But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” the replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (verses 18-22)
I love Jesus’ insightful brilliance. I love the fact that he sees right through their carefully sprung trap. I love watching as he skillfully evades incriminating himself, but at the same time gives a profound piece of instruction regarding godly interaction with the authorities of this world.
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”Ultimately, of course, it’s all God’s. When it’s clearly the right thing to submit to governing authorities, we do it because the Lord himself calls us to do so. The Lord is our chief motivation. By submitting to government, we submit to him.
The problem comes when the authorities of this world are actually in conflict with the authority of our Lord. The Apostles encountered this a number of times in the book of Acts. “We must obey God rather than men!” Peter fearlessly declared (Acts 5:29). They held their ground and paid the consequence, being flogged as a result (Acts 5:40). Many of them subsequently paid with their lives. We, too, may be called to pay the price.
But sometimes the lines are not so clearly drawn. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” We can so easily get this mixed up. Indeed, sometimes it calls for very careful discernment to weigh and determine.
We found ourselves in such a situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions on personal freedoms were instituted by governments in different constituencies to different extents. In some places, restrictions were also placed on church gatherings. That raised questions. Was it right to submit or was it right to rebel? Was this a sphere of Caesar’s authority or was it one that belonged solely to our God?
Such an issue needed to be weighed thoughtfully before the Lord – committed believers came to different conclusions. But along with careful weighing, there was also the need to examine one’s own heart. Which phrase rings loudest in our soul: “my rights” or “godly submission”? If, during the pandemic, we balked at keeping other health guidelines mandated by government, like mask-wearing, it might be that our bottom line was simply a stubborn unwillingness to submit.
Such issues continue. Press into Jesus. Seek his perspective both for current affairs and current state of heart. Giving to Caesar and giving to the Lord both involve submission. So, submit. Follow his lead, honour authority, be bold, live with grace, love those who see things differently. In all these ways, give to God what is God’s.
Lord, in the midst of a world that so often fails to embrace your values, give me ears to hear your direction. Grant me boldness to submit to you always. Grant me willingness to submit to those you have put in authority. Grant me wisdom to see clearly when their directives conflict with your own. Grant me strength to live the conviction. Amen.
Reflect: Look around in your own context. Are you holding back on anything you owe Caesar? Are you holding back on anything you owe God? What are the points of conflict? How will you respond?