When Loyalties CollideErwin W. Lutzer | June 24, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
Christians are simultaneously citizens of heaven and residents of earth. This inevitably leads to conflict.
The Pharisees sought to entangle Jesus in this quagmire, pestering him with questions regarding taxes. Our Lord responded with an explosive statement, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render to God what is God’s.” This remark outlines our relationship to God and government. We not only owe the government taxes, but we also owe it lawful submission and regular prayer. God is owed our total allegiance, and this includes our compassionate engagement in society and our active proclamation of the gospel. When those responsibilities clash, we must remember that morality supersedes legality, parental rights supersede school authorities, and biblical teaching supersedes politically correct policies.
This is the last in a series of four messages entitled, “Christians in Conflict.” The first message was “When Religions Collide,” the second was “When Beliefs Collide,” and the third was “When Personalities Collide.” Today with our theme of patriotism the message is entitled, “When Loyalties Collide.” We are going to speak about church and state issues because the Bible says that we are citizens in heaven and citizens on earth. Paul says in Philippians chapter 3, verse 20, “Our politics is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior.”
Meanwhile, we are commanded to live on earth. Yet sometimes there are conflicts with our citizenship on earth and our citizenship in heaven. For example, we are living at a time when our own Congress is debating the issue of hate speech and hate laws. The purpose of this is not only to give special recognition to those crimes that are committed against the homosexual community but also to stifle free speech.
I know that is true because of what happened in Canada. They had hate crime laws and lo and behold when a pastor would speak on the topic of homosexuality he could be targeted because after all, that is hate speech. A few weeks ago I spoke to a pastor in Canada and I said, “Can you still read Romans chapter one in Canada?” He said,
“Yes, as long as no one is there to report us there should be no trouble. But, we could get into trouble and it could be deemed hate speech.” What do we do in a culture that is committed to stifling what we think is our right, namely freedom of speech?
Let me give you another example that some parents face today. What happens when the culture in school begins to clash with your values and when your children are forced to take classes on such things as sexuality? Do you remember the quote by Tammy Bruce that I gave you a year or two ago that is in my book on same-sex marriage? Tammy Bruce is the head of NOW, the National Organization of Women, based in California. She doesn’t write as an Evangelical Christian yet she is exposing the agenda. She said, “The reason for teaching children sexuality in the early grades is to sexualize them so that the pornography industry will have lots of addicts in the years to come to buy their products.” That comment comes from someone that is not an evangelical. How do you handle that?
Let’s look at another example. The name of Jesus today is being marginalized and it’s being outlawed. People say it is fine to give a prayer that is ecumenical but don’t use the name of Jesus. This has been true for a long time. About 20 years ago I was asked to pray in a political rally and I prayed in the name of Jesus. Later on there were some people who said, “We expected an ecumenical prayer and not a prayer that ended in the way you did.” I smile when I am in those kinds of situations. You always smile and you say, “I don’t know any other way to pray. I’m sorry, but that is who I am.” How do we handle this?
These are the issues that we are going to talk about today. I hope I haven’t scared up more rabbits than I am able to shoot. We are actually going to get into this topic by talking about taxes. Isn’t that a good place to begin? That is one thing that is consistent with the Democrats and the Republicans–both of them have our money.
The Bible passage today is Matthew chapter 22 and the issue is taxes. Benjamin Franklin said, “There are two things that are absolutely certain: death and taxes.” But don’t we wish they would come to us in that order? It seems to me that somewhere along the line we got things confused.
The text says in Matthew chapter 22, verse 15, “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk.” They wanted some basis upon which to arrest Jesus and so they sent their disciples. The Pharisees didn’t go alone because they would have been instantly recognized and Jesus would have been suspicious of them. This was the way they reasoned and so they sent their disciples and they joined up with the Herodians.
Who are the Herodians? The Herodians were followers of Herod, the king. Remember that during this period of time the land was completely occupied by Rome. The Jews had to be with soldiers every place that they went and they had to give their identity. The soldiers basically controlled and ruled the land. The Herodians represented Rome and they were greatly hated by the Pharisees. The Herodians and the Pharisees were natural enemies but when it came to doing away with Jesus their hatred for Jesus was greater than their hatred for one another.
They teamed up and they tried to give Jesus a trick question. They sent a delegation to Jesus on Wednesday of the Passover week. Jesus was in the temple and they came to Him with a question. They flatter Him in verse seventeen. It says, “‘Teacher, we know that you teach the word of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’” The greatest form of flattery is to ask someone’s opinion. They said, “We know that you are wise and we know that you know a lot; what do you think?” They thought that if they flattered Jesus He would give them the answer they wanted.
But, think about what they asked Him. Is it lawful to give taxes to Caesar, or not? Most of the Jews would have said, “Absolutely not!” As a matter of fact, the Jews hated the idea of giving taxes to Caesar. There were three different kinds of taxes. There was a tax that was like an income tax and they had to pay ten percent of everything that they got from the land. There was also another form of tax that was one percent.
The third tax was the poll tax or the toll tax. You had to give a denarius for every single member of your family. When Joseph and Mary made that trip before Jesus was born from the northern part of the land from Nazareth to Bethlehem they went to be counted because Rome was taking a census. The purpose of the census was to collect the poll or toll tax. The Jews hated this because in their mind this meant that they acknowledged the government of Rome and that they acknowledged the authority of Rome. They were God’s people and they hated paying this denarius for every member of their family.
What about the Herodians? Certainly the followers of Herod were in agreement that the tax should be paid to Caesar. After all, Rome was doing Palestine a favor in those days and so the tax should be paid.
Now think about it. If Jesus said, “Yes, we should pay taxes unto Caesar,” he would anger the Jews and they would have him arrested. If he were to say, “No,” the Romans would be there to arrest him for treason and sedition. How is he going to answer? The wisdom of Jesus is overwhelming. He says, “Bring me a coin.” He looks at the coin and says in verse 20, “‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’” As if he didn’t know! “They said, ‘Caesar’s.’”
And then he gives one of the most explosive comments which have implications for church and state relationships. It also shows the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament in terms of all of the political involvements in religion. Jesus says, “‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’” Wow! No wonder it says at the end of the text, “When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” They didn’t catch Him!
Now look at the text. In verse 21 when Jesus said to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s He used a different word than the Pharisees used when they came to Him. In verse 17 when they first came they said, “Is it lawful to pay taxes?” They used the phrase “pay taxes.”
Yet Jesus used an entirely different word. He didn’t say, “Therefore pay taxes,” or “pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” He used the word “render,” or apodidōmi in Greek which means “to pay back.” Jesus is saying that they owe a debt to Caesar. He says, “It is not only legal for you to pay taxes to Caesar but also morally appropriate that you do. You owe it to Caesar to pay this tax. You render unto him what is due and then of course you render unto God what is due him.”
What I would like to do in the next few moments is to outline briefly what our responsibility is to the state and what our responsibility is to God and then we are going to talk about principles that will help us resolve these conflicts. You will remember that it is my responsibility to speak and it is your responsibility to listen and I have been praying that we shall end at the same time, alright?
First of all, what do we owe to Caesar? We owe taxes. In November we have Thanksgiving and in April we have tax giving and in both we serve God. There are things that the state does that we can’t do alone. The protection from police, firemen, and the larger issues of federal tax and protection for our country are things we can’t do on our own and we have an obligation to pay tax.
Now I know that there are some people who say, “I am not going to pay taxes because I don’t like the way in which the government is spending my money.” If we all said that the government would have no money at all. No one is completely happy with the way the government spends money but notice that it was not up to the Pharisees to decide whether or not Rome was using the money wisely. Jesus said to pay Caesar what Caesar has coming to him.
Secondly, there is submission to laws. It says in Romans chapter 13 that the powers that be are ordained of God and that every person should be subject to those who are in authority because God has ordained them. We often think that when a Christian leader has been elected that it was God’s will but if an evil leader has been elected we think it can’t be God’s will. It doesn’t mean that God does it-but God is the one who controls history. The Bible says, “Promotion cometh neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south, but God is judge and he sets up one and pulls down another.” At the end of the day you read the book of Daniel and you discover that God is in charge of the kingdoms of this world. He is God.
The Bible says to be subject. You say, “Are there any exceptions?” Nero was in power when Paul wrote Romans and if you know anything about history you know that Nero was not a friend to Christians. Yes, there are exceptions and we will get to them. But I want you to see first of all how strongly the Scriptures exhort us to be obedient.
The third principle is prayer. The Apostle Paul says, “I urge that entreaties and prayers be made for all those who are in authority, for kings, that we may live a tranquil life.” Most Christians think, “I will pray if a Christian is in power but I will not pray for a person who is not a Christian.” The Scripture would say again in the midst of pagan Rome that you pray for your leader. You pray that God will bless him, that God will give him wisdom, that God will give him enlightenment, and that God will enable him to come to know the living God. You pray for them.
Perhaps I am being more candid than I should today, which I usually find out later. I know that we are in the midst of a presidential election. We aren’t quite there but there are a lot of candidates. I don’t know how many there are and I am sure others may join the race. But speaking candidly, so far I have not found anyone in either party that really rings my bell. That is the way I feel about our current situation and a few of you who are tempted to clap apparently agree with me.
Who are we going to get for a president? We don’t know. But our conviction should be that no matter who is elected we will pray for that person and we will agonize for that person and when we do we fulfill the biblical injunction. That is what we owe to Caesar and it should be a privilege to give it to him.
What do we owe to God? We render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. The Bible says, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and thy neighbor as thyself.” We owe God total, complete allegiance. There is not a single square inch of our territory that should belong to anyone other than Almighty God and His blessed son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We owe it all to God.
Now let’s be clear on this point. I don’t think Jesus meant that there were two compartments. On the one hand we owe something to the state and when we owe this it doesn’t mean we have no allegiance to God. But in spiritual matters we have an allegiance to God in the matters of spirit.
Martin Luther spoke about the two spheres and it was misinterpreted during the days of Nazi Germany. The idea was that when you are in the realm of the state you can do whatever you like and whatever the state tells you to do. You can torture people in a concentration camp because the state compels you to do that and at the same time you can go home for Christmas, go to church, sing Christmas carols, read the Christmas story and be a good Christian when you are in church. Perhaps Luther did not intend that but that is the way it was interpreted.
What I believe Jesus would agree with because of other passages of Scripture is that God is over all things and we owe Him our allegiance and in the process of obeying God we render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. We fulfill our duties to the state under the guidance and the leadership of God Almighty.
Did you know that God desires your heart and your allegiance? The Bible says, “A double minded man is unstable in all of his ways,” and God does not want that kind of instability. Someone said to me once, “There is a closet in my life that I do not allow God to enter.” I would ask you today in the name of Jesus to open it today and let God in. God deserves our total, complete allegiance.
Secondly, it says in the book of Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness.” Not only should we have a right relationship with Him but we should also be making a difference in society by the mercy, grace, and love that we show to those around us. We should do what we can to bring about just laws like Wilberforce did in England, to change the nature of the culture by our lives and our actions. It is indeed tragic that the evangelical church sometimes has been a wall in very important events, such as the civil rights movement in the 60s and 70s. We should be seeking justice and mercy and be on the forefront of transforming society by our lives and by our attitudes.
Many years ago I read the book “A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken. In the book he talks about his first encounter with Christians. He met a Christian one evening and that night he wrote this in his diary: “The best argument for Christianity is Christians; their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians. When they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug and complacent, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. Indeed there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity and possibly nowhere else. If that were certain it would be proof of a very high order.”
I can’t say strongly enough that we have the responsibility of representing Jesus Christ to a broken, hurting, confused, and lost world. What does the Lord your God require of you but to do justice and to seek mercy? We should be agents of Jesus in our culture.
We also have the responsibility to spread the knowledge of God. Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.” Israel was to be a light to the nations in the Old Testament era and we are to be a light to the nations today and therefore desire that God would use us. We built the Christian Life Center so that hundreds of Christians would be trained in relationships, in knowledge, and in practice to be able to impact this community, this city, and ultimately touch the world. It is the lives of people which should concern us and all of us must represent Jesus wherever we are planted. This is our responsibility to God.
How do we resolve some of the conflicts? In the Bible it is very clear that the law of a nation is not necessarily the law of God. That is why we have the example of the midwives in the Old Testament. They were supposed to kill the male babies of the Israelites and they refused. The Bible says that God honored them because they feared God. They said, “We are breaking the law of the land because this is a matter of conscience. The higher law of God interferes and therefore we go with the higher law and we break the law.”
You also have the example of the Apostles in the New Testament who were thrown into prison for preaching the gospel. They said, “It is better to obey God than to obey man.” They made a distinction and they understood that there are times when our loyalty to God supersedes our loyalty to the state. It is not right to say, “My country, right or wrong.” There are times when we say, “This is right and this is wrong,” and we stand on the right and say that we can do no other, so help us God.
When you think about laws you must realize that every law comes from some god, so to speak. If you are a law unto yourself then you are your own god. If you think that there is no law above the Supreme Court of the United States, then you are regarding the Supreme Court as being god. Show me your laws and I will show you your god.
With that being said, what about the conflicts? What I would like to do is give you three principles and I am going to give you time to write them down. The application can be given as you think and pray about what God is saying to you as a result of these three principles.
The first principle is that what is moral supersedes what is legal. The state can make abortion legal but it cannot make abortion moral. I say that with the full understanding that there are many women who are listening to me today who have had abortions. Today we offer you the forgiveness and the cleansing of Jesus. Remember that Jesus died so that we would have a second chance and a third chance.
But at the same time this is a huge issue in America and in Europe. We need to affirm again that a pre-born infant is an infant and no matter what the Supreme Court of the United States says there are times when we must say that something may be legal but that does not make it moral. We need to make a distinction between those two.
I can also give you examples from history. Did you know that during Hitler’s time he made the killing of Jews legal by redefining their personhood? They were subhuman and therefore killing them was totally legal.
Second, the rights of parents have supremacy over the rights of the school system or the school board. My heart breaks for parents today. Many of you have children in the public school system and hopefully your public school is very good. I don’t want to make any generalizations here today because there are differences. But I do know that teachers have your children to mold them, to teach them, to convey values to them or lack of values to them, and I do not know how we in America are going to be able to overcome the negative impact of the public school system.
I remember a speech given in Denver to 2,000 teachers many, many years ago. I was going to quote it today but then I decided not to because it would be too depressing. The speaker said, “All the children who come to our school system come to us sick. They come with reverence to their parents, to their elected leaders, and to God, and it is our responsibility to make them well.”
One man at the church talked to me about his six-year-old daughter who they took out of school because she was supposed to have a sex education course at the age of six. Remember the reason for that is not a positive reason, as I stated at the beginning of this message.
I believe that what you should do is to pray and seek God if your child is going to school in the public school system. What parents need to do is to form coalitions, but not belligerently and not in anger. Get other people who agree with you even if they aren’t Christians but because of common grace they have the same values as you and they have said, “This is wrong and you should not be stepping over this line.”
But make no mistake about it: there are some school districts in this nation that intend to take public schools and turn them into government schools where there is indoctrination right from the very beginning about the issues that are so important to what we usually call the political left. You as a parent must know that your responsibility to your child supersedes whatever teacher and whatever school system your child may be in today.
I have a friend who is an advocate for homeschooling and I understand that there are many benefits. But, I also want to caution and say that there are some schools where you may not have the problems that we are talking about this morning. You as a parent need to know what is being taught in your school district.
My heart was broken the other day as I listened to a woman on the James Dobson program. She said that they were going to give sex education in a high school of about 2,000 students and they sent a notice home to parents saying, “We want to discuss this with you so that you know what we are doing in school.” They were going to have a meeting at a certain time and the mother went to the meeting and said that there were only seven parents in attendance. Why? Were they too busy? Maybe, but more seriously they probably didn’t even care. This is our future generation. More than that these are children whom Jesus loves and we have a responsibility to these children.
Third, Jesus has supremacy over politically correct policies. I have a book that I read entitled, “The Criminalization of Christianity.” There are those who want to criminalize it and make it so you can’t speak about Jesus. Well, some of us are going to go on speaking about Jesus anyway.
When I was on vacation I was interviewed by a man who owns a radio network and he told me something that I had already heard through a different source. He said that there are a number of churches who take down the cross when they have discussions with Muslims or Buddhists or others so as not to be offensive. We here at Moody Church don’t have a cross. We could have a cross but we just don’t have one. I think that situation is a travesty.
We find the same mentality when our auditorium is used for other purposes. We have been asked to take down the scripture behind me which says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever. We have been asked to cover it and we have said, “No. This is who we are and if don’t want to look at that then you may have to go elsewhere.” Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Can I just be blunt here today? Are you guys still with me today? I am sick and tired of people saying that they are offended by this or that. Listen, our Christian kids in universities are offended every single day because of what is taught in those universities. If we believe in diversity, then let’s celebrate diversity and accept one another. If I go into a temple of another religion I wouldn’t expect them to take something down just for me.
Why is the cross so central and why is it a future battle? I could go into this in more detail some other time but I will not right now. It is because the cross is the heart of Christianity. The cross is Jesus Christ’s invitation to the world. The cross is Jesus with His arms outstretched saying to a dying world, “You can come to me and have life and forgiveness and pardon.” As Steve sang, it is the place where sin and grace meet. Let us never diminish the message of the cross no matter where we find ourselves.
As a matter of fact, it is not possible to preach the gospel and to live the gospel without offending somebody. That is why the Bible talks about the offense of the cross. Today in this wonderful congregation and those of you who are tuned in via the internet all over the world, I need to tell you that if you are looking for God, if you find that because of guilt or unworthiness you feel that you can’t come to God, the reason that Jesus died is for sinners like you and me. The message of Christianity is that Jesus died so that we will not have to permanently die but have everlasting life. We invite you to Him who is the Savior of the world.
Jesus has the right to rule. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He has the power to rule. The Bible says, “All authority and power has been given to me, in heaven and on earth.” Jesus will return to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords and that is why we honor Him and we say to a broken society, “There are some things that we can compromise but when it comes to Jesus there can be no compromise.” Jesus is Lord, God, and Savior forever.
Would you join me as we pray? “Our Father, we ask today that you shall grant us the grace and the strength to live authentically and lovingly in a world that has lost its way, in a world that does not know where to turn with its guilt and its problems. Help us to point others to Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, knowing that no man can come to the Father except through Him. We pray for those who are here today or those who are listening who have never trusted Christ as Savior. We ask that their guilt will not keep them away but that they might realize it is God trying to put His arms around them and bring them to Jesus. Make us powerful witnesses to His worthy name, we pray, amen.”