Martin W. Bender
On one occasion when the scribes and Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into saying something inflammatory they brought up the controversial issue of taxes. To many Jews, paying taxes to Rome was illustrative of political and cultural support. It implied religious support as well. Those seeking to cause Jesus problems asked him if it was lawful to pay taxes to a godless tyrant like Caesar. Jesus responded in such a profound manner his critics all marveled.
Jesus’ response to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” has a profound effect on how Christians ought to view their relationship with worldly authorities. Christians have a responsibility to give to the government that which it is owed, but to withhold from the government that which it does not have by right. Caesar was owed taxes, but Caesar also demanded worship. The Jews could not in good conscience render worship unto Caesar as he commanded, but they could, and in fact are compelled, to pay the taxes demanded by him. In much the same way, Christians are obliged to follow the laws of the land, provided those laws do not infringe upon giving God that which is his.
Paul builds upon the Christian’s relationship to governing authorities in Romans 13. He explains that the government is appointed by God to accomplish his own purposes in the world. As such, Christians should obey them as rulers are not a terror to good conduct. Our relationship to worldly authorities, including the government, should be one of submission, both to avoid the wrath of God and to maintain a good conscience.
Very frequently, though, American congregations I have been involved with tend to grant the nation more than that to which it has a right. As I prepare for Sunday’s service I recognize many in my congregation are expecting some sort of patriotic service rendering honor to the U.S. of A. The trouble I have with such services is that doing so takes away time we typically devote to the Lord in corporate worship. On Independence Day I encourage Americans to consider the founding of the nation, to celebrate the good we have done, and honor those who have made it possible. But on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, render unto God the things that are God’s: solemn worship and celebration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.