“God bless America, land that I love…”
“America, America, God shed His grace on thee…”
“There ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the U.S.A.!”
The summer is fast approaching, and with it, we can expect backyard barbecues, swimming pools, and multiple holidays honoring our country, starting with Memorial Day on Monday and the 4th of July, a day decorated with red, white, and blue, sprinkled with stars and stripes, and steeped in strong patriotism.
The church in America seems to run the gamut across the spectrum of how we view our country. We’ve got fervid patriots who believe that America is a shining city on a hill, and we’ve got the disenchanted who are no less than disgusted with the direction of the nation and its leaders. From congregations who belt “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to the pacifist Mennonites, we’ve got a myriad of interpretations on how we, as followers of Christ, should interact with our country.
Memorial Day is set aside to honor the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives to defend our lives and freedoms. There is little debate on this. It is a day to honor, remember and pray for the families left behind.
There are a few things of which we can all be certain will honor God and give apt honor to our country as well. As you celebrate the upcoming holidays, here are some things to keep in mind as to what it means to live in America and live out our faith in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Merriam-Webster defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” Seems simple enough, right? But it’s not always easy to know what this looks like in practical, everyday life.
How can we display patriotism when we’re less than happy with what’s happening in our government? When leaders dissatisfy us? When fellow countrymen disappoint us? When politics disheartens us?
4 Biblical Principles on Patriotism
Thankfully, God has given us much helpful wisdom on this topic in His Word. Here are some biblical principles to follow:
Know our true citizenship
According to Philippians 3:20, our citizenship is in heaven.
Have you ever felt like you don’t quite belong in this country you love? Things aren’t as they should be, and that in some way, shape, or form, they never will be? With every change in leadership, we simply trade one set of problems for another? These feelings are confirmation of the truth that as a Christian you are first and foremost a citizen of heaven.
Our true citizenship is in heaven, and God Himself is our ultimate leader, the King over all earthly authority (Revelation 19:16). This means our first allegiance is to God, and we must be cautious about elevating any other leader too high in our esteem or our fidelity.
2. Pray for our nation and its leaders.
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of all men for kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. (I Timothy 2:1-2)
Many Christians are familiar with this command, but far too few of us are faithful to obey it, much less make it part of our regular worship.
We can never go wrong in prayer, and as we are called to not only pray for our loved ones but our enemies as well, we must petition God for those in authority no matter whether they hold our beliefs or not.
When you disagree with something our elected officials are doing, pray for them. When someone makes a decision that’s in line with Scripture, thank God for them. Pray that the Lord would soften the hearts of our leaders to His guidance and that He would grant them His wisdom.
Even praying for our country as a whole is biblical. When the Israelites were in exile in Babylon – a nation wholly opposed to the holiness of God – the Lord advised his people to not only settle in, build houses and families, and in essence get comfortable, but also to “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)
Praying for our nation can include prayers for revival, for strengthening of families, for protection from evil, and for God’s will to be done in our land. Praying for our President and other elected officials might include prayers for salvation, spiritual growth, wisdom, and humility.
Don’t act or speak with disrespect about our leaders
Regardless of how much you may disagree with the decisions of our leaders, there is a way to do so that still honors them and the position they are given. Thankfully, we live in a country where we can express our discontent freely, but this is a prime opportunity to also teach the younger generation how to respectfully disagree, and how to take a stand for their beliefs without degrading another person.
Paul urges believers in Romans 13:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (v. 1-7)
If believers were to honor their government in Paul’s time – a Roman ruler who slaughtered Christians and made worship of the true God a crime – how much more should we do the same now? Of course, Jesus also commanded to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21). While we are first citizens of heaven, we are also called to be good citizens of our temporary earthly home. This is where we can set an example so that we may be found blameless.
Keep our love for America God-centered.
It’s good to love our nation, but it’s important to keep at the forefront of our patriotism the awareness that anything great about America comes from God alone. We should thank Him for our freedoms, recognizing:
We are not blessed because of our righteousness or inherent goodness. America is simply a nation God has chosen to bless because that’s what brings Him glory in this particular era in time.
American Christians are responsible to steward their blessings well, investing them for eternal purposes and not merely our own pleasure.
Civic responsibilities and awareness
Our freedoms are gifts from God, and He grants them with the expectation for us to manage them well. With great privilege comes great responsibility (Luke 12:48). Some of these civic responsibilities include:
- obeying the laws
- appreciating civil servants
- serving the community
- paying taxes
- honoring our veterans
- participating in local government
- being informed of issues in government
Framing patriotism in the context of our Christian faith will help us train the next generation of informed citizens whose love of America is well-balanced with their love for God.
Don’t confuse patriotism with nationalism
America first, at the expense of all other peoples, cannot be considered a biblical principle. Yes, we enjoy freedoms and wealth that few nations in history have. But as the rich man was admonished for hoarding his wealth in barns in Jesus’ parable, so we ought not to encase ourselves in our golden tower and trample the needs of the rest of the world.
We, as Christians, are citizens of heaven first, where one day it will come to pass as John recorded in Revelation:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (7:9-10)
It may be argued that we have more in common with a fellow believer in Iran, Honduras, or China than we do with a next-door neighbor who shuns the Lord and his Word, but truth be, we are called to love all and to share the love of Jesus with all humankind. Jesus died for all nations.
It is always tricky to know how Christians should or shouldn’t celebrate patriotic holidays. But there are a number of good reasons why Christians should give thanks for Memorial Day. War is still hell and a tragic result of our fallen world. Praise God for his promise to one day end all human conflict. But in a world where people are evil by nature and leaders are not always reasonable and countries do not always have good intentions, war is sometimes the way to peace – at least the best peace we can hope for between peoples and nations this side of heaven.
The life of a soldier can demonstrate the highest Christian virtues. While it’s true that our movies sometimes go too far in glamorizing war, this is only the case because there have been many heroic acts in the history of war suitable for our admiration. Soldiers in battle are called on to show courage, daring, service, shrewdness, endurance, hard work, faith, and obedience. These virtues fall into the “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just” category that deserve our praise (Philippians 4:8).
Military service is one of the most common metaphors in the New Testament to describe the Christian life. We are to fight the good fight, put on the armor of God, and serve as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. When we remember the sacrifice, single-minded dedication, and discipline involved in the life of a soldier, we are calling to mind what we are supposed to be like as Christians in service to Christ.
Love of country can be a good thing. As Christians, we have dual citizenship. Our first and ultimate allegiance must always be to Christ whose heavenly dwelling is our eternal home. But we are also citizens of an earthly country. We will stand before God not as individuals wiped clean of all earthly nationality, but as people with distinct languages, cultural affinities, and homelands. It is not wrong to love our distinct language, culture, or nationality.
Whenever I hear the Star Spangled Banner or a group reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, I still get choked up. I think this is good. Love for God does not mean we love nothing else on earth, but rather that we learn to love the things on earth in the right way and with the right proportions and priorities. Love of country is a good thing, and it is right to honor those who defend the principles that make our country good.
So thank God for a day to remember God’s common grace to America and his special grace in enlisting us, poor weak soldiers that we are, in service to Christ our conquering King.
For God and you,
Deb Bostwick, Guest Blogger
Daughter of Capt. Lawrence W. Jordan
KIA Binh Dinh Province, Vietnam 1965