Romans 13:6-7: Fulfilling Our Obligations
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17). These have been called the most important political words ever spoken, and rightly so. Jesus was being put to the test by the Pharisees and the Herodians. They thought they had Jesus cornered when they asked Him if they should pay taxes. They thought they had Him on the horns of a dilemma, if Jesus said yes the Jews should pay taxes then that would make Him unpopular with the general public. And if He answered No, then the Herodians were present and could make sure His anti-Roman opinions would be known and get Him into trouble.
These words clearly illustrate the two different kingdoms of God and man. They show our responsibility to each and the priority of giving ourselves first to God and then the duties of being a citizen. It is not a case of either or but both and. In Mark 12:15 Jesus asks for a Denarius, and asks, ‘whose image and inscription is this?’ The Roman coin had on one side an image of Tiberius with the inscription, ‘Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.’ By implication the coin was claiming that Tiberius is also in some way divine, obviously an empty claim with no basis laying no obligation on anyone to give him actual worship. So when Jesus says give to Caesar that things that are his, the coins are literally his, and since he is not God all he gets is money in the form of taxes. But since Jesus says give to God the things that are God’s, what bears God’s image? We do, and so although we must pay our taxes and give Caesar his money, we must give ourselves our whole selves to God.
These words put both the Jewish and the Roman views of kingdom in perspective. The Roman government saw itself as supreme and several of the Caesars took to themselves the divine prerogative of expecting worship. Jesus’ words put this notion in its place. And the Jewish expectation of an earthly kingdom where the Davidic King would be ruling and Rome would be defeated, and all Jews would be free from obligations to Rome is likewise destroyed. Jesus shows that one can worship God and still be subject to bad governments.
Thirdly, these words also legitimise taxes. Paying taxes is not a sin, it is not ungodly, it is confirmed as being a thing Christians can and should do. It is in the spirit of what Jesus says in affirming taxes that we need to consider our last words by Paul in this section on submitting to the government, Romans 13:6-7, ‘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.’ It is very clear that Paul is following Christ in making these statements. Today as we close our look at this topic we want to consider our final obligations with regard to taxes, honour and worship.