Matthew 22:15-22 (ESV)
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.
The Pharisees joined with the Herodians, who supported the Herods, and schemed to entrap Jesus in his own words. These bitter enemies, the former protecting God’s Law and the latter loyal to Rome, suddenly became friends when it came to getting rid of Jesus. They attempted to flatter Jesus, saying they knew he was a man of integrity who taught the truth about God regardless of what others thought (v. 17). They fully expected Jesus to answer honestly, and so attempted to trap him by asking, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Did it align with the Law of God to give money to Gentiles? If he said “no,” the Herodians would see him as disobedient to the government. If he said “yes,” many Jews would see him as compromising. The questioners hoped Jesus’ answer would place him in a no-win situation and stomp out much of his recent popularity. Jesus asked them for a coin, and they brought him a day’s wage, the denarius. Many Jews wouldn’t even carry this coin because it had an image of Caesar engraved on it. Jesus said they should pay Caesar, or the government, what is owed. The Jews were clearly under Roman authority, and whether they liked it or not, they had to subject themselves to the laws of the land. At the same time, they should pay God what he is owed as well.
Just because they were under Roman rule didn’t mean that the Jews shouldn’t have lived their lives for the glory of God, making his concerns their priority. We too should live within our government in a way that brings glory to God. We must do whatever we can to abide by the laws of the land and be known as people who would never break the rules unless they ask to violate biblical law or principle. We should pay taxes and vote and take part in government if possible. We should also remember that as Christians, we are called to give and serve within a church. We must never get so involved in the affairs of the land that we neglect our place within the people of God. May we, by the help of the Holy Spirit, master the balance that Jesus spoke of and fully invest in our church while living as peaceful members of the civil administrations God has ordained us to live under.