The Most Important National TreasureDownload a PDF of this essay
(NOTE: This statement was delivered to a group of diplomats at the United Nations, New York 19 June 1986.)
Every nation has its treasures – those things that it values from a cultural or material point of view. Typically, the national treasures are items that are an integral part of the national identity.
My experience is that most nations are not able to identify that which is truly their most important treasure and, through lack of understanding, largely waste this valuable resource. The most valuable treasure a nation has is those who are God’s people. My purpose is, first, to alert you to what God intends for the Christian community in your nation so that your nation can benefit maximally from their presence. It is not necessary for a government official to be a Christian in order to benefit from this analysis. Then, I will consider with you how other segments of society can participate in being this treasure. Let me emphasize that the promises God makes to His people are not restricted to the so‑called Christians; they are available to others as well, but there are some essential conditions that must be met. In my initial analysis, I will use the terms true Christians and God’s people interchangeably and, then, indicate the conditions for broadening the latter.
God has made it very clear that He intends to bless any nation whose Christians, even if they are a small minority, are functioning properly with regard to God and the government. If a nation is not experiencing well‑being, much of the problem must be laid at the doorstep of the Christians, because they often do not know how to live as followers of Jesus Christ, acting on the privileges and responsibilities that are theirs. If they are living the lives God intends for them, then helping the government, no matter what the form, will be an exciting challenge.
The first step in our analysis is to understand who the Christians are. It is worth taking the time to define our terms. One problem lies with the meaning of the word Christian. Contrary to common usage, being born into a certain family, social group or ethnic group does not make one a Christian, nor does going to church. A person is not a true Christian by virtue of any of these reasons. I will refer to the person who considers himself a Christian based on any of these criteria as a cultural Christian. Rather, the word Christian means a “follower of Jesus Christ”.1 The true Christian is one who has recognized the existence of the all‑powerful, all‑loving God who has created this world and everything in it. He is one who recognizes that God created him in love and that he can only fulfill the purpose for which God created him by being in harmony with God. He is one who has recognized that God is perfectly holy and that we as humans are not holy and, as a result, are separated from God. The true Christian is one who recognizes that this alienation between man and God cannot be corrected by anything that man can do, that in fact only God could do it Himself by coming in human form as Jesus. He is one who has recognized that he must claim Jesus’ death as the basis for God’s forgiveness of his sins so that he may be in harmony with God.
The Bible teaches that the true follower of Jesus Christ is one who, as the result of a willful decision, has all of God dwelling within him, giving him the capacity to live his life in reliance upon God’s wisdom and strength. Because of God’s presence within his life, he has the capacity to change to become more like Jesus as he follows his Lord in obedience. He has the capacity to love others without regard to personal gain, which will make him a useful citizen. On the other hand, the cultural Christian has none of these resources, but rather is living his life in his own strength. It is important for government officials to distinguish between those who are cultural Christians and those who are true Christians.
The second step is to understand the attitude toward government which God expects of all true Christians. The follower of Jesus Christ realizes that government officials are God’s servants, placed in office by Him, and that it is God who determines when individual officials or the government itself will be changed.2 A Christian should support the government, rather than undermine it. He must support the government even if he finds the government not properly applying God’s principles and he must tell it so. It would be the rare instance when he would find that obedience to government would conflict with obedience to God. Obedient Christians pray for wisdom for government officials. The government does not need to fear true Christians. Contrary to some rumours, God does not specify the form a government should take. God does care about justice, and points out that the purpose of government is to serve the people. It is important to note that sometimes the Christian community, often comprised mainly of cultural Christians, consists of minority ethnic or cultural groups and that their differences with the government may be based less upon spiritual considerations than upon ethnic or political motivations. Government officials can expect a higher standard for behaviour from true Christians.3
The third step is to understand what makes the Christians such a valuable resource and what the Christians must be doing to contribute to national strength, stability and prosperity. God makes it clear that the well‑being of a nation is dependent upon the obedience of His followers within that nation. The Christians are to intercede with God for the nation. God has told us through His servant:
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.4
The Christians are to pray for the nation. The goal is the well‑being of society. This purpose is stated with these words: “in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet (or peaceful) life in all godliness and dignity.” Our world, by and large, does not know this quality of life. But it is God’s intention that we have it. It is the Christians’ responsibility through faithfully interceding with God on behalf of the nation to bring about well‑being.
They are the ones who must pray. They are the only ones who can pray and be heard. God tells us:
The arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.5
Thus, the prayers of others will be ineffective.
The Christians must pray on behalf of all men and women, not just themselves. They are to represent the nation at large, as a steward holding a prized possession. Notice that they are to pray for leaders, presumably that leaders will make the kinds of decisions that will allow us to live a “tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” The problems in our world are so complex that, apart from God supplying wisdom, leaders cannot make the kinds of decisions that will allow us to live a “tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” God’s people have the power to change their nation and they must unleash that power through diligent prayer, as a faithful steward.
The Christian who is trusting God has great power at his disposal, power that is to be used for good. Listen to these words from one of God’s servants: “I can do everything through God who gives me strength.”6 However, it is important to realize that the Christian must learn to use this resource: Christians are admonished:
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. 7
Amazingly, followers of Jesus Christ have at their disposal the same power that God exerted when He raised Jesus from the dead. It is not automatic that the Christian will have this power. If he refuses to trust God, he will not experience this power. Thus, they are told “You do not have because you do not ask God.”8 The Christian has the power at his disposal to change his nation for the better, if he will use it!
Another way that the Christians must serve the well‑being of the nation is through being a righteous group standing between God and the nation He will deal with. Listen to these words from God as He dealt with one nation:
The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery, they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice. I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before Me in the gap on behalf of the land, so I would not have to destroy it; but I found none. So I will pour out My wrath on them and consume them with My fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done.9
God is speaking here about a wall of righteousness. God deals with nations based upon justice and righteousness. According to this criterion, He blesses or punishes nations. However, the presence of a righteous group will cause God to deal positively with that nation.
In one case, God said with regard to a city‑state He intended to punish, “If I find…fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.”10 The Christians must be the righteous group standing in the gap between God and the nation that He will deal with.
This is a serious responsibility, again a stewardship. The Christians must purify themselves in holiness for this task. We must encourage the Christians in this. Because of the seriousness of this responsibility, we must do everything we can to help the Christians to be this holy, righteous people on behalf of our nations. Consider the benefits God promised as He spoke to one nation:
If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.11
Notice that the requirement is for God’s people to repent. He does not expect or require 100% of the population to participate. However, He does require His people to repent. Presumably, they are to repent of their own sins but also for the sins of their nation. They are to intercede before God for the sins of the nation – sins that would otherwise cause Him to discipline that nation. But note well: The result is God’s blessing, not just on the few who prayed, but on the whole nation. You must be aware of that. The Christians’ sincere, united prayers of repentance on behalf of the nation can affect the well‑being of the whole nation. We must help the Christians to be a responsible group, who take the well‑being of their nation seriously.
Another way we can expect the Christians to contribute to the well‑being of our nations is through functioning, as God intended, as a righteous salt, working to bring justice and righteousness, as much as possible, to an imperfect world. Jesus said to His followers: “You are the salt of the earth….”12 At the time Jesus made this statement, what was the primary function of salt? Obviously, it was as a preservative. In Jesus’ day, the common way to preserve meat and other perishable foods was with salt. Jesus was telling His followers that they were to be a preservative to society. It is interesting to recall that the recipe for preserving a certain quantity of meat requires using an amount of salt that is considerably less than that of the meat being preserved. The lesson is this: Jesus was saying that it is not necessary for everyone in society to be a follower of His before His followers can exert a salting influence upon society as a moral preservative; a small committed group can exert a salting influence upon society.
As Jesus’ followers exert this salting influence upon society, there will be a wave of spiritual renewal that will spread throughout society and will cause many others to be changed into salt as well. This wave of spiritual renewal leads to the well‑being of a nation in two ways. First of all, it affects the way man responds to man. Man whose heart has been changed by God is capable of sincerely caring about his fellow man. This can lead to a dramatic, positive change within society. There have been many beautiful examples of this throughout history.
More importantly, this wave of spiritual renewal affects the way God responds to society. It affects whether God will respond with blessing or with discipline. This is the forgotten component of national well‑being – the overlooked ingredient in national development. God instructed one nation:
Test Me now in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing, that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in the field will not cast their fruit. Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land.13
Spiritual renewal within a society causes God to pour out His rich blessing upon a nation. When a nation is not allowing God’s people to follow His blueprint for their lives, no amount of human effort, no amount of money can overcome the suffering that will be experienced by all the people. Therefore, it is essential that we encourage this salt to have its greatest possible effect upon our nations.
While God loves all people, He has a special relationship with His people and they are the ones who must be the intercessors between the nation and the God who would judge that nation. They must take that special responsibility upon themselves. They must pray for the well‑being of the nation and remain a righteous yeast in order for the nation to prosper. Knowing what I do, if I were a government official, even if I did not acknowledge the God of the Bible, I would encourage the Christians in my nation to get to know their God, to obey Him and to pray for the well‑being of the nation. Darius, King of Persia, in 520 B.C. provided a clear example for us when he directed his governors to help God’s followers who had lived as foreigners in his nation:
Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God….Whatever is needed…must be given them daily without fail, so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.14
The King understood that these servants of God were the most important resource he had, even though he did not worship their God. He realized that his own well-being was dependent upon God’s servants being obedient to God.
It is important to note that every contribution that the Christians can make to the well‑being of a nation requires that they be living to their fullest potential as followers of Jesus. Because of the heavy responsibility that the Christians have before God for their nation, it is essential for the government leadership to help them walk with God to the fullest.
There are no secret, mystical instructions for the Christians. All are clearly laid out in the Bible for all to read. The Bible makes it clear there are no new divine revelations that overrule, outdate or contradict God’s clear instructions in the Bible. Therefore, you can know what to expect of the Christians and you can help them live up to those standards, even if those standards are not your own.
God has provided a standard for evaluating Christians. He said “By their fruit you will recognize them.”15 Government officials must apply this criterion. Christians, like all people, have the capacity to be deceived by self‑motivation. One Bible writer, in addressing Christians distracted from God’s purposes, said “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?”16 Notice that last statement: “Are you not acting like mere men?” The Christian is given the capacity to live on a different plane than natural man. He has the capacity to live with God’s wisdom and God’s power at his disposal, and to see results that can only be explained on the supernatural plane. Sadly though, the Christian, with this special privilege, also has the capacity to live on the human plane – to rely on himself rather than God. A significant fraction of Christians are living on the human plane, wasting the resource God has placed at their disposal and living for themselves rather than for God. Elsewhere, it is said more strongly: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”17 This is a personal and a national tragedy. My advice is to evaluate the actions of the Christians in your nation. Furthermore, I encourage you to admonish the Christians, for the sake of your nation, to live faithful lives as good stewards of the precious resource He has made them. Then, I encourage you to do everything you can do to help the Christians to live their lives before God in complete obedience to Him. It is essential for the sake of your nation that you spare no effort in helping them.
The crucial question is this: How can we increase the size of this national treasure? If this treasure is so important to the well‑being of our nations, then we should protect it with everything we have and we should do whatever we can to increase the size of it.
The true Christian will automatically do this. The true Christian will want to help others embrace his faith. In fact, this is one test of the true Christian. The true Christian realizes he has been given a gift he doesn’t deserve as a human being and that he has no right to keep it to himself. He is compelled to help others enjoy it. He cannot do otherwise. Jesus said “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’”18 We must encourage our Christians to help others find this living water.
A strategic part of increasing the national treasure involves helping everyone to realize that the special privilege of being God’s people is not limited to those who wear the label Christian, but is available to all. The religious or cultural label a person wears is not so important. Rather, what is important is the basis a person claims for that friendship with God. God is holy in every way. Sadly, we are not. As it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one….All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one….All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.19.
Because of our unholiness, we are excluded from God’s presence. There is no way we can overcome this and compensate for our offense. The only one who could adequately pay the penalty for our offense is God Himself who came in human form – as Jesus – to die on our behalf as a substitute for us. Jesus made statements such as: “I and the Father are one”20 and “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.”21 He also said that He “came to seek and to save what was lost”22 and “to give His life as a ransom for many.”23 Jesus went on to say: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”24 Jesus said “He who receives Me receives the One who sent Me.”25
God came as Jesus to earth and died, then conquered death and came alive again, to bring to God not only those who were cultural Christians but peoples of all cultures. I am convinced this is what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he said:
Because the life of Jesus has the significance and the transcendency to which I have alluded, I believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the entire world; to all races and people, it matters little under what flag, name or doctrine they may work, profess a faith or worship a God inherited from their ancestors.26
Similarly, Rabindrinath Tagore is purported to have said “Jesus of Galilee is the only universal saviour among the founders of the religions of the world.” To truly be one of God’s people does not mean to wear the label Christian or any other label. Rather, it means to be a person of any culture who humbly embraces Jesus and His death as the only provision God has made available for the forgiveness of our sins and for establishing friendship between us and God. Neither God nor Jesus ever used the word Christian. Rather, God used the expression My people. Anyone of any culture can experience the privileges and responsibilities I have described for God’s people and can participate uniquely in bringing blessing to his nation.
The role that God’s people can play is so crucial that we should do everything we can to increase the size of that group. We should encourage true Christians to live faithfully with their God. We should encourage cultural Christians and those of other religious and cultural groups to become God’s people as He has defined this group.
Finally, let me close with this thought: If the most important national treasure my country has is God’s people, shouldn’t I make sure that I am part of this group? How do we place our faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, so we can enter into an intimate relationship with God that lasts forever and allows us to play this strategic role in our nations? The illustration that communicates best to me relates to the region where I grew up – near Niagara Falls. The water flows over Niagara Falls so violently that if anyone falls into the water, it is certain death. Many people do risky things over Niagara Falls to gain attention. One of these was a tightrope walker. He had a wire strung over the Falls, from one side to the other. This man first walked along this wire from one side of the Falls to the other, and back. Then, as the crowd grew, he repeated his walk but this time he pushed a wheelbarrow in front of him as he walked over to the other side and back. Then, he boldly filled the wheelbarrow with bricks and guided it along the wire to the other side of the Falls and back. By this time, the crowd had grown very large and was cheering loudly for him. He then asked the crowd “How many of you believe I can take this wheelbarrow to the other side of the Falls and back s people is not limited to those who wear the label Christian, but is available to all. The religious or cultural label a person wears is not so important. Rather, what is important is the basis a person claims for that friendship with God. God is holy in every way. Sadly, we are not. As it is written:
carrying a person inside instead of these bricks?” The crowd cheered wildly. Then, he asked the crowd “Who is willing to get into the wheelbarrow?” The crowd became silent. Their belief lacked 100% confidence. To place our faith in Jesus Christ means to get into the wheelbarrow with Him, making ourselves completely dependent upon Him. Our sole basis for having our sins forgiven and for entering a close relationship with God is Jesus’ death on our behalf.
Therefore, if you are serious about becoming a part of the most important resource your nation has, I challenge you to come to Him. Jesus invites us:
If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”27
As we come to Jesus and drink, He will satisfy us and this will spill over to others in our societies, causing them to come to Jesus and drink. As others around us drink, the greatest treasure our nation has will grow and grow.
For this reason, I can invite you to come to Jesus and drink. Let me encourage you to embrace the Master Designer of our world and your life. I encourage you to invite Jesus into your life by praying to God:
Holy God, please forgive me for sinning against You. Thank You for loving me enough that You came to this earth as Jesus and died on my behalf so that I could have real life with You. I ask You to come into my life to give me unbroken friendship with You forever. I ask You to change me and, with me, the world. Thank You. Amen.
Not only will this start you on the most exciting journey known to mankind, but it is the most significant thing each of us can do to increase our nation’s most important treasure.
NOTE: All Bible references are from the New International Version unless otherwise indicated.
- James Strong, “A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament”, p. 78, in The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (New York: Abingdon, 1890).
- Bible, Daniel 2:21.
- Ibid., Romans 13:1‑7.
- Bible, New American Standard Version (NASV), I Timothy 2:1‑2.
- Bible, Isaiah 59:1‑2.
- Bible, Philippians 4:13, paraphrased.
- Bible, Ephesians 1:18‑20.
- Ibid., James 4:2.
- Ibid., Ezekiel 22:29‑31.
- Bible, NASV, Genesis 18:26.
- Bible, II Chronicles 7:14.
- Ibid., Matthew 5:13.
- Ibid., Malachi 3:10‑12.
- , Ezra 6:7,9-10.
- Ibid., Matthew 7:16,20.
- Ibid., I Corinthians 3:3.
- Ibid., Titus 1:16.
- Bible, NASV, John 7:38.
- Bible, Romans 3:10,12,23.
- Ibid., John 10:30.
- Ibid., John 14:9.
- Ibid., Luke 19:10.
- Ibid., Matthew 20:28.
- Ibid., John 14:6.
- Ibid., Matthew 10:40.
- Mohandas K. Gandhi, in The Modern Review, October 1941, quoted in Mohandas K. Gandhi (Anand T. Hingorani, ed.), The Message of Jesus Christ (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1971), p. 111.
- Bible, NASV, John 7:37‑38.