Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country!
Those famous words were spoken at US President John F. Kennedy’s legendary inaugural address.
As we celebrate another National Day, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how this principle can be lived out in accordance with the Christian ethic.
I want to make the case that caring for the welfare of the nation is a necessary part of loving our neighbours (which is what Jesus calls us to do), and I want to explore how that would look like in modern-day Singapore.
Indeed, one way to honour God with our lives and right where we are on earth is to not ask or demand what can be done for us, but to ask what we can do to care for this “little tiny dot” we call home.
Being salt and light to our society
The importance of being salt and light to the world around us is a crucial part of the Christian faith.
Most of us think of this on an individual, personal level. For instance, we tame the tongue as it very keenly concerns day-to-day life.
However, it’s important to consider how we believers, as the Church, can obey this command in a collective sense and on a broader level within the context of our whole society.
I think this is why Jesus prayed for believers to be one, so that one world might know one Lord through His one Church.
So what does being salt and light to our society look like, especially in the nations we are situated in?
Looking at the example of the early church, something that made them stand out was how they were seen as good citizens within the Roman Empire — which is extraordinary considering how brutally persecuted they were by those authorities.
How those early Christians followed Jesus did not merely constitute a renewal in their personal lives and behaviours, but also in their approach to their society.
Not only did their faithfulness enable the continuous spread of the Gospel across the world, it would bless their communities as seen in the works like pioneering hospitals and fighting against infanticide.
Believers were good and honourable citizens in this way.
Alongside this, evidence from history after the age of the early church also displays how Christians continued to produced change that improved society in concrete ways.
Much of this was accomplished by missionaries who went to foreign lands, and it provides a model of how we can honour God through our approach towards society both at home and abroad.
Closer to home, whenever believers love and help those in need within our society, they demonstrate the compassion of Jesus to a world out there that needs it.
In doing so, they are undoubtedly functioning as good citizens of this nation.
Living out the call to be salt and light for Christ should result concrete benefits for the society and nation we live in.
This is our collective witness that reflects the goodness and renewal that God’s Kingdom promises.
Pray for our leaders and honour them
One very important way of caring for the country is praying for our leaders. We are also called to submit to these authorities, regardless of how we feel about them.
For example, Paul urges Christians to pray for kings and all those in authority in 1 Timothy 2:1-2. Indeed, Paul sees authorities as leaders ordained by God (Romans 13).
The need to pray for our leaders is clear because the land’s leadership — their morals, motivation and competence — has a big bearing on whether a nation is well-functioning or not.
Good leaders make things better:
- Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and unified the United States following the devastating American Civil War
- Winston Churchill rallied the United Kingdom when it was on its knees, enabling the British to stand up against Nazi aggression
- Lee Kuan Yew built a robust, prosperous and secure city-state out of almost nothing
On the other hand, wicked leaders bring ruin upon their lands. In biblical times, Israel and Judah’s kings were infamous for their wickedness. And as mentioned, Emperor Nero terrorised believers in Rome.
More recently, leaders like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Mao Zedong and Benito Mussolini all brought terror and desolation to millions of people.
Our leaders are of vital importance, so we must seek the welfare of the city we are in and pray to the Lord on its behalf.
Aside from individual leaders, pray for Singapore’s societal and political system itself.
It is something that is, in many ways, even more important than the individuals who fill our positions of power at a given moment.
For example, we can pray for the continuous functioning — and further improvement — of our transportation system, schools, law enforcement and governmental ministries.
It plays a big role in how our lives function day-to-day, which we take for granted all too easily!
Citizens of Singapore, citizens of heaven
Being good citizens of Singapore has much to do with our identities as citizens of heaven.
The New Testament has clear indications about our status as members of a heavenly kingdom that is beyond any earthly citizenship.
- Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world
- Paul said that we possess heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20)
- Peter says that the church functions as a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9)
There are three main contrasts between our heavenly and earthly citizenships I want to highlight. Together, they reveal much about the temporal nature of what this world offers us and the overwhelming grandeur of God’s kingdom.
First, leadership among earthly nations will be ever-shifting, and will never be perfect. Even the best of earthly governmental leaders, like those I mentioned earlier or biblical examples like King David, still have their undeniable faults.
Even Israel in the Old Testament, which was called to be God’s chosen nation, had more wicked kings than righteous ones.
However, the governance of our heavenly kingdom ultimately rests on one perfect Person alone. He is the one who is fully God and fully man — Jesus Christ, the rightful King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
He displayed perfect compassion and righteousness throughout His time on earth, and that’s what His rule is based on, free from human imperfection or corruption.
Secondly, the nations of this world have to rely on laws and enforcement placed externally upon them, to ensure that their society has any chance of being well-functioning.
Here in Singapore, we are blessed to live in a tremendously law-abiding society, but people in many other countries don’t have that privilege.
But in God’s kingdom, all interactions will stem from within the hearts of its citizens — hearts that have been transformed by Jesus as we have God’s love poured into us (Romans 5:5).
Citizens of heaven are people who freely offer ourselves in service to this kingdom and to our King (Psalm 110:3), rather than only doing so because we have been coerced through fear.
Indeed, God’s perfect love shown through Jesus is the very thing that casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
Thirdly, our citizenships on earth can be fluid.
The places where we stay can change, and some of us will we even have opportunities in life to formally change citizenship. I myself lived in Hong Kong for many years before eventually moving back to Singapore.
In contrast, we belong to a kingdom that is eternal, that cannot be shaken no matter what (Hebrews 12:28). As Romans 8:38-39 tells us, nothing can separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And the King who reigns over this kingdom, who has also made us His fellow co-heirs (Romans 8:17), is the same yesterday today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Even as I mention these fundamental differences, I’ll reiterate that being a good citizen in Singapore today is a good and even crucial way of reflecting our heavenly citizenship.
Those of us who belong to Jesus should never be apathetic toward the nation around us.
We must care about whether justice is being upheld, whether our most vulnerable are being cared for, and whether our fellow man is being treated with dignity.
When we show our care for these issues, we are showing God’s grace to the world and loving our fellow citizens well.
Belief, blessing, commission
With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.
Circling back to JFK’s inaugural address, he closed off with remarks that are surprisingly quite spiritually illuminating — and from it are three things that we can take away as this article comes to a close.
The first is that having a good conscience before God is, in some sense, the only guaranteed reward when we are being a blessing to our nation.
Much of good we do for others may never be recognised by most of our fellow citizens, or even by anyone else at all.
This is the reason why, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He told us to avoid seeking the praise of man in doing good deeds.
Secondly, leading our nation in the right direction really requires God’s blessing. I think that Christians can and should take the lead in exploring how we can make Singapore a better place for all.
When we do so, it is imperative we are leaning into divine wisdom rather than human wisdom (Proverbs 3:5). Indeed, throughout history, attempts to create a human-led utopia have always ended in disaster.
As such, humbly asking God to use us to bless Singapore will be a first step to us eventually bearing fruit in our lives and in our nation.
Lastly, we must remember the work that God has commissioned us to do on Earth must be our work in our lives on earth.
One of the key things He has commanded us to do, is to fulfill the Great Commission. We do so by being fishers of men and making disciples of all nations, pointing them towards Christ’s redemptive work.
We must become a people who will meet the needs of those around us in concrete ways, so as to be God’s hands and feet and show His love and grace.
So, happy national day to all of you — let’s celebrate but also keep in mind how we can bless our nation moving forward!
As the smoke from the fireworks settles, we look ahead to another year for Singapore — and our part to play in that story as citizens of heaven.