"The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on [Jesus] at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the [Roman] governor [Pilate]. So they asked him, 'Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?' But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 'Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?' They said, 'Caesar’s.' He said to them, 'Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marvelling at his answer they became silent." - Luke 20:19–26
It is interesting the Jewish leaders, during Jesus' final week leading up to his crucifixion, tried to entrap Jesus in speaking against the Roman government or otherwise to create some sort of conflict between Jesus and Rome. Jesus' answer is incredible and important for us to apply today.
There are obligations believers have toward State. The payment of taxes is surely one of them. But what exactly are "the things that are Caesar's"?
Various listings of rights, such as the U.S. Bill of Rights, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990, list for various jurisdictions certain lines the State cannot cross. At least that's how rights used to work in the past. The Anglo-American model of rights has generally focused on freedom from the State. More recent models of rights focus more on positive or affirmative rights to certain things, like education or health care, and freedom from want and fear. This has been a way for the State to gain more power and influence in areas of life traditionally held separate from State interference.
The church needs to do some hard theological thinking on what are "the things that are Caesar's" and what are "the things that are God's." What about healthcare or educational decisions? What about sanctity of life issues like abortion? In recent decades, the State has continued to broaden the boundaries of its own power. At what point does the church rebuff the State because it is treading on territory that belongs to God alone?
Father, please help our governments to humble themselves and stay within their God-appointed bounds. May they not swallow up all aspects of life. May individual, family, and community freedoms be preserved. We understand the important of State government, and we know we must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. But Father, we need to know when the State is crossing the line. Help us a church to act appropriately when it does. Much wisdom is needed here, Father. And so we ask for wisdom from you. In Jesus' name, amen.
- Jeff Coleman