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The Making Of
A Better
Society

The Making Of A Better Society

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
April, 1999


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Last updated:
March 31, 1999.

ALTHOUGH JESUS WAS completely aware of the social injustices of His day, He refused to allow His compassion to draw Him into any party or movement.  When an individual complaint was brought to Him, Jesus asked, "Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" (Luke 12:14).  Yet in His condemnation of the greed of the Temple rulers and the cruel hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and the woes He pronounced upon those corrupt and blind guides, there is seen a deep consciousness of the social ills of His day, and His effort to rid the nation of them.

Jesus of Nazareth was not a rabble-rouser, nor did He promote a program for social reform and political reorganization. Nevertheless, no teacher has ever been more intent upon bettering the conditions of men than was He.  Jesus set forth principles not programs.  He knew that conditions will change through right ideals in the minds of men, so He sought through His teaching to free men of greed and of hate by implanting within them a genuine and sincere love for one another--an equal love for friend or foe.  So Jesus would not perfect society today by having his people march on the capital, nor by getting involved in some sweeping political reform, nor by a frenzied turn-out at the voting booths.  No, He would have the society change by the regeneration of each and every individual.  The disciple's responsibility therefore, is to preach the gospel of regeneration to all men.

THE FAMILY

We have heard that the home is the foundation of a society, for "as goes the home," they say, "so goes the nation."  Each home is a unity within the population.  Destroy the virtues of the home and the moral foundation of the nation will crumble.

Jesus teaches that the marriage relationship is of divine origin, and that under no circumstances can its demands be set aside. Divinely appointed marriage is extremely important to a society as a whole, because proper marriage is the foundation of the home, and the home is the foundation of the society.  No nation can be any better than its homes.  To have a strong nation, it must be made up of homes with strong Christian principles.  If the marriage tie between husband and wife is weak, the home is resting on a weak foundation.  If the marriage tie rests on shifting sand, then the home is insecure.  When the floods come and the winds blow and beat upon that house it will fall.

DIVORCE

In Matthew 19:3-9 Jesus points to God as the creator of marriage which makes it a divine institution.  He said, "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female....  and they twain shall be one flesh."    Here Jesus declares that God made the first pair, Adam and Eve; that He made them male and female; and that He made them for each other.  He also shows marriage is the primary human relationship.  "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh."  The relationship between parents and their sons and daughters is one which is exceedingly intimate and precious, but the fathers and the mothers of the bride and groom must be willing to take a secondary place in their lives. Furthermore, Jesus teaches that marriage makes the husband and wife one.  "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh."  The Christian husband and wife are truly "heirs together of the grace of life" (I Peter 3:7).

MARRIAGE IS FOR LIFE

Marriage is a life-time relationship.  The Lord said, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."  It is not a temporary arrangement, but it is permanent for life  (Read Romans 7:1-3).  The marriage bond is permanent and is broken only in one of two ways--by death or by fornication being committed (Matthew 19:9).  It was God's will in the beginning for the husband and wife to be bound together until death shall separate them.  God never intended that there be divorce, but neither did He intend that there be adultery.  Under the law of Moses God made provision that those guilty of adultery should be stoned.  When the scribes and the Pharisees brought the woman taken in adultery to Jesus, they said to Him, "Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned; but what sayest thou?" (John 8:4-5).  Where is it? Leviticus 20:10 says, "And the man that committeth adultery, with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adultress shall surely be put to death."  This left the innocent free to marry again.  Of course, in the Christian age we are not permitted to stone to death those guilty of adultery; hence, Jesus made this exception of fornication.  Paul taught that it was sinful to be one flesh with a harlot, and Jesus gave the way out if there is no repentance.

UNCLEANNESS

On this question of divorce the Jewish scholars were violently divided, and it was on this question that the scribes and Pharisees hoped to involve Jesus.  Moses' law said, "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house" (Deuteronomy 24:1).  The school of Shammai was certain that this uncleanness meant fornication. According to their belief, a woman could be a Jezebel, as long as she did not actually commit adultery, and she could not be put away.  On the other hand, the school of Hillel interpreted this matter of uncleanness in the widest possible way.  They said that it meant that a man could divorce his wife if she just burned the beans, if she went with unbound hair, if she spoke to a man on the street, if he heard her speak to his parents disrespectfully, or if she was a brawling woman whom the neighbors could hear.

The tragedy was that the obvious result followed--it was the school of Hillel whose teachings prevailed, and the marriage bond was often lightly held; it was tragically common that divorce was granted on the most trivial grounds.  So in effect the scribes and Pharisees were asking Jesus for His views on divorce, whether He favored the strict views of the school of Shammai, or the very lax views of the school of Hillel, and thereby seeking to involve Him in controversy.  Jesus' answer was to take the marriage bond back to the beginning; it was absolutely irrefutable that Adam and Eve were created for each other and for no one else.  So should it be today (1 Corinthians 7:23).

DUTIES TO THE NATION

Two incidents in the ministry of Jesus are recorded to illustrate His teaching on the disciple's duty to the nation.  First, there was the case of the Temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27).  The Temple in Jerusalem was a costly place to maintain.  There were the daily morning and evening offerings of a year-old lamb (Exodus 29:38-39). The incense had to be burned perpetually (Exodus 30:7-8).  There were many other offerings to be made.  There were the costly hangings which from time to time had to be replaced.  The robes of the priests were constantly in need of replacement.  Of course, the robe for the High Priest was like that of a king.  All of this required a great deal of money.  So in the Law was a provision that required every Israelite male over twenty years of age to pay an annual Temple tax on one half-shekel (Exodus 30:13-14).  That amount was about two-day's wages.

In Matthew 17 Jesus paid the Temple tax.  The tax authorities came to Simon Peter and asked him if His Master paid this tax.  Peter promptly replied that Jesus did pay it.  Then wondering Peter went to tell Jesus about this matter.  Jesus said to Peter, "Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?"  Peter answered, "Of strangers."  "Then are the children free," said Jesus.  We understand that if any ancient king imposed taxes on a nation, those taxes were not levied on his own family and his household.  It was for the support of his household that the taxes were imposed.  Now the tax in question was for the Temple, which was the house of God, and Jesus, of course, was the Son of God.  But Jesus said, "Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee" (Matthew 17:27).

TAXES

The second case which illustrated Jesus' teaching on the disciple's duty to the nation was that of tribute to Caesar.  (Please read Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:21-26).  The land of Israel at that time was an occupied country and the people were subject to the Roman Empire.  The Romans exacted taxes from the Jews, which was a bitter experience for them to pay taxes to a heathen king and his government.  The question was asked of Jesus, "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?"  This clearly was a loaded question which the Herodians put to Jesus, for the purpose of entrapping Him.  They felt that they had Him in a perfect dilemma.  If He had said that it was unlawful to pay the tax they would promptly report Him to the Roman tax officials as a seditionist and they would have arrested him promptly.  On the other hand if He said that it was lawful to pay this tax to Caesar, He would stand condemned in the eyes of the Jewish people.  To a Jew God was the only King; to pay tax to any earthly king was to admit the validity of his kingdom and thereby insult God. Therefore, the more fanatical Jews insisted that any tax paid to any foreign king was necessarily wrong.  So whichever way Jesus answered, at least His questioners thought, He was in trouble.

But Jesus wisely asked to see a coin, which was stamped with the Emperor's head.  Jesus asked whose image was on the coin.  The answer was that it was Caesar's.  Then Jesus said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."  With His unique wisdom Jesus, as always, laid down principles which are never out of date.  Here He lays down a very great and important principle--that a disciple of Jesus has a double citizenship--he is a citizen of an earthly country, and to the country's government, where he lives, he owes his respect and obedience to its laws, and he should pay the taxes which this government levies (See Romans 13:1-7).  But, above all, the disciple of Christ is a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. These two citizenships should not clash, but the Christian's first loyalty and responsibility is to Christ (Matthew 6:33; Acts 5:29; Philippians 3:20).

LAWBREAKERS

Jesus' authoritative teaching brought difficult questions from both his friends and foes.  Often the Pharisees tried to induce Him to commit Himself on various questions so that they might bring the charge of treason against Him.

The account of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:3-11) is an example of Jesus' attitude toward law-violators.  The foes of Jesus brought this sinful woman to Jesus thinking that she would likely appeal to His sympathy.  If they were interested in dealing justly with this case, they should have brought the guilty man also, but they evidently felt that "the friend of sinners" would involve Himself in a fault of which they could accuse Him.  They seemed to say as an insult to Jesus, "Here is one of your friends.  What will you do with her?"  Wisely Jesus reserved His answer until His foes were gone, and He was left alone with the woman.  To her accusers Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."  Clearly conscience-stricken they "went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last; and Jesus was left alone and the woman standing in the midst."  Then Jesus said to the woman, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?"  The woman said, "No man, Lord."  Then Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more." 

Jesus did not condone sin.  He told the woman, "Go and sin no more."  The punishment in the Law for such crimes was clear if it had been sought honestly.  But, in this situation, to stone this woman to death would not save her soul, but to extend compassion and love would give her opportunity to redeem herself.  Instead of writing off men as hardened criminals, Jesus would offer the offenders the opportunity to become disciples and put them to useful service to God and man.

CARE FOR THE POOR

The Jews had always been faithfully benevolent in their care for the poor.  God told them that as they harvested not to gather all, but to leave a portion for the poor (Leviticus 19:10).  Also, every third year a tenth was taken for the poor, to be eaten in their own dwellings (Deuteronomy 14:28,29).  The responsibility for caring for the unfortunate and dependent would naturally have the approval of Jesus, however, there is no record of Jesus putting on an appeal for alms for the poor, or encouraging the construction of a benevolent organization.  It is obvious that Jesus always emphasized individual responsibility.  The command to the rich man to sell his possessions and give to the poor, found in Matthew 19:21 and Luke 18:22, is the only direct instruction He gave on this question.  The charity that He stresses is more for the sake of the giver than for the receiver!  This is seen in His words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).  The Apostles instructed the members of the early church to give to the necessity of the poor among them (1 Corinthians 16:1,2).  This benevolence began immediately upon the commencement of the church of Christ (Acts 2:42-45).  Jesus is certainly the perfect example in giving.  Paul paid to Jesus this worthy tribute: "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich"  (2 Corinthians 8:9). 

THE IGNORANT

The context of Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:1-2, shows clearly that the "little ones" are the weak and helpless.  Pity and contempt are mingled in the strong words with which Jesus denounces those who would mislead these "little ones" or cause them to stumble.  This is also discussed by the apostle Paul in Romans, chapters fourteen and fifteen.  Such teaching calls for the strong not to crush the weak, but to nurture them.  It demands that the learned not mistreat the ignorant, but rather teach them and guide them in the Truth.  This duty calls for unselfishness and self-sacrifice on the part of Christians.  Today's disgraceful society inflicts the horrors of war on the weak, forces the poor into cruel military systems, and mistreats the lowly with unscrupulous business practices.  The little ones in today's world are the underfed, overworked, and ignorant masses of society who are victims, not only of their own vices and ignorance, but too often are victims of the burdens imposed by the rich and ruling class of men.  Compare this to Paul's words to Christians, "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Romans 15:1).

If all would become true children of God there would be no such abuse and mistreatment; there would be no war, there would be no murder, and there would be no stealing.  If all would follow the New Testament there would be no need of police and jails and prisons (Romans 13:1-7).  There would be no need of burglar alarms and locks on doors (Ephesians 4:28).  The Lord knows well the aggressive, self-centered spirit in the unregenerated man, but the goal He sets forth for each disciple of Christ is not to seek personal honor or fame, but to hope for only the glory that may accompany self-sacrificing service for those who need the help of the strong.

You see, the Lord provides a cure for every social ill.  When each person is converted to Christ the cure for violence, strife, conflict and immorality is found.  These are banished with anger, revenge, selfishness and impure thoughts.  His correction for poverty is, first, in each person's development of a sense of personal responsibility to take care of themselves, and their own (1 Timothy 5:4), and then, secondarily, the development of a love and compassion in those who are strong and possess wealth and authority to recognize that these are responsibilities rather than privileges.  The Lord's pattern for living will eliminate crime and slothfulness, causes of poverty.


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