In the Christian Faith, a good citizen is one who carries out all his private and public societal obligations faithfully. What do I mean by societal obligations? Societal obligations are those obligations that we have by virtue of nature. Psalm 128 is a good place to find what I like to call “stations” or “spheres” of societal obligations. It even gives us, what I think is, an order of priority.
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! 2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. 3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. 4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. 5 The Lord bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! 6 May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon Israel!
Let me give you the order of societal obligations using the text.
1. Being a faithful worshiper of God (vs 1)
2. Work and self-reliance (vs 2)
3. Family and Children (vs 3)
These three are the primary societal obligations. Fulfilling these are the most important and if one keeps them well the Scripture says, “Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” Many people will not answer a call higher than these first three and that’s ok because they are bedrock, and without them civil society fails. However, for those that fulfill the first three obligations well, the opportunity to accumulate more influence and responsibility as we age, and grow in wisdom arises. The following four spheres of societal obligation from Psalm 128 come on the heels of mastering the first three. They are,
4. Church service and leadership (vs 5a)
5. Regional community leadership, civil and otherwise (vs 5b)
6. Grandparent, multigenerational success, long life (vs 6a)
7. National leadership and prominence (vs 6b)
These last four usually accumulate once you demonstrate competency in a vast array of life skills, technical skills, personal skills, etc. combined with God’s timing and Providence.
A good citizen, or one that maintains their primary societal obligations (God, Self-reliant labor, and Family) well, do not provoke the civil magistrate to use his singular power, that of the sword.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
Failure in the first three obligations leads to a slew of unhealthy and self-perpetuating societal problems such as sexual deviancy, violence, and broken civil trust. These are all major problems that the civil magistrate must employ the sword to manage. To use the sword is to use force or coercion. If I kidnap you and hold you for a year, I am liable to be held myself, in a cage, in the future, for a much longer term… in prison for kidnapping! Why? Because I do not possess the power of the sword. If the civil ruler does this to you, he is violating no law because he has the special power to do it. The prison system is an outworking of this power, along with police officers, district attorneys, and even armies for that matter.
Fulfilling the first three societal obligations well should be the platform then, indeed a prerequisite for, a citizen to gain further influence and responsibility across his society as a civil magistrate. This is why we generally place age restrictions on office holders. It is important for people to live as responsible citizens for a time before being granted authority over others. Those who rule should first learn to live in subjection and thus prove their competency to govern other citizens.
In summary, a good citizen then is a citizen that needs to be governed least. Further, good magistrates are always good citizens first. It is from good citizens and good magistrates that good government is erected. As Richard John Neuhaus famously said, “Culture is the root of politics, and religion is the root of culture.” That’s why the very first station we must fill is to be a faithful worshiper of God. If citizens, magistrates, and governments are to be good, then they must be made good. And if they are to be made good then they must be washed in the blood and spirit of Christ, redeemed from the curse of sin. And all this is from the God of grace Who is Himself Good, and Who created everything visible and invisible, world without end. Amen.
May the Lord richly bless you all in Christ
Pro Christo Rege… For Christ the King