The apostle Paul addressed these words to believers at Philippi in the midst of a warning that there were some “whose interests were centred on earthly matters”. Appended to his comment about our heavenly citizenship (Gk politeuma, from whence our word politics is derived) is the salient explanatory statement, “from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ”.

In view of the fact that Australians are about to face a federal election in the forthcoming months, we do well to think about our “relations to the state”. With so much media attention and hype over this election and the issues involved, we may well get involved in discussions that could betray our professed standing and allegiance. With issues such as education, the economy, the family, indigenous and foreign affairs, water, global warming etc, about which we may well have an opinion and preference, we must not forget that these matters belong to the governments of this day and that we are “strangers and pilgrims” awaiting the coming of the Lord and the establishment of his beneficent reign in which all nations will be blessed, and “all nations shall call him blessed” (Psa 72:17). So rather than becoming anxious about the outcome, we can rest in the knowledge that the Father is in control and that His will will be done.

So whoever becomes prime minister and whatever party is voted into power, we will witness God’s will being done. We must remain detached from the election and not vote, for we may place our weight behind someone whom God has not chosen if we do. It should be noted also that the matter of voting is mentioned in “Doctrines to be Rejected”, appended to our Statement of Faith in the following words, “That we are at liberty to serve in the Army, or as police constables, take part in politics or recover debts by legal coercion” (number 35). We can be thankful that our conscience has been recognized, and our reason for abstaining from voting accepted by ‘the powers that be’. The wording we use generally is, “It has always been a tenet of the Christadelphian Brotherhood, of which I am a member, to abstain from voting and for that reason I did not vote.” This statement must not be just a convenient form of words but a conviction borne of Scripture.

There are many clear statements where God’s superintendence of human affairs can be appreciated. In his prayer of thanks for having Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation revealed to him, Daniel said, “[God] changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings” (Dan 2:21). Looking back, we can see that the vision was a blueprint of human history as one empire succeeded another, enabling us to draw the unassailable conclusion expressed elsewhere in Daniel that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (4:17).

It is interesting, too, to note that our Lord remained separate from the politics of his day and accepted the status quo as having been ordained by God. When Pilate presumed to point out to the Lord that he had power to crucify him and power to release him, he was informed that he was essentially powerless: “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11). Earlier he had explained that his “kingdom was not of this world” [Gk kosmos, order of things, John 18:36]. Like him then we await the time when God will intervene in human affairs, when the “kingdoms of this world [will] become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15). In our patient waiting for that Kingdom, we stand with our Lord, who said of his disciples, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16).

The refusal of early Christians to become involved in matters of state is commented upon at length by the historian Edward Gibbon. He says, “The Christians felt and confessed, that such institutions [governments etc] might be necessary for the present system of the world, and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of their Pagan governors” (cp Rom 13:1–6; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13–14); “but while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire”; and “it was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes” (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol 1 ch 15).

Bertrand Russell made some informed comments upon this subject: “Christianity was, in its earliest days, entirely unpolitical. The best representatives of the primitive tradition in our time are the Christadelphians, who believe the end of the world to be imminent, and refuse to have any part or lot in secular affairs. This attitude, however, is only possible to a small sect” (Power, A New Social Analysis ch 7).

So as the days go by and candidates seek place and power in this kosmos, this order of things, Christ’s brethren, like him, must stand aside. As the apostle Peter expressed it: “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet 3:13). Perhaps we could use the fact that we do not participate in elections to proclaim God’s coming Kingdom to any enquirers. It is our way of “confessing that we are strangers and pilgrims in the earth” and of “declaring that we seek a country”, because “we desire a better country, that is, an heavenly” (Heb 11:13,14,16).

We can conclude with the words of Paul relating to these matters. He encourages us to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour” (1 Tim 2:1–3).

May His Kingdom soon come, and His will be done on earth, as in heaven (Matt 6:10).