Living in the Tension Between Caesar and God

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

Luke 20:25

Yesterday, I began reflecting on Luke 20:20-26, a passage in which the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem tried to trap Jesus with a tricky question about whether people ought to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Jesus’ answer astounded his interrogators and allowed him to escape from their trap: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (20:25).

At first glance, Jesus appears to divide life into two distinct realms, the realm of Caesar and the realm of God. We might talk today about life as divided into the secular and the sacred. When we live in the secular sphere of life, we live according to its laws and values. When we live in the spiritual sphere, we live for God’s purposes and by his values. Many Christians live this way, partly in response to what Jesus said about Caesar and God.

But such a clear division into secular and sacred doesn’t reflect the broader teaching of Scripture, not to mention Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God. Yes, indeed, the kingdom of God is not your standard political realm. Yes, Jesus’ authority does not come from this world, on the basis of political power or military might. But God’s kingdom is not some walled off section of existence. Indeed, God created all things and ultimately rules over all things.

What does this mean for us? In part, it means that we fulfill our duty to our country and other human institutions as a way to express our highest duty to honor God. It means that we learn to see everything in our lives as belonging to God, including our money, our possessions, our advantages, our talents, and so forth. Thus, if you work in an organization, for example, you should render to that organization whatever is right (hard work, honesty, loyalty, etc.). But this does not mean your work is not also and ultimately for God. You may serve an earthly boss, but you also serve a heavenly King.

As we seek to live as citizens of the kingdom of God, we will feel a tension with our other “citizenships.” We’ll wonder how we can serve God in every part of life and, at the same time, live in this world as employees, citizens, spouses, parents, children, and friends. The teaching of Jesus on taxes encourages us to take this tension seriously as we seek, above all, to give to God what belongs to God...namely, all that we have and all that we are.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you think of your life as divided between the sacred and the secular? If you work in a “secular” institution, how do you serve the Lord in the context of your work? Is it possible to be a faithful, productive employee or citizen and still give God first place in every facet of life?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, how easy it is for me to divide my life into the secular and the sacred. The secular is my turf, where I can run my own life, or where I am accountable to earthly authorities but not to you. In my secular world, I don’t have to worry too much about you and your kingdom. Forgive me, Lord, for failing to see that all of life matters to you, that everything in this universe is ultimately under your sovereignty.

Help me to know what it means to live well in this world, yet serving you above all. May I learn to see every part of my life, everything I do, every thought, every action, every dream, yes, everything encompassed by your kingdom. May I seek to live for you in every facet of my life.

All glory be to you, King of kings and Lord of lords. Amen.