Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 2 2013 - Matthew 22:1-33 – Render unto Caesar

The Pharisees sought to trick Jesus by asking him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus' reply is well known; "Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s" (Matthew 22:21).

Jesus is not saying that God and Caesar occupy separate domains and that we must try to work out which part of our lives is to be lived out under Caesar’s rule and which part under the rule of God. All of creation belongs to God and there is no part of its life which he does not claim as his own. Through his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, Jesus has been declared King of kings and Lord of lords. Human government is God's idea; it is part of the dominion which he has entrusted to men and women who are made in his image. God is pleased when human society is well-ordered; when wrongdoing is punished and those who do good are rewarded – when it is governed in a way that reflects his own gracious rule.

Christians, therefore, are to be good citizens – the very best of citizens. Our giving to "Caesar" what is Caesar's is part of our giving to God what is God's. This has implications regarding the paying of our taxes, compliance with speed limits and every other aspect of civil obedience. Moreover, we are to pray for those in positions of civil government and to support them in their God-given task. And if we pray that there might be more Christians in such positions of influence and service, might we not also consider whether God is calling us to be an answer to our own prayers.

In a fallen world, however, human government may set itself up against God. There are times when giving God what is his due will involve resistance to civil authority, passive resistance or active resistance. The apostles were ready to be beaten and imprisoned rather than deny the gospel. Many today suffer at the hands of oppressive governments for the sake of the gospel – and many others simply suffer oppression.

We should not be concerned only about the oppression suffered by Christians. We are called to speak out against the evils of our day and to act to defend those who are treated unjustly whoever and wherever they may be, for they also are made in the image of God. And as God gives us strength, we are also to be agents of change in a broken world, working to ensure that government – wherever it may be and whatever its political colour – lives up to its God-given calling to protect, nurture, value and respect those whom it governs. 

Jesus' response to the trick question of the Pharisees is easy to remember. Applying his teaching in the complex world in which we live is not always easy. On the one hand, we need to avoid the error of insisting that civil government give a privileged place to Christian belief – campaigning for the return of Christendom. On the other hand, we need equally to avoid the error of thinking that the Christian faith has nothing to do with politics and civil government – that it is about other-worldly spirituality. And above all, Christians need to model the kind of society that will commend itself to those who do not share our faith; even to those who are antagonistic to it.

Heavenly Father, I pray for all those in positions of authority in national and local government. I pray that they may be more concerned for the welfare of those they govern than for their own position and power. May they be characterised by a servant spirit. But I pray also for those in positions of leadership in your church that they may follow the example of the Great Shepherd of the sheep. May your people, filled with your Spirit and living under reign of the Jesus Christ, act as the supreme example of the happy kingdom. Help us to be the envy of the world.

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Peter Misselbrook