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. 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.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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.

Community: Truth in Love

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42–47 ESV)

Fellowship

Let’s define Christian fellowship. Here are some good definitions:

“Christ-centered mutual affection and action [which] includes everything from joining in worship to conversations, meals, working together in all the activities of the Christian community.”[1]

“New Testament fellowship involves the sharing of the Christian life with other followers of Christ. Talking about the things of God with each other, telling and hearing testimonies of the work of the Spirit of God in our lives, serving the Lord and His people together, worshiping God and praying as one people, extending to and receiving from one another the love of Christ—these are the fibers of the fabric of fellowship.”[2]

“Sharing in word or action what we share in Christ.” (Steve DeWitt)

True Christian fellowship is spiritual. We have so muddied fellowship to include chitchatting after a service about the Bears game. Was that fellowship? With some people, any gathering of Christians and doughnuts is instantly called fellowship. Is there anything wrong with those things? Maybe the doughnuts, but no. But don’t think it’s fellowship. If it’s something you can do with an unbeliever, then it’s not fellowship. Why?

Service: Truth in Action

“And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33-34 ESV)

Sometimes the disciples were just plain embarrassing. This is one of those times. They are walking along the road with the Son of God while debating which of them is the greatest. By this, it doesn’t mean they were arguing that other disciples were the greatest, they were arguing for their own claim to greatness. In Mark’s account, this is just after Peter, James, and John personally witness Jesus’ transfiguration. You would think the sight of the very shekinah glory of God and the thundering voice of God the Father would have put a little humility in them. But no. Just a few verses later, they are making their best case for their own greatness and their own exalted place in Jesus’ kingdom.

Jesus calls them on it and asks, what were you discussing? “But they kept silent.” They were suddenly embarrassed. They looked down and tried to find a rock they could crawl under.

“And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35) A parallel passage in Matthew says, “The greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)

The Bible and Bethel Church

Authority

It’s one thing to say something is true, it’s another to submit to it. Some people view the Ten Commandments at the ten suggestions. Good principles. Good ideas. Commandment implies authority and accountability. As an example, we may know what the speed limit says, but do we view it as an authority over us or not? It quickly goes from a suggestion to a commandment the moment we see a state trooper. Our instinct is to hit the brakes. Ever do that only to realize that Crown Victoria is being driven by grandma and not Officer Krupke?

The Supremacy of Christ

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:15–20 ESV).

 Why Was This Necessary?

If Christ was already supreme in eternity past, what did his actions for us do to magnify his supremacy?

Whenever we talk about the Trinity, many people check out and say, I can’t understand it all so I don’t want to think about it. Yet we don’t do that with other things. We don’t look at the ocean and say, because I can’t see all of it, I won’t enjoy any of it. Or if I can’t see all the sky I won’t enjoy the sunset. Can we understand all the mysteries of the Trinity or trinitarian purposes? No. But there is so much that we can see, and it is beautiful. Here is one dimension God allows us to see and understand.

What was pre-incarnation like for Christ? Glory. Infinite glory emanating from him. His character was absolutely perfect in every way. However, Christ had glories or attributes to his character that were known only to the Father and had never had an opportunity to be expressed or worshiped.