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Discovery Magazine 9/1/2000

Obeying Caesar

by  Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

Once you become a Christian, nothing becomes as important as loving God and keeping His commandments. You experience a great sense of freedom as you realize that your King and your home are anchored in heaven above, not on Earth below. Ah, but therein lies a temptation. You might start to think that your earthly leaders and their laws do not matter.

Through the centuries, this kind of thinking has wormed its way into the life of people claiming to be Christians. Some have used it to justify all kinds of wrongdoing, from murder to tax evasion. "God wouldn’t mind if we killed these non-Christians; they’re not saved anyway." Or, "I’m not going to pay taxes to a government that won’t allow prayer in school." These excuses are far from the principles of New Testament Christianity.

On one occasion, the Pharisees came to Jesus with the allies of the powerful Herodian family. This was a strange friendship indeed. The Pharisees hated the Roman domination of their land. "We Jews are God’s chosen people," they thought, "so why should we have to honor Caesar, a foreign ruler?" They had no love for the Herodians, who looked to Rome for their power. But the Pharisees wished to trap Jesus, and the Herodians would be their witnesses. So they posed this question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?" When they said "lawful," they meant "Is it something God would approve?" If Jesus said "No," that would show he was a troublemaker, and threatened Roman power. If He said "Yes," that would show He was not a patriotic Jew.

Of course, the Son of God saw through their treachery. He asked for a coin, and showed them the face of Caesar and his name stamped on one side. Whose coin was this? Caesar’s, of course. Jesus’ next statement was brilliant: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s" (Matthew 22:21). The word "render" here means "returning something that you owe." The Jews used Roman money in business. They depended on Roman soldiers to keep the peace. So the Jews owed something to Rome.

Does this mean we have to split our lives in two, between God and the state? No, because part of being obedient to God includes respecting our earthly rulers. The apostles taught the same principle. "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities," Paul wrote, "for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God" (Romans 13:1). And Peter encouraged Christians to "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" (1 Peter 2:17).

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