Law, Wisdom, And Charity: Life In A Twofold Kingdom

Under the subject line “2k” P writes,

If Abraham the sojourner had no trouble making secular deals with people in Canaan, why did he refuse the offer of possessions from the king of Sodom?

What would have been so wrong if the king of Sodom had made him rich?

Should I tell the man in my church who is about to close on a massive construction deal with Hugh Hefner — don’t do it — because Hefner might say, “I made that man rich”?

Hi P,

As I understand God’s twofold kingdom, that distinction gives us a way of analyzing problems but it is not as if there is a single twofold-kingdom answer on which every Christian will agree. After all, Luther held to a two kingdoms analysis of Christ and culture and Calvin taught a twofold kingdom and they came to different conclusions. American (post-1789) adherents of the two kingdoms disagreed with Calvin and Luther regarding the government’s role in establishing and maintaining orthodoxy as did Abraham Kuyper.

The question seems to assume that “if a twofold kingdom, then x.” If so, that logic is suspect.  My first instinct would be to read the narrative of Abraham and the king of Sodom (Gen 14:21–24)  in light of the progress of the history of redemption. Is the point of the narrative to teach us how to relate to the “kings of Sodom” in our lives? I doubt this is a good way of reading Scripture.  Rather, we should ask how this narrative fits into the larger story of Genesis. What point is Moses making here? How does this narrative fit into the patterns (of sin and grace) evident in Abraham’s life hitherto and after? Abraham’s life does illustrate something of what it means to live in God’s twofold kingdom but I would be hesitant to draw straight lines from him to us because there is a discontinuity between Abraham, an actor in the canonical history of redemption, and our lives today. We are not actors in that story. We participate in it by faith (Heb 11), by identification with our forefathers in the faith but we live in the post-canonical world. We remember redemption. We benefit from redemption. We receive it by grace alone, through alone, in Christ the promised Redeemer, but we are not actors in that typological story leading up to the incarnation, obedience, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The question also seems to assume (please forgive me if I am drawing the wrong inference) that recognizing that we live under God’s twofold kingdom somehow dispenses with the moral law. Yes, we do live in two spheres simultaneously but a believer is always under God’s moral law in both. As a citizen of the common sphere, under God’s sovereignty and authority, I am not free to enter into business relations that compromise my profession of the Christian faith. Obviously, Paul tells us that we’re not to “go out of the world” (1 Cor 5:10). We do to business in the common sphere with unbelievers but should we do business with notorious people? We have to buy milk from pagans. We pave roads in common with unbelievers but one usually has a choice whether to do business, to enter into a partnership, with a notorious person or business entity. I don’t know if I could say that it was sin but it might be. Does Romans 14:20–23 instruct us here?

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

What might be the effect, the consequences, of such a business relationship? Might it send the signal that pornography is indifferent? Might it send the signal to younger or weaker Christians that “mature Christians” are free to disregard the moral law (in this case the seventh and tenth commandments)?

Wisdom is also an important category by which to analyze this situation. Is it wise for a believer to enter into a business relationship with a notorious person or entity? What is the nature of the relationship? When I buy milk from unbelievers I am not entering into a partnership. I am exchanging something of value (money) for a good or a service but when the transaction is over our relationship is more or less over. Buying grain from a pagan grain dealer does not ask me to compromise my faith or the demands of God’s holy law. Is that true in the case of a business partnership or even a brief transaction with a notorious person? Does it send the signal that, when there is a lot of money on the line, the faith may be set aside temporarily?

Is a construction deal with a notorious person equivalent to buying supplies for one’s business or home? Probably not. Is it wise to become entangled in a business deal with a notorious person or corporation? I suppose Christians might come, in good conscience, to different conclusions. I would be reluctant to enter into such a relationship just as I would say that believers are not free to marry unbelievers.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God…. (2 Cor 6:14–15)

I would be reluctant to receive an offering from gambling winnings. I still think there is such a thing as ill-gotten gain. Would a business deal with a notorious person or business entity create the appearance of evil? Even pagans know to ask that question. Would such a relationship bring the visible church into disrepute? Paul says that we are free to eat with pagans until they make the meal explicitly religious (1 Cor 10:23–31). There we draw the line.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?  So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved (ESV).

Is there an analogy here? Is the nature of Hefner’s business not common but essentially wicked? I think so. His business is essentially exploitative. It corrupts the image of God. It preys on weakness. It is a sinful business. His very business is contrary to God’s holy law. Would one enter into a business relationship with an illicit drug dealer (e.g., the local crack dealer) or the local pimp? Hefner is a wealthy pimp but a pimp nonetheless. By contrast, a pagan grain dealer, is just a grain dealer. A farmer has to buy grain and there’s no biblical reason to say that he should only buy grain from Christians.

Following Paul’s instructions not saying that one should not talk to Hefner—far from it. How are we going to speak the law and the gospel to him unless we talk to him but giving witness to the faith is not entering into a contractual, business relationship with a notorious person.

Knowing that we live in a twofold kingdom is truly helpful but under that rubric there are other things to consider. Understanding that there is a distinction between the sacred and the common is a beginning but we must still reckon with God’s holy law and with the demands of wisdom and charity toward our neighbor and toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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  1. So, when you sup with the Devil, do you make sure to use a long handled spoon? Or better yet, don’t sup with the Devil.

  2. We have a member of our church who was hired by a call center. It turns out that the call center’s client is a cable TV provider. So when he had to take calls about an adult TV channel, he quit, knowing that it would place him under quite a bit of hardship. This issue again comes up repeatedly when some of our members are required to work on Sundays, when their work can’t be considered a “work of necessity.”

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