Church and State

Church and state are two distinct (though not necessarily separated) worlds. There is to be a cordial interaction between the two worlds. Christians are to obey all lawful authority that the state exercises. God has ordained whatever powers that be, even non-Christian powers. We are not exempt from obeying the civil magistrate, even if the civil magistrate is a non-believer. We are only to resist the civil magistrate if the magistrate commands us to do something contrary to God’s law. If they command us not to preach Christ, for instance, we must obey God rather than men. But these days, the balance is still on the other side. That is, we are not likely to be commanded to do something against God’s law. Unfortunately, hostility towards Christianity has been steadily growing over the last half-century. There is so much emphasis on the separation between church and state, that there is hardly any room left for connection. The separation was instituted so that there would be no state church. It was not instituted to eradicate Christianity entirely from the public arena, which is how most liberals interpret that separation these days.

It is lawful for Christians to exercise the power of the magistrate. It is even lawful to wage war on a just cause. For instance, it is entirely right and good to fight a Hitler and a Mussolini.

The WCF has an interesting take on the civil magistrate’s duty. This take shows us just how far away from our Christian origins we have come. It says “that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hat power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.” These are part of the duties of the civil magistrate. I wonder when was the last time any civil magistrate fulfilled these duties!

We must pray for civil magistrates, that they do the right thing, and be endowed with wisdom from on high.

Ecclesiastical power has no power over the civil magistrate. The power of the church is in the keys of the kingdom, which is not of this world. It is a spiritual kingdom. Therefore, the church is not to exercise civil power. However, that does not mean that the church is to be unconcerned with civil matters. The church has the right and the duty to advise and admonish the state in matters that concern the church.

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Matthew 5:10-12
Pine cones are an interesting phenomenon. Many trees in national forests are pine trees that have huge cones. These cones are as hard as a rock. Nothing seems to dent them. In fact, you could take a hammer to some of them, and it would accomplish nothing. They are impervious to everything save one. Heat. When a fire comes through the forest, the fire opens up the cone, and the seeds come out. A forest is reborn in that way. God designed the pine cone this way, so that a burned forest can be reborn. You can’t see what is in the pine cone until it has gone through the fire. Our faith is like that. Often you can’t tell if a faith is genuine or not until it has gone through the fires of persecution. Often, we are not even talking about trials and temptations. We are talking about real persecution.

Last time we saw that only the peacemakers are blessed by being called sons of God. We saw that we must make peace with God and with other people. However, no matter how much you strive to live at peace with those around you, you will not be able to live at peace with all of them. Some of them will persecute you. This persecution can be very subtle. But it will be there. Sometimes you will be left out of games or social functions. Sometimes you will get a dirty look. All the time, you will be talked about behind your back. People will call you a hypocrite. People will give you the cold shoulder.

But you might think to yourself, as everyone who is worldly thinks, “I don’t want persecution. Why should I suffer? I don’t deserve to suffer. I especially don’t deserve to suffer so much from other people.” The fact of the matter is, that there is always going to be persecution, whether you are a Christian or not. All people will undergo persecution. The Christian undergoes persecution in this life, and has blessedness awaiting him in the heavenly realm forever. The non-Christian has his blessings now, but will undergo persecution from God for eternity. This persecution is much worse, because it is just and according to the law. Everyone who undergoes that persecution will know that it is just and inescapable. So, the question for us is, “Do we want our lumps now or later? Do we want to undergo persecution now for the sake of Christ’s righteousness, or do we want our comfort now, and pay later?”

The world says that escaping persecution now is always the best policy. The world thinks that they can borrow on credit indefinitely. It is exactly the same thing as modern credit cards. You borrow now, and pay back later at a ridiculously high interest rate. It is usury. Often, the interest rates are as high as 24 or 25%. It is usually better never to use them, for that very reason. But they are just what the world likes. I can have my pleasure now, and put off to tomorrow the payment for it. But that is what God requires. If we have our sin now, God will require payment at a much higher interest rate than the world thinks. The world often denies that He even exists, much less that there is a law that must be obeyed. They think they can borrow and no one will require payment after all. They are much mistaken. God requires the highest interest rate of all, which is infinite payment, since God is infinitely holy. In fact, it is a payment that no one can actually pay. No one can pay what they owe to God.

That is why God sent someone to pay that infinitely high interest rate. Jesus Christ has infinite credit. He obeyed the law perfectly. And then he gave His credit to us after He had paid our debt in full. Not only is our infinite debt paid, but also we have eternal life, infinite credit, as it were. The call is for us to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But we must humble ourselves. We must recognize that there is no way that we can pay it ourselves, for we are spiritually poor, as the first beatitude says. Come to Jesus to find your debt paid, and eternal life granted to you.

So why believe in Jesus if you are going to be persecuted? Well, first we must distinguish between good and bad persecution. The persecution that Jesus is talking about and for which believers are to “rejoice and be glad” is not the hostility that twill come to them from the world because they have made themselves a nuisance, insulted people they are trying to influence, or been rude, crude, or fanatical. It is because they have become like Christ in his righteousness and are therefore being hated for righteousness’ sake, as Jesus was. Albert Barnes, a great commentator of the nineteenth century, puts it this way, “We are not to seek persecution. We are not to provoke it by strange sentiments or conduct; by violating the laws of civil society, or by modes of speech that are unnecessarily offensive to others. But if, in the honest effort to be Christians, and to live the life of Christians, others persecute and revile us, we are to consider this as a blessing.” In other words, we are not to be weird just for the sake of being weird. Just because we are not of the world does not mean that we are to be out of this world. Yes, we are different because we are Christians. However, this does not mean that we are somehow inhuman. We are humans upon whom God has exercised His grace. In other words, we are not to be offensively Christian, unless that offense is the cross. When it comes to the cross, we are to present that cross to the world without apology, knowing that the world reviles the cross.

So we are not to be persecuted for being weird. Jesus says that we will only be persecuted for a good reason, if we are persecuted for “righteousness’ sake.” Notice that in the next verse, Jesus makes it personal: Blessed are you when you are persecuted on my account.” So, to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus are the same thing. As another commentator says, “It is important that we get into trouble for the right reasons. How can we tell if persecution is for righteousness’ sake? By constantly checking our conduct with the word of God.”

Often people get into a “persecution complex.” They think that they are being snubbed or that offenses are being committed against them, when in fact they are reading into the situation that which is not there. This is not to be the case with us, especially when it comes to dealing with other Christians. We are not to assume that other Christians “have it in for us.” Can you read what is in another person’s heart? Then why do we often assume that we can? Is it not because we like the “martyr complex.” We want people to feel sorry for us. But what that is doing is making our identity to be based on what other people think of us. We should not do that. Instead, we should find our identity in Christ. He is the only person whose identity is worth sharing. We should be caring about what God thinks, not about what other people think. So that is dealing with a false persecution.

A true persecution comes under two conditions. The first condition is that what the unbeliever says about the Christian by way of accusation is false. It cannot be a true accusation for the persecution to be true persecution that God will honor. God never honors hypocrisy. We are to live blameless lives before the world. We need to know, though, that it is not our foibles that the world hates. The world never hates those, because they make them feel that we are just like them. No, what the world hates more than anything is a holy Christian. And just as much as the world hates a godly and holy Christian, in the same degree (actually in a much larger degree) does God love the holy Christian. They will tell you that it is the hypocrisy that they hate. That is not really true. They only really hate holiness. They grab hold of any little thing that will tell them that you aren’t really holy, and they will hold that up against the light. But what they really hate is a holy Christian.

The second condition for a persecution to be honored by God is that it is undergone for Jesus’ sake, or (which is the same thing) for righteousness’ sake. Jesus did NOT say, “Blessed are the persecuted.” He said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” He did not say, “Blessed are those who suffer.” He said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” On the one side, we are to avoid thinking that suffering is what life is all about. If we believe that sin was an intruder in this world, then suffering is an enemy, the biggest manifestation of which is death itself. So we are to fight suffering wherever we see it, such as in the hurricane victims in New Orleans.

However, we must not think, on the other hand, that suffering is to be avoided at all costs. Precisely because this is a sinful world we live in, suffering and persecution should never take us by surprise. Why not? Because Jesus said that this is what always happens to His prophets.

If you are being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then you are in good company, because all of God’s prophets had to go through this exact same thing. You are not alone. People often think that when they are being persecuted, they are quite alone. That is fear talking. The truth is that when you are persecuted for the right reason, you are in very good company. In fact, you are in the company of Jesus Himself. Jesus told the truth, and got killed for it. Why? Because people hate people who tell the truth to them. It is sinful human nature to think that way. They want their deeds to remain in darkness. So they vilify the light and anyone connected with the light. In fact, suffering and persecution is a badge that you are one of God’s people. It is a badge of honor. Just as a soldier would show a scar to someone to prove that he had been in battle, so also our persecution is proof that we are in the great spiritual battle with Satan and his sidekicks. So what is the reward that Jesus speaks of? What is our ultimate reason for enduring under persecution? The answer is that the “reward” is far beyond anything which men could possibly attain by their goodness that the very word “reward” has something in the way of irony about it. The reward is the kingdom of heaven. Our thoughts and minds and hearts should be dominated by thoughts of heaven. Let me repeat that. Our thoughts and minds and hearts should be dominated by thoughts of heaven. When they are, we will find that persecution in this life is a very very very small price to pay for such a glorious result. Every stone thrown at us becomes a precious gemstone in our crown in heaven. Every name that we are called in derision will turn into a beautiful name that God gives us. The road of persecution becomes the road paved with gold. The fires of persecution take our dross away and leave us pure gold. The waters of persecution turn into the river of life. And the sour apple of bitter opposition in this life becomes the fruit of the tree of life. There is not one trial or persecution that we undergo for the sake of Christ that will not be paid back one-hundred fold in eternity. The reward is great. Won’t you come to Jesus today?

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