What’s an Exile to Do? Live a Holy Civic Life

Posted by R. Fowler White

“It is the duty of people to pray for those in authority, to honor them, to pay them taxes or other revenue, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority for the sake of conscience. Neither unbelief nor difference in religion makes void the just and legal authority of officeholders nor frees the people—church authorities included—from their due obedience to them” (WCF 23.4). In a partisan political environment, the preceding statement might appear as if somebody’s trying to pick a fight. Then again, others will recognize it as, essentially, the teaching of the Apostles Peter and Paul. In 1 Pet 2:13-17, specifically, we find Peter’s exhortation focused on the church’s civic life following on his general call in 2:11-12 for them to live lives of moral excellence in Gentile society. In fact, civic life is one of three spheres (state, family, and church) about which Peter will give God’s direction to Christians in 1 Pet 2:13–3:12. The big idea in 2:13-17 is this: live your civic life for the Lord’s sake. Notice how the Apostle breaks this down.

First, he says, be subject to human government—take your place under it, subject yourselves to it—for the Lord’s sake, that is, to commend the Lord Christ to others (2:13-14). Plainly, the starting point of Christian civic life is deference to the interests of our God, the ultimate Sovereign who puts earthly magistrates in place, both higher (here, the emperor as supreme) and lower (here, governors as sent by him), for His glory and for the public good. This is not to say that these authorities get to rule absolutely or lawlessly. Quite the contrary. No human authority is God or is outside of His control. Moreover, as sinful creatures, human rulers will sometimes contradict God. If these rulers command citizens to sin, let them be resisted or replaced by rulers who do not command sin. Christ and His Apostles certainly knew what it was like to live under magistrates who were neither Christians nor God-fearers. Their fellow citizens worshiped the Roman emperor as God and other gods too. If not that, then, they were counted as atheists. Knowing this larger cultural context, Peter’s message is forthright: church, take your place under human government to commend to others the ultimate lordship of Christ and, with that, their accountability to Him.

According to the Apostle, the Christians’ subjection to human government serves another purpose: to silence mudslingers and faultfinders (2:15). We’re to remember that God puts rulers in place not just to punish lawbreakers, but also to praise law-keepers. In that light, even though we don’t regard magistrates as God, we should abide by their lawful commands because, in general, the effect of our law-keeping will be to shut up those who falsely accuse us of unpatriotic insubordination or worse. Maybe Peter alludes here to the Roman tradition in which government honored citizens for good works that benefitted their cities. More likely, Peter thinks back on Israel’s exiles. Through the Prophet Jeremiah, God clarified for them how they were to live away from their homeland. He said, seek the prosperity of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its prosperity you will find your prosperity (Jeremiah 29:7 NASB). Even so, we should pray on behalf of the communities in which our churches congregate and make every effort to be law-abiding citizens to silence the faultfinders and mudslingers.

In 2:16-17 Peter steps back to paint a broader picture of a holy civic life. Living holy lives as citizens means living as God’s servants, free from sin’s bondage to serve God, never free to do wrong (2:16). Once again, our civic life is about deferring to the interests of our God. The Apostle mentions four obligations. First, honor all people (2:17a). Even those with whom we have disagreements, we’re to treat with civility. Let others be disrespectful: we’ll respect our fellow citizens, because they, as we, are created in God’s image. Second, love your Christian siblings (2:17b). With them we have a communion that we just don’t have with our fellow citizens. Only with Christian siblings do we do ministries of worship, discipleship, evangelism, and mercy for God’s glory. Appropriately, then, we’re to have a special, higher degree of devotion to our fellow Christian exiles. Third, fear God (2:17c). Again, Peter stresses that we’re to live in reverent awe to please our Father and to avoid grieving or dishonoring Him (1:17). Fourth, honor governing authorities. Peter distills his lesson in this paragraph once more. We’ll not be disrespectful but civil to magistrates and pray for them, because our wellbeing in this world is ordinarily tied up in theirs. By doing these things, we’re not saying that government is God. Rather, we’re saying that God has freed us to serve Him, and in His service there is no license to dishonor earthly authorities. To the contrary, God has made it our obligation to respect His ordinance of civil government.

From their own experiences (Acts 4:5-22; 5:17-42; 24:1–26:32; Rev 1:9), Peter and the other Apostles knew well that life for Christian exiles in a highly partisan political environment is a high stakes drama. In that light, Peter requires us to give our fellow citizens no warrant to accuse us of being lawbreakers or worse. Rather, as good—holy!—citizens, we’ll take our place under earthly magistrates, commending to them and our fellow citizens the ultimate lordship of Christ and their accountability to Him.

Are We All Cainites Now?

Posted by R. Fowler White

Isn’t there an increasing likeness between our culture and the culture of Cain and his descendants? Sure seems so in some key ways. Consider that question in the light of Gen 4:16-24.

Like Cain and his descendants, we claim to be “people of faith,” but we don’t live coram Deo. Notice Gen 4:17-18. Cain and his wife were fulfilling God’s command to fill the earth, but notice the names that they gave to their sons: several had a short-hand version of God’s name (“El”) embedded in them. What are we to make of those names? Arguably, in them, the Cainites displayed a form of godliness, but they didn’t live their lives coram Deo, that is, in God’s presence, under God’s authority, to God’s glory. In that sense, they took God’s name to themselves in vain. What happened then appears to be happening today. Like Cainites, some have taken the name of God-in-Three-Persons in Christian baptism but have no discernible intention of living coram Deo.

Our culture seems to share a second likeness to Cainite culture too. Like Cain and his descendants, we endorse marriage and family, but we redefine them apart from godly virtues. Look again at Gen 4:19-24. Cainites believed in marriage and family alright, but in just seven generations from Adam, they had exchanged monogamy for polygamy, and husbands like Lamech sang of their ability to intimidate their wives. Similarly, in our culture: secularists redefine “marriage” and “family,” celebrating what God condemns. Meanwhile, professing Christians take marriage vows but live together oblivious to biblical teaching on marriage.

Our culture looks to be Cainite in a third way. Like Cain and his descendants, we seek community, safety, and beauty apart from God’s altar. Notice Gen 4:17, 20-24. Cainites produced food and clothing, tools and weapons, musicians and instruments. They had milk and meat, but no milk or meat of the Word. They had clothes, but not the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. They made tools to build tents and weapons to wage war, but they had no tent of meeting with God, no spiritual armor. They had livestock, but no Lamb of God. They sang along with Lamech’s taunt and doubtless even silly love songs (cf. Gen 6:2; Matt 24:38), but not the songs of ascent or the Song of Songs. So, where did the Cainites find all this community, safety, and beauty? Excommunicated from God’s presence (Gen 4:16), they had to find these benefits away from His altar, apart from His Spirit and His Word. Too many in our society and our churches seem bent on seeking and finding community, safety, and beauty away from God’s altar too.

A fourth likeness between our culture and Cainite culture is observable. Like Cain and his descendants, we demand justice, but we lack the fear of God. Look again at Gen 4:23-24 and its cultural legacy in Gen 6:5-12. Cain’s descendant Lamech mocked God’s justice, bragging of a better justice that lacked the restraint of God’s lex talionis (Gen 4:24). Increasingly, like Lamech, our culture defies God and deifies man. And the taunting spirit of Lamech that lives on in our society brings it neither justice (Gen 4:23) nor peace (Gen 6:5, 11).

As a culture, we demand justice, but with no fear of God in our hearts. We claim to be “people of faith,” but we don’t live our lives coram Deo. We endorse marriage and family but redefine them on our own terms, not God’s. We seek community, safety, and beauty, but find them apart from God’s altar. And what are the results of our likeness to Cain and his descendants? Paraphrasing the words of cultural commentator and theologian David Wells, our society has rapidly lost moral altitude. We’re not merely morally disengaged, adrift, and alienated; we’re morally obliterated. We’re not only morally illiterate; we’ve become morally vacant. The onset of this spiritual rot has come so rapidly that many would say that we’re in a moral free fall. Since we’ve abandoned the pursuit of virtue, we’re left to talk about values, but our values have no universal value because the idea of absolute truth has disappeared from public discourse. We’re looking now at a society, a culture, even a civilization that, to a significant extent, is travelling blind, stripped of any moral compass. Some would even say that we’re all Cainites now. Is there any way of escape? Yes! Face the brutal facts. Don’t be like Cain. Be like Abel, Seth, and their descendants, who called on the name of the LORD (Gen 4:26). Just as they did, confess our rebellion, individual and corporate, against Him (cf. Jude 1:14; Heb 11:7). Just as they did, subject ourselves in faith to Him and His Christ, acknowledging that His wrath is quickly ignited against us rebels, but that all who take refuge in Him are blessed (Ps 2:12).

A Jeremiad

The America I knew and loved growing up is almost completely gone. The name, at least, remains. Some call it progress. I call it destruction. The people in charge are those who yell and scream, not those who debate with reason and analysis. The political world consists of those who have become so practiced in screaming that I wonder they have any vocal cords left. All political orthodoxy is assumed, not proven, not debated. It is shouted. The power of the shout, and the accompanying shatter of glass, is the only power that means anything today.

This same hatred has poured forth into the Christian world, the theological world, even the “academic” world. Freedom of opinion is not allowed any more. Only certain voices can be heard, because they shout the loudest.

For what then can we weep? Must we not weep for the wrath of God that is coming even through these glass-shattering shouts? Must we not weep for the silenced voices (which are not the voices the world thinks are silenced)? Must we not weep that we will shortly be joining our martyr brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as of a piece with the persecuted church? Must we not weep for the veil Satan has drawn over so many people’s eyes so they cannot see the spiritual warfare?

What hope have we? We have the hope God gives us. God gives us hope that silenced voices are only silent on earth. They are not silent to God. Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground, though his voice on earth was silent. We have the hope of resurrection. Like Abel, Jesus’ blood also cried out, but in a far higher key, to God for our forgiveness. It thunders in heaven. And because of that thundering, God raised Him from the dead. We have the hope that God’s shout of wrath is not the only loud voice He has, though even there, that voice is far louder than the world’s voice. His voice of many waters thunders forth judgment on the enemies of God, but also grace for God’s people.

It is right to weep for the loss of peace and tranquility for the Christian, though not right to cling to the idol of comfort. It is right to weep for the lost, who seem to be growing more and more blind. It is right to weep for the saved, who must now find a backbone where little was required before.

On the other hand, it is right to rejoice in trials of various kinds, counting them pure joy. The church will be a lot smaller five or ten years from now. All the fair-weather friends of Christianity will be gone. The fear of man will have scared them spineless (not that they ever had a spine!). The only people left will constitute a much more pure church. And a much more pure church can have a much more positive effect on the world. All of this is happening to purify the church. Remember that world history exists for the sake of church history, not the other way around. God is heading up all things in Christ the Head. His providence is still at work, even when around us all we seem to see is evil. Evil will not have the last word. God will.

Loving Our Country

Each Wednesday morning I send out to our congregation a revival prayer letter. A small group of our members use this every Thursday morning, and others privately, to pray for revival in our church, and in our community.

This morning’s Wednesday’s-4-Revival prayer letter addresses the topic of our nation and the church. While there is not any profound insights in this letter, it does (I hope) offer a biblically ordered and coordinated way of praying for our churches and communities, to the end that both the Kingdom of Christ is advanced, and our nation is blessed.

Given our focus today, I thought I might share it a bit more widely.
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Wednesdays for Revival #64
July 4, 2018
Reed DePace

Loving Our Country

A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us.*


Historically Amazing

 

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photo: jeff hamilton, unsplash

As a fan of history (double undergrad degree in American History and geo-political science), I appreciate how blessed America has been in her short time on earth. She is rightly to be considered among the top ten world-spanning empires in history. This is not just in terms of her power. Yes, in comparison to other nations in her own time, America is the most powerful militarily, economically, and even to some extent, socially. Even today, in the midst of signs of her decline, and the rise of enemies (both old and new), America is the single largest exporter of cultural influence, the ‘currency’ which is a key component of an empire.

Yes, she has her problems. There is (once again) a terribly large and growing gap between her richest and her poorest. As well, real expressions of injustice continue to plague her. Yet, even in these areas of negative assessment, America stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world. America’s poor are at least equal to, and in most cases, more materially blessed than a majority of the poor in the rest of the world. There are even many countries where their middle classes enjoy less material comforts than America’s poor enjoy.

When it comes to justice, yes, any injustice is a stench in God’s nostrils. Yet there is far less injustice in America than in just about any other country in the world. And even where there is injustice, the American system provides a better chance of rectifying and restoring justice than do the vast majority of the rest of the nations that currently fill the earth. What’s more, the level of personal freedom in America, the degree to which the individual can go where they want, when they want, to do what they want, without being questioned, is still among the greatest ever seen.

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photo: frank mckenna, unsplash

Compared to the rest of the Top Ten Empires, America has seen greater prosperity, greater freedom, and greater justice, for a greater percentage of her citizens than all the other world-dominating empires, and by a large margin. If God could tell the Israelites going into captivity under the tyrannical Babylonian Empire that would rape, pillage, and destroy their beloved homeland to:

… work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jer 29:7

How much more do we citizens of the Kingdom of God have greater reason to praise God and seek his blessing on the nation of our earthly citizenship?

Dangerously Ill

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photo: andrew ruiz, unsplash

In spite of her great blessings, it is true that America is in some ways dangerously ill. Given the state of our social discourse, it is almost impossible for me to give examples. For each example I give, some will think they’re hearing me agreeing with them on their list of “America’s Worst Problems.” Still others will take offense, thinking I’ve dissed their list of what they think is wrong with America. The truth of the matter is I just have an opinion, more or less  informed than yours, depending on the topic at hand. But that we can’t even begin to civilly discuss such things possibly demonstrates just how ill America is.

Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided against itself is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.” Mt 12:25

History shows that any nation in which democracy is the driving political principle is in danger of self-destruction when the majority will not allow for any social (i.e., public) disagreement with their opinions. That is, a democracy is always in danger of dissolving into a mobocracy, the rule of the mob (e.g., think: the French Revolution). While America was founded as a modified expression of democracy (i.e., the will of the majority filtered through and diluted by representative government), our government has more and more moved toward unfiltered, pure democracy. Worse, in our social discourse, our public discussion, and debate of our differences, the mob already rules. Just stand up and offer an opinion that the majority disagrees with. Overnight social hatred will form into an opposition in which its kindest and gentlest will utterly silence you. Worse, and increasingly more commonly than we care to admit, social opposition from the majority-mob threatens to remove your enjoyment of any dream for material comfort in this world, let alone the American Dream.

No nation in this world can achieve a state of perfection in which even a majority of her citizens experience the best of life all the time. In other words, Utopia is a fantasy that may sell books, but it is never going to be a blueprint for a viable nation. That America has come closer than most in achieving the utopian pipe dream is also a danger. It leads us into a dangerous pride in which we think we just need to try a little harder to get our point across to our opponent. We end up just arguing more angrily and then dividing further. And truly raw, no restraints mob rule creeps closer and closer to taking over our dreams for a better America.

Glorious Hope

So, is there any hope for America? Even though she will follow all the other secular empires and succumb to the King of Kings, is there any hope that America might find more grace and mercy from God? Yes. For within her midst is  a source of salt and light that God promises to use to bless her:

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world– like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. Mt 5:13-15

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photo: james bloedel, unsplash

In every nation and in every generation the Church (those who through Spirit-born living faith are united to Christ) is the hope of real blessing to that nation. Today this hope in the Church in America is still real. No, I’m not ignoring that America is increasingly treating real Christlike Christianity as the one enemy to be completely eradicated from her land. God is still sovereign though. And Jesus is still the victorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sits on the throne over all nations. This means that the Church in America can still be the blessing our nation is so desperately looking for in all the wrong places.

So, what do we do? We follow Jeremiah’s advice to the Jews who went into captivity in Babylon. We pray for God to bless America with the only blessing that will make any real lasting difference. We pray, in other words, for God to send a revival across our land. We work for the peace and prosperity of America. This is not the earthly peace and the material prosperity that will disappear when Jesus destroys the nations that follow the great enemy empire described in Revelation 18. Instead we work for the advancement of the gospel. We give ourselves to our own worship and discipleship under the Spirit’s enabling. And then we go back to our communities and tell them that Jesus has something better, and more satisfying, than even the American Dream.

Let your conversation be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you will have the right response for everyone. Col 4:6

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, forgive our nation for her many rebellions against you. Forgive your people in America where they have cared more for their lives in this world than your glories. Heal your church. Restore hope in America that Jesus is the only answer needed. Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.

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* This weekly prayer devotional focuses our attention on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you (Ps 85:6)?  For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams (Isa 44:3-4).  Pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block in your schedule over the next week and use this devotional to focus your prayers. As you can, consider fasting from a meal and using that time to pray for revival in our church.

Reed DePace