The Law of God and Public Policy: A Good Society (3)
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness… 1 Timothy 2.1, 2
“Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways!
I would soon subdue their enemies,
And turn My hand against their adversaries.
The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him,
But their fate would endure forever. Psalm 81.13-15
Government and the good society
Paul explained that a good society begins in prayer, specifically, as men beseech God in every way and every place for those who have authority and how they use it. Men who pray for a good society are more likely to embody it, encourage others to seek it, and work to make it a reality.
Civil government and all powers-that-be are God’s servants for good. Society is good, in the first instance, when authorities maintain order and civility—when people can live, work, study, and socialize in peace and quiet. Any government which, without repression or violence, manages a social atmosphere of peace and quiet is serving the purposes of God.
All those in authority are accountable to God to create and maintain just and good societies—homes, schools, businesses, cultural institutions, communities, governments. Moreover, all people have a sense of what “goodness” and “justice” look like, and they know when they are living in peace and quiet with their neighbors. This is because, at least in part, God has created people with the works of His Law written on their hearts (Rom. 2.14, 15).
Thus, Christians should expect that, as we are faithful in listening to God’s Word and walking in His ways, we can influence the people and powers of our society to follow suit. Put another way, as godliness increases within the Church, those outside the pale of faith will be inclined to imitate our example (cf. Mic. 4.1-4).
The second characteristic of the good or just society, according to the apostle Paul, is that it promotes the flourishing of virtue—godliness and dignity. Here is precisely where Christians may expect to hear the objection, “You can’t legislate morality.”
In fact, morality is the only thing you can legislate, for all public policies are grounded in and expressive of some moral system. In our secular society, public policies increasingly reflect utilitarian, pragmatic, relativistic, or partisan ends. But such views, because they reject unchanging or absolute standards of goodness and justice, only create conflict and uncertainty and lead to political partisanship and gridlock.
When the only standards guiding the creation of public policy are grounded in worldly aspirations and hopes, disappointment and uncertainty will be the order of the day. And the more such worldviews are put in force by legislation and public policy, the less we can expect peace and quiet and godliness to obtain.
Beginning in prayer, Christians must work to help government and all those in authority serve for a just and good society. This means we must seek to interpret the canons of godliness, revealed in God’s Law, into the public policy agendas of our institutions. And that means working for laws and policies that reflect the teaching of the Law of God.
Keeping the Law will not save lost people. However, a society informed and shaped by God’s Law can expect to know more of His blessings than one that defies or ignores His holy standards.
Godliness and public policy
How can Christians bring more godliness into public policy? First, by setting a godly example in all aspects of our lives, including praying for those in power and authority at every level in our society. But let me suggest three additional approaches to working for morality more in line with that which God approves.
First, we must always oppose laws that require or permit ungodly practices. Confiscatory taxes, for example, have no basis in God’s Law. Nor do certain schemes for redistributing income. It would not be just for a community to be required to allow a porn shop to open if the council and people felt this was a compromise of the community’s moral code. Private organizations should not be compelled to hire people who do not share their worldview or mission. Such achievements may seem unlikely, but we need only recall the recent overturning of Roe v Wade to show what determination, prayer, and hard work can do.
Second, we must seek to encourage policies that reward godly behavior. Giving tax breaks for charitable contributions falls into this category. Community programs that foster a form godliness—scouting and FFA, for example, and church planting, or time-release programs in schools—should be encouraged. Zoning laws, building codes, and community covenants can preserve the value of neighbors’ property and the beauty of a community. School curricula, business practices, institutional missions, even children’s sports leagues can foster godly behavior and should be a focus of policymaking.
Third, we must seek to persuade the powers-that-be to adopt policies that restrain ungodliness. Defining ungodliness will always be a challenge. But consensus exists on certain matters. Thieves should be punished, as should be those who instigate violence or riots, who slander or maliciously injure others, or who are publicly obscene. As much as we can agree with the existing consensus on such laws, Christians should support keeping them and establishing more such laws to restrain wickedness.
Affecting public policy for godliness can be a long slog, and there will always be much work to do at lower levels of policymaking before laws encouraging godliness are put on the books. We must work those levels diligently toward the time when laws can once again be crafted to promote godliness in every form. If men pray, that will provide a good start and a solid foundation.
1. In any society, those in authority operate at various levels and in many venues. What are the “power centers” of your community?
2. Do you know any Christians working in those “power centers”? Do you pray for them and for those who work with them?
3. What does your church do to equip its families to understand justice and the Law of God? What are you doing for yourself in this regard?
Next steps—Transformation: Put together a list of local powers-that-be to pray for regularly, even if only by office rather than name. Encourage others to join you. Take up the study of a just and good society, and work to become an example of what you are learning.
T. M. Moore
What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your free copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here. To gain a better understanding of how the Law of God applies in daily life, order a free copy of our book, A Kingdom Catechism, by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.