God or government?

Published 9:12 am Friday, October 1, 2010

In a vain attempt to trap Jesus, the Pharisees and the Herodians banned together to ask Jesus about paying taxes (Matthew 22:16-22).

They thought that no matter what side of the issue he took that Jesus would create problems for himself. If he opposed the tax, he would be in trouble with the Roman government that created the tax.

If he approved the tax, he would be in trouble with the Jewish people who were forced the pay the tax.

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Showing himself to be the master respondent, Jesus asked for a piece of the tax money, which bore the image of the emperor on one side and an inscription in Latin on the other side.

He used the coin and the occasion to teach that some things belong to God and some things belong to government, and each should get what belongs to them.

He said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). The applications for us are obvious.

Some things do belong to government. It is divinely appointed (Romans 13:1). It should not surprise us, therefore, that the Bible speaks of our obligation to the government. We are to obey the government (Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 1:13-15). We are to financially support the government (Romans 13:7).

We are to honor and respect governmental officials for the office they hold (Proverbs 24:21; Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:7). We are to pray for governmental officials (1 Timothy 2:1-3). In fact, Christians should be good citizens and a blessing for any country in which they reside.

By contrast, some things do belong to God. It should also be clear that our obligation to him supercedes any other obligation we have (Matthew 6:33). Just as the Roman coin bore the image of the emperor, Christians bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and we belong to Him above all else.

This means that we owe God certain things. We owe him worship (Exodus 29:3-5; Matthew 4:10; Revelation 4:11). We owe him obedience (1 John 5:3; Acts 5:29). We owe him service (Acts 27:23; Galatians 2:20). We owe him love (Matthew 22:34-38; 1 John 4:19).

Generally there is no conflict between what we owe the government and what we owe God. This does not mean that I like every law, but there is a big difference between a law that I do not personally like and one that violates God’s will. If there is a conflict, God’s law always takes precedence (Acts 5:29).

It should also be clear that any interface the Christian has with the government must also be in keeping with Christian principles. Even when we oppose a proposed or enacted law, we must not act in any unChristian way (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:15). We must also avoid being insulting and demeaning about others’ views (Matthew 7:12). We must avoid blind partisanship that ignores the facts.

I am thankful for good men and women who seek public office and serve honorably. I personally exercise my right to vote, and I encourage others to do the same.

Yet, I realize that whatever happens here — though important — is only temporary. As Christians, we look forward to that which is lasting (1 Peter 1:3-9). Furthermore, I also realize that while good government can improve our world, the deeper needs that people have can only be met by the gospel (Romans 1:16).

Tom Miller is minister of Greasy Ridge Church of Christ in Chesapeake