Render Unto Caesar
God rules over the affairs of men whether our human rulers are guardians and protectors or tyrants and oppressors. Bob Lepine shares that there is no guarantee in the Bible that the gates of hell will not prevail against a nation. But there is a promise from the lips of Jesus Himself that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church.
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Bob Lepine shares in a sermon that there is no guarantee that the gates of hell will not prevail against a nation. But there is a promise from Jesus that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church.
Render Unto Caesar
Bob: We’ve all heard the expression: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”; but what does that mean in our day? How does that apply as we think about politics, religion, and government?
This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 19th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Politics, Jesus, and the gospel—that’s controversial stuff in our day. How do we talk about that and think about that in a healthy biblical way? We’ll talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You guys have noticed there’s an election coming up in a couple weeks?
Ann: Is there? I haven’t noticed. [Laughter]
Dave: It’s impossible to not notice.
Ann: It sure is.
Bob: It is impossible. I think maybe there’s more anxiety, and more fear, more concern, more passion at some level about this upcoming election than I remember seeing in my lifetime.
Ann: I agree with that. I’ve never seen this kind of fear or anticipation.
Dave: —and division across our country for months now. I think every four years, every election has a lot of intensity to it, but this one is ratcheted up by 100.
Ann: I’m excited because we get the opportunity to hear you preaching today, Bob, on a subject that I’m interested in. How did you determine to talk about this?
Dave: At church—boy, that’s tackling it.
Bob: I was looking at what was going on in our culture/in our church and thinking, “We need to renew our minds, biblically, on how we think about politics, an upcoming election, Jesus, the gospel. How does all of that fit together? How should our thinking be influenced/directed, really, by what we read in Scripture?” I did a series of three messages at our church called “Jesus, Politics, and the Gospel.” I started by saying, “We need to think rightly about government itself; government is a gift from God.” I don’t want to dive into it here, because we’re going to hear it as we get into this message.
You remember Jesus meeting with the Pharisees—they said, “Should we pay taxes?”—He said, “Show me the coin.” He said, “Whose face is on this side?” “Caesar.” He said, “Then render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto God what belongs to Him.” Jesus is affirming that there’s a right place for government in our lives; government is an institution ordained by God. There were five principles about human government that I drew from Scripture; I took our congregation through that.
Ann: It’s a timely message.
Dave: Let’s go; I want to hear it.
Bob: Alright; here’s a portion of that message.
Bob: The first one is: “Government Is an Institution Ordained by God: It Is Both Necessary and Good.” God is responsible for giving us government. When Jesus answers the question about paying taxes, He affirms, in the process, the goodness of government. It just so happens that the government He’s affirming in this case is an oppressive, wholly secular government, which is interesting. Jesus does not here pause to get into the politics of what is righteous vs. unrighteous governance. He is simply affirming that government is a part of God’s design for humanity.
Some Bible commentators say that—when Paul, in Romans 13, talks about our relationship to government—he’s actually providing a commentary on this event from Jesus’ life. In fact, let me read through Romans 13, the first seven verses, and just walk you through it. Verse 1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Now let that sink in for just a minute. The Tiberius Caesar administration in Jesus’ day was instituted by God. The terrifying reign of Emperor Nero in the Roman Empire was instituted by God. The Obama administration was instituted by God. The Trump administration was instituted by God. If there is a Biden administration, it will be instituted by God; the Kim Jong-un administration in North Korea is instituted by God; the Hitler administration in Nazi Germany was instituted by God.
I mean, you flinch at that; right? How do we make sense of that? Well, remember that James says, in James, Chapter 1, that God is not the author of evil even though He superintends all things that come to pass. He does allow evil to exist for His own purposes. R.C. Sproul says this—he says: “In the providence of God, there is no government that can ever come to power except through God’s ordination.” But that does not necessarily mean that the powers that be are approved of by God. How can He ordain and not approve?—because He is God, and He is working out His purposes in ways that we don’t understand. Verse 1, again: “There is no authority except from God.”
The second thing this passage says is: “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.” This doesn’t mean there is never be a time when civil disobedience is not necessary. There will be times when we must oppose the government. When are those times? We must oppose the government when it requires that we do things that God forbids, or it forbids us from doing things that God requires. Our general default position, as followers of Jesus, is to obey governing authorities and be good citizens. God wants us to do that.
Verse 3 in Romans 13 says: “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive His approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.” Now, this is not an absolute statement; this is a general principle. Some rulers are terrors; but in general, even in secular countries, most governing authorities are not going to be too troubled by somebody who’s leading a good, peaceful life.
Verse 4 goes on to say, “If you do wrong, you need to be afraid; for he, the ruler/the governor, does not bear the sword in vain. He is the servant of God and avenger, who carries out God’s wrath on wrongdoers.” One of the functions of human government is to restrain the evil impulses of the human heart. One of the God-ordained functions of the government is to execute God’s judgement on people who are wrongdoers.
Verse 5 says: “Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.” That verse is simply saying the reason we obey government is not simply so we won’t get thrown in jail, but because it’s right to do so; because God wants you to obey government. We do it for the sake of conscience, not just to avoid penalty.
Then, this passage wraps up: “It’s because of this that you pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing. 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.” There’s a level of honor we give to the governing authorities and people who are in authority over us; but the greatest/highest honor goes to God.
God has instituted three human institutions: the church, the family, and the government. God’s purposes for the family are that the family will/in marriage, we reflect the image of God in a unique way: we provide companionship; we are fruitful and multiply/we fill the earth; we disciple and care for the needs of our children. The family is the basic unit of any civilization.
God’s purpose for the church is that we will come together for corporate worship/for prayer; that we will evangelize; that we’ll disciple; that we’ll take the gospel to the nations; that we’ll become people, whose lives are marked by holiness, and righteousness, and justice; and that we’ll care for one another’s needs; and that we’ll care for our world and our city. That’s the purpose for the church.
What’s God’s purpose for government? Well, God has ordained government—that was my first point—so let me get to the second point. The purpose of government is to restrain evil and promote justice and righteousness in our world. Why does God give us government?—to restrain evil—that’s one part; but also to promote righteousness and justice in our world. I’m going to quote from Chuck Colson here: “The state was instituted by God to restrain sin and promote a just social order. Government is, in one sense, God’s response to the nature of people themselves.” God recognizes we’re sinful; so He says, “You’re going to need to be governed; your sin is going to need a governor on it.”
He goes on to say, “While the state cannot redeem the world or be used as a tool to establish the kingdom of God, civil government does set the boundaries for human behavior.” That’s very important—the state cannot redeem anybody—the state does not have the gospel; the state has laws. The state cannot be used as a tool to establish the kingdom of God on earth. It is the function of the church to bring the kingdom of God into society, not the state.
“But”—he [Colson] says—“the state should be setting boundaries for human behavior.” This is important to understand; we’re going to come back to this more in just a minute. It’s not the role of government to seek to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. You don’t bring the kingdom through law; you bring the kingdom through the gospel.
“The state,”—Colson says—“is not a remedy for sin. The state is a means of restraining sin.” Government and law can never cure what’s deeply wrong with us; only the gospel can do that. Colson says/he goes on to say “Government’s limited task is to promote the good of the community in its temporal concerns: the protection of life and property and the preservation of peace and order.” That’s a pretty good description of what government is supposed to do: “So what’s God’s purpose for government?”—that’s where it is.
Here’s our third point this morning: government and religion have complementary and, sometimes, overlapping objectives. This is where we run into all kinds of problems, where we get confused about what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. “So how do we deal with this kind of an overlap?” I’m going to give you a general principle here. Even this has some problems with it, but here’s the principle: “The state is concerned with our behavior and our actions; the church has a more significant responsibility—it is to address the heart.” The church is concerned about our behavior and our actions, too, flowing out of the heart. Where the state veers into the wrong lane is when the state tries to get your heart changed; that’s not its purview or its actions.
Here’s the problem with this: our actions flow out of our heart—so you can’t separate and say you have one thing/what you believe in your heart or what your convictions are, and then what your behavior is—the two are linked together. To try to say the church is responsible for the heart and then the behavior that flows out of that, but the state should only regulate behavior—that’s a little disingenuous because the state does have a compelling interest to try to get us to embrace civic virtues, for example. The state has a compelling reason to say that we should value human life; that’s why we don’t murder one another. It’s not just behavior modification.
But primarily—here’s the principle—primarily, the church should be working on the heart, while the state is restraining evil behavior. The work of the church is, ultimately, to have an impact on the nature of a society as people live out their faith. If the church is doing its job right, the government will benefit; and if government is doing its job right, the church should benefit.
One of the functions of government, under God, is to protect the work of the church to establish it and enable it to flourish. That’s why we have the First Amendment in our Constitution; so that, when we fail to recognize and live out this division of responsibilities between what the church should do and what the government should do, we get into all kinds of trouble. What do I mean by that? When the state tries to coerce or get you to think certain things, the government is overreaching at that point. When the state is trying to address your heart and your conscience, that’s not the job of government.
Let’s get to the fourth point—we’ve really been skating around this fourth principle—and that is: “That problems arise when either the church or the state overreach.” When they stay in their lanes, we’re in good shape; when they overreach, we’ve got a problem. Problems occur when the state seeks to expand its power beyond its mandate to restrain evil, preserve order, and promote justice. Government officials, whether it’s in ancient Rome, or Communist China, or even in our country—they don’t mind if you have a religious belief and religious practices as long as you keep it to yourself and as long as you have a higher allegiance to them than you do to your religion.
We have to recognize that this is a part of the dilemma—the conflict between church and state—there are many who say the state should come first, and the church should come second. Honestly, I think part of the problem we’re facing in our nation today is that we’ve been taught that the role, and the nature, and the function of government is more expansive and far more reaching than the Founders ever intended for it to be. On the other hand, the church has also overreached throughout the centuries; sometimes, the church has taken on governmental authority.
You can look at the Holy Roman Empire—and see that it was church and state fused together—and that was highly problematic. Or look at the Inquisition/the heresy trials—people who were put to death by the government for having false doctrine in Europe in the 1500s and 1600s; you’re burned at the stake because you’re a heretic—that’s not the role of the government. This is a case of the church overreaching and assuming governmental power. Chuck Colson says, “The church, whose principle function is to proclaim the good news and witness the values of the kingdom of God, must resist the temptation illusion that it can usher in the kingdom through political means.” He makes this important observation; he says, “Jesus was remarkably indifferent about those who held political power; he had no desire to replace Caesar or Pilate with Peter and John.”
Here’s the fifth principle I want us to address this morning: “When people are moral and godly people, government has less to do. And when people are ungodly, government has more to do.” The idea here is that, for our government to work and for people to flourish and have freedom—for freedom to prevail and evil to be kept in check—we need people to be moral people.
If we think that good laws and good law enforcement will keep immoral people in check, we’re fooling ourselves. We have to have some basic civic morality that has to exist. The work of the church, at one level, is to promote holiness, and righteousness, and goodness in our lives so that we become those model citizens. When we do that, we’re serving, not just God, but we’re helping the government be more effective.
Here’s what I think this says to us: “The most important thing we can do for our country is to advance the work of the church.” “Do you want to see our country thrive?”—our country is going to thrive when people are more moral/when we are more godly people. It doesn’t matter as much who the next president is; what matters is who God’s people are—that’s more important than who gets elected.
Is it possible/is it possible that the gates of hell will prevail against America at some point? It’s, not only possible, it’s likely. If you are a student of history, you know that empires do not last forever: the Roman Empire crumbled; there was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire—that time is not today—the Soviet Union is no more. There’s no guarantee that America, as a superpower, will still be a superpower
50 years from now. The gates of hell may prevail; kingdoms come and go.
Let me ask you this: “Whatever happens in our country, can the gates of hell prevail against the church?”—no! “Do you want to be on the winning team?”—be about the work of the church; His kingdom is forever.
If your hope for our country is in who gets elected, we’re all in deep trouble. I see way too many of us—and I tend to go here often—who get more exercised and more passionate about what’s happening in the news cycle, and what’s happening in Washington, than about the needs of the church—and how I can live this out—about the spiritual condition of my own life; about my neighbor’s spiritual condition/how I can love them.
Which have you been more exercised over in the last month? Be informed; pay attention to the news; maybe don’t pay attention to everything that someone shares with you on Facebook®, because there’s some stuff on Facebook that’s just not true; okay? Be discerning; be wise. Let me also say—maybe listen to more than just your default news source; maybe listen to a broader range of things and hear from other perspectives just to expand the way you think.
The future of our country is in the hand of a sovereign God, so we remain faithful; we do what He’s called us to do. We serve Him; we serve our neighbors. We vote; we encourage others to vote; we seek to persuade—but our hope is in God, not in what happens in November. I know that, whatever happens, there are going to be some amazing kingdom opportunities ahead for us. There are going to be opportunities for us to show the love and the grace of Jesus to others in ways that will astound them in the midst of the unrest. There is going to be an opportunity for us to show a peace that passes understanding and a hope that goes beyond our circumstances.
There’s going to be an opportunity to demonstrate that, because of Jesus, I don’t have a spirit of fear; but I have a power, and a love, and a sound mind even as we watch the world wobble. There are good days and good kingdom work ahead. There are opportunities for us to love our neighbor and love our enemies in some ways that will astound them. Maybe God will use that to open their eyes to the gospel.
Bob: We’ve been listening to a portion of a message I shared recently at our church. [Applause] Thank you. [Laughter]
Ann: This was fun; way to go!
Bob: This was really the first part of a three-part series that I did. In fact, this week, we’re going to hear a little more from that series. I think all of us need to be thinking carefully/biblically. We need to be setting our mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. We need to participate in this election season, but this is not where our hope is.
Ann: Sometimes it’s hard, because we’re run by our emotions.
Ann: This was a really good place to kind of sit back/to put our eyes back on Jesus.
Dave: I think a lot of us in the church don’t know how to think biblically about government. Way to go! Way to tackle this.
In a lot of ways, at church, it’s like in your kitchen—it’s like: “Don’t talk about religion; don’t talk about politics.” Sometimes we don’t do that in church either. You didn’t get up there and say who to vote for; but you gave us perspective to say, “Who you vote for is not going to be the ultimate answer to our hope.”
Bob: In the third message I did, I said, “Here’s how you decide who you vote for…” I didn’t say, “Here’s who you vote for.” I said, “Here’s what you bring to bear as you prayerfully make the decision about who you’re going to vote for…”
Ann: What was the response from the congregation?
Bob: I confessed, at the beginning of this message, that: “I don’t think I’ve spoken on anything that gave me more apprehension/more anxiety about: ‘How is this going to be received in a divided culture like we’re living in?’” But I got a very warm response from people, saying, “I needed this; this was helpful. I needed someone to point me back to Scripture in the midst of all of this.”
In fact, this entire message, both audio and video, is available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, along with links to the other two messages from this series. If listeners would like an opportunity to hear the entire message or view the entire message, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and access the links. Again, audio and video both available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’d like to share these links with others, you can do that on our website as well. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
We wanted to let you know about something that is going to be happening, starting next Thursday night. Thursday night October 29th, we are having an online live small group. Dave and Ann and I are going to be together to talk about what biblical love looks like. It’s a Love Like You Mean It three-session small group on Thursday nights on Facebook Live. We’d love to have you join us. There’s information about this on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com—starting next Thursday night, October 29th, continuing for three weeks—each Thursday night at 7:00 Central Time. Find out more about the Love Like You Mean It online small group with Dave and Ann Wilson and me. It all kicks off next Thursday night; and again, the information is online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
We hope you can join us back, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about how we can have conversations about politics, where we disagree, and still preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That’s what the Bible tells us to do; we’ll talk about how to do that tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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