Loyalty in the Right Place
Loyalty in the Right Place
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 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. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" 21 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." 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. – Matthew 22:15-22 (ESV)
His name was Eric Liddel. Known as “The Flying Scotchman,” he became world famous in the 1924 Olympics held in Paris, France. Liddell was committed Christian who was scheduled to run the 100 metre race, his best event. However, it was scheduled to run on Sunday, which Liddell considered the Sabbath, and as a committed Scottish Presbyterian, he had decided he could not do that and honor his Lord.
Liddell was called before the head of the English Olympic committee, a high ranking British Officer, and the King. They asked him to reconsider his decision for the honor of both King and country. Liddell reminded all three that there was a higher King he served and he had to put that King even about his early King and Country. To which, the British Officer snapped, “In my day it was King first, God second.” But Liddell refused to budge. A friend of Liddell gave up his place in the 400 metres just so Liddell could run, since the 400 metres was not on Sunday.
While he trained for the 400, he was not expected to win it. The day of the 400 metres race came, and as Liddell went to the starting blocks, someone slipped a piece of paper into his hand with a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30, “Those who honor me I will honor.” Liddell ran with that piece of paper in his hand. He not only won the race, but he broke the existing world record with a time of 47.6 seconds.
The issue for Eric Liddel on not running on Sunday was not because he didn’t think he needed to honor his King and country, but rather that King and country were to be put below God to whom he owed the greater honor.
When it comes to the Christian, it is not honor God, but forget country. Rather, it is to do as Liddell did, and as Jesus says, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
I. It Is Not An Either Or
The Religious leaders thought they had Jesus between a rock and a hard place. If Jesus said, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” then many of his own followers might abandon him because they hated the Romans and wanted them out of their land. If Jesus said, “No, you should not pay taxes to Caesar,” then the religious authorities had something to take to the Roman authorities to get Jesus arrested for rebellion.
However, the smirks on their faces soon disappeared with Jesus’ answer to them. He asked for a coin which was used to pay the tax. They happened to have one with them, which showed they were not serious about their question because they themselves paid the tax. On the coin was an image of Caesar and th words, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus.” This was idolatry for the Jews since they were not to make an image of anything, and it was very idolatrous in that it claimed Caesar was himself Divine.
Jesus did not advocate the idolatry of the coin, but does call the religious leaders on their hypocrisy since they themselves had the coin on them and used it to pay the tax.
What Jesus tells the religious leaders, and what we need to hear today, is that there are things that we owe to those earthly authorities that rule over us. We can’t use God as an excuse as to why we don’t want to obey the government that God has placed over us. Paul brings this out in Romans 13.
Romans 13:1-7 (ESV) 1 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 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.
The government exists by God’s appointment. God rules over us for our good through the government. Without the government anarchy would reign and anarchy is lawlessness.
So, Jesus not only shows that the religious leaders were hypocritical, but also that their was a certain legitimacy to government, even if you didn’t like that government. Things such as taxes are the realm of the government and should be obey.
So, by being a follower of God does not free up someone from obeying the government. As a matter of fact, the government is appointed by God, and to disobey it in the areas God has given it is to disobey God.
II. It’s God First, Earthly Authority Second
Eric Liddell was a law abiding citizen. He was honored the government as the authority God had placed over him and others for his and their welfare. He was patriotic. Yet, he knew that the government could never be above God, nor even on equal footing with God. It was God first, the governing authorities second.
This also holds true for us today. We are to render to the governing authorities those things which belong to it. On the other hand, if the governing authority demands something that is plainly contrary to God and his authority, then we are to disobey it. Liddell would give his life in service to his country, but he would not break what he considered God’s will for him even if the government told him to.
In one of my congregations I served in Missouri, there was a flag pole in the front of the church building. We had two flags we flew, the flag of the United States and a flag with a cross on it. I never liked it when the flag with a cross was flown underneath the United States flag. (Nothing is to fly above the stars and stripes.) I would rather fly the US flag alone or the cross flag alone, since it is not legal to fly anything above the stars and strips, yet I believe that my first and foremost allegiance and devotion belongs to God and not to my country. That’s why we say, “God and country,” and not “Country and God.”
The Apostle Peter, like Paul, also tells us to obey the governing authorities. Yet, when these same authorities entered into God’s realm and commanded him to no longer proclaim Jesus and what Jesus had done, he declared:
Acts 5:29 (ESV) But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men.
While we are to render to the government what is the governments, we are not to render to it anything that takes away our allegiance to God first. I do not accept the governments laws legalizing abortion because to God, abortion is the taking of a life he has created, a life only he can take away. No matter what the Supreme Court says, no matter what Congress says, no matter what the presidential candidates say, Abortion is murder of a human being created in the Image of God. There are many things in life in which governments make laws that contradict God’s laws. In these cases, we are not to listen to the government, but to God in His Word.
This is why I have such a problem with both Republicans and Democrats using God to help them in their campaigns. They can run dangerously close of infringing on God’s territory.
Thus, for the Christian, it must be God first and all other human authorities second. Or, as Martin Luther reminds us concerning the First Commandment: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” All means all.
III. God Himself Puts Us First
God is the creator of all humankind. He is also the one who appoints all governing authority. We would not be here if it were not for God, and governments would not rule were it not for the fact that God allows them. And God can and does bring governments down when the sins of a nation pile up to the heavens.
Yet, it is this same God, who put us first rather than Himself. The Bible puts it this way:
Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV) 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Instead of demanding His “rights” and being put first, God came among in Jesus Christ. Instead of destroying all people because of their sins, He went to the cross and took upon Himself the sins of the world and suffered hell and death on that cross. It is through this not putting himself first, but coming for us, that God brought forgiveness for the entire world in Christ.
This Morning (evening) we have come to worship God. Yet, God first of all comes to us and serves us first. Through the Absolution God serves us with the forgiveness of all our sins. He speaks through your pastor to assure you that you are in His forgiving plan. Through the Holy Scriptures God serves us by giving us His Word, His word of Law that convicts of our sins, but also His word of Gospel that forgives those very sins.
(He comes to us to serve us in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Here He stoops to us and gives us the very body and blood of Jesus that was broken and shed for each of us on the cross, and once again, through the words of the Lay Ministers and the Pastor, God says, “Take, eat, this is the true body of Jesus Christ, broken for you.” “Take, drink, this is the true blood of Jesus Christ, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.”)
Our worship and praise of God is merely a response to His service of love He gives to us in our worship service. The Germans called worship: “Gottdienst”, meaning “Divine Service.” First, God coming to serve us with His gifts, particularly His gift of forgiveness, and then you and I serving God in response.
Eric Liddell put God first in his life because God had put him first in His. God had loved Eric first and came in the person of Jesus Christ to suffer and die for him, thereby bringing Eric Liddell forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. This put everything in proper order for Liddell. Since God loved him first, he would love God as well. And, while Eric Liddell would honor and obey the governing authorities placed over him, he would remember that ultimately it is God Who comes first. This is something the religious leaders of Jesus’ day didn’t grasp, otherwise they would not have rejected Jesus as the one God sent for them.
It is not an either or choice for us today. God has placed earthly authorities over us and we are to render to them what is due to them. However, we are called to remember that our first loyalty is to God and to Him alone. God does not seek to force this loyalty from us. He would rather have us give it to Him willingly because He gave Himself to us willingly at the cross and put us first so that we might have His forgiveness through Christ.