is a familiar passage:
Mat 22:15-22 NIV
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. (16) They sent their disciples to him along with the
Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of
integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You
aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. (17) Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right
to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" (18) But
Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you
trying to trap me? (19) Show me the coin used
for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, (20) and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose
inscription?" (21) "Caesar's,"
Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is
God's." (22) When they heard this, they
were amazed. So they left him and went away.
helps first to know who these Herodians are:
First, they are
the strangest of bedfellows for the Pharisees, for these are the political
lackeys of King Herod – the Pharisees’ rival for power. That these two should
make common cause shows the depth of hatred each had for Jesus.
They are not,
primarily, a religious group but a political one. Herod’s concern in this
matter is rebellion; he’s a toady to Rome and he keeps his throne by keeping
the peace and collecting the taxes. Jesus seems a likely leader of a
important than this is that they might not be known to Jesus by sight – and
therefore are the ideal people to pull off this little trap.
were a number of theories about in Judaism of the time on why a devout, pious
Jew should not pay taxes to the Roman government:
One was the
“citizen of the world” theory. As the pious Jew was a servant of God, the
ruler of heaven and earth, he therefore had no obligations to any government.
He should then be exempt from Roman taxes, just as an American working in the
United States would be exempt from, say, British taxes.
The other theory
was the “saintly rebel” idea. If a man is saintly enough, that should be
sufficient for any government. (A modern parallel might be Gandhi.)
enticement, then, is that Jesus is so holy that he would declare himself exempt
from taxation. It didn’t work – largely because of the character of Jesus.
character of the teacher
Pharisees and Herodians unwittingly provide us with the answer in their
description of the teacher named Jesus. Let us see the standard they draw:
The teacher must
be personally truthful, teaching the way of God, not of man.
He must show no
partiality – as is demonstrated by Christ’s answer, equally suitable for
Herodian and Pharisee.
Christ makes his
point with their coin (nice of them to bring the visual aid to the lesson) –
showing his desire for their own salvation. He does not just dismiss them out
lays out for them the basic principle of the relationships between church and
state. Find out what is owed to whom, and act accordingly. In more general
terms, we must our responsibilities with regard to the state and fulfill them.
All else belongs to God.
with ANY form of government
than jump right into democracy, and the upcoming elections, we begin by
outlining the responsibilities of the Christian to any form of
legitimate government. Most of what Paul wrote applies directly to the Roman
Empire, which was certainly no democracy.
do we have any responsibility to the government at all? Why couldn’t we be
just a citizen of the world, for instance?
First, God ordains
those governments. He put them in place, and did so largely for our benefit.
They benefit us; we should be willing to support them.
Our prime mission
is evangelism and training disciples. This, history has shown, is best
accomplished in a time of peace. (Think of the missionary explosion in the
last half of the nineteenth century during the Pax Britannica.) The first duty
of government is to keep the peace – which is to the benefit of the Kingdom of
specifically commanded to be obedient.
Finally, there is
the practical argument Jesus brings forth here. You use their coinage, you
recognize their authority. A Confederate dollar bill is of no use at the
grocery store; only at the antique shop. You use the roads, water, sewer and
other services of government? Then support that government.
Baseline Principle: Submission
this amounts to is submission to the government. Submission is simply the
right response to righteous authority. That requires a definition of that
authority, but once that is done the Christian’s submission can then become a
witness to the rest of society.
just what is it that we are commanded to do? What are the duties that all
Christians owe to their government?
We are to pray for
We are not to
curse our leaders, but respect them.
We are to “fear
the king” – and not join in with the rebellious.
We are to
“persuade with patience” – strive to make improvements in government in
patience and wisdom.
We are to seek the
peace and prosperity of the nation – even if that nation is a conquering one.
We are to pay our
all this we may add the duty of normal obedience. Stop at the stop signs and
don’t run the red lights.
this is well and good, and generally known to Christians. American Christians
are prone, however, to add to this the idea that we should espouse democratic
capitalism as the one God-approved system on the planet. This can be a
discredit to the church if you are visiting another country.
what does the citizen of a democracy need to do above and beyond what the
Christian of any time and place needs to do? We may lay out the basic
out the rightful authority and submit to it.
Do so in such a
way that others will find the Gospel attractive.
I suggest the following things which are unique to democracy but fall within
Participate in the
political discourse of your time. Campaign, argue, letters to the
editors and so on.
Hold your leaders
to account – morally. Make it clear to your leaders that corruption, abuse of
authority and greed are simply not acceptable. The “bully pulpit” is ours.
Don’t duck jury duty; be outraged when justice is perverted.
For those who are
called and gifted this way, run for office. Move within the political system.
It doesn’t apply to most of us, but it could apply to any of us.
straightforward list, but there is one section missing. What do we do when the
government is evil and oppressive?
problem with evil government
must begin with one fact: if the government holds itself to be supreme over
the issues of right and wrong, conflict with the church is inevitable.
This is particularly true in the “last days,” when evil will abound.
So how do we conduct ourselves in this situation?
We must realize
that our struggle is not primarily against the government, but the forces of
It often happens that the government recruits the hordes of police needed to
threaten the populace by threatening each member of the horde. Our charity to
others, even others associated with an evil government, must not fail.
inevitable. Therefore, we must suffer in such a way that the Gospel may be
heard – which, incidentally, causes God to bless us.
If we need to flee
oppression, do so.
Some of us have the strength to be martyrs to the cause; most do not. We are
permitted to run – and spread the Gospel as we go.
We must look to
our weapons – the weapons of God, not the world. We are to overcome evil with
good. As one martyr (Bonhoeffer) put it, “It is immaterial whether the power be good or bad, what
matters is that the Christian should overcome evil by good.”
may be in all this that God, in his providence, will rescue us. But that
should not matter to us.
Martin Luther, in his commentary on Romans, summed it up this way:
“By faith the Christian makes all things subject to himself; for
he is neither ruled by them nor does he put his trust in them. He compels them
to serve his glory and salvation. That is what it means to serve God and to
rule as kings. That is the spiritual rule, of which we read in Revelation
5:10 NIV) You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and
they will reign on the earth."
The world is conquered and subdued in no better way than despising
it. The spirit of the believer therefore is subject to no one, nor can it be
subject to anyone. It is exalted with Christ, and all things lie subdued at
matter how evil the government, it is only temporary. We are eternal. More
than that we can say:
Rom 8:35-37 NIV
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or
persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (36) As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." (37) No, in all these
things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
God; dread naught.