Hanging with Jesus: Church and State (part 1)

Today we are going to investigate the age-old conflict of Church and State. This argument has been a long-standing issue dating back to the Old Testament. Scripture clarifies that as God’s people, we operate by a different standard than this world.

When I refer to this world, I’m speaking of a philosophy and system that shapes and dictates how to live. Conflict arises when we attempt to operate by the world’s systems when God’s Word gives us specific instructions on how to live. Jesus demonstrates for us how to live in this world but not be of this world.

Yet today, maybe more than any other time, we need to be people who live by faith. The actions of and the response to the government through this pandemic have had a polarizing effect on the Church. As Christians, we must be led by the Word of God.

The Word of God gives us principles that develops within us godliness and righteousness. These are two characteristics that must be paramount in our lives. Any behavior or opinion that does not contribute to growth of godliness and righteousness should be reevaluated.

It is better to be approved by God than accepted by man.

In Matthew 22, we see an unexpected alliance between two opposing parties who have come together to trap Jesus. It’s the classic scenario of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Yet, the shared interest in removing Jesus at any cost forged an alliance between the Herodians and the Pharisees. They ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

What they mean is, “should we give to a government who oppresses us, violates our rights, mocks our faith, and supports immoral causes?” Truthfully, you could replace “taxes” with any objection because paying taxes wasn’t the primary issue.

The primary objection was about honoring or obeying a government they despised. Jesus does not address whether taxes were right or wrong but redirects the conversation to the obligations of godly people as citizens of this world.

As God’s people, they did not like the fact that they had to give money to a kingdom they morally objected to. They felt this objection exempted them from following specific rules. Jesus disagreed with that assessment.

By complying, they believed they were participating in idolatry because Caesar’s face was minted on the coin with the inscription, “God and high priest.” Orthodox Jews would have considered both name and picture as blasphemous, the latter as a violation of the second commandment against idolatry.

Jesus then asks them, “Show me a coin for the tax.” Interestingly, one of their objections rested on the premise that the coin represented idolatry, yet they had this idolatrous coin in their possession. I suppose it was only idolatry when it was used to pay taxes?

Jesus then asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” To which they respond, Caesar. Notice how Jesus draws no connection between the possession of this coin with idolatry.

He turns the tables and establishes a proper perspective of being a part of God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of this world. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The word “render” Jesus uses has a different meaning than the word “pay” this coalition used. To “render” means “to give in fulfillment of an obligation.”

The required taxes were the obligation of every resident within the Roman Empire. Jesus clearly explains that the coin belongs to Caesar, so they were to pay the requested taxes.

Our dislike of a current political power or government is not justification for rebellion. We must be cautious in allowing our emotions and opinions to blind us of our obedience to God and His instructions.

“for (sic) the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:20 This is why we are to be led by God’s Word and not our philosophies, logic or emotions, which may encourage us to violate our spiritual responsibilities.

This is why we must trust God when we don’t see how obeying those in authority over us could be a wise decision. There are reasons when we should not obey, and I will uncover that in my next post…stay tuned!

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