Politicians sometimes get stereotyped as being corrupt – as only being in their profession for fame, fortune, or power. It’s an unfair stereotype, I’m sure. Some politicians mean well. They truly desire to effect positive change in our government and society.
These are days when we wonder about the motives of politicians. We are in an election year, after all. And so everything is suspect. Everything can become a political football, from the COVID-19 pandemic to protests about racial justice. And our tendency might be to assume politicians aren’t being honest with us – that they are seeking their own advancement over the good of our government and society.
The earliest Christian missionaries were the beneficiaries of the work of some politicians who seemed to do their job well, who seemed to care about justice and the maintenance of law. In Corinth, the proconsul Gallio shut down wrongful allegations against Paul (Acts 18:12-17). In Ephesus, an unnamed town clerk quelled a riot that was brought against Paul’s traveling companions (Acts 19:35-41).
We can point to these leaders and say the government really is here for our good – to protect us and to support our well-being. We can read Romans 13:1-7 and see these men, in their own way, fulfilling their roles as “ministers of God.” Perhaps, we might say, the public health officials really are here for our good!
And then we come to a passage like Acts 24-25. Three times in the span of a few verses does Luke (the writer of Acts) note favors were offered to one person or interest group or another (Acts 24:27; 25:3, 9). Felix left Paul in prison as “a favor” for the Jews. The Jews asked “a favor” of Festus – so they could attempt to kill Paul. And then Festus sought to provide “a favor” to the Jews by bringing Paul up to Jerusalem for a trial.
If this doesn’t make us think twice about the nobility of those in government, then nothing will! Favors are offered to score political points, to gain what’s sometimes called “political capital.” A politician does favors to certain interest groups in order to get favors in return from those interest groups. All of this can quickly smell corrupt. Some of those favors can ignore justice, and people and ideas can become pawns of those in power.
Paul, the apostle who was blinded by Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and who was given a mission to share the good news with the Gentiles, had become a political pawn. He was caught up in the world’s machinations. His future was not in his hands. It was in the hands of people with more worldly power than him – of people who held his life in their not-so-well-meaning hands.
And yet Paul seemed to understand what was going on. He understood the ways of politics. He understood the ways of people. We all can tend toward corruption if we are not careful.
And Paul, even more than this, never lost sight of his mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Remember, he’d received a vision from Jesus while in Roman custody – “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11).
And so Paul asked to have his case heard by Caesar. To Rome he would go. Paul would soon be out of the hands of these favor-seeking politicians. And he would become a witness among the most powerful people on earth to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I think the takeaway may be that we should not lose sight of our mission. Even Festus, who was new to the scene and who didn’t understand this debate among the Jewish leaders, could see the heart of Paul’s message was the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 25:19). Paul’s mission was never lost. And he accepted the reality of this give and take among public officials in order to achieve his mission.
I suppose this can apply to any negative circumstance in which we find ourselves, not just to the works of government. We ought not to let the negativity move us off our mission. Instead, we look for ways to continue to move toward our mission even through those negative circumstances.
What is your mission today, and what are your circumstances?