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Citizens Of Two Countries

Citizens of Two Countries

Matthew 22:15-22

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation….

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.– That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

So begins the most famous document in American history. A document adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4 in 1776. A document which laid the foundation for the freedoms we celebrate on this, our nation’s 228th birthday.

But what did Mr. Jefferson and his fellow patriots mean when they said, “all men are…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”? According to the document, we are creatures of a Creator. How are we to relate both to Creator and country? Let’s explore the question, then we’ll turn to God’s word for the answer.

Explore the issue

I was on the faculty of Southwestern Seminary when my good friend and former student John Moldovan became an American citizen. John’s father was killed by the Romanian Communist government for preaching the gospel; John was persecuted terribly by them until a human rights group won his release to America.

Now he was becoming an American himself. He invited Janet and me to the ceremony. After this wonderfully moving celebration, this very perceptive believer made an interesting statement: “My first allegiance through it all has been to Jesus my Lord. Now I owe allegiance to America as well. I’m a citizen of two countries.”

So are we all. We live in America, but we also live in the Kingdom of God. We love our nation, but we also love our Lord. We serve Christ, but we also serve Caesar. How?

According to God’s word, life begins at conception, so abortion is wrong. Yet the state allows it. Should we bomb abortion clinics, or march in protest? Or should we change our beliefs to match society? What should we do?

What about postmodern moral relativism in the schools? Pari-mutuel wagering and lotteries? The perception of Christians in the media and entertainment industries? How do we live in two countries, especially when the two don’t appear always to agree?

We are not the first to ask the question.

It is Tuesday of Holy Week. Jesus is teaching the crowds gathered in the Temple corridors. Now the unlikeliest of political coalitions comes against him.

The Pharisees hated the Roman occupation. But they also hated Jesus. They considered his grace-centered message in violation of the Law and its demands. He was a heretic whose influence must be stopped.

The Herodians supported the Roman occupation in every way. They and the Pharisees were in constant political conflict. But they also saw Jesus as a threat to the Empire’s power. Like the Pharisees, they wanted him arrested or even killed.

So they “went out and laid plans to trap him in his words” (Matthew 22:15).

Luke gives us their underlying motive: “They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor” (Luke 20:20).

The Pharisees sent some of their “disciples” to him (v. 16), students at one of the two Pharisaic theological seminaries in Jerusalem. Their youth might endear them to Jesus; at any event, they would be less recognizable to him than their leaders.

After patronizing him with compliments, they spring their trap: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (v. 17). Their grammar requires a “yes” or “no” answer. And either will serve their purpose.

They have pushed a very hot button. The “taxes” to which they refer was the poll-tax or “census” tax paid by all males over the age of 14 and all females over the age of 12. It was paid directly to the Emperor himself.

And it required the use of a coin which was despised by the Jewish populace. This was the “denarius,” a silver coin minted by the Emperor himself. It was the only Roman coin which claimed divine status for the Caesar. On one side it pictured the head of Emperor Tiberius with the Latin inscription, “Tiberius Caesar son of the divine Augustus.” On the other side it pictured Pax, the Roman goddess of peace, with the Latin inscription, “high priest.” It was idolatrous in the extreme.

The tax it paid led to a Jewish revolt in A.D. 6 which established the Zealot movement. That movement eventually resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation in A.D. 70. At this time that movement was growing in power and influence. They were asking Jesus to take a position on the most inflammatory issue of the day.

If he says that it is right to pay taxes to Caesar, the public will turn from him in revolt and his influence will be at an end. If he says that it is not, he will be a traitor to Rome and the authorities will arrest and execute him. Either way, the hands of these schemers will be clean, and they will be rid of their enemy.

Accept your appointment

Here is Jesus’ timeless answer. He asks for a denarius, and then asks them, “Whose portrait is this?” (v. 20). They tell him that it bears the image and inscription of Caesar. And he replies, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s” (v. 21). If taxes belong to the nation, pay them. If worship belongs to God, give it. Give to each what is due. Live in two countries, a citizen of both.

Paul clarifies this image of citizenship when he calls us “Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20). An American ambassador lives in a foreign country, under appointment by his president at home. When our ambassador John Negroponte presented his credentials to Iraq’s president and foreign minister on Tuesday, he continued this historic tradition. So long as Mr. Negroponte lives in Iraq, he will obey the laws of that nation. He will give allegiance to its leaders and people. But always he will have a second allegiance, an even higher allegiance to his home country and her leader. He will serve Iraq, but he will also serve America. And if he must choose between the two, his loyalties are clear.

Like him, we are each to obey and support our governing authorities:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).

“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:6-7).

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2; cf. Titus 3:1-2).

But we are also to obey and serve our Lord:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7).

“You kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:10-12).

Why? “By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just; by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth” (Proverbs 8:15-16).

Peter explains well the relationship between Christ and Caesar: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right…Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13-14, 17).

Love people, fear God, and honor the state. Do not fear people or state, but God alone.

In other words, serve your highest authority. When you can serve Christ and state, serve both. If you must choose, choose Christ.

The same apostles who taught us to serve the Empire were martyred by these emperors because they would not stop preaching the gospel. Because they chose to serve Caesar unless they could not also serve Christ. Serve your highest authority, always.


We’ve been exploring the biblical worldview as regards Christian citizenship. So what does this doctrine mean? How do we live in both countries, representing our Lord as his ambassador on this foreign soil?

We give taxes, as Jesus teaches here.

We give obedience to the government whenever we can also obey our Lord. Luther said, “It is necessary to have governments because we are sinners.” We need them, and must obey them so long as we can also obey Christ.

We give service as God directs. We become involved in public leadership and political engagement. Plato said, “The punishment of wise men who refuse to take part in the affairs of government is to be live under the government of unwise men.”

We give witness. We are salt and light to this decaying, dark planet. We preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, we use words.

And we give our intercession. This is our most significant act of patriotism.

Rees Howells was a Welsh miner and great prayer warrior. During the dark days of WWII in England, he felt compelled by God to organize a “company” to pray with him for the nation. They prayed day and night from May 16-30, 1940, before the pending invasion of England by the Nazis.

On September 15, the Battle of the Air came to its climax, as the German air raids on London peaked and the British had no air reserves left. The Luftwaffa was free to take Britain, when they inexplicably turned and left for home. But their actions were not inexplicable: Rees Howells and his prayer partners had been on their knees, day in and day out for the week before. And their prayers won the day for their country.

The commander-in-chief of the British Fighter Command later said, “At the end of the battle one had the sort of feeling that there had been some special divine intervention to alter some sequence of events which would otherwise have occurred.”

Will you today give taxes, obedience, service, witness, and intercession to this nation we love?

The Declaration of Independence ends thus: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Let’s join them.

Covenant Marriage by God’s Design

Topical Scripture: Genesis 2:18–25, Ephesians 5:21–33

A friend shared with me these “reasons to be a man”:

  • Phone conversations are over in thirty seconds flat.
  • You know stuff about tanks.
  • A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
  • You can leave the motel bed unmade.
  • You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
  • Wedding plans take care of themselves.
  • Your underwear is $10.00 for a three-pack.
  • Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
  • If another guy shows up at the party in the same outfit, you might become lifelong friends.
  • You are not expected to know the names of more than five colors.
  • You can “do” your nails with a pocketknife.
  • Christmas shopping can be accomplished for twenty-five relatives, on December 24th, in forty-five minutes.

It’s all true.

We’re learning how to live in ways God can bless. Last week we talked about God; today we’re going to talk about men and women. Last week was vertical; this week is horizontal. To live a life blessed by God, we must live in daily commitment to Jesus as Lord, and in daily covenant with each other.

Clearly, our marriages need encouragement today. A “covenant” relationship can revolutionize your marriage, your dating relationships, your friendships, and your own sense of identity, purpose, and joy. Let’s learn how to experience covenant relationships today.

Relationship as contract

Nearly every relationship in our culture today is contractual in nature. The simplest dictionary definition of a contract is “a promise enforceable by law.” The contract requires the mutual assent of two or more persons. If one of the parties fails to keep the promise, the other is entitled to legal recourse.

Our children’s teachers have a contractual obligation to be qualified in the subjects they teach, and to teach those subjects. Our political leaders have a contractual obligation to fulfill the responsibilities they have assumed. The people painting your house have a contractual obligation to do what you are paying them to do. If they don’t want to complete the job, or you don’t want them to, you have contractual recourse and steps to consider. The relationship can be ended at any time by mutual consent or through legal process.

This is the view our society has taken of marriage as well. Our culture is convinced that marriage, like all other relationships in our society, is negotiable, subjective, and arbitrary. It’s a contract which can be ended at any time by either partner.

Relationship as covenant

This contractual view of marriage and relationships is completely contrary to God’s word and will. In the beginning of human history, God had made Adam, but not Eve. Then our Maker said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).

“Helper fit for him” points to a superior who helps an inferior, a stronger person helping a weaker person. Man needs woman, and woman needs man. We are each other’s “helpers” in life. We are each made differently; we need each other.

Man’s need was so urgent that God performed a special, miraculous creative act to meet it (vv. 21–22). Adam certainly approved of the result: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘Woman,’ because she was taken out of Man” (v. 23).

With this result: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). Even in that perfect, pre-fallen Garden of Eden, man’s life was not complete alone. So, God gave man his soul mate, the person who completed him, the one who made his life complete, fulfilled, and joyous. He still does.

And he intends the man and woman to live in covenant with each other. A contract is conditional; a covenant is unconditional. A contract can be ended by either party for just cause; the covenant is unending and eternal. A contract is based on human expectations and performance; a covenant is based on God’s will and kept by his power. And that is the relationship he intends for a husband and a wife.

How to live in covenant

So, how do we live in covenant relationships? Ephesians 5 provides the guidelines we need.

The text begins: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). “Submit” translates the word for a voluntary decision to serve. It is in the middle voice in Greek: “choose to place yourself in submission.”

Not the submission of an inferior to a superior, but the choice to support and serve on the part of an equal. It is an ongoing, present-tense commitment, made not just for the wedding but for all the years of the marriage. And it is a commandment, not an option. How do we fulfill it?

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord” (v. 22). Your husband’s greatest need is encouraging support, to know that he is respected. You are the person whose respect he needs most. When you submit to him, encourage him, and support him, you meet his heart’s cry and fulfill your God-given role in his life and heart.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (v. 25). Your wife’s greatest need is loving security, to know that she is cherished and wanted. You are the person whose love and admiration she needs most. When you love her, finding ways to express your attraction, gratitude, and commitment to her, you meet her heart’s cry and fulfill your God-given role in her life and heart.

What does every marriage need? One expert summarizes: “Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed. Women are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished.” Every marriage needs encouraging support and loving security.

This is God’s intended covenant for your marriage, and for your other relationships as well. The men you know need your respect before they need anything else. The women you know need your appreciation and security before they need anything else.

Jesus stands ready to love them through you, if you will stay in his Spirit and power. If you will live in constant communion with him. If you will surrender your marriage and relationships to him, he will fulfill his covenant in and through your life.

Are there circumstances by which this covenant can be broken biblically? There are three. This is the subject of another message, but we’ll survey them briefly here.

First, if an unbeliever abandons a believer. “If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances” (1 Corinthians 7:15 NIV). If you are married to a non-Christian who refuses to stay in the marriage, you are not obligated to that person.

Second, if one of the partners commits adultery, sex outside of marriage. Jesus said, “I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

I believe a third biblical condition to be abuse, whether emotional or physical, which threatens life and future. The sixth commandment is plain: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). James 2:11 adds: “For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”

Life comes first. Sometimes we must choose between commandments. When Corrie ten Boom and her family were harboring Jews, and the Nazis came looking for them, the ten Booms had to choose between lying and murder. If we must choose between a destructive, threatening, abusive marriage and life, we choose life.

Sometimes divorce is the lesser of two terrible options. But even when there is abandonment, adultery, or abuse, divorce is the last resort, to be considered only after there has been every effort made to restore the relationship. Only when one partner refuses to continue the process toward healing.

I am convinced that God can heal every marriage whose partners want their marriage to be healed. And he will give you not a better marriage but a new marriage. Not a better home but a new home. A home built on the covenant commitment which he will empower by his grace.

Jesus told us about a foolish man who built his house on sand, and a wise man who built his house on rock. The same storms came against them both. The first fell; the second stood firm (Matthew 7:24–27). The difference was not their materials, architect, or builder, but their foundation. If your home and relationships are built on any foundation other than the Lordship of Jesus Christ, you have built on sand. And the storms are coming.


When Jesus is Lord of your covenant relationship, one and one makes three. A man, a woman, and the Lord; two people and their God. That’s the way to hope, help, and joy.

So, which is your marriage: a contract between two people or a covenant with God? What about your friendships at school, or relationships at work? What practical steps can you take to move from contract to covenant this week?

First, commit to the marriage or relationship. Decide that divorce is not an option. There will be times when that commitment to your covenant is all that gets you through a hard place and time. But it will.

Second, determine to meet the needs of your spouse or friend. It’s not about you. Your husband needs encouraging respect and support; your wife needs nurturing love and security. Look for ways to provide it. Refuse to undermine it.

Make an inventory of anything that could harm your relationship. Ask a friend to pray with you and hold you accountable in areas where you struggle. Seek professional help if necessary.

And be proactive in meeting the other’s needs. John Gottman of the University of Washington says, “In couples that stay together, there are about five times more positive things said to and about one another as negative ones. But in couples that divorce, there are about one and a half times more negative things said than positive.” Look for ways to meet the other’s needs.

Third, verbally commit to your covenant together. Pray together that God would protect you and strengthen you from any attack of Satan. He hates everything God has created, including your marriage and family. He will do all he can to attack and undermine your commitment to each other.

Marquis Clarke, a Christian mother and blogger, made this simple but powerful vow: “I want my life and my marriage to look less like the world and more like Christ.” Do you?

The Touch of a Father’s Hand

Topical Scripture: Matthew 9:18–26

Fathers deserve a day.

A father came home from work to find his little girl brushing the dog’s teeth with his toothbrush. He was horrified, and asked her what she was doing. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, daddy, I’ll put it back like I always do.”

Fathers need encouragement, for ours is the most important privilege and job there is. It is altogether appropriate that Father’s Day be observed each year on a Sunday.

What does our Father say to fathers today?

A story for fathers to know

At the beginning of our story from Matthew 9, Jesus and his disciples are in Capernaum, a booming fishing city on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. As our story opens, “A ruler came and knelt before him and said, ‘My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live'” (v. 18). This was a synagogue ruler, the most significant religious authority in the city. Luke’s Gospel tells us that his name was Jairus and that his daughter was 12 years old.

Hearing this, “Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples” (v. 19). He had been seated while he taught the people, as was customary in their day. He then adjourned his message and left with the synagogue ruler.

He came to Jairus’ home, where he saw “the flute players and the noisy crowd” (v. 23). Excavations in Capernaum have uncovered a large home adjacent to the synagogue; this was probably Jairus’ home.

When a family member died, Jews were required to hire at least two flute players and one woman to mourn their dead; this was something like hiring a mortuary service to care for the deceased today.

Jesus told them, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” They laughed and mocked him (v. 24), but he put them outside, took the girl by the hand, and raised her back to life (v. 25). This was a miracle as great as the raising of Lazarus and his own resurrection.

Principles to practice

What does our miracle teach us today?

First, it shows us that the best gift a father can give his family is to bring them to Jesus.

This father, the pastor of the largest synagogue in Galilee, “knelt” before this itinerant Galilean rabbi and trusted his daughter to his care. The best thing I can do for my wife and sons is to bring them to Christ.

What does your family need today? Financial help? Encouragement? Healing? Guidance? Give them to Jesus. Pray for them, today and every day.

What does your father need this morning? Bring him to Jesus. And know that your Father’s strength will sustain your father today.

Second, we learn to give our family the sacrifice which love requires.

This ruler risked the scorn of the people and rejection of the religious authorities. He could have lost his job and status in the community. But he put his daughter ahead of himself, making the sacrifice which love requires.

A priest surveyed the children in his parish, asking them which they would choose: time with television or with their father. Ninety two percent chose time with their fathers.

A little boy asked his hard-working father how much he made per hour. His father was tired, and upset with his son’s question. Finally he said, “I make $20 an hour.” The boy then asked, “Then could I borrow $9?” His irritated father gave him the money. The excited boy said, “Daddy, I have $20 now. Can you play with me for an hour?”

Third, we learn to model what we teach. As the ruler worshiped Jesus personally, his family had his example to follow.

It’s been said, “Until a boy is fifteen he does what his father says; after that he does what his father does.” One child development expert said it well: “No child will think more of God than he thinks of his own father.”

I cannot lead children further than I am spiritually. My sons will become what I am more than what I say, and I speak for a living.

So, model consistent integrity for them. I once heard a youth camp speaker say, “Refuse to do in private what you fear to do in public.” If your children had exactly your personal integrity, would that be a good thing?

I once heard a story which illustrates this well. A frontier preacher and his two sons found a stray dog and decided to keep it. The dog was coal black except for three white hairs on his tail. One day they saw an ad in the local paper for a lost dog which fit their stray perfectly, including those three white hairs. With the help of his boys, the preacher carefully pulled out the three white hairs.

A few days later the owner heard that the preacher had a dog like his and came by. But he couldn’t find the three white hairs, so he had to give him up. According to the story, the preacher lamented, “I kept the dog, but I lost my boys.” Their names were Frank and Jesse James.


Do you have a father who is close to God? Have you thanked God, and thanked him? Do you have a father who needs to be closer to God? Have you prayed for him?

Are you blessed with the privilege of fatherhood? Never sell short the influence of your life on the eternal souls of your children. This is life’s greatest responsibility, and privilege. Ask God to help you be the father he wants you to be.

A group of botanists hiking in the Alps found a very rare flower. It was growing on a ledge of rock which could be reached only at great peril and with a lifeline. None were experienced climbers, so they found a local shepherd boy and offered him several gold coins to climb down the rope and retrieve the flower.

The boy wanted the money, but feared that the job was too dangerous. He would have to trust strangers to hold his lifeline. Suddenly he had an idea. He left the group, and returned a moment later holding the hand of a much older man.

He ran with excitement to the edge of the cliff and said to the botanists, “You can tie the rope under my arms now. I’ll go into the canyon, as long as you let my father hold the rope.”

Whose rope is in your hand today?