If someone asked me who Jesus would vote for, I would open my Bible to Mark 12, where Jesus is asked, ‘is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ A dangerous question. The tax in question was charged by the Roman Empire that controlled the Jewish state. It symbolised the suppression of the Jews by a foreign power. Essentially, Jesus was being asked, ‘are you in favour of Roman control? Should the Jews learn to accept the political situation or should they revolt?’ The supporters of Herod liked the tax; the Pharisees hated it. A dangerous question indeed.
How does Jesus respond? He asks them for a denarius, a type of coin. The denarius has Caesar’s picture and name on it. After taking the coin, Jesus famously says: ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’. So much could be said about these revolutionary words, and I encourage you to check out Timothy Keller’s wonderful sermon if you want to learn more. But let me make a few comments.
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s
This is a radical statement: we do owe something to ‘Caesar’ – that is, to our political system. We are not solely preoccupied with the ‘spiritual’ world; we are called to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10), stand up for the rights of the unborn (Proverbs 24:11-12), be Stewards to God’s creation (Genesis 1:26). So, a big ‘YES’ to God-honouring political engagement. We need more people like William Wilberforce in our Beehive. God is honoured and delighted when politics begins to reflect His likeness, especially when the work is done by His faithful servants.
Give to God what is God’s
The denarius had Caesar’s likeness on in it, and an inscription which said something like ‘Caesar Augustus, High Priest, son of God’. Do you see the irony? The person holding the coin was the true image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), the great High Priest (Heb 4:15), and the son of God. So who had the greater power? Well Christ does, obviously. He deserves our exclusive allegiance. Christ reigns supreme over any and every political ideology made by man. Yet it is scary to think how easily our politics can influence our theology. Let me cautiously suggest a couple of examples: a ‘social justice types’ who feels attracted to the cosmic Jesus (a good thing) and a diminished respect for biblical authority (a bad thing) simply because that’s what their ‘progressive’ friends may be into; or a theologically-conservative thinker who opposes same-sex marriage because that’s what his or her ‘tribe’ does.
No, no! Friends, politics isn’t that important. God and His Word are. This has at least three implications.
- Christians do not claim less than Scripture: When the Bible speaks Christians obey, no matter what their favourite political slogans may be. When the Bible speaks issues such as abortion, climate change, or the priority of caring for the poor this should end the debate. Of course, the sometimes tricky business of interpretation remains, and then application after that, but that does not negate the fact that truth can be found. Let’s eagerly and humbly search the Bible for insight, and where it conflicts with our thinking, it might not be wise to argue (John 14:23).
- Christians do not claim more than Scripture: Where Scripture has not spoken, we are free to disagree. And we will. Of course, some ideas are still better than others. But we should expect to have different opinions on many things. This provides a wonderful opportunity for us to show the preciousness of Christian unity by refusing to let politics divide us. For in Christ we are one! There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, rich nor poor, Greens-supporter nor Conservative-supporter, ‘red’ or ‘blue’ (Gal 3:28).
- Christians follow Christ when ‘doing politics’: We season our speech with grace, letting no corrupting talk come out of our mouths (Eph 4:29) – not easy, but we may as well start here! We shun personal ambition, and love truth for its own sake, even when it is incredibly unpopular. (Relevantly, this means that precisely because we care about political corruption, we care irrespective of any political advantage it may afford our favourite parties). And, perhaps above all, we pray for a poverty of spirit, so that we can avoid the temptation to self-righteousness that can sometimes plague political dialogue.
In summary, as we line-up at the ballot let us remember this: politics matters, but Christ matters infinitely more. Whoever gets our vote, Christ – and Christ only – deserves our life.