Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Caesar's Due

Good morning,

The title of today's post comes from Mark 12:13-17.

13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to trap him with his own words.14 When they came they said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and do not court anyone’s favor, because you show no partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” 15 But he saw through their hypocrisy and said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 So they brought one, and he said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.”17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

A good friend was telling me yesterday that she is just about finished preparing her 2014 taxes and will be so happy today to relieve herself of that burden by placing the tax returns in the mail.  I can relate.  One of the happiest times of my calendar year is the week preceding April 15th, during which time I do the same.

Like Jesus' words in Mark 12, today's main passage, 1 Peter 2:13-17, similarly admonishes believers about their interactions with governments and secular society at large. Here is the passage from two different Bible translations:

13-17 Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.
(The Message)

13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
(New King James)

So, what is the "take-away" from all this Scripture?  Is it that we should just "sit down and shut up", basically refuse to engage our government and culture?  Some Christians interpret these Scriptures that way.  They "check out" of the culture, walling themselves off and allowing the community or country to fall into ever-increasing disarray around them.  Is it that we should look for ways to break the law, every chance we get while feverishly muttering, "God is my King!"?  God forbid!

Neither of these approaches to our secular culture is biblical.  Jesus said, and Peter affirms His position here - - - we are to submit ourselves to our national/federal governments ("the king") and to our state/local governments ("governors") as long as these authorities do not require us to violate God's principles given in the Bible.  We are even called on to pray for our governmental leaders!

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior
I Timothy 2:1-3

So - - -

  • Should Christians treat all people with respect, even those with whom we disagree?  Yes.
  • Should Christians pay taxes?  Yes.  
  • Is it lawful to take advantage of all legal tax "loopholes" to minimize our tax bill?  Yes.
  • Should Christians obey laws that violate biblical principles?  No.
  • Should Christians engage the culture by "running for office"?  Yes.
  • Is it imperative that Christians vote, according to which candidates best exemplify by their platforms biblical values?  Yes.
There is one other thing I want to emphasize while we're on this topic.  Christians should never depend on the government to do what the Church is called to do.  The most egregious example of this in our American society is caring for widows, orphans and the poor.  (Oh my....this is an entire blog post in itself! And, it will be in coming days, Lord willing.)  But, for the moment, let me remind you that, as Jesus said in the Mark passage, our money is to be used to serve God and to serve our fellow man. When I look at what began as Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" initiatives in the 1960's and see how those laws have led to a lazy culture that depends on the government to feed it, I lay the blame squarely on the feet of the American Church of Jesus Christ.  Our materialism, born out of American "prosperity" led to a greed that blinded us to the needs of others.  And, we began to increasingly depend on the federal and then state governments to do what we, the Church, should have done.

In light of that, consider these scriptures:   Psalm 68:4-6; 10:17-18; 27:10;  James 1:27; Exodus 22:22-24; Matthew 10:42.
Similarly, when we care for the orphans, we are re-creating how God, our Father, has adopted us. See Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:14-17, for instance.

Of course, looking back is only helpful to instruct us concerning future pitfalls.  Those who forget the failures of the past are doomed to repeat them.  The future may look bleak, but that is only if we consider ourselves (and our God) powerless.  The question is:  are we going to allow God to do His mighty work through us, as citizens of our country, state and local municipalities?  Are we willing to serve God, by giving "Caesar" his due?

Lord God, please reveal to each of us, Your children, how You would have us engage in our present culture.  Give us the courage to willingly sacrifice our comfort and lavish our time to be obedient in this sphere of our lives.  You put the governmental "rulers" in their positions of leadership.  May our humble obedience to Your truth in the Bible put to silence those who criticize our way of holy living and who criticize our mighty God.  In Jesus' name, amen.

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