
In the OT, the prophet Micah summed up this kind of life with these well-known words: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) Doing justice, in love, with humility, for the most vulnerable, is how the OT often described good works.
Was this limited to Israelites simply blessing other Israelites? No. Remember how God encouraged the Jews who had been exiled to Babylon in the 6th century before Christ:
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)
Brothers and sisters, we have been called as God's people and Christ's disciples to do good, to do justice, and to pray on behalf of the earthly city in which we are spiritual exiles and immigrants. But we do so, first and foremost, not to advance the policy agendas of Republicans or Democrats, Libertarians or Greens. No. Our good works advance the policy priority of Jesus Christ... so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Practically, this means we have to be very careful about allowing human political thinking to define our categories in terms of what is good and what is just. Only God's word can do that. And when loyalty to God's word is more important to us than party loyalty, we will discover that, as author Jonathan Leeman expresses it, “Most of the political question citizens face day-to-day are biblically unscripted. Instead, they occur in wisdom's territory.”
That means there simply is not one 'Christian' position on the vast majority of the political issues we are hearing about today. Yes, certain core principles may be extremely biblical. But how they are addressed socially, how they are tackled politically, can take many different forms; yes some wiser than others, but none are “the Bible's way” or “God's way” of doing it.
Why is that so important to understand? Because if we get confused about this we are getting confused about the difference between the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdoms of this sinful, world system; because we may confuse political work and spiritual work; because we may confuse political strategies and biblical strategies; because we may confuse political goals and biblical goals; and political allegiances and spiritual allegiances.
In the end, if we are not careful, Jesus will become nothing more than a 'poster boy' for this or that political machine, somehow granting divine legitimacy to the schemes of sinners.
Brothers and sisters, friends, the policy agenda of Jesus can most certainly involve political action and social activism. But that is only the case when genuine followers of Christ are acting and active with their eyes on the prize; when they are ultimately living, laboring, and loving in the name of Jesus in order to advance the gospel; when good works serve the Good News... so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Is any of this easy? Not in the slightest. Staying focused on the agenda of Jesus in an age of such political noise can be extremely hard, especially when so many are attempting to appeal to our faith for the sake of their own political agendas. And as Christians from every century have told us, serving Jesus in a world that hates him is a difficult path. But that's why Paul, in the very next verse after our main verse, penned these encouraging words:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (II Corinthians 4:16)
In this day of political division, may God's people be united in our worship and work. In this day of political messaging, may God people lift Christ's message above all others. In this day of political uncertainty, may the Church stay focused on the certainty of sovereign grace, in us and through us, to a needy, needy world. Amen? Amen.
More in Jesus 2020
September 27, 2020Jesus and Political Discourse (II Timothy 2:23-26)
September 13, 2020Jesus and Perfect Leadership (John 6:66-69)
September 6, 2020Jesus and Political Perspective (I Corinthians 7:29-31)