The Law of God and Public Policy: A Good Society (5)
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 and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2.1-4
A good society
A good society, according to the apostle Paul, is one where those in authority at all levels work to maintain peace and quiet, encourage godliness in all its forms, and promote human dignity and wellbeing. These ideas of “goodness” can be interpreted into public policy, in both private and public spheres; and it is the responsibility of the Christian community to work for such a society by every available means.
Beginning with prayer. If we will not pray for a good society—earnestly, daily, in every context, and by all means—we cannot expect God to do what only He can do in bringing His goodness to light in the land of the living (Ps. 27.13).
Believers must teach these concepts of goodness in every generation, defining goodness and a good society in ways that are not susceptible to easy alteration or adjustment, but have their grounding in fixed truths. Since, in our highly utilitarian, pragmatic, and narcissistic age, people are inclined to change their meanings and values to match their whims and wants, it will be important for the members of the Christian community to keep before the world—by word and deed—those unvarying precepts and moral principles, found in the Law of God and all Scripture, which alone can ensure that society will tend more toward the good end of the social spectrum.
Absent any meaningful and persuasive Christian presence in public policy arenas, society’s center cannot hold, and things can fall alarmingly apart over time. Without solid grounding in the Law of God, and all the counsel of God in Scripture, Christians will not be able to contribute to helping civil government and authorities at all levels achieve the good society which Paul outlines in 1 Timothy 2.
A fourth criterion
Paul adds a fourth criterion of the good society: It is friendly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A good society, the apostle observes, fosters an environment in which the Gospel can flourish for the benefit of all.
An environment hospitable to the Gospel does not just happen. Nor does it continue apart from continuous vigilance on the part of those who understand the true nature and importance of the Gospel from bringing God’s goodness to light. Indeed, as Paul indicates in Romans 1.18-32, the natural tendency of humankind, once God is rejected and replaced with idols of various kinds, is to drift further and further from the kind of moral environment which the Gospel finds hospitable to one in which the Gospel is regarded as an enemy of human “freedom.”
No one is going to come to our defense in working to maintain a strong Gospel presence in our society. Christians must work to ensure that the government which serves them and those who exercise authority in society remain friendly, not just to religion in general or to some vague notion of worship or spirituality, but to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the faith once for all transmitted to the believing community. The key to this being so will be our ability to live the Gospel in such a way as to find favor with our neighbors (Acts 2.47).
This will be a challenge in every generation, for, as Paul elsewhere reminds us, we only realize more of the Kingdom of God through trials and affliction (Acts 14.21, 22). We may well be required, should the situation warrant, to oppose policies and practices that seek to curtail or silence the proclamation of the Gospel. Scripture provides grounds and means for civil disobedience of any government which would do so, and Christians must be neither ignorant of these nor reluctant to employ them when appropriate. God’s desire is for all to be saved. They will not all be saved, of course; but public policy must not be the reason for that. Governments must not throw up a hindrance to anyone hearing the Good News, and authorities at all levels of society must recognize the freedom of believers to live for and talk about Jesus.
“Roping off” the Gospel
A misguided view of the doctrine of the separation of Church and State has been a tool whereby the enemies of the Gospel have enacted policies which have the effect of “roping off” large sectors of society against the preaching of the Gospel or the input of Christian teaching into public life. Public schools and the public square have been all but cut off from the input of Biblical thinking. Christians may teach and write and preach all we like about the Scriptures. But we may not do so wherever we like. Some constraints against preaching are reasonable, of course. People who have paid money to hear a concert or study a course should not expect to be interrupted by a Gospel harangue. Owners of businesses have a right to determine what kind of behavior they will tolerate on the sidewalks and in the parking lots and workspaces of their establishments, and they may exclude any form of solicitation or conversation which they find disagreeable to their purposes or interests. At the same time, Christians must show by our diligence, productivity, and support of our co-workers, that bringing Jesus into the workplace can positively affect an organization’s culture and mission.
It is in the interest of any society for as many of its members as possible to know the Lord Jesus and to learn His Word and walk in His ways. Government must not infringe the right of Christians to gather for worship and other activities. All authorities must protect the right of believers to live and talk about their faith with as much zeal as one might discuss a favorite team or a new restaurant.
When public policy begins to encroach on the Christian’s freedom and duty to proclaim the Good News, or to bring the benefits of the Gospel to the community, believers must continue our mission nonetheless and be ready to bear whatever punishments those in authority may choose to inflict. Christians do not seek suffering, but we must not shun it, particularly when by our suffering we can work for public policies more in line with the centrality of the Gospel for the wellbeing of all people.
It is the Christian’s duty, working through the means of the Gospel and the opportunities for public-policymaking, to help to ensure that a society friendly to the Gospel continues to exist in our day and beyond.
1. Why is it so important that Christians live their witness in every social context? Can we testify of Jesus credibly if our lives do not back up our words? Explain.
2. The Gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom, which is, as Paul wrote, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18). How can Christians work to bring more of this Kingdom presence into their life spheres?
3. If someone, seeing the hope that is in you, should ask a reason for it (1 Pet. 3.15), what would you tell them?
Next steps—Transformation: Review all the places you go each week. How diligent are you in seeking to bring the presence of the Kingdom there? How should you pray for the coming of the Kingdom in all your spheres?
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.