Love over Liberty

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:13–23 ESV).

Keep the Main Things the Main Things

You may say, why should I even care about all this? The key verse here is verse 17,

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Paul says to the strong, your priorities are all messed up if you make this about eating and drinking. The kingdom of God is about so much more than kosher foods and sabbaths. When Christians go to war over Christian liberty issues, it trivializes the really important stuff, which he lists here as “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” How much damage has been done in churches when we make things of really minor importance occasions for major arguments? Have you been in church meetings like this? Yelling. Neck veins popping. Over what? The virgin birth? The nature of Christ? No. It’s who chairs the committee or who picks the color of the carpet.

This leads to the question, what things should we go to the wall over and what things do we, for the sake of peace, not get too worked up over?

Liberty and the Lordship of Christ

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:7–12 ESV).

Who is the Priority?

The mature Christian lives verse 8, “So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). We could easily call this the All About Him approach to Christian liberty. Weak in faith, don’t judge the strong because Jesus is judge. Strong in faith, don’t despise the weak because Jesus is their Savior, too.

The glory of Jesus Christ is our prime directive, and we must approach these otherwise divisive issues from his perspective. What’s best for Jesus’ name? Jesus’ fame? Jesus’ glory? This isn’t about me. It’s not about bacon or vegetables, Sabbaths or not, wine drinking, or a host of other secondary matters.

Liberty and Love

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:1–12 ESV).

The strong are to be welcoming, not condescending to the weak

The natural tendency for the person who has freedom would be to look down on the person who struggles in these areas. Rather, he is to accept him. Welcome or Accept in verse 1 means to “welcome into one’s fellowship and into one’s heart.”

The example given is with eating meat or only vegetables. For example, the “strong faith” man has “weak faith” man over for dinner. Strong faith man fires up the grill, pulls out the pork chops and goes to put them on the grill. The weak faith man takes one look at it and says, I can’t eat this! What should the strong faith man do? He could easily pull out his Bible and begin to beat him over the head screaming, Yes you can, Yes you can! You are free in Christ! God told Peter in the vision of the sheet coming down to rise and eat! He could do that. He also could look at him, shake his head, and say, Oh, my poor, pitiful, weaker faith brother. How I pity you. You are so far beneath me…. Both are wrong.

Wake Up! Get Dressed! Watch Out!

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:11-14 ESV).

Watch Out!

Verse 14 is a special verse and I don’t want you to miss it. God has used this verse in my life as it gives a tip for how to do all this. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

The flesh. The flesh is not our physical flesh but that aspect of our sin nature that is set against God and his will in our lives. This internal enemy that is with us all the time—indwelling sin. You know what I’m talking about. It wars against the spiritual us and seeks to undermine God’s good work in us.

The flesh has desires that it subtly inserts into our affections. Paul describes it in chapter 7:19 as, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” That is when the flesh wins.

Putting on Jesus is the offense. But here we have a clue for a great defense. “Make no provision for the flesh.” (Romans 13:14)

The Christian Neighbor

The “got to” command: love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8–10 ESV).

Here is where Paul is pointing us. Love. Agape in the Greek. This famous word generally describes a much different kind of love than the Beatles memorialized. “All You Need is Love” is to turn love on self; to see love as a means to self-fulfillment. It is to make love all about me.

But we forget the first five commands. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The number one god that competes with the true God is the god of self. When self is on the throne of our hearts, love is turned into a means of self-fulfillment. I’ll serve other people as long as it makes me feel good. I’ll remain faithful to my spouse as long as she satisfies me. I’ll love my neighbor because doing so may advance my standing in society or get me the coveted secretary position in the HOA.

Self-love doesn’t fulfill the law. Selfless love does.

Faithful Citizenship When Kingdoms Collide

“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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For 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. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also 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.” (Romans 13:7 ESV)

How Should Christians be Involved in Government? Significant Influence

Significant influence[1] means that the church must retain its prophetic role. Anything that smells like politicizing the church or the gospel must be avoided. As an example, Billy Graham was an advisor to presidents but didn’t endorse them.

But that doesn’t mean becoming a monastery either. Light influences darkness wherever it goes, and Jesus called Christians the light of the world. We should do everything we can to influence society and government toward the light. Light here isn’t republicanism or term limits or border walls. It’s moral light. Light that guides governments to lead toward God’s common grace for human flourishing.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

The Christian Citizen, Caesar, and Christ

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances’” (Matthew 22:15-16 ESV).

The Pharisees were desperate to take Jesus down. What better way to do it then to catch him in the political inferno of his day? Here is the trap: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17) Behind this seemingly simple question is a nuclear bomb. On the surface, it is a question of taxation. Sure, you should pay your taxes. But the question is, should we pay taxes to Caesar? Caesar was the head of Rome. Tiberius Julius Caesar ruled the known world. Do you see any irony here? In terms of kingdoms and power, who is greater, Caesar or the one answering this question about Caesar?

Rome governed the kingdom of man. Jesus is King of the kingdom of God. The question is addressed to the King of kings about duty to the lesser king.

Do you see the catch-22 they pose to Jesus? If he says you shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar, now he is a revolutionary and they can leverage that to persuade Rome to kill him. Any claim to kingship was a threat to Rome and Rome didn’t play nice.

But if he said, yes, pay taxes to Rome, in the eyes of the people, he was a capitulator. An appeaser. A traitor to his own people. Why? The Jews hated Rome, hated their tax collectors, and hated the taxes. They have put Jesus on the horns of a dilemma with no way out. Unless you have the wisdom of the Son of God….

“But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away” (Matthew 22:18-22).

What an incredible answer! Can you imagine Jesus in a presidential debate? He handles this “gotcha” question perfectly.

He asks for a denarius (see image below).

Realize this coinage was itself agitating. The Roman currency had the image of Caesar on it. Every day the currency was a reminder of being under Caesar’s thumb. Most countries put founding fathers and national heroes on their money. Imagine using money every day with Hitler or Bin Laden’s picture on it; that’s kind of what it was like for the Jews using Roman coinage.

They bring him a denarius and Jesus asks a simple question, whose picture is it? He knew whose picture it was. He was simply starting them on a path of reasoning. Caesar. We all know that. Duh. Why you are asking such an easy question? Jesus says, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

This is arguably the most important single sentence of political philosophy ever uttered. In one sentence Jesus lays out the relationship between church and state and the proper perspective of a Christian to human government.

Caesar represents all human government—all the kingdoms of man. Caesar’s kingdom has “things” to which we must “render” or “grant Caesar authority” over us. This includes our money, taxation, and with it comes our responsibility to submit to Caesar. Jesus sanctions submission to government and participation in human government. He doesn’t stop there, but what if he had?

If all he said was, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, we would think that government and political power was the most important thing in this world. We would give all our time and energy to it. All our hope would be in government. We would pursue political power like a religion. We would be overjoyed when our candidates win, and we would be overwhelmed when they lose.

Are there people like this? They show their religion every election cycle. The fury and animus they show over the election makes you think that for them, this kingdom of man is the only kingdom that matters. It also shows itself in people who promote government as the great hope for humanity. They want more and more of it. The more the better. Certain political theories are all about rendering to Caesar. The more rendering the better! Caesar can fix our problems. Hail Caesar!

Beloved, do your emotions, interest, talk radio consumption, or cable news obsession suggest that government has become too important to you? Are you living like the kingdom of man is the only kingdom that matters to you?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

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All About Him 2020: Caesar Bows to the King

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11–16, ESV)

The Enthroned King

This anticipated King, veiled and suffering King, someday he will step out behind the veil of this sky and will proclaim both his royal title and display his sovereign might. Lest any be confused with who he is, as he comes, who he is will be written on his thigh, King of kings and Lord of lords.

In that moment every human authority, every Caesar on the planet, every king, queen, prime minister, president, governor, and everyone else will tremble as they see divine glory and absolute power. He is not a king and a lord. He is King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

The Christian and Caesar

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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For 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. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing” (Romans 13:1–6 ESV).

Why Submit to Government Authorities?

All human authority is from God

A Christian understanding of government authority begins with a higher authority that endows the lesser with authority. Human government is a lower throne. A much, much lesser authority than God but with a delegated and derived authority from God.

A Christian is called to submit to the lesser authority as an act of obedience to the higher authority, God himself. This doesn’t mean our hope is in government any more than a wife’s ultimate hope is in her husband, or church members’ ultimate hope is in church leaders. The same Greek for submit is used for those relationships. It will be a disappointed wife and a disappointed church that puts their ultimate hope in any human authority.

We do it for Jesus’ sake. Peter’s admonition says, “For the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13). In other words, how we relate to earthly authorities is an act of worship to God’s authority.

Why Government?

God’s Plan for Human Government

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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For 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. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.” (Romans 13:1-6 ESV)

What is human government? God’s common grace for the organization of human society. Government is not man’s idea. Government is God’s created purpose for organizing humanity.