Bigger Fish to Fry: Politics and the Priority of Disciplemaking

Bigger Fish to Fry: Politics and the Priority of Disciplemaking

Jesus’s mission is bigger than next Tuesday’s election. Way bigger.

The Great Commission summons to make disciples — both reaching out for more quantity and going deep for more quality — relativizes the stock Jesus’s followers put in any political endeavor. Christians aren’t be dead-set on winning elections, but on making disciples. We put our best eggs in the disciplemaking basket, not the ballot box. We aren’t surprised by defeat in the short run (Revelation 13:7), but bank on triumph in the long haul (Revelation 21:4). Lose the election, win the world.

The Christian's trust is not in politics. Our hope for the future isn’t in the incumbent or the challenger, but in the God-man who promises that he will build his church (Matthew 16:18) and that his gospel will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations (Matthew 24:14). And his final instructions before taking to the air didn’t include a word about the necessity of political activism, but focused clearly and concisely on making disciples.

Christian, we have bigger fish to fry.

Stuck in the Mud

It can be easier to keep a Great Commission perspective on life and ministry when we’re not in the midst of an election cycle. But as that first Tuesday of November slowly approaches, we’re hit week after week, day after day, with successive waves of news and conversation and cross-media political ads that would have us subtly forget where our true hope lies, and what the real mission is.

If you’re not yet frustrated by the epic proportions of spin and sidestepping, you may be hiding in a hobbit hole. If you’re confused by all the rhetoric and slant, you’re in good company. Disappointed with all the name-calling and mud-slinging? Welcome to the club. There are good Christian reasons for being disillusioned all over again with this year’s campaign. But utter despair is a pitfall the Christian gospel would have us avoid.

Beware the Deception

Perhaps more dangerous than disillusionment, though, is the deception, even among Christians, that politics really can give us the fixes we need. That an improved government, whether bigger or smaller — pick your preference — can heal what’s profoundly wrong with the human race, and recoup what’s gone terribly askew in our hearts.

Human government emphatically cannot provide the final cures, but at best is God’s common kindness toward us for holding a few good things in place while we wait for the conquest of the perfect leader through disciplemaking. Human government is “from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Yes, we should be deeply thankful if we live in a federal constitutional republic, massively grateful for the blood that has been spilled to found it and preserve it, and profoundly appreciative that our lot isn’t tyranny, or worse, anarchy. The government is “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4).

Politics at Its Best

Christians are to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), which in a growing number of world systems includes the right and responsibility to vote. If you are disillusioned, here’s some good counsel from John Piper: “Tell as many people as you can the good reasons why you are disaffected with the whole thing; then go to the polls and take a burden-bearing, pro-active risk rather than staying home and taking a burden-dropping, reactive risk.” Being utterly devoted to Jesus and his mission doesn't mean sitting it out on election day, but it does mean a kind of “voting as though not voting.”

But for far too many professing Christians, politics is sadly closer to divinity than to disappointment. We need to hear again and again that politics can’t cure the cancer of human sin, but at its best only slows the digression of our quality of life in this age as we labor as strangers and exiles toward the one to come.

One Foot in Heaven

Sadly, far too many professing Christians seem to have both feet in each election — which is a tragic failure of identity. We are genuinely citizens here, yes, but those truly united to Jesus have a deeper and more durable belonging, the benefits of which will far outstrip any other belonging. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20–21). Our color scheme is more gospel crimson than it is red, white, and blue.

With one foot in heaven — where the man who has our truest allegiance is seated at the right hand of God, wielding all authority in the universe, and over every election — we are free to engage in politics in a way that is not all-consuming. Here the church is encouraged by her members to maintain a prophetic perspective and not become the lackey of any political candidate or particular legislative initiative. Individual Christians are unleashed to engage in their personal political calling, provided it doesn’t become their all, and happily agree not to press “the organization of the church or her pastors into political activism” but to insist that the church's precious limited capital for disciplemaking not be squandered on other causes.

Making the Gospel the Issue

But it goes beyond personal identity, to loving others and wanting their eternal good, not just their vote in November. It comes back around to the reputation of Jesus and the advance of the gospel in an increasingly post-Christian society. We want our gospel to be the issue, not our political picks.

When the Christian remembers that we have bigger fish to fry than the next election, we’re ready to orient on long-term gospel progress rather than short-term political expediency. We’re ready to remember that this election isn’t an indicator of our spiritual fruitfulness in the last four years, but our faithfulness in disciplemaking in the last generation. Wanna change the landscape? Invest, like Jesus, at depth in a few and teach them to do the same, and the world might be a different place forty years from now. If it helps, think of it as getting to work now on the 2052 campaign. More important than who we are voting for today is who we are discipling right now.

Remembering that disciplemaking is our priority, we might think twice about turning off our progressive neighbors with right-wing signage in our yard. We might reconsider baffling our nonbelieving coworkers by plastering our bumper with a candidate’s name. We might join with the apostle and take care not to “put up an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12), knowing we have bigger fish to fry than the guppy of this election. Better to win a neighbor to Jesus forever than to twist a few undecided arms for a short-lived cause.

Changing the World for Real

The election season is no time for taking a break from the Great-Commission labor of disciplemaking, or seeing if we can cut a few corners on “kingdom advance” by getting the right chaps into office or the referendums past the people. At least not for the Christian.

Please do vote. Yes, do get involved with as much as you can stomach. But Christian, don’t be consumed. Politics is not our life. We have bigger fish to fry. Both politics and disciplemaking are important, but only one is Jesus’s prescription for changing the world.


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David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.