But Jesus didn’t fall into their trap. Using a coin with Caesar’s image on it, He simply told them to give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s (Matthew 22:21).
Governing rulers have been divinely established by God. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1). The Apostle went on to write that one of the purposes of government is to restrain evil and promote good. As such, rulers are subject ultimately to God and are there for our good (Romans 13:4). And it’s interesting to note that when Paul taught these things there were no free democratic elections.
Jesus confirmed God’s institution of government and that there are things that rightfully belong to “Caesar”, but He also made clear that there are boundaries to what the government can claim. Certain things belong solely to God. Only God is to be worshipped. It is God who has determined what is good and what is evil. Government may not undo God’s commandments.
Presently, we as a nation are confronted with governmental stipulations that clearly violate God’s limits on what government can claim as law. The Green family, owners of the national craft chain Hobby Lobby, are engaged in a legal battle with the federal government over the mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services that requires them to provide free abortifacient drugs (or “morning-after” pills) in its health insurance coverage for their employees.
The Greens are seeking to be obedient to God, and as one columnist has written, “they are ardently pro-life. The idea of “morning after” or “week after” drugs meant to trigger a medical abortion of a fertilized egg violates their belief in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception. They can’t, in good conscience, facilitate the killing of innocent, unborn babies simply because the federal government tells them they must. In the case of Hobby Lobby, the mandates call for fines of up to $1.3 million per day if the company violates the regulations”.
This reminds us of the occasion when the Apostles Peter and John were arrested for preaching, and told by the governing Jewish authorities to stop. Clearly these rulers had attempted to claim for themselves the authority to countermand what God had commanded His disciples to do, which was to preach the gospel. Peter answered with, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19). And when they were arrested again he said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
All ruling authority is a delegated authority given by God. This of course implies responsibility as to how that authority is used. This is illustrated by the exchange that took place when Jesus stood before Pilate. Pilate said, Do You not know that I have power to crucify You and power to release You?”, to which Jesus replied, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given to you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:10,11). Jesus acknowledged Pilate’s legitimate authority, but He also reminded him of the accountability that exists before God in the use of that authority.
As Christians we are not to deny the authority of government. In fact we’re to pray for our leaders and as Peter put it, “to honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). We’re to pay our taxes and exercise our civic responsibilities like voting and serving on juries. In this way, we humbly and thankfully acknowledge what God has ordained for our good.
However, when the state oversteps that boundary line of their authority, we’re to resist it. And as our country becomes increasingly more secular, that resistance may come at a cost.
By God’s grace, may we follow in line with Peter before the Sanhedrin, William Tyndale who was burned at the stake, Samuel Rutherford who resisted tyrannical government, Martin Luther who pronounced “Here I stand” when pressured to deny the truths of God’s word, the Green family and all the many others who have sought to obey God rather than men.