CHRISTMAS AND THE GIFT OF A CIVIL SOCIETY

Adoration of the Magi by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. (from here)
Adoration of the Magi by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. (from here)

What is a civil society? Google this expression: “civil society” definition. What do you get? You get a bunch of hits: “About 25,700,000 results (0.35 seconds).” What do the top hits try to tell you? They suggest that the civil society is a bunch of things. For example:

Civil society is the “aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens.”[1] Civil society includes the family and the private sphere, referred to as the “third sector” of society, distinct from government and business.[2] Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon defines civil society as 1) the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens or 2) individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government.[1] (continued here at en.wikipedia.org)

Is it things that make a civil society possible? Throughout most of human history did men not consider it might that makes right? Are not most societies held together by powerful men who demand obedience? Yet is that true of a genuine republic? Doesn’t a republic require a moral people? What happens when a people of uncertain character try to rule themselves? Don’t they inevitably corrupt their own government? Don’t they abuse their right to vote and vote themselves their neighbor’s money and property?

So what is it that makes a civil society possible?

Leviticus 19:17-18 New King James Version (NKJV)

17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Imagine living in the ancient world, being raised in a land where people worshiped idols. You might trust your family and close relatives, maybe most of your clan, but a neighbor? Perhaps a fellow townsman, but a foreigner?  Yet that is what the God of Abraham required.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 New King James Version (NKJV)
17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

It was such an odd, impossible thing. Even the Jews could not do it. Since the Bible makes it clear the we must take care of our own first, the Hebrews sought to do that and for the most part succeeded in loving each other, at least those within their own tribes. Still, the Bible says we must love even the stranger, and even if the stranger wrongs us, we must leave vengeance to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35).

Some time back I wrote a series of posts on THE TEN COMMANDMENTS AND GOVERNMENT (PART 1 with links to the other posts here). The series sought to demonstrate that much of our law rests upon the Ten Commandments. Consider, for example, what has become the most cherished part of the Declaration of Independence, the belief that we have inalienable God-given Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Don’t the Ten Commandments forbid us from harming each other, in other words, require us to respect each others rights?

However, Jesus required more. In the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus explained that our salvation comes from a change of heart, not just our obedience to the Ten Commandments. We must strive to follow the example of Christ. We must behave like a Christian.

Romans 12:9-21 New King James Version (NKJV)

Behave Like a Christian

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Imagine being one of the early Christians. Did they run around executing people for worshiping idols? Why not? Doesn’t the worship of idols require break God’s commandments? Yet what did those Christians do? They overcame evil with good. They understood that Christians were not subject to the Law. Instead, to be saved we must put our faith in the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. To be saved, each of us must freely choose to humble ourselves before our Creator and rest our faith in Him. That is what means to be born again, that is why Christians support freedom of religious belief and why our society defends each man’s and woman’s right to pursue happiness their own way.

So what is the relationship between Christmas and the civil society? It is love. Read John 3:1-21, that passage that tells how Jesus explained to Nicodemus why he had to be born again. Here we learn how much God loves us.

John 3:16 New King James Version (NKJV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Beginning on Christmas Day Jesus began His life among us. While He lived with us, Jesus gave us an example. He told us and He showed us how much God loves us, and that He wants us to love each other. Only when we make the effort to love each other as Jesus loves us can we begin to have a civil society.

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