Exploring the Biblical meaning of 'Loving Our Neighbors’


Chapter 7

Loving Government Workers and Officials

"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else" – Booker T. Washington

 

When I worked at Kennedy Space Center, one of my friends was a cheerful, hard-working young NASA public affairs specialist who always wore a smile.

But one lightning-filled evening, while we sat together in the NASA Test Director’s office waiting to see if the first night Space Shuttle launch would "go" (it did), Mark looked unusually "down."

That wasn’t like him. So I asked him what was wrong.

He replied "Oh, I put my foot in my mouth and got my boss mad at me!"

"What did you do?" I asked.

"Well," he answered, "you know we’re sending up a cargo of rats on this flight. I was handling the press conference, and one of the reporters asked me if the rats had names. I said the first thing that popped into my mind: ‘No, they just have numbers, like the rest of us civil servants!’"

 

Are government employees faceless numbers? Or people of equal value with the rest of us?

The Bible tells us we’re to love our "neighbors" in the government by honoring, respecting, and praying for them – no matter what their party. But loving government employees and leaders doesn’t stop there. Many of the other ways Scripture teaches us to love all our neighbors also apply to loving government workers and officials.

How we treat those who serve in our government is the way we’re treating Jesus (Matthew 25:40)! Do we complain about them? We’re complaining about Jesus! Do we compliment them? We’re complimenting Jesus!

"Kindly words, sympathizing attentions, watchfulness against wounding men's sensitiveness--these cost very little, but they are priceless in their value." - F. W. Robertson.

 

How can we love government workers and officials?

Rocket genius Wernher von Braun’s lived in northern Alabama. He only came to Florida’s Cape Canaveral (over 600 miles away) for key meetings and launches. But, while there, von Braun would walk through the "Capeside" offices, greeting workers by name. He asked about their health; their wives, their children. He took time to show his team members he valued them.

Government workers are "normal" people who happen to work for the public. They appreciate courtesy and respect. The rule is simple: treat them as we’d like to be treated!

"Normal?" Yes, that has many meanings. My Seattle dentist told me that he and his wife wanted to be a "normal" family. So they planned for three children; two boys and a girl. They even pre-chose three "normal" names for those future children.

Tom, Dick, and Harriet.

They got Tom and Dick. Harriet said "no way!" Though that meant she missed living in their beautiful island home, "Tooth Acres."

"Since you have been chosen by God who has given you this new kind of life, and because of his deep love and concern for you, you should practice tenderhearted mercy and kindness to others" (Col. 3:12),

 

Do we say "thank you?"

The hand-written letter came from one of our State Senators.

I’d helped work for new state legislation for Idaho’s libraries. We’d been successful. Afterwards, our leaders reminded us to thank each senator and representative who’d supported us. So I wrote several notes of appreciation.

State Senator Fisher Ellsworth sent me a very personal reply. He told me how extremely rare it was for him to ever get a thank-you from any of his constituents. And how much it meant to receive one!

 

Thank-you’s are part of love! And they can benefit us in unexpected ways.

When my second son was in middle school, a local store held a promotion for our NBA basketball team, the San Diego Clippers (now the Los Angeles Clippers). The weekly prize was two game tickets. We put our filled-out forms in the box, and one week, to our surprise and delight, my son won.

After enjoying the game, we went to the store to thank them. While there, we entered my son’s name one last time.

He won two more times!

I’ve always suspected that the store was impressed enough with a winner who said "thank you" that they made sure he was rewarded. And a wonderful reward it was!

"Always be thankful" (Col. 3:15; also read: Phil. 4:8; Titus 1:15).

 

Do we let our leaders be human?

Have you noticed that we treat our friends’ mistakes good-naturedly, forgivingly? Yet we severely criticize public officials for equally minor missteps. "Loving" public officials means that we appreciate what they do well, yet treat "human" failings gently, even with humor.

The best city mayor I’ve ever known was an exceptionally skilled administrator and outstanding at staying in touch with his community. Yet he, too, had his "human" side.

One morning he was scheduled to give a breakfast talk on one side of town, then a live radio interview on the other. But his car had gone "belly up." So he walked downstairs to the police chief’s office. "Bob," he said, "I have two talks to give, and my car’s in the shop. Can I borrow yours?"

"Sure," replied the chief, "no problem." He tossed the mayor the keys. "It’s the brown station wagon parked right outside."

When the mayor finished his first talk, it was pouring rain. He dashed to the brown wagon, jumped inside - chagrined to see he’d left the keys in the ignition - then drove on to his radio interview in a mall restaurant.

He and the DJ left the mall together. The mayor climbed back into the station wagon and tried to turn it on. None of the keys fit! Baffled, he asked the DJ for help. "Mayor," the DJ finally said, "I think you have the wrong keys." Sure enough, as the mayor checked his pockets, he found a second set, which worked. Still puzzled, he drove back to city hall.

Re-entering the police department, the mayor handed the chief the offending key ring. "Bob," he said, "you gave me the wrong keys!" The chief scratched his chin and thought that through. "Mayor," he said, "I don’t think that’s possible."

About then a light flashed on in the chief’s mind. An hour earlier, his department had issued an all-points bulletin for a stolen brown station wagon, taken from in front of the same restaurant where the mayor had given his first talk!

In his hurry to get out of the drenching rain, the mayor had jumped into the wrong brown station wagon! He hadn’t left the keys in the ignition. But, unintentionally, he’d stolen it!

The mayor’s staff was highly loyal. But this was too tempting. Someone leaked word. And that afternoon a friendly, intelligent young TV newsman "happened" to drop in at City Hall.

"Mayor," he asked, "What’s this about you stealing a car?"

The mayor laughed, shook his head, and replied "Ray, I’m going to plead insanity!"

"Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized." (Matt. 7:1-2).

 

Do we pray for our leaders?

"Pray much for others ... Pray in this way for kings and all others who are in authority over us, or are in places of high responsibility ... This is good and pleases God our Savior" (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

Is that always easy? No. In Bible days, most governments were corrupt and actively persecuted godly Jews and Christians. Yet early Christians gave them love through prayer, respect, honor, and obedience. God expects us, too, to "love" our government, whatever party leads it.

 

Do we obey laws?

"Remind your people to obey the government and its officers, and always to be obedient and ready for any honest work. They must not speak evil of anyone, nor quarrel, but be gentle and truly courteous to all" (Titus 3:1-2; also Rom. 13:1-5).

Do we ever "speak evil" of a leader from the opposing party? Nah. I’m sure that we’d NEVER do that! That’d be speaking evil of Jesus! He’d judge us strongly for that.

Does obedience have limits? Yes, in rare circumstances. Daniel 3:1-30 describes how three young Hebrew men refused Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship his statue, despite facing the fiery furnace. And Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den after Darius forbade prayer to anyone but him (Daniel 6:1-28).

If we’re government workers, we owe it to our "neighbors" to serve them honestly and fairly, even when lobbyists or party leaders pressure us to do otherwise.

 

Do we recognize government workers as "God’s servants?"

Two selfless government employees once "went the second mile" to serve us. We wanted to explore a particular North Carolina historic location, but couldn’t find it on our maps. So we started our vacation by driving 600 miles directly to that county’s library. We arrived at 5 PM, exactly as the day shift was leaving.

We explained to the front desk librarian. She said "You know, the lady who could help you just went home." She paused, then added "But maybe she hasn’t left the parking lot yet." Excusing herself, she went out the back door. Minutes later, she returned, with the library’s local history expert in tow!

That lady was courteous, polite, and patient. She never so much as hinted that she was now off duty or that we should come back the next day. Instead, she graciously showed us to a table where we could talk. She took time to explain the history of the area that interested us, and told us how to find it. Armed with her directions, we drove there with no trouble.

Both those ladies "lived" Romans 13:4, which could just as well say "the librarian is sent by God to help you."

 

Do we honor our leaders by thoughtfully considering what they say?

We appreciate it when own ideas are considered thoughtfully and fairly. Shouldn’t we think over our leaders’ proposals in the same way? That’s part of honoring them. We don’t honor them when we thoughtlessly criticize them. Have you ever tried to do a good job while other people tear you down? Not a pleasant feeling, is it? Nor easy!

I once served on a mayor’s commission to study whether our city needed a new library. We researched carefully and finally recommended holding a bond election to build a new facility.

We got reactions! A small but vocal anti-tax group opposed us (and, among other things, invited me to leave town). When one local judge announced he was against the library, a commission member asked him why. The judge admitted he hadn’t read our report. Why not? "Because I was afraid I’d get confused." Our commissioner replied, "Judge, I surely hope you don’t decide all your cases that way!"

The proposal was soundly defeated, but won the next time. And the city finally gained a beautiful new library!

I went into that experience believing citizen involvement was a means to better government. I still do. But I learned that many people don’t judge recommendations on their merits. They automatically, vote "no." So we waste public officials’ time, hard work, and tax money. That’s not loving or honoring them – or ourselves!

 

The same city held several elections to replace an old, unsafe school building. The first few times, those proposals were defeated by the same small group that opposed us. Their letters to the newspaper said "The old building is fine. Let’s spend the money on teachers’ salaries." But at school budget time they’d write "Teachers earn plenty. Let’s replace the old buildings!" Hypocritical? Yes! Their only goal was to defeat any taxes, any time, any way.

My bookkeeper and I both had children in that school. One morning, at work, her phone rang. "The school’s on fire!" We raced outside, and were stunned to see an enormous churning column of black smoke boiling high above the trees! Our hearts seemed to stop! We literally ran several blocks to the school, to see vivid red flames shooting above the roof and out every window. The old electric wiring had short-circuited. But, thank God, all the children (including ours) were safely outside!

At the next election, a new building was overwhelmingly approved.

 

Those experiences caused me to stop tuning in most "Christian" radio and TV, except for inspirational music. Why? Because I became vividly conscious of how many "Christian" DJ’s and TV hosts acted just like the judge who didn’t read our report, but opposed it anyway; and like the letter-writers who were against any school improvements, no matter how badly needed. I could no longer stand listening to such irresponsibility. I still can’t. Let me tell you forcefully, it’s not Christian!

"Give honor and respect to all those to whom it is due" (Rom. 13:7).

Also read: Ex. 22:28; Ps. 1:1; Eccl. 10:20; 2 Tim. 2:14; 2:16; 2: 23; Titus 3:9; Jude v. 8-10.

 

Do we recognize our leaders’ gifts and talents?

We all have unique talents and abilities. Some are natural. Some come from hard work, education, and/or experience. Many are "all of the above."

Paul lists two gifts that are as important in government as in the church: "Those who can help others," and "Those who can get others to work together" (1 Cor. 12:27; also verses 4-7).

Learn to appreciate whatever gifts, abilities, or talents God has given our leaders. That’s an important part of honoring them.

 

Do we love instead of hate?

"Anyone who hates ... is really a murderer at heart; and you know that no one wanting to murder has eternal life within" (1 John 3:15).

Typically, political campaigns intensify hate. In the Bible, the future King David refused to hate King Saul, even when Saul was trying to murder him. David’s men could have killed Saul. But David said "No. Don’t kill him, for who can remain innocent after attacking the Lord’s chosen king? Surely God will strike him down some day, or he will die in battle or of old age. But God forbid that I should kill the man he has chosen to be king!" (1 Sam. 26:9-11.)

One modern David wrestled with hate and lying. His faith finally won. David Kuo, Special Assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-2003, was a talented speechwriter who wrote for many prominent leaders. But his conscience troubled him about what he’d written. "I had some apologizing to do. I had said and written many nasty and hateful things ... I had spoken mistruths in hate. It had been so easy to do ... all I had to do was throw in ... a smack of sarcasm and just a pinch of a punch line, and I had them rolling in the aisles. That had to stop. If I ever could, I knew I ought to apologize for doing it" (Kuo, Tempting Faith, Free Press, 2006, pp 97-98).

 

Do we reject lies?

During elections we often act as if our only moral standard is "what’s good for my party?" Both sides invent "facts" (outright lies) about the other. But that’s sin. God will judge us for it!

"You must not tell lies" (Deut. 5:20; also read: Prov. 19:5).

How can we identify lies? It’s easier if we know what’s true. To try to learn, my family uses three steps:

 

We inform ourselves ahead of time.

We learn what each major candidate has supported in the past. We look at what he’s done, not just what he says. When a man who’s campaigned for years to abolish one government program suddenly pledges to save it, we’re skeptical.

 

We use unbiased sources.

We read each each major candidate’s Web site, but that only gives one side. So we look at neutral, factual sites like Congressional Quarterly’s. We follow the "fact check" on CNN’s internet election news.

We don’t assume our friends are right. And we don’t get "facts" from talk shows, even "Christian" ones. Too often they’re badly inaccurate.

 

We check.

If it sounds scandalous, it’s likely (but not always) untrue. It certainly needs verifying. During a recent presidential campaign a friend e-mailed us a "notorious quote" supposedly from one candidate’s book, complete with the page number. But the quote failed our first test: it didn’t sound like that candidate. So we got the book from the library. There was no such quote, on that page or any other! In fact, the book said the very opposite. The "quote" was a political dirty trick. But many Christians didn’t check, believed it, and helped spread it. God will judge us for that, regardless of party!

"Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight" (Prov. 18:17; also v. 13.)

 

Do we look beneath the surface?

One of the Bible’s most inspirational stories tells how God raised Joseph from slavery and prison to put him in charge of Egypt.

Don’t we wish people like Joseph would run for office today? Yes! But wait! If they did, would we support or oppose them? And, if they won, would we try our best to deny them a second term - or impeach them?

Unfortunately, most of us would fight them.

But why? Joseph was a great man of God!

Yes, we know that - now. But would we have thought so then? Let’s see.

Let’s imagine that the same events happen today. Exactly. And let’s imagine that we only know what the man-on-the-street knew then. No more, no less.

One morning, the news tells us our President has appointed a new national administrator and given him most presidential duties.

The media are curious. They investigate. They learn:

  • The new "acting president" isn’t even a citizen.
  • He is, in fact, an alien who was brought into the country illegally.
  • He’s only held two jobs in his life. He disappeared from the first without notice, and was fired from the second.
  • He hasn’t had one day of government experience.
  • He’s a convicted sex offender who was serving a prison term for attempted rape.
  • There’s no new evidence he was innocent.
  • He’s proposing to add a brand-new tax, totaling 20% of your income, on top of your existing taxes. When you can’t pay, he’ll take your land and personal property.

In Joseph’s life, every one of those statements was true.

Now, be honest. What would your newspaper editor say? Or your minister, priest, or rabbi? If a pollster called, what would you say?

Would anyone say "This man is God’s choice! Let’s support him?"

No! Both parties would desert him as quickly as they could call press conferences. The media would clamor for his firing. Attack ads would fill the airwaves, and for once we’d think they were justified. CNN’s "fact check" would agree. Presidential approval ratings would plummet to an all-time low.

 

Have we ever stopped to think that the greatest miracle in Joseph’s life may not have been that God made him Egypt’s ruler, but that he succeeded in remaining in office afterwards?

But God knew that, to survive the coming famine, Egypt would need strong government. It would need high taxes. Nothing less would succeed.

Joseph obeyed God. He did what was necessary. It couldn’t have been popular then. It wouldn’t be today. But his policies were of God! And they succeeded!

Joseph should teach us the importance of finding out what’s really true – below the surface. If we don’t, we’ll run many of today's "Joseph’s" out of office - if we ever elect them to start with!

Sobering, isn’t it?

Joseph's story also shows that God favors building up our communities, even if it costs money. We may talk about "cutting the frills from the school budget," but when those budgets require teachers to buy hundreds of dollars worth of our children’s school supplies and lunches out of their own pockets (and I’ve lived where they did), isn’t it their small size that’s scandalous?

"Loving our neighbors" in the government means treating those who work there as if they were Jesus. It means honoring them, praying for them, and crediting their talents and accomplishment. It means taking time to learn the truth. It demands we ignore attack ads, bogus e-mails, and political dirty tricks. It calls on us to leave stereotypes behind. To be responsible and honest. To judge fairly, and vote accordingly.

 

 

"Silent gratitude isn’t much good to anyone." – Gladys Browyn Stern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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