“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Luke 20:25)
“Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7)
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)
Warning: All of the verses cited above have been taken out of context. As we engage in topical Bible studies, and especially word studies, we should be aware that we frequently pull verses out of passages with spiritual meaning to suit our own purposes. I begin with this warning because I fear God and want to honor him with my devotions. As I study and write I always remind myself that I am on dangerous territory, of assigning meaning to Jesus’s and the apostles teaching that was not intended. I pray I am not doing so today.
In the Luke verse, the Pharisees used a Roman coin to trap Jesus into either dishonoring the Roman government or dishonoring God by teaching that believers should give wholly to one or the other. In the Romans passage, Paul is teaching believers that all secular leaders and governments are to be obeyed since they operate under God’s sovereign control and choice. In Peter’s first epistle he instructs us to use our Christi freedom honorably, including subjection to our highest leaders. Do any of these teachings make you cringe? There is a strong possibility that they do, if you, like so many other Christians use your faith to justify withholding your support from leaders or governments based on your personal opinions of their leanings, their use of your money, or their personalities. Every once in a while, a leader is raised up by God who tests our commitment to obey God’s Word. Today one of those leaders happens to be the American president, Donald Trump. Should I support him without regard for the things, he does that annoy me or because he is such a keen businessman with years of experience? No. I should support him because he is the President, elected and put into office by God who is the First Cause of all events.
This is not an easy teaching. Many people would prefer to withhold taxes and other financial support from the government for personal reasons. While this is appropriate for politicians who are running for office, those elected have a different status and are owed our support. Christians often use their faith as an excuse, rather than a reason for their financial support and payment of debts. But as Jesus implied, we owe our governments; some things belong to Caesar. But the ESV Bible notes has this helpful comment: “People should give to God that which bears his image and likeness, namely, themselves.” As 1 Peter says, we owe God our fear, but we owe everyone, including the “emperor” our honor.
Do you honor your government by contributing voluntarily to its local, state, and national work? Do you appreciate government services (such as roads and schools) and value them, or do you think that the government owes you these as a citizen? Will you check your secular financial stewardship because you fear God, whose image you bear?