Sunday July 27, 2014 | Greg Boyd
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Romans 13:1-2. 4
13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority 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. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority[a] does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.
This week we look at the twisted interpretation of Matthew 22 and Romans 13. This is a text with a long standing tradition that teaches Christians to serve both the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms in which they live on earth. In this sermon, we will learn why this interpretation is false and how to better understand it.
Our twisted Scripture today comes from Matthew 22 and Romans 13:1-7. From these verses come a misinterpretation and misapplication of a Scriptural passage that has done more damage to the Kingdom movement than any other Jesus started. Within the Christian tradition there is a long and rarely questioned way of understanding this passage that goes back to 5th century. In this traditional interpretation, Christians argue that we have a duty to give to Caesar all Caesar asks of us. This long standing tradition is known as the “two kingdoms” interpretation and is used by most American Christians to insinuate we have a patriotic duty to vote, participate in all levels of government, defend our country, and kill for our country if need be. The thought behind the argument is that for a Christian to disobey government means they are disobeying God.
Problems arise with this interpretation when it is compared to the rest of Scripture. One issue with the traditional understanding is that it does not reflect the way the New Testament describes Jesus. Jesus didn’t submit to either Roman or Jewish leadership. In fact, he was crucified as a revolutionary, a non-conformist, and a subversive example to his people and his times. Another problem is that it does not align with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus teaches that the commandment which encompasses all others is that we are to love God and love others above all else. Jesus tells his followers that the clearest way to manifest the truth of the Father’s love is to love indiscriminately—even towards your worst enemies.
If the traditional interpretation of this text doesn’t align with the rest of the New Testament, then how should it be interpreted? The word establish in this context is better understood as the way God files governments, in the manner in which he finds them. God orchestrates the sword wielding power to preserve law and order, as much as possible. This isn’t to say God approves of it. The New Testament teaches us very clearly that this filing is to be left to God. Christians are never called to judge or exact vengeance. Christians are called to only serve one Kingdom. We are to only serve one Lord—Jesus Christ.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Christians shouldn’t vote, run for office, serve on the police force, or any other governmental office. It does mean that all Christians should recognize there is much ambiguity depending on the specifics surrounding these areas, and discernment is required for each individual and in each community. As Christians, we should always extend grace to others. Although each Christian may apply things differently, all Kingdom people are called to embrace the ideals of the Kingdom. These ideals call us to love indiscriminately, live non-violently, and devote our singular fidelity to Jesus