God or America (or Lots of Other Things): Which Comes First?

This blog post is part of my year-long series of posts on the New Testament. My church is on a year-long journey called Project 3:45, where we are reading the New Testament together this year. To join in, click here.

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In Acts 17, Paul and Silas have come to a village and, as usual, some other people who disagree with their message have stirred up some trouble for them. Acts 17:7 sums up the accusation against them: “They do what is contrary to Caesar’s decrees by naming someone else as king: Jesus.”

Caesar was the ruler of the Roman Empire. What Caesar demanded and decreed of the people in the Roman empire was that he come first: his will, his wishes, his taxes, his demands, his desires. One of the propaganda slogans of Caesar in the empire was “Caesar is Lord.” Everyone in the empire was to give their full allegiance to Caesar. Anyone not giving him their allegiance and their dedication was met with serious consequences. Loss of property, loss of livelihood and reputation, and even loss of life.

We may not have a “Caesar” today, but there are a lot of things that demand our allegiance. What are the things that desire or even demand to come first in my life?

Money. Money demands that I make more of it so that I can spend more of it and often asks me to sacrifice my values in order to do it.

Success. Success demands that I advance and move up the ladder and lay aside my family in the process. Success demands that I do whatever it takes to get into the “right college.” Success demands that I do whatever it takes to be the best, regardless of the toll it takes on my time, my mind, my body, my priorities.

Political party. Don’t even get me started on that one. Political party demands that I turn off my brain and blindly follow whatever platform is put before me by the leading talking heads. Political party suggests that I vehemently oppose anyone from another side of the aisle without even considering their idea and assume that they’re wrong simply because they’re “red” or “blue.” Political party asks me to view the world through the lens of my political party and base my decisions and opinions about everything from the economy to complex social issues on the party’s position.

Country. Even America demands my full allegiance, asking me to believe that America and Americans and their ideals are inherently more important and more blessed and more loved by God than anyone else in the world.

But Paul and Silas named someone else as king: Jesus. For Paul and Silas, it was the desires of Jesus, the will, wishes, teachings, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that had the ultimate authority. It was to Jesus, not money, career, political party, or even their nation that they gave their allegiance. Jesus was their king and it was Jesus they followed.

It is not possible to have more than one king. It is not possible to give full allegiance to more than one thing or person or idea. To follow the example of Paul and Silas means that I do the same thing they did: make Jesus my king. This is a dangerous thing to do. It will make people angry. It will stir up all kinds of trouble. (In fact, even suggesting the idea that allegiance to Jesus should come before allegiance to the other things I listed above might get me in some trouble.) But if Jesus is Lord (not Caesar, money, career, political party, or even America), and if his reign as king is all-encompassing and everlasting, why would I waste my time following anyone or anything else?

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