Chapter 41: SHE
TEACHES MEN TO GIVE TO GOD AND TO CAESAR
by Bill Burchett
Churches of Christ are careful
to stress the Biblical concept of submission to duly constituted authority. Not
only is the Christian to submit himself to God, he is to be subject to those
agencies which God has authorized and ordained. Only in his submission to these
is he showing true submission to God.
The Christian is a citizen of
two kingdoms - one earthly and one heavenly. Some would argue that since our
citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), we have no obligation to any
earthly government. The apostle Paul, who penned the preceding passage,
certainly did not limit his citizenship to heaven. He was a citizen of both Rome
(Acts 22:26-29) and the kingdom of our Lord (Colossians 1:13), and obviously did
not see an impossible conflict.
An attempt was made to ensnare
Jesus on this same subject by the Pharisees (Matthew 22:15-22). Jesus, however,
showed that instead of a conflict of duties, there was perfect harmony. He not
only escaped the snare, but in his answer, he laid down a law for all time,
"Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and unto God the
things that are God's." Christians, disciples of Jesus, those who are obedient
to God, should take their stand for law, for loyalty, and for order.
GOVERNMENT ORDAINED OF GOD
Both the Old and New Testaments
state vividly that earthly rulers have authority from God. "Blessed be the name
of God for ever and ever; for wisdom and might are his. And he changeth the
times and the seasons; he removeth kings, and setteth up kings" (Daniel
2:20-21). To Nebuchadnezzar the statement is made, ". . . for the God of heaven
hath given thee a kingdom, Power, and strength, and glory" (Dan. 2:37).
In the New Testament Jesus
makes it clear to Pilate, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except
it were given thee from above" (John 19:11). Paul, an apostle of God and a Roman
citizen, writes to the Roman church, "Let every soul de subject unto the higher
powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of
God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:
and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Romans 13:1-2). In
verse 4 of the same passage the apostle twice refers to civil power as "the
minister of God," and repeats the thought again at verse 6.
Clearly civil government is
ordained of God. Anarchy is not the Father's will for men.
SUBMISSION TO GOVERNMENT
Christians are to be obedient
citizens. In fact, of all people, Christians ought to be among the very best
citizens. The disciple's relationship to God is the decisive factor in all his
other relationships. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, but while in the
flesh we are citizens of these nations as well. God has ordained civil
government for these nations, and so we have a duty to Caesar as well as to God.
In our relationship and duty to God, we find ourselves with various
responsibilities, including submission to civil law.
Early Christians lived under a
totalitarian form of government - the Roman dictators. Yet, God's word commanded
and encouraged them to be obedient citizens. Paul wrote to the evangelist Titus
concerning matters that should be preached to God's people. Among many other
things he was to "put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers,
to obey magistrates, . . . " (Titus 3:1).
The apostle Peter likewise
stresses the importance of submission. "submit yourselves to every ordinance of
man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto
governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers,
and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God. . ." (1 Pet.
2:13-15). In looking again at Romans 13:1-7, we see that Christians are to be in
subjection to civil authorities. This is so not merely because of fear of the
sword, but also for conscience's sake.
This submission or obedience to
government, however, is not without qualification. It is qualified by our duty
to God. If there arises a conflict between obedience to God and obedience to
civil rulers, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Jesus, in responding to the
Pharisees in Matthew 22:15-22, did not define the specific duties to either
Caesar or God, but he left no doubt that we have a debt to both. When government
is carrying out its God-ordained responsibilities (Rom 13:3-4; 1 Pet. 2:14), and
when we are receiving the protection of the government as well as the privileges
provided, then we are certainly under obligation to support that government.
In addition to civil obedience
and submission in general, there are some very specific duties and
responsibilities pointed out in the Scriptures. The Christian is to make
supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for government leaders
(1Timothy 2:1-4). Further, the Christian supports the government by paying his
taxes (Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:6). It is not ours to refrain from this duty because
a government is not perfect, or because there is waste in government, or because
we do not agree with all the programs of the government. Neither Jesus nor Paul
qualified their tax remarks by such notions. On the other hand, Christians
living in a democratic society should certainly participate in the betterment of
government as they have opportunity.
Jesus teaches his followers to
be attitude-conscious in all their dealings. It isn't surprising then to learn
that his apostles encourage the development of a good attitude toward rulers.
Christians are to respect and honor their governing authorities (Rom. 13:7; 1
Among the more controversial
areas of responsibility is that of service to one's government. How is one to
serve? Where is one to serve? What about the Christian and military service,
police work, jury duty, etc.? Can he serve? Must he serve? While each individual
should be fully persuaded in his own mind (Rom. 14:23), we do have examples of
government service in God's word. The reader is encouraged to study carefully
the cases of Erastus (Rom. 16:23), Cornelius (Acts 10 and 11), and the Philipian
jailor (Acts 16).
PRIVILEGES AND RIGHTS
The Christian in a democratic
society has the great privilege of helping in the formation of good government.
He can vote on issues, help elect good officials, and assist in the influencing
of proper legislation. To this writer, such should not only be seen as a
privilege, but also as a duty.
Since the government is to
punish the evil doer (Rom 13:3-4), the citizen has the privilege of enjoying a
sense of security brought about by law and order. While enjoying this privilege,
the Christian will do those things which contribute to the preservation of law
Another precious privilege is
the right to due process. It is not wrong for the Christian citizen to
respectfully demand his right under the law (Acts 25:6-12).
And, certainly, the Christian
can exercise his right to protection (Acts 23:12-35) as well as make his legal
defense when accused (Acts 24:10).
Our God does not authorize
anarchy and chaos for the inhabitants of this world. It was no accident that
Jesus came into the world at a time of strong government. In this world of Roman
peace, Roman roads, and Roman law and order, Jesus established his church and
sent his disciples into all the world with the gospel. His followers thus became
citizens of two kingdoms. Nearly two thousand years have not diminished the
truth which Jesus spoke, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are
Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." An obvious separation of
church and state, yet a solemn duty to both.
What is the importance of
authority in our world?
What is the ultimate source of
Discuss the Christian's
attitude toward all duly constituted authority.
Did Paul consider his Roman
citizenship to be a matter of importance?
What was behind the Pharisees'
question to Jesus about taxes?
How is civil government the
minister of God?
List some Christian duties to
Can a Christian serve as a
policeman or a soldier?
Does obedience to civil
government have any limitations?