Individual Responsibility in a Lost Society
by Dave Brown
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This article is about individual morality, not about government or politics. Christians are to accept and honor whatever government that they are under (Romans 13), as long as doing so does not violate God’s law (Acts 5:29). We also have an obligation to be a positive force for good in our world in every way that does not violate God’s laws, according to Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.”
The last verse in the book of Judges sums it up (Judges 21:25): “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (see also Jud. 17:6; 18:1 and 19:1).
Most Christians have interpreted this in the same vein as the overall principles given in the Pentateuch – that the reason they so often fell upon hard times was their departure from the rule of the LORD. While this conclusion is correct, we challenge that this is the intent of this verse. There must be some relationship between the first clause and the second. The implication is that the first clause (no king) caused the second (people ignoring God). There is no evidence later that the presence of a king per se resulted in their obedience. True, in a few rare events when a king was faithful to God, the people (generally) followed, and goodness and righteousness resulted. But these were very rare exceptions, and so it cannot be said that the people did God’s will when they had a king. In all probability the idea is that they did the king’s will as opposed to their own.
Since the theme of this verse is repeated so often, we can look to the overall tenor of the book of Judges to get a better interpretation. There were a few glimmers of faithfulness to God during this period, as is true later on when the kings ruled. But the largest difference seems to be that of the enforcement arm of the government. God had essentially said: “Because of your faithfulness, I have given you the promised land, and I have subdued your enemies to the extent that you have done your part. Now enter into this land and continue to follow my commands and all will be well.” During the time of the judges, the enforcement of these laws were generally left up to the local tribal eldership governments that loosely ruled the population centers. There was no central government, and there appears to be little concern for an enforcement arm of the tribal government. Even the crime of murder was left up to a near relative, called the avenger, to handle (see Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19 and Joshua 20).
This does not mean that a central government was going to be any better – it was against God’s will that the Children of Israel should set up a king over all of them (1 Samuel 8:7). The local governments should have been sufficient to handle the relatively few reprobates had the majority been doing God’s will. However, that was not the case, and the local elderships did not have the resources to assure stability. Even Eli’s sons were guilty of flagrant sins and violations of the law that should have been dealt with by what we call the civil government – or in their case it would be that part of their government that had authority over these things. But apparently that did not exist, and since everyone could do what was right in their own eyes, they did. The entire book of Judges screams out to us that the things right in their eyes were not right in the eyes of God. Rarely if ever do the inclinations of untrained individual consciences coincide with the will of God.
Are we any different today? The burden of proof must fall upon those who assert that we are different. All we need to do is to look around us and draw the obvious conclusions. What happens when the enforcement of law breaks down. Consider Chicago and other inner cities where the gangs have taken over. They are the law and they do what is right in their own eyes. Look at our southern border where drug lords are clearly defeating the greatest military power that has ever existed. Why? Simply because there is no rule of law … enforcement is discouraged for whatever reason one wishes to believe (it does not matter what the motives are, this article is talking about the results). Look at the lawlessness in New Orleans after Katrina. Look at other countries where the enforcement of laws has broken down and you can see a modern day “Judges” living out before your eyes. Essentially, what is the sense of even having a law if it is not enforced?
So what can we say? In many places both in our country and throughout the world: “In our day there is no enforcement of the law: every man is doing that which was right in his own eyes.” Do we have to have the gift of prophecy to see where this is going to lead if the lack of enforcement continues? Ultimately it will be anarchy followed by tyranny – terrible consequences and evil at both ends of the power spectrum.
So, what is the Christian’s responsibility in a society where law enforcement is breaking down? First, let us not become part of the problem. If, in fact, the vast majority in any community would have a high sense of morality, the problem would be solved immediately. We need to do all that we can to promote that, although when we do our best, we have to have faith in God that what He is doing (and allowing to happen) is for the best (Romans 8). We should be thankful when our neighbors are generally good moral people – not everyone enjoys this blessing.
We can avoid adding to the problem by studying, learning and doing God’s will for us as given in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the New Testament (Eph. 5:17). As Jesus was persecuted for standing for the truth, so we will be persecuted. Our responsibility is to be a shining lights in the darkness, even when this leads to persecution and reproach. Jesus said it best in the sermon on the mount (e.g., Matthew 5:11-16):
“Blessed are ye when (men) shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you. 13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. 14 Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do (men) light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. 16 Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
This is enough; we are pilgrims here; our home is in heaven. Let us rest and take peace in these thoughts, “for great is your reward in heaven.” Another passage of encouragement and comfort is Matthew 10:25-33
“It is enough for the disciple that he be as his teacher, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household! 26 Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. 27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak ye in the light; and what ye hear in the ear, proclaim upon the house-tops. 28 And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father: 30 but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. 32 Every one therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. 33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.
It is enough to do what Jesus did. Let us be faithful in following Him and not think that we have some religious obligation to go beyond His teachings (2 John 9).
Next Pilgrims article: "Give Us A King"
Jesus gives his conditions for salvation: God's Plan of Salvation
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