Christian Citizenship - Its Privileges And Its Obligations
(Editor's Note: The following article by Bro. Bonds Stocks was taken from THE CHRISTIAN JOURNAL, one of the finest papers among the many papers published by churches of Christ. It is published by the Academy Street Church in Dickson, Tenn., where Bro. Stocks preaches.)
"Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord; In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19-22.)
A citizen is "one owing allegiance to and entitled to protection from a government."
The Christian is a citizen of two governments. He is a citizen of the temporal government under which he lives. You are I are citizens of the United States and as such we owe allegiance to that government and are entitled to its protection and care. A citizen of the United States is entitled to and assured of the protection of his government regardless of where he is. This fact is graphically illustrated in the case of Angus Ward, a citizen of the United States, who sometime ago, was released by the Chinese Communists after being held prisoner for about a year. The resources of our government brought pressure to bear until he was finally given his freedom.
The Christian is also a citizen of divine government. "For our citizenship is in heaven." (Phil. 3:20 ARV.) The church is the kingdom of God on earth, and members of the church are citizens of the kingdom.
As citizens of the United States, it is our duty to be loyal to the constitution of the United States, to obey its laws, to respect its lawmakers and law enforcers. When we do that, we are entitled to all the privileges of citizenship. There are some conditions, however, under which we can lose the rights of citizenship. Those who are sentenced to penal institutions for certain crimes are deprived of the rights of citizenship.
As citizens of divine government we are subjects of the King of Kings - Jesus Christ. We must be loyal to the law of the kingdom as laid down in the New Testament. When one has complied with the requisites for citizenship as given in the New Testament, he is a citizen of the kingdom, has all the rights that inhere in such citizenship, and assumes all the responsibilities of good citizenship.
It is the purpose of this lesson to examine some of the privileges and a few of the obligations of Christian citizenship. In preparation for such a study there are two fundamental truths that need to be appreciated. They are:
1. Christians are subjects of the King of Kings.- . . . for he is the Lord of lords and King of kings; and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." (Revelation 17:14.) Christ is the absolute monarch of divine government. (Revelation 19:16.) Jesus of Nazareth, whom God hath declared to, be both Lord and Christ, has never oppressed his subjects. He has no ax to grind, no selfish interest to serve. He has all power in heaven and on earth, and all this power he exercises, not for self-aggrandizement, but for the protection and welfare of his loyal followers.
2. Christians are ruled by a perfect and permanent law. The New Testament is the perfect law of liberty. (James 1:25.) It is designed for the welfare of God's people.
On the front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., these words are enshrined: "Equal justice Under Law." We know, however, that human law is imperfect, and that there are many flaws in the laws that are on our statute books. We know, too, that even when our laws are right, those who administer them are subject to the fallibilities of the flesh, and for that reason there are many miscarriages of justice. It is constantly necessary to revise and amend human laws.
This is not true in the realm of divine government. The laws that are given in the New Testament are perfectly adapted to the needs of God's people. It is not necessary for us to concern ourselves about trying to improve them because they are perfect, When they were enacted by heaven, they were not experiments but, because they were born of divine wisdom, they were, from the beginning, characterized by finality. Not only do these laws need no improvement, but those who tamper with them in any way bring themselves under the anathama of heaven. (Galatians 1:6-12 ; Revelation 22:18, 19.) So the Christian has the privilege of living under a law the only object of which is his prosperity, his happiness and his eternal welfare. Another fine thing about God's law is that it is permanent. (Hebrews 13:20.) Citizens of our government do not know how to make their plans for next year because they do not know what the law will be. But God has given us his law for all time. We know that it will be the same next year as it is today. Jesus vouched for the permanence of his law: "Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away." (Matthew 24:35.)
1. Christians are members of the most highly favored kingdom on earth. "That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who, sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:12, 13.) Christians are those who, although they were once aliens from God's kingdom and strangers to God's covenant, have had all their sins taken away in the blood of Christ. Think of the privileges of the Christian as outlined in the second chapter of Ephesians. Others may live in palatial mansions surrounded by luxury, but Christians live in a tabernacle cleansed by the blood of Christ! Others may walk with the great and near great, but Christians walk with God! Others may be friends of the famous, but Christians are related to every other member of the blood-washed throng! Others may have influence in the citadels of temporal power, but the Christian has power with God! Others may build their lives on the foundation of material security, but Christians live by faith in the only etornally successful leader Jesus Christ! Others mav be proud of the blue blood in their family lineage, but Christians are members of the household of God!
2. Christians are members of the purest kingdom on earth. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (I Peter 1 :9.) Children of God - citizens of the kingdom - have the best environment on earth. Their most intimate companions are the best people on earth. The atmosphere of Christianity is wholesome and invigorating. It is true that the kingdom, while it remains on the earth, is not composed of people who are sinlessly perfect. It is rather composed of people who have had their past sins washed away in the blood of the lamb of God and who are growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. In the Christian commonwealth evil is the exception rather than the rule, and it is never condoned by faithful Christians.
3. Christians are members of the most enlightened kingdom on earth. "Giving thanks unto the Father which has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light who hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear son." (Colossians 1 :12, 13.) The kingdom of God is the realm of light. Jesus declared, "I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12.) There are many Christians who do not know much about Einstein's theory of relativity, who do not comprehend all the mysteries of atomic energy, and who have little familiarity with the ways of the world. It is nevertheless true that the genuine Christian is the most enlightened man on earth. He follows in the footsteps of him who is the light of the world and his daily food is the word of truth.
4. Christians are members of the most profitable kingdom on earth. This is true in two senses. First, the Christian life is the happiest, the freest, the most wholesome and the healthiest life there is. (I Timothy 4:8.) Those who are loyal to Christ are promised a hundredfold now in this time, and in the world to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29, 30.) Second, Christian citizenship is the most profitable in that it is through Christians that God brings blessings to the people of the world. God opens the hearts of his people to minister to the needs of the world.
5. Christians are members of the most exalted society on earth. "And hath raised us up together, and made us to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us, through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6, 7.) This is one of the most expressive statements in the Bible with respect to the glory and grandeur of the church. God's church is the reign of Jehovah on earth. Christians are those who have been saved from sins and exalted to places of preeminent privilege by virtue of the simple fact that they are royal citizens of divine government. (Revelation 1 :5, 6.) God has exalted us to membership in the church that he may prepare us for the rich blessings that will be the legacy of the faithful in the world to come. Christians are not often among the "four hundred" of society or the aristocracy of this world, but God has exalted them to places of eminence in the kingdom of Christ - the kingdom that Christ will one day deliver up to the Father. ( I Corinthians 15:24.)
6. Christians are members of the only permanent kingdom. "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28; cf. Daniel 2:44.) The kingdom of heaven is the only society that will endure permanently. Christ will deliver it up to God. ( I Corinthians 15:24.)
Now let us consider some of the duties and obligations of, Christian citizenship. In the realm of divine government and elsewhere privileges are always accompanied by an equal amount of responsibility. Jesus recognized this principle when he instructed his apostles, "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8.) The duties of Christian citizenship may be summarized under one general heading - obey the king. Since we are the subjects of Christ, it behooves us to be loyal to him. He has all authority in heaven and earth, has every right to expect us to honor his authority. He is "the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him." (Hebrews 5:8, 9.) To obey Christ is to obey the law of Christ and his apostles as given in the New Testament. "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15; cf. John 15:14.) It is our duty as Christians to exercise the privileges of Christian citizenship to enjoy to the fullest all the blessings that are rightfully ours as children of God. It is our responsibility to support wholeheartedly the program of the congregation of which we are members. Some of the duties of Christian citizenship are:
1. Prayer. "Be instant in prayer," our Lord instructs. "Pray without ceasing," is the admonition of the Holy Spirit.
There are some things that many members feel they cannot do, but surely all can see to it that the program of the church is supported by their prayers. "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of . . . " (Tennyson.)
2. Attendance of the services of the church. (Hebrews 10:25.) This is absolutely indispensable to fruitful labor, fervent service and faithful discipleship. The services of the church are ordained, not for God's benefit, but for the welfare and prosperity of our souls. It is utterly impossible for able-bodied church members to habitually absent themselves from the services of the church and maintain their loyalty to Christ. Those who think they can do so are self-deceived. They do not understand the nature and purpose of Christianity, and unless they repent of their lukewarmness, indifference and indolence they will be eternally lost.
3. Righteous living. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men teaching us that, deriving ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." (Titus 2:11, 12.) The sinless Christ is our example and when we become his disciples we pledge ourselves to walk in his steps. (I Peter 2:21-25.) Christians are the light of the world, the salt of the earth, living and walking Bibles that are read of all men. (Matthew 5:13, 14; 2 Corinthians 3:2, 3.) If we live in flagrant violation of the great moral principles of the gospel we not only destroy our own influence and condemn our own souls, but we give thoughtless men an excuse to attack the religion of Christ. Let your light shine, Do not reflect on your Savior by sordid living, but live in harmony with the doctrine of Christ that you may be a reflection and radiation of the light of the cross.
4. Personal evangelism. "Go, ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature . . ." (Mark 16:15.) It is the duty of every Christian to preach the gospel to the very best of his ability - and every Christian has some ability to teach. If one cannot speak publically, he can teach privately. If one cannot speak at all, he can write. If one can neither speak nor write, he can preach an eloquent and effective sermon by living the gospel. It is fine for a congregation to have one or more full time evangelists - men supported by the congregation because they devote all their time to preaching. But remember that no one can be hired to do your work. Regardless of how many preachers a congregation may have you are not relieved of your responsibility to preach and teach. It is the obligation of every Christian to visit the sick, call on negligent members, help the weak, comfort the sorrowful, and help restore the fallen. (Galatians 6:1.) What Christian cannot distribute tracts and literature, write letters, send postal cards, make telephone calls? (Galatians 6:9, 10.)
5. Faith, consecration, devotion, sacrifice. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (I Corinthians 15:58.) Let us give sacrificially of our time, talents and material resources to, the advancement of the Lord's cause. Cast your bread upon the waters and it will return with interest.
We will have no trouble in fulfilling our obligations as Christians if we will obey the admonition of our Savior in Matthew 6:33: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Truth Magazine II:2, pp. 16-17, 21-22