In God We Trust (Part 2)

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  July 5, 2015
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Well it is with, obviously, a mixed set of emotions that we come to today as we celebrate the Fourth of July weekend. We are grateful to God and we should be grateful to God for what we enjoy. We should thank Him for the freedoms that are ours. At the same time, our hearts are heavy because of what has transpired in recent years and even in the recent week. So as we celebrate our nation's birthday this weekend, tragically we are already reaping some of the fruit from the push to legalize same sex marriage.

Just this past week, I don't know if you noticed or not but, there were three events in the news that showed us exactly where the Supreme Court's decision will eventually lead. There was an event that showed us that, in fact, other sexual aberrations will eventually be accepted as a person's right. Another event showed us that Christians will, in fact, be persecuted over this issue and already are. And a third event demonstrates how this issue will become increasingly divisive, even among those who profess to know Jesus Christ.

In the first news story, you may have seen it, a man from Montana said that he was inspired by last Friday's Supreme Court ruling and so he announced his intention and he did, in fact, seek a marriage license from the state of Montana to legalize his polygamy. And frankly, in light of the decision the Supreme Court made and the basis for its decision, there really is no way to legally deny that request. Or, for that matter, any other sexual aberration.

In the second news story we see how persecution is coming. You've probably heard over the months past about the Christian couple in Oregon who had a bakery and this past week the case was decided by the Bureau of Labor, against them. They were ordered to pay a lesbian couple $135,000 for emotional trauma. Emotional trauma caused simply by refusing to bake a cake for their same sex wedding.

Even more shocking was that the state official essentially placed a gag order on them about their objections. He ordered them to cease and desist from speaking publicly about the fact that their decision not to bake a cake for a same sex wedding was based on their religious convictions and that they must obey God rather than man. So in a single case not only were their religious liberties sacrificed but their freedom of speech was as well.

The third news story was what happened in Utah this week when the U.S. Episcopal Church bishops met. The bishops of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. voted this week to allow their clergy to perform same sex weddings. That news story reminded me that there is a growing trend, not only in those kinds of liberal churches and institutions like the Episcopal Church but even in supposedly evangelical ones, to capitulate on this issue and to affirm homosexual relationships.

Now I think it's important for us to ask, why is this happening? And I think it's crucial for each of us to understand that, in fact, in every generation, by God's design, there is an issue that draws the line clearly between the true church and the false church. It is God's way to weed out, pardon the pun, the tares from the wheat. In our generation it appears that it will be the issue of homosexuality and fortunately the Scripture doesn't mumble on this issue. It is not unclear about what God thinks regarding homosexuality.

In the 3,500 years since Moses, under inspiration, wrote the Pentateuch, true believers have understood the Old Testament to be clearly teaching that homosexuality is a sin against God. For 2,000 years, since our Lord was here, the Christian Church and the New Testament have affirmed exactly this same point. In fact, and this is important to understand, there are absolutely no passages in either Testament that even appear to sanction homosexual relationships. Now that's important because there have been social issues in the past where Christians got it wrong, horribly wrong.

But the difference with this issue is that there isn't a single text that even appears to sanction this sin. Instead, there are passages in both testaments that identify it as sin and absolutely forbid it. Passages like Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, , 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, and Jude 7. I list those because you can see that they span both Testaments and all of them are definitively clear in their context. Now I covered all of those passages in a sermon I preached a couple of years ago entitled, "." If you want to study those passages I encourage you to go online and listen.

But I want you to understand this morning that in spite of the biblical clarity about this issue, you should not be surprised when in the coming months, in the coming years there will be many professing Christians who will change sides on this issue. It will happen. It's already happening. This issue will become, in our generation, the watershed between true Christianity and false Christianity. Frankly, let me just say, it will be the test of your own heart. It will be the test of your own loyalty to Jesus Christ. Are you going to follow Jesus Christ or are you going to care more about what the culture says and what the culture says about you.

In 1 Corinthians 2 there's a, you don't need to turn there but, there's a fascinating passage where Paul talks about the Scripture. He talks about the inspiration of Scripture. He talks about how the Spirit even used the words He wanted to use in the Scripture. He talks about the illumination of the Spirit as we read and our understanding grows. He ends that great chapter, 1 Corinthians 2, with a monumental statement. He's talking still about the Scripture and he says this, "We have the mind of Christ." What does he mean? He means that in this book, in the Word of God, in the words of God, we have the thinking of our Lord about everything He wanted us to know. In this book we have His words, we have His mind.

Now that makes it very important when our Lord says in Mark 8:38, "'whoever is ashamed of Me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with His holy angels.'" Our loyalty to Christ is measured by our loyalty to His thinking on every issue. In John 14:23 Jesus said to His disciples, "'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.'" "'He who does not love Me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the"

Do you understand that Jesus affirmed what we call the Old Testament in this Bible? He said not one letter, not a single stroke of a letter, would pass away until all is fulfilled. He called it the Word of God, the words of God. He said this is what God says. He said the same thing about His own words. He said not any of My words will pass away until heaven and earth pass away. And then He affirmed the rest of the New Testament by choosing the men who would write it and telling them that He would, by His Spirit, recall everything to their minds He wanted them to write. This is the mind of Jesus Christ and to reject His word is to reject Him.

So understand what's at stake. We are at a watershed. This issue is a watershed to discern the true church from the false church and it will happen before your eyes, it is happening, but it will continue to unfold in the years ahead.

Now for us who believe the Bible is God's inspired Word it's important for us to remember that the timeless truths that the Bible sets forth about the nature of marriage as well as about the sin of homosexuality, those truths were completely unchanged in any way by the decision a week ago of five lawyers on our nation's highest court. God is not subject to their decisions. But at the same time it's appropriate for us as believers, in light of that decision, and frankly in light of the celebration this weekend of the Fourth of July, for us to pause and consider this important question, how should we respond to the Supreme Court's ruling on same sex marriage? We started last week to examine that question. We're looking at it from two different vantage points. We're considering how we should respond as Christians and secondly, how we should respond as citizens. Not that the two can be ultimately divorced, but just for the sake of clarity in our thinking I put it under those two heads.

Now last week we began with the most important issue and that is, how we should respond to the Supreme Court's ruling as Christians. You see, you and I are very tempted to respond sinfully. Some of us are tempted to respond in fear, fear about what this ruling will mean for us or for our children or for our grandchildren. Others of us are tempted to respond in depression. Maybe you've invested a lot of time and a lot of capital and even a lot of money in trying to change the, sort of, political climate in the country and now that you see that that is lost it's easy to become depressed and discouraged and to just, sort of, give up. Others I think, and I know this because I've heard from some of you, are tempted to respond in sinful anger, anger against homosexuals, anger against the homosexual lobby, anger against our government and members of our government.

Now, let me admit to you there is a legitimate righteous anger when God's Laws are spurned. But I'm afraid, and this is so important to remember, righteous anger very easily translates into sinful anger when it becomes harsh and vindictive and disrespectful of those in positions of leadership. We're all tempted to respond in these sinful ways, but we learned last week several ways that we ought to respond as Christians instead. Let me just remind you of them.

First of all, we must remember that God is still on His throne. God raises up leaders whom He will, He puts down leaders whom He will. He does so for His own reasons, sometimes for blessing, sometimes for judgment. But whatever happens in a country, God is still on His throne. He is still working out His will, regardless.

Number two, we learn that we must remember God is ultimately behind this massive and radical change in our society. Yes, there is human rebellion against God's Law, both in the heart as well as in the pages of Scripture. But the real motivator, the real cause at work, is God's response to that human rebellion and according to Romans 1, God responds to paganism, to the refusal to acknowledge Him as God, by turning people over to their sin, to a depraved mind which calls good the things God calls evil. So it is an act of the wrath of divine abandonment that's happening in our country. The more pagan we become the more God will deliver us, as a culture, over to our own depraved thinking.

That could be discouraging but I reminded you thirdly last week that, remember in the face of this, that Jesus Christ will still build His Church. He said, "'I will build My Church and the gates of the grave,'" in other words, death itself, "'will not overpower it.'" The worst thing that human governments or human beings can do to My church won't stop it. So don't be discouraged. Nothing in this world can stop the mind of Christ, the decision of Christ, the work of Christ, to gather for Himself redeemed humanity. It is happening. It will happen. In the Roman Empire it happened. So don't be discouraged.

Number four, we noted, remember that God cares about our attitudes toward unbelievers. He cares that you treat all unbelievers with respect and with dignity, with consideration, because they are made in the image of God and because you used to be an unbeliever, thinking and behaving like they do. Maybe your politics were more conservative, but you were a sinner nonetheless. So treat them with respect and then honor all who are in authority. That's a challenge when we disagree with their decisions. But you can do both. You can call what they're doing, what they're promoting, sin and wickedness, and still respect them for the position that God has placed them in.

Number five, remember that the light of the gospel shines brightest in the darkness. Don't lose sight of the main objective. Our main objective is not to prop up American culture. Our main objective is to communicate the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and our opportunity to do that actually becomes better when the lines are more clearly drawn. When there's not that, sort of, social gospel and social Christianity out there, but when there's paganism and there's the true Christian faith. So remember that.

And then the last thing we looked at last week was remember that one day our Lord Jesus Christ will rule this planet in righteousness. There will, one day, be a perfect government on this planet. When Jesus Christ establishes His 1,000 year reign before He destroys this planet and this universe and creates another for our eternal home. Now that's where we left off last week. But there are two additional ways that we must respond as Christians to what's happening in our country, very important ways.

Number seven, remember that we will be persecuted for our faith. Now, that doesn't sound very encouraging on the face of it, but I hope before I'm done with this point you will be encouraged, because we don't think like this as Americans. This isn't what we're used to considering, but this is the reality. The wicked have always hated the righteous. Think about this, when there were four people on this planet, just four, one family, three of them were righteous, one of them was wicked. The wicked hated the righteous. Genesis 4:8 says, "Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him." And that kind of hatred has been evident ever since. Persecution will come.

Now, one of the ways persecution comes into the lives of believers is through human government. You can see this as far back as human government exists. You can go back to when civilization began in Genesis 4 and you can see it begin with the wicked oppressing the righteous. You can see it certainly under Israel's kings. If you read first and second Kings, every time there was a wicked king on the throne the righteous were oppressed, the righteous were persecuted, even in Israel.

And certainly it's true in pagan governments. The Book of Daniel makes this very clear. You remember the stories from Daniel. Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar decides to make an actual image like the one he dreamed about in chapter 2, and he commands that whenever the music plays everyone should fall down and worship in front of the image. But the Hebrews can't do that and there are three Hebrew men, specifically Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refuse to kneel and they pay the price. They are thrown into the fiery furnace. God preserves their lives. Daniel 6, Daniel is thrown into the lion's den. For what? For praying to his God. This happens in pagan governments.

You come to the New Testament and our Lord affirms this as well in Mark 13:9, "'be on your guard; they will deliver you to the courts, you will be flogged in the synagogues, you will stand before governors and kings for My sake.'" Now, why do human governments persecute true believers? Well, there are any number of reasons, but I want to give you one that I think is very appropriate for our times. Turn to Acts 12. Here's one of the reasons that human government gets into persecuting true believers. Acts 12:1,

Now about that time Herod the King laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword [had him executed]. [Now watch verse 3.] When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

Here's how persecution can accelerate against the righteous through human government. Those in positions of authority come to the conclusion that a portion of their constituency, perhaps a large portion of their constituency, are pleased when they persecute Christians. I think that's what's going on in Oregon. I think the man who made that decision against that Christian couple who own the bakery, a lot of that was fed by positive response from the community. It encouraged him. He saw that his constituency was pleased. I think that's the concern that we ought to have as well. I think that's how persecution grows. As the, sort of, consensus grows, then those who are evil take their authority, and their motivation and their encouragement from the response of their constituency, to do even more.

But it's important to understand that whatever source persecution comes from, whether it's from unbelievers generally, whether it's from false religion, whether it's from unbelieving family and friends, or whether it's from human government, the ultimate source of persecution against us is not human. It's Satan himself. Listen to Revelation 2:10. Jesus is speaking to the church in Smyrna. They're about to face persecution. He says to them, "'Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison.'"

Now, who in the immediate sense was going to throw these believers into prison? It's Smyrna. It's a Roman town. There was emperor worship. It's Roman controlled. Ultimately, the letter to the church in Smyrna tells us that there were antagonistic Jews, sort of, feeding the Roman government with their animosity toward Christians that, sort of, initiated it. But ultimately it was the Roman authorities, the secular government, that threw the Christians into prison. But Jesus says to the church in Smyrna, "'the devil is about to cast some of you into prison.'" Jesus was saying that behind the persecution of believers, even through human government, it's not human beings, our enemies are never flesh and blood, it's Satan himself.

Now the point I want you to get is this, if believers in the past were not exempt from persecution, from all of the sources, including human government, you shouldn't think that we're going to be the exception. You shouldn't think that somehow we're not going to be treated that way. Second Timothy 3:12 says, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Persecution comes.

Turn to John 15. John 15 and notice verse 18, this is the Upper Room discourse; our Lord's preparing the disciples for what's coming, His death and then, of course, after He leaves and returns to heaven with the ascension, and He says this in John 15:18,

"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, [that is, if you belonged to the world, if you had the same values, if you thought the same way, if you had the same moral values, if you acted the same way,] the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' [In other words, don't expect to be treated differently, as the slave of the master, than the master himself is treated.] If they persecuted Me they will also persecute you; if they kept My word they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me."

Now the point Jesus is making here is people will respond to us in the same way they would respond to Jesus. If they love Jesus they'll love us, and particularly with the apostles, they would keep their words, that is, the New Testament. On the other hand, if they hate Jesus they are going to hate us too. That's just the reality. Jesus says, prepare your minds for this reality.

Now how do we respond to that? Turn to Matthew 5. Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with a series of seven beatitudes and the seventh beatitude is about this issue of persecution. Matthew 5:10, "'Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'" In other words, they're a part, they own, they belong to, the spiritual kingdom over which I rule today and the literal kingdom that I'll rule in the future. And then He says, "'Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.'" Now, notice here He describes several different manifestations of persecution. "'When people insult you.'" The word means to find fault with someone in a way that demeans them, to mock them, to heap insults upon them, to shame them. Boy, this is right off the pages of the paper or off the Internet. "'When people insult you.'" Persecution, by the way, is often verbal. That's Jesus's point. And He says, in verse 11 later, "'when they falsely say all kinds of evil against you,'" when they falsely accuse you of crimes and evil. And then in verse 11 He adds, "'when they persecute you.'" Here the word is probably used of physical persecution.

Now why? Well, Jesus tells us here there are two basic causes of the persecution of Christians. Notice verse 10, "'for the sake of righteousness.'" If your life is characterized by righteousness, if the other six beatitudes describe you and your life, then you will be persecuted, because your life, just living a righteous life, is a confrontation to the people around you, just who you are.

I'm often reminded of that interchange in Genesis 19. You remember the story of Lot and Lot has the two angelic visitors who show up in his home and the men of the city storm his home and demand that the two men, the two angels, be surrendered to them so that they can have sexual intercourse with them. And you remember Lot's response? He said, no, you can't do that, but here are my daughters. It's an unthinkable response.

But how did the men of the city respond to that offer? Who are you to judge us? Who made you a judge over us? Now, when you read that you're thinking, wait a minute, did I miss something? He just offered his daughters and they're saying, why are you judging us? What was judging them? The fact that he wasn't going along with their sinful desires, that he was offering women to them instead of men, was in and of itself an act of judgment as they saw it.

Same thing is happening today and will happen. Our lives provoke persecution, 2 Timothy 3:12, "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." So, for the sake of righteousness, that's one cause. There's another cause of persecution though, verse 11, "because of Me," that is, because of our relationship to Jesus Christ, because of our confession of Christ as Lord. Now, understand then, persecution is just a reality. "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

Now, fortunately, persecution is not constant. It ebbs and flows throughout human history. It ebbs and flows in nations. It ebbs and flows even in different seasons of individual lives. But when we do experience persecution, as it appears we may very well in the days ahead, how do we respond? Well, Jesus tells us here, look at verse 12. "'Rejoice and be glad.'" The word rejoice means "choose to respond with joy," not to the pain and suffering, the heartache that can come with it. "'Be glad,'" that is, be exceedingly joyful. Be overjoyed. Why? "'For your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'" Basically, you are being persecuted for righteousness and for your confession of Jesus, shows the reality of your faith and it assures your ultimate reward. Throughout church history, throughout the history of the church even in New Testament times, this has been the response, by God's grace, of the saints to persecution. You remember, in Acts 5 the disciples are flogged and in Acts 5:41 we read, "they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name."

Folks, we have to change our thinking. We want to be liked and respected. They rejoiced that they were considered worthy to encounter shame for the name of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:34, "For you accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one." This has to be our response as well. The Apostle Peter writing in 1 Peter 4:13 says, "to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation." You have got to stop thinking just about this life. It's a joy to suffer shame for the name of Christ because "great is your reward in heaven." Jesus sees and He cares.

By the way, other New Testament texts remind us of other ways we should respond to persecution beyond just rejoicing and being glad. Let me give them to you briefly. Number two, love and do good to those who persecute you. Here in Matthew 5, look over at verse 44,

"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

You want to be like God? "'Love your enemies and pray for the good of those who persecute you.'"

Thirdly, pray for deliverance from persecution. It's okay to want to be out from under persecution. David prays this in Psalm 7:1, "O Lord my God, in you I have taken refuge; save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me." It's okay to pray for deliverance from persecution for yourself and certainly for other believers. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2, admonishes the believers there in Thessalonica. He says, "brethren pray for us that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith." Pray for yourself to be delivered, pray for other believers to be delivered, from persecution.

Number four, and this is key, pray for the advance of the gospel through our persecution. Don't lose sight of the main deal. We're not here to rescue the culture. We're here to rescue individual souls by sharing the gospel. And sometimes the greatest platform for believers comes in the midst of persecution. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4, he's in prison, he's soon to be executed for his faith, and he talks about the fact that at his first offense no one stood with him, and he asks that God would forgive them for that. But then he says this, "But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me," remember now, this is in the middle of his persecution, "so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear."

Listen, persecution often provides a platform for people to hear the gospel that would not otherwise hear it. And that's part of the reason God allows it for His people. So don't fight. Pray for the advance of the gospel through our persecution. Let me encourage you about persecution. Ultimately, all persecution, whether you have been insulted because of your faith, whether you've been passed over for a promotion, whether you are ostracized, as Luke puts it, however you are persecuted, ultimately that persecution is against Jesus Christ Himself.

You remember the interchange between Saul and Christ on the Damascus Road in Acts 9? Remember what Jesus says to the Saul? He says, "'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'" And Saul responds, "'Who are You, Lord?'" And to that Jesus responds, "'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.'" Our Lord takes it very personally when those He loved and those for whom He gave His life are persecuted by the world. He will enter into that persecution with you. It's as if they were persecuting Him and moreover that persecution will never separate you from His love. Romans 8:35, Paul says, "For what will separate us from the love of Christ? Will persecution or the sword?" In other words, the ultimate in persecution, death. And he goes on to say,

Don't be afraid of it. It's a reality for believers.

There's another way we ought to respond as Christians and that is to remember, number eight, that God demands us to pray for our country. God demands us to pray for our country. I want you to go back to the passage we read this morning in our Scripture reading, 1 Timothy 2. Now let me give you context. This letter is written by the Apostle Paul to Timothy, his young son in the faith, who is pastoring in Ephesus in Asia Minor. He wrote this letter, according to chapter 3 verse 15, so that if he was delayed Timothy would know how to conduct life in the church. This is a letter about, a manual if you will, about conducting life in the church.

Now, with that background notice what he says in 1 Timothy 2:1, "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings," he's just sort of piling up terms here to say, in every way I want you to pray "on behalf of all men." Now, why would he say that? I mean, isn't that self-evident? Shouldn't we just understand we ought to pray for all men? Well, you have to understand the culture and the climate into which he was writing.

In Ephesus, in Asia Minor, there was a concentration of the Judaizers. The Judaizers were a false form of Christianity. They taught that God was only concerned about the Jews who believed in Jesus and Gentile proselytes who would be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, but God didn't care about everybody else. And that would obviously encourage people not to be concerned about the rest of the unbelievers, the pagan world. And Paul says, that's not true. He says, "I want prayers to be made on behalf of all men." He urges Timothy to make praying for the lost a priority again in the church in Ephesus. And in verse 2 he adds a specific category of the lost for which we are to pray, "for kings and all who are in authority." In other words, for all the leaders in our government, we are to pray.

Now, that raises the question of what should we pray for? What should we be asking God to do? Well, in context here, we should be praying for the salvation of our leaders. Look at verse 2, "for kings and all who are in authority." Verse 3,

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Now again, you have to understand this in its context, he's combating that, sort of, tendency to say, God is only concerned about the Jews and Gentile proselytes and he's saying, no, that isn't true.

There's a theological point I need to make here and that is, some read this and come to wrong conclusions. Clearly, this passage is not teaching universalism, that every person ultimately be saved. Okay? So that means, that something, God is the Savior, so something was more important to God than saving everyone. "He desires all men to be saved," but He doesn't save everyone. So something is more important to God than saving everyone. Now, our Armenian friends and those who focus on man, say what is more important to God than saving everyone is protecting man's free will. So as much as God wants and desires to save people He won't do it because He doesn't want to violate their free will. That is a misunderstanding of the text of Scripture and we'll see that, because what those of us who embrace God's sovereignty in salvation see is, yes, there is something greater to God than saving all men, something more important to Him than that, and it is the glory of God. We'll see that in Romans 9, 10, and 11 when we get there.

What matters to God is His own glory and therefore He chooses not to save all men. But what I want you to see here, is Paul's point, is that we are to pray diligently for all men because we don't know who the elect are. We're to pray for all. This is a genuine invitation of the gospel to all. "Whosoever will, let him come" and then you and I are to pray for all, the salvation of all, because we don't know God's eternal purpose and plan. So we're to pray for the salvation of our leaders. That's the point.

Let me just ask you a question. Do you spend more time listening to your favorite conservative political commentator or more time praying for the salvation of those who are in leadership in our country? This is Paul's admonishment to us.

But we're not only to pray for their salvation, we're also to pray for the preservation of our freedom to worship God. It's implied here in this text. You'll see in verse 2, we are to pray for the salvation of our leaders "so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." It's right to desire that we would be able to live out our faith and therefore we are to pray for the leaders to be saved. The implication is, it is equally acceptable to pray for the preservation of our freedom to live "a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." Pray for the preservation of your freedom to do so.

Now, that's all that we're, listed here, to pray for, but in other places we're urged to pray for some other things as well. Let me briefly list them for you.

Number three, pray for the wisdom of our leaders. In Proverbs 8, you remember, wisdom is personified as a woman, and a woman speaking, and wisdom says this in chapter 8 verse 15,

"By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice. 
By me princes rule, and nobles, 
All who judge rightly."

In other words, the only way our leaders can judge rightly is through wisdom. They need wisdom. We have a personal example of praying for wisdom for them from the mouth of young Solomon in 1 Kings 3:9 when he prays, "'give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil.'" Pray for the wisdom our leaders need to make decisions.

Number four, pray for the just rule of our leaders, the just rule. Turn to Psalm 72. This is a Psalm about Israel's Davidic dynasty, the kings of Israel. It begins by saying, "A Psalm of Solomon." We don't know if Solomon wrote it or if it was written by David for Solomon as a prayer, but it is a prayer. It's a prayer for the rulers of Israel. It's ultimate fulfillment is the Messiah, but it's a prayer for human rulers as well. Notice what we're to pray for those in leadership, verse 1,

Give the king Your judgments, O God,
And Your righteousness to the king's son. 
May he judge Your people with righteousness 
And Your afflicted with justice. 
Let the mountains bring peace to the people,
And the hills, in righteousness. 
May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, 
Save the children of the needy 
And crush the oppressor.

You see, this is a prayer for a just rule and that's what we should pray for our leaders as well, even though it won't ultimately be fulfilled in its perfection until the Messiah.

Number five, we're to pray for the preservation of righteous and wise leaders. Look at this same Psalm, verse 15. If there's a king who rules in justice, "So may he live, and let them pray for him continually," verse 17, "May his name endure forever; May his name increase as long as the sun shines." In other words, God, extend his kingdom. Pray for the preservation of those who are righteous and wise.

Number six, pray for the welfare, the prosperity of the nation. Look at verse 16, "May there be abundance of grain in the earth on top of the mountains; its fruit will wave like the cedars of Lebanon; and may those from the city flourish like vegetation of the earth." Pray for the prosperity and welfare of the nation. You say, well, wait a minute, this is Israel and these are righteous kings, should we pray for the prosperity of a pagan land, pagan leadership? Absolutely.

Remember what Jeremiah said to the people of Israel who were in captivity in Babylon, a pagan land? In Jeremiah 29:7 he says, "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile," speaking for God, "and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare." Pray for it to prosper, literally, pray for its shalom, because in its shalom, in its well-being, you enjoy well-being. Pray for the prosperity and welfare of the nation.

Number seven, pray for the preservation from judgment that our country deserves. But pray that we would be preserved because of the presence of the righteous. In Genesis 18 there is a circumstance very similar to our own, unfortunately, in today's world. Look at Genesis 18:22. You remember, God comes down in the Second Person of the Trinity, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, along with two angels to meet with Abraham. Verse 22 of Genesis 18,

the two angels turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the Lord. Abraham came near and said, "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? So the Lord said "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account."

God says, I will spare Sodom, with all of its wickedness, if there are fifty righteous people. We can pray that God will withhold the judgment our nation deserves because, for all of its sin, our nation has many true and genuine believers in it. We are still one of the leading exporters of missionaries to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray that God would withhold the judgment we deserve for the advancement of His kingdom.

By the way, He doesn't have to do that, He's not obligated to do that. There are times when His wrath and justice reach a point where they have to be expressed. Surely there were righteous people, we know there were righteous people, in Israel when He allowed the Babylonians to overrun them and take them captive in 586. So there comes a time when He's had enough. But He withheld His judgment for a long time because of the righteous and here He promises that for the righteous' sake He would spare Sodom.

That brings us to the final thing we ought to pray for and that is, pray for the advance of the gospel. Remember, 1 Timothy 2:1, pray for all men. Pray what for all men? That they would be saved. Our prayer has to be, for our own country, that they would respond to the gospel. So that's just a brief overview of how we ought to respond as Christians.

Very briefly, just a couple of minutes, let me ask you to consider a couple thoughts about how we should respond as citizens. First of all, be concerned about the breach of the Constitution in last Friday's decision. Let me encourage to do something, go to the Supreme Court website and read the dissenting opinions of the four justices who voted against the ruling. What you will discover is that all four of them don't take issue with the ultimate decision about same sex marriage. They take issue with the breach of the Constitution. Here's Chief Justice Roberts:

This court is not a legislature. Whether same sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have the power to say what the law is, not what it should be.

That's the issue. You should be concerned about the breach of the Constitution in last Friday's ruling. I'm reminded of Deuteronomy 17 where God told the kings of Israel to make themselves a copy of the law and to read it every day. Why? To remind themselves that they were under that law. We are a society of laws and last Friday that was violated; the law was not followed. You should be concerned about that.

Secondly, you should be concerned about the ongoing moral decline of the nation. Proverbs 14:34 says, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people." In Leviticus 18, after this sin along with other sexual sins is listed, God says this, because of these abominations the Canaanites, the people who were in the land of Israel before you, defiled the land. The land became sick, the land itself became sick, so that it vomited them out. We need to understand that the moral decline of our nation is something that not only makes God sick, but it literally defiles our land and makes it such that it can't help but vomit out the people who would so act.

Thirdly and finally, be prepared to use our legal rights to protect and preserve our religious liberty. You see, the command to submit to government doesn't mean that we have to willingly forgo our legal rights under the law. In fact, Jesus's example shows otherwise. What did Jesus do in His trial in John 18:23? Jesus said, "'If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?'" You know what Jesus was saying? He knew it was against the law for a person who had been accused but not convicted of a crime to be struck by a legal representative. And He says, why aren't you following the law?

Paul does the same thing in his ministry. In Acts 16, you remember, he was arrested as a Roman citizen and beaten, and then they learned he was Roman and they tried to release him quietly and in Acts 16:37 "Paul said to them, 'They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison and now they are sending us away secretly? I don't think so. Let them come themselves and bring us out.'" Now, Paul wasn't being belligerent. He was looking to protect not himself here, but the church. And that's why we will have to call on our legal rights under the law, not for self-vindication, but for the protection of other believers, as he was doing here in Philippi.

There are other examples. I have a number in my notes. Let me show you one more. Acts 22, Acts 22:25. Here again, they're going to beat him as a Roman, "they stretched him out with thongs," so the flagellum would be more effective when they beat him with it, and "Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, 'Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?'" Paul appeals to his rights under the law. Respectfully? Yes. Graciously? Yes. But he appeals to his rights under law and you and I have every right to do that as well.

If our rights under the law are trampled it will be acceptable for us, as believers, to legally protest, to use the legislature, to use the courts, to try to secure protection that's already guaranteed to us under the laws of our land. But in doing so, listen carefully, we must never allow our attitudes to become disrespectful of our leaders. We must never become distracted from the main cause, which is the gospel, and we must never engage in armed resistance or revolution. Instead, we must do what believers throughout the Scriptures did. They said, "'We must obey God rather than man,'" which they did, and then they suffered the consequences of their choices and left the rest to God. That's what we must do as well. May God give us the courage and the grace and the wisdom to respond to our times in a way that would honor God, not in fear or depression or sinful anger, but may we respond biblically, both as Christians and as citizens. Let's pray together.

Father, so much to say, so much to cover. I pray that You would use this brief survey to encourage our hearts, strengthen us. Father, protect us from fear, protect us from despondency, protect us from sinful anger, and help us instead to put our trust in You, You our faithful God, whose kingdom marches on whatever man may do. Father, may we be faithful, may You help us to shine as lights in the middle of a dark and perverse generation. We pray in Jesus's name, amen.