Humble and faithful: The importance of character when considering political success
One of the aphorisms you hear in the political world is that the one unchanging rule is that all political careers end in failure. Yet, as children of God, we are not subject to an unchanging rule, but are loved and saved by an unchanging and unchangeable God. The rules of God’s kingdom are not those of this world, whether in politics or business or so much else. So what does success as a Christian in politics mean, and how can it be achieved?
When we think of political success, we see images of a new Prime Minister entering No. 10 Downing Street, to cheers and applause and the eyes of the world’s press looking on. In Hebrews 12, we have this picture that we Christians are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses, cheering us on and applauding, as we are urged on to run with endurance the race of faith that is set before us. A key part of that picture is that we can have confidence that God has marked out a path for each of us, and for some of us, that path will be to the political sphere. For some, their path will be in electoral politics, and for others it will be in service to those who are elected. Either way, we who are called to that path are to run it with endurance, bringing glory to God through the way we serve.
As civil servants or political staffers, Christians often have a place in the centre of key events that unfold. One striking memory from my own career was organising a meeting for the leaders of the political groups in the European Parliament early on the morning of 24 June 2016. As the only British person in the room, I was touched by the way senior politicians came and spoke to me, asking how I felt as a Brit and what this might mean. At that moment, my prayers beforehand were answered in the words God gave me. I was able to witness that while I had great personal disappointment and concern for what this might mean, I have faith that the One who had called me there was good and faithful and was just as much Lord and in control in those circumstances. Even backroom staff sometimes get the opportunity to point to the King of Kings.
The Old Testament shows us that this is often the case. Mighty rulers are perplexed and seek help, which the great and the good cannot provide. Only then, do they turn to humble and ordinary people, whom God has placed there just for that occasion. There are the stories of the lives of civil servants – Joseph, Nehemiah, Daniel and his friends – where, by their faithfully running the race marked out for them, whole nations are saved. Even while empires fall around them, they are able to stand firm to the end, sustained by the Unchangeable One, whom they have served for years, in good times and bad.
As Christians, we can offer a taste of God’s eternal kingdom here on earth, wherever we are. Made in the image of God but living in a fallen world marred by sin, we can nevertheless bring a fragrance of God’s perfect kingdom into the ugliest of political messes. The character that God is forming in us through the work of his Holy Spirit over the course of our lives is the surest and most constant witness to the power of Christ to restore what is lost and provide hope where everything is hopeless. The fruit of the spirit in our lives - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) - speaks of a reality that endures through all the ups and downs and crises, and those around us do notice and do ask how we can be so calm.
One area in the political world where the character of Jesus is particularly striking is where we control the tongue. Gossip is the main currency of political life. To do your job properly as a civil servant, you need to know what is happening, which requires you to spend lots of time talking to other people. How we do this matters. The Bible has a wealth of advice on how we should use our words. It is not only in James 3 that we can find good advice. One verse that has been very helpful for me comes from the court intrigue in the kingdom of Judah, at a time of war and the threat of devastation and destruction from the superpower of the age, the Assyrians. Isaiah 8:12 says, “do not call conspiracy everything that this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it”.
There are so many rumours and theories swirling around that it is easy to get confused or upset at what you are hearing. Yet as Christians, we can always be rooted in the Father, the God who does not lie, in His Son who is the truth and the Spirt, who guides us into all truth. By being people of truth in a world of rumour, conspiracy and deceit, we proclaim the Kingdom until Jesus returns. And our truthfulness, our dependability, our kindness, our faithfulness are highly valued by all political leaders, because they have a heavenly source and an eternal value.
This character is formed over time. We are enjoined to run the race with endurance, through our whole life. The process is not glamourous, it is not showy, it is not box office or font of house. It can be painful and frustrating. The stories of the civil servants Joseph, Nehemiah and Daniel speak of the pain of being taken away to serve in a foreign land. Yet through the pain, they remained steadfast as God formed their characters, so that when the opportunities arose year later, they could speak of the true God in the words and actions, but equally through the integrity of their God-focused lives.
Not everyone will leave their homeland as I have done and serve God abroad. But in a more real sense, this is what we all do, once we are born again as children of God’s kingdom. Our true home is in heaven not on earth, and as Paul reminds us, we are God’s ambassadors - His representatives in a foreign land. We do this best by demonstrating the nature of that kingdom, by long faithful, humble service, serving our neighbours, serving our political masters and in so doing, serving the King of Kings until we return home.