I have spent the last six July Fourths in the Middle East. Here I have planted and am pastoring a church in the northern part of the United Arab Emirates.
Before moving, I worked for seven years in Washington D.C. and can wax nostalgic when I think about the fun we had each year when the Fourth rolled around. A massive firework show on the national mall. Grilling hamburgers and hot dogs with friends. Bands playing patriotic music. When I glance at social media on July 4, and see what so many I know are doing, I long to be back in the United States with family and friends in the nation that I love.
July 4 is the day designated to commemorate America, and we do so each year in familiar and patriotic ways. Others, especially this year, are feeling disappointment or angst about the state of the country. Whether you are currently celebrating or grimacing over the political direction, the Fourth is a day to consider the stewardship that comes with being an earthly citizen of this unique nation.
How should Christians think about holding citizenship in a nation that affords opportunities, liberties, and rights that are the envy of most of the world? Across the globe, American citizenship is still undeniably a benefit. At present, the U.S.A. has the privileged position of debating whom to let in, instead of persuading its people not to leave. But for you as a Christian, your American passport is more than a coveted privilege. It’s a gospel stewardship.
American to the Glory of God
Our earthly citizenship is a privilege, but it is certainly not ultimate. The same New Testament that calls us to honor the emperor and intercede for kings also reminds us that our citizenship is ultimately in heaven (1 Peter 2:17; 1 Timothy 2:1–2; Philippians 3:20). If your eternal citizenship rests securely in the world to come, then your earthly citizenship is a stewardship to be used strategically for the glory of God for the sake of your nation and beyond.
What would it look like for you to use your passport as a strategic tool for the sake of the gospel? Over the last few months alone, several brothers and sisters who live here but are from foreign nations have tried and failed to obtain visas to visit the U.S.A. They wanted to go, but their passport wouldn’t let them in.
An American passport, by contrast, is one of the strongest in the world, ensuring entrance into almost every other nation. Think of what that could mean for the gospel over time if Christians in the West shrewdly viewed their passports as means for the gospel.
- How many missionaries could be encouraged by a personal visit from you?
- How many Bibles could be distributed?
- Could you strategically relocate your job to a gospel-needy place where you can serve young believers and build up the church?
- Could you study overseas in order to share the gospel with students from closed countries?
- If you are equipped, how much good teaching and preaching might God use you to do?
Over time, you could use your citizenship not just for good in one nation but many.
The apostle Paul knew where his true citizenship was but never hesitated to use his Roman citizenship for the sake of the gospel. In Philippi, after he was unjustly thrown in prison, Paul refused simply to leave the jail when the magistrates released him. He leveraged his citizenship to force those magistrates to publicly apologize and thus take away the wrong kind of stigma that had been attached to the gospel and the emerging church in that place (Acts 16:35–40).
Paul shrewdly used his Roman citizenship when he was about to face an unjust flogging in Jerusalem (Acts 22:22–29) and ultimately used that same citizenship to appeal to Caesar when Agrippa made it clear that he could have been set free if he had not done so (Acts 26:32). Because he viewed his Roman citizenship strategically, God was able to advance the gospel through Paul’s imprisonment. Simply put, once he was in Christ, Paul never viewed his Roman citizenship as a way to take but as a way to give. Think selfless, not selfish citizenship. This is how the gospel turns our citizenship upside down.
American Liberties for Gospel Freedom
Our liberation in Christ brings weight and responsibility to the personal liberties we have been given. On this July 4, we need a radical reorientation of global gospel priorities considering our passport privileges. The American passport affords you access to an incredibly high number of countries, and in God’s providence, surely that’s about more than tourism and financial profit. It could be about gospel access that is virtually impossible for millions of your brothers and sisters.
While my brothers and sisters who were denied entrance into the United States are not people with whom I regularly stand and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” now and for all eternity we will “Hail the Power of Jesus’s Name” together. While both songs have their place, one is temporary and the other is eternal. And the citizenship that we share together, even now, we still will be celebrating long after this present age is over.
This July 4, enjoy the fireworks, hamburgers, and hot dogs. But also consider your passport and ask God how he might use your privileged possession of that little blue booklet for that great day when a multitude from every nation joins together with a loud voice to sing the eternal song of heaven, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10).