God’s Life: Flipping Marriage on its Head

Throughout history, marriage has been viewed as a hierarchal relationship where the man should be the clearly defined leader of the relationship. Very few cultures have approximated truly egalitarian marriage with husband and wife as full partners.

In the debate over the role of men and women today, proponents generally choose one of these poles. However, the biblical understanding of marriage in Ephesians 5:21-33 challenges both of these poles by offering a third way to view the marriage relationship.

After Paul calls his readers to submit to another (Eph 5:21), he calls on women to submit to their husbands. For the record, there is nothing new here that one could not have picked up on the streets of Ephesus. Any Latin or Greek moralist would have called for the same behavior from women.

However, Paul roots this (expected) behavior in something very different from the need for good order. For him, the wife’s behavior echoes the relationship that the church has with Jesus. The church should submit to Christ, and likewise a wife submits to her husband. Sounds hierarchal, doesn’t it?

However, in a sweeping tour de force, Paul realigns the husband’s role with that of Christ’s toward the church. Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her—so should the husband for his wife. The husband should always move to present his wife in the best light, just as Christ would the church. In fact, the husband should love his wife as himself. He should treat his wife as he himself wants to be treated. Sounds egalitarian, doesn’t it?

Finally, to think of marriage as either hierarchal or egalitarian misses the mark. Christian marriage imitates the relationship between Christ and the church. Christ is the head of the body—not in the sense that a corporation has a CEO, but in the sense that a human body has a head. A head without a body is no more functional, or desirable, than a body without a head. Sounds (oh, what word would work here? how about) interdependent, doesn’t it?

If this sounds strange to your ears, notice what Paul says in another place:

For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man… In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (1 Corinthians 11:8–12 NIV)

or in yet another place:

But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:2–4 NIV)

Interdependence (reciprocation or mutuality) might be the better word to describe Christian marriage. While a wife respects her husband, he should love her. As a husband loves his wife, she should respect him. In this way, the needs of both are met and they are better people because of the relationship.

This is how a Christian husband and wife participates in the mystery of Christ and the church.

Mimicking God

The goal of Christian spiritual formation is that the believer becomes more like Jesus. This does not entail an abdication of one’s own personality but rather an embracing of those Christ-like characteristics, dispositions, and habits that brought Jesus into harmony with God.

Furthermore, and paradoxically, the more like Jesus we become the more truly human we become. The new creation work of God is to recreate us in the “image” of God (Eph 4:24). This “image” language intentionally echoes the Genesis creation story where God created people in his own image. Thus, to become like God is to become truly human.

Therefore Paul invites his readers at the beginning of chapter 5:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2 NRSV).

Having just called for his readers to forgive like God forgives, Paul continues to call people into the deeper life of God by calling them to remove what is not truly human. There is a long list of these beastly vices: fornication, impurity, greed, vulgar talk, and drunkenness. In place of these vices should be wise living and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

In this rather lengthy call for ethical living (Eph 4:17-5:21), what stands out to me is how Paul teases his reader into the transforming work of God. Early in this text, Paul speaks of learning Christ as the way to God. This learning-Christ curriculum involved deleting the old self and wrapping yourself with the new self—“created based on the likeness of God.”

Therefore, it is not a far stretch to see the way of Jesus as the way of imitating God—much like how young children seek to imitate their parents. As God’s beloved children, Paul calls us, we are to live a live of love because Christ showed us the way. Jesus was both the demonstration of God’s love for us and a model for how we should love God.

Because of the work of Jesus, we are now “children of light” (Eph 5:8). Therefore, we live in the light and not the darkness; in fact, our lives themselves shine light on the way of darkness.

So imitating God, we say, “Let there be light!”

Learning Jesus

Dallas Willard in his amazing book The Divine Conspiracy seeks to tease believers once again to accept their calling as apprentices of Jesus. To become an apprentice of Jesus means that one will need to learn the ways of Jesus. However, as Willard points out, learning to follow Jesus also involves a certain amount of unlearning.

In calling the readers of Ephesians to the ways of Jesus (in Ephesians 4:17-5:21), Paul will remind them first what they needed to unlearn. Formerly, they were alienated from God’s life because of their “ignorance and hardness of heart” and had “abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph 4:18-19).

Not only were this way of living self-destructive, but more importantly, they are contrary to what it means to follow Jesus. “This is not,” says Paul, “the way you learned Christ!” (Eph 4:20).

Then, what does it mean to follow Jesus exactly? For Paul, in this text, it means three things: putting off vices, putting on virtues, and seeing this process as the transformation of becoming like Jesus.

In Ephesians 4:17-32, Christians are to live no longer like the world around them and are to put away their former way of life. This involves a laundry list of things such as falsehood, anger, stealing, bitterness, and slander, to name a few.

In contrast, Christian are to take on certain virtues, such as speaking truthfully, but only what is beneficial to one’s hearers. Other virtues include being “kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving one another (Eph 4:32).

So how is this related to becoming like Jesus? First, Paul begins by insisting “in the Lord” that believers do not live like the world and this because we did not “learn” Christ this way!

This putting-off and putting-on process is described in resurrection/creation language: we put off the old self so that our minds can be renewed and we put on the new self which God is (re)creating in His image.

We are not to grieve the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is God’s promise to us that he will finish this work in us. The call to forgive one another is based on how God “in Christ” has forgiven us (Eph 4:32). While we participate with God in our transformation, it is still God who accomplishes it; it is God who can make us more like Jesus.

So, then, how have you learned Jesus? Only your life can tell.

Credo: I Believe

The Latin credo means “I believe.” From this word comes our English word creed. Often a creed will be a summary statement of what is believed and thus a short way to describe our most important beliefs. Creeds are by their nature reductionistic and only become problematic when we see them as the sum of what we believe as oppose to a summary of our main beliefs.

The Bible—though we rarely recognize them as such—also contains several creeds or creedal type statements. For example, try this one: “The Lord our God is one.” Though a very short sentence, it say a lot. It does not say everything but it does say something essential, central, core.

Or, take this repeated creed: “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2 as well as Ex 34:6; Neh 9:17; Psa 86:15; 103:8; and Joel 2:13).

Likewise, in the New Testament, “Jesus is Lord” powerfully condenses the whole of the Gospel.

By the 3rd or 4th century, the church found creeds a useful way to summarize the faith—though, creeds were sometimes use to exclude those who did not believe exactly as the creed stated this or that tenant. The more positive function of a creed was to state what Christians believe in fairly short order.

One of the earliest creeds was the Apostles’ Creed, though it was not really by the apostles, it did capture their main teachings.

I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into Hell [lit., Hades];
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic Church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen.

In all, not a poor summary of the Christian faith. We might quibble with Jesus going to the underworld, but there are texts (See e.g., 1 Peter 3:18-20 and Eph 4:8-10) that seem to support that Jesus did in fact visit the abode of the dead while his body lay in a tomb for three days. And the mention of the catholic Church throws most Protestants, but catholic here is an adjective meaning universal. I can honestly say that this creed captures what I believe the Bible teaches.

That is because this creed echoes Scripture and reflects what Paul does in his vision-casting letter to the Ephesians. Paul, having spent the first three chapters of his letter describing what God had done to save us, now (in chapter four) calls his readers to respond to what God has already done.

The place Paul begins his call for believers to live virtuous lives is with what he calls the “unity of the Spirit.” Just as God is one (remember the OT confession above) so the church is to be one.

This oneness is relational, not just doctrinal. Paul calls on believers to express “humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness” toward one another as the means of “keeping” the unity that comes from God’s Spirit.

Then Paul offers us a creedal statement in which to ground our unity: “There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6 NIV).

The oneness of God, then, is the basis for the unity of the church and is the foundation for all we believe. We believe in one God who sent our one Lord who in turned poured out his one Spirit. Therefore we confess in Jesus one faith and one baptism; we commune with the Spirit in one body with only one hope—to be re-united with our one God.

This I believe.

Declaring an Impossible Future

In Masterful Coaching, Robert Hargrove, asserts that leadership coaching seeks to help leaders “to dream an impossible dream based on the difference that [people and their] organizations would passionately like to make, a difference that will have earth-shaking consequences in [their] domain.”

While Hargrove is concerned about leaders, I believe every Christian should take up this challenge for themselves and the churches to which they belong.

In his letter to the Ephesians (3:14-20), Paul dares his readers to accept the impossible dream. Yet, for Paul, the dream does not primarily depend on what do but on what God has done and can do. Yet, it does depend on what we do as those empowered by God.

In this text, Paul continues the prayer he began in 1:15-23. Previously Paul wanted believers to understand, comprehend, and grasp the power available to them—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Here Paul prays that God might empower us in our inner being—our core self—who we really are.

This power is directly related to a relationship with God’s presence—the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, this will be played out in our lives because Jesus lives in us—in our hearts. This reminds us of God’s desire for us—the church—to be the place where God lives (see Eph 2:21-22).

We can dream the impossible because God has accomplished the impossible—he has made it possible for him to live in us. This gives us a place to take a stand—to declare the impossible because, in Jesus, we are “rooted and grounded in God’s love.”

God desires for each of us to have impossible power—the power necessary to apprehend what God’s work in the world, power to comprehend how

  • Wide
  • Long
  • High
  • Deep

is the love of Christ—a love we can fully know because it is beyond knowledge!

God’s impossible dream is that you might experience God fully, that is, that you might partake in the divine nature of God (see 2 Pet 1:4). God has declared for you an impossible dream since his power—which is a work in us!—is able to do abundantly more than we ask or imagine.

So what dreams do you have for your life? For your church? Do they have earth-shaking possibilities? Then, they are probably not God’s dreams for you … remember, more than we ask or image!

Go and Learn: Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Jesus once told the Pharisees to “Go and learn.” He particularly wanted them to reflect on an Old Testament passage, “I want mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt 9:13 and cited again in Matt 12:7, both quoting Hosea 6:6).

The Hosea passage in it original context reads, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6 NRSV). Here the prophet is calling to people to something deeper than just going through the motions. According to Hosea, God is seeking committed love tied to knowing God. He is seeking relational connection, not just obedience at the action level.

So how did we go from steadfast love in the Old Testament to the same text reading mercy in the New Testament? In Hosea’s text, as a further complication, steadfast love is directed toward God, but in Jesus’ citation, mercy refers to how we treat others.

Actually, the move from covenant love toward God and merciful consideration of others had already become linked in the Old Testament.

By the time of the prophets, the mistreatment of people is one of the most direct violation of covenant with God. For example, Jeremiah (in Jer 7) will scold the people for the mistreatment of each other, especially the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

This is one of the main reasons, according to Jeremiah, that God will exile his people from the Promised Land. Living in the Promised Land was one of the most important symbols of being in covenant with God. So loyalty to God is most often demonstrated in loving kindness toward other people.

Jesus certainly tied our love for God directly to our love for our neighbor.

So did the apostle John, when he wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20–21 NIV).

So, today, Go and learn: God desire merciful relationships over rituals of worship.

Do I Have a Witness?

Several times in his letters, Paul will give a personal reflection or testimony (as he does in Ephesians 3:1-13). There are several aims for why Paul would use a personal testimony.

First, it bridges the gap between Paul and his readers. In effect, Paul not only invites the readers to participate in his story but his story also serves as an exemplar of how God’s story frames our individual stories. Simply, God did this in my life; he can also do it in yours.

Second, by showing that God is actively involved in his life, it become more real. This is not just theory (though, in the Ephesians reading there is plenty of that). What God has done is actualized in the life of a real person such a Paul.

Finally, Paul will use testimony to give context to what might be an embarrassment in Paul’s story (see Eph 3:13). Paul is in prison; he is suffering. This does not square well with resurrection power that Paul had so confidently announced earlier (see Eph 1:19-20; 2:4-6).

When the chips are down is where the “theory,” or more accurately the “theology” part comes in. God has already acted; what that means is not yet fully clear. In this text, Paul believes that what God put into motion in the past was becoming a reality in Paul’s ministry.

Those formerly excluded from God’s people are now invited in. The big story in Paul’s testimony is that God was using him to announce that non-Jews (Gentiles) are now co-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in God’s promise (Eph. 3:6).

Paul has a testimony because his ministry is to announce this move of God. Paul understands that through him God is setting something big in motion—the implication of which were not yet visible.

This “not yet” part of God’s plan is bigger than we usually think or teach. It involves not just history (see “ages” in Eph 3:9) but future ages (see Eph 2:7). What God is up to is cosmic, universal and eternal—not just personal and individual.

Yet, God has called the church, the people of God, to be the instrument through whom God will announce his wisdom (Eph 3:10). This not merely evangelism, either, since the ones hearing the announcement from the church are “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” or angelic and demonic forces at work in our world. This is where our story ties with Paul.

We are that church and we have, as the text says, access to God. Thus we can walk in boldness and confidence through faith in him even when the circumstances around us suggest otherwise.

When we do this, we too have a testimony.

Can I have a witness?

Shepherds Without Blemish

In his instruction to the missionary (or apostolic delegate) to the island of Crete, Paul informed Titus to appoint elders in every city. The foremost quality for these leaders is that they be “blameless” (Paul uses two different words for “blameless in 1 Tim. and Titus; cf. the same word applied to deacons in 1 Tim. 3.10 and synonym “above reproach” in 1 Tim. 3.2, 5.7, and 6.14; and yet another synonym, “of good reputation” in Onosander’s The General, ca. AD 45. This last work describes of what makes a good Roman general; several of the terms used by Paul occur there).

What then does “blamelessness” mean in the context of church leadership? A sketch of context of the letter to Titus provides the background for why Paul sought this particular quality in an elder.

A. The Literary Context of the Letter to Titus.*
Paul states his purpose for writing the letter in 1.5, where the he (re)assigns Titus two tasks: (1) to set unfinished things in order and (2) to appoint leaders in every city. The rest of the first chapter elaborates on the second of these tasks. In 1.6-9, Paul enumerates the qualities needed for leadership in Crete. The last quality in v. 9, “to refute those who contradict,” prepares the reader for Paul’s assessment of Cretan society.

The populace of Crete lacked moral character, which the apostle supports by quoting Epimenides, a Cretan poet, who lived in the sixth century BC. Additionally Titus must deal with “those of the circumcision” (see Acts 10:45 and 11:2; cf. also Col. 10, 11),” a Jewish element, exploiting the church by “ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach,” and making a profit in the process (v. 12). The severity of the situation in Crete should not be minimized; it is the seriousness of the situation in Crete that called this letter into being, and forms the backdrop for understanding the qualities required of elders.

In chapter two, the apostle expands on the first of the two tasks (“to straighten out what was left unfinished”) mentioned in 1.5. In 2.1 Paul encourages Titus to teach “what is in accord with healthy teaching.” What “healthy teaching” (a better translation of the traditional “sound doctrine”) entails follows. In 2.2, Titus is to teach the older men, in v. 3, the older women, who themselves are to teach the younger women (vv. 4, 5). Why is Titus not to teach the younger women? The text gives no direct reason, but if homes are being disrupted and the reputation of the Christian community is at stake, the suggestion is appropriate. In this way, Titus will model “blamelessness.”

Titus is to teach the young men (vv. 6ff.) and slaves (vv. 9, 10). The ethical behavior sought for each group finds its biblical foundation in the appearance of God in Christ (vv. 11-14). The single goal of these ethical demands are strategically placed in the “so that” clauses of vv. 5, 8, and 10:

v. 5 … so that no one will malign the word of God.
v. 8 … so that those who oppose may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
v. 10 … so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive (NIV).

The common denominator here is that these ethical instructions are to have a profound effect on those outside the church—it has to do with, what we call today, public relations and image. Again this backdrop shapes Paul’s understanding of “blameless.”

Before explaining the relationship between the church and Cretan society, Paul reminds Titus (v. 15) of what he has already stated in 2.1, though ending with a surprising exhortation, “Do not let anyone despise you.” Again, this is a clue into the Titus’ situation: Paul anticipates opposition for Titus as he does for elders (see Tit. 1.9).

In 3.1 and 2 Paul continues his ethical exhortation, but the focus now shifts from relationships within the household and church to relationship of the church to society. In 3.3-8, almost as a reminder that Titus must continue to have compassion on Cretan society, Paul recalls that they too were once outside of fellowship with God, but now God had changed this when he save them, implying that he could do the same for depraved Cretans. The apostle finally returns to the problems described in 1.10-16, telling Titus to avoid such things (3.9-11). Final greetings fill 3.12-15, but in v. 14 we see that the apostle could not dislodge from his mind the gravity of the moral problems in Crete.

B. The Meaning and Use of “Blameless”
This brief overview invites a couple of observations regarding the word “blameless” and its function in Titus. The ethical state of the inhabitants of Crete is the opposite for what Paul is looking for in leaders for the church. This may suggest to Titus that finding good leaders may be difficult in that mission field—but also critical.

The word itself comes from the Hellenistic legal arena. It does not occur in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT current in the first century, (outside of 3 Macc. 5.20) and does not therefore reflect the sacrificial language of the OT regarding animals that were to be without blemish, though the thought is similar. It literally means “un-accused” and “indicates one whose character and conduct has not been called into question, or one who is free from accusation.” (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, 2nd ed. [Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth, 1988], 171. Währisch offers, “The other adjectives used in this context indicate that the meaning is beyond reproach, in the ordinary sense of common respectability. Thus in addition to qualifications of a spiritual nature, ordinary standards of decency are made into a preconditions of office in the church, for the sake of the church’s good name in the world.” (Colin Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978], s.v. article by H. Währisch).

In Titus, “blameless” occurs at the top of the list of qualifications or qualities Paul required in church leaders and seems to be the premier quality explained by those that follow in the list. V. 7 offers a theological rationale: the elder serves as God’s steward, God’s household manager. As such, he, and the other elders, represents God. They serve as God’s ambassadors to the church and the world (see v. 9).

C. Implications for Leadership Today
“Blameless”-ness is closely related to integrity. J. Robert Clinton defines integrity as “that uncompromising adherence to a code of moral, artistic, and other values that reveals itself in sincerity, honesty, and candor and avoids deception and artificiality.” (J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development [Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1988], 58.) However, integrity is an internal quality while “blameless” has an external quality about it. It is what others think of an elder. There can be no charge brought against him, not just in his “public” life, but in his private as well. It is concern with not just what the church sees, but what the world sees. “Blameless” gets its force vis-à-vis the world—they cannot bring a charge against God’s household manager!

* The material in this section is adapted from my article, “Titus 2.5—Must Women Stay at Home?” in Carroll D. Osburn, Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity, Vol. 1 (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993), 367-77.

Husband of One Wife

What is the meaning of “husband of one wife” in 1 Tim. 3:2?

“Husband of one wife” is the KJV and ASV rendering of the Greek phrase mias gunaikos andra, literally “man of one woman.” (You may have heard some say that literally, it is “one-woman man,” woodenly following Greek word order, “woman” is in the genitive case, which means it should be translated “of (one) woman,” thus “man of one woman”).

Besides 1 Tim. 3:2, the phrase occurs in Tit. 1:6 and 1 Tim. 3:12 applied to deacons. The reverse “woman of one man” shows up as a quality required of a “true” widow (1 Tim. 5:9). From this survey, we know that Paul saw “husband of one wife” as a fitting quality for elders and deacons, and that the reverse “wife of one husband “could apply to widows. Therefore, one’s mate could have died and the qualification still be satisfied.

The commentaries offer the following four options:

(1) Elders must be married. This, however, goes against that when reversed (“wife of one husband”), it can describe a widow.

(2) It prohibits polygamy. Though polygamy is wrong, this was probably not the intent of the quality. Besides, polygamy was rare in Graeco-Roman society and when the reversed quality is applied to widows this interpretation fails completely.

(3) It prohibits second marriages. This understanding has more going for it. It works with widows as well. There is even inscriptional evidence praising women married only once who remained faithful to that marriage after the death of their partners (See Gordon D Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, New International Biblical Commentary [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984], 80). This view would prohibit marriage after the death of one’s spouse (and, remarriage after divorce).

Though defensible, this interpretation ignores what happens when applied to widows. For example, if a woman’s husband dies while she is young and she marries again (per Paul’s instructions in I Tim. 5:14), and then her second husbands dies, she cannot qualify, despite her need, to be a “true” widow, thus, a rightful recipient of support from the church. So in following the apostle’s recommendation while young (to get married again), she has disqualified herself when old. I don’t think this was what Paul was setting up.

(4) It enjoins marital fidelity to his wife. What this view demands is that an elder lead an exemplary married life, i.e., that he is faithful to his one wife “in a culture in which marital infidelity was common and at times assumed” (Fee, ibid.).

Though #3 and #4 are possible, I lean in the direction of #4 as best in line with what the apostle had in mind. Paul’s concern in the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) is to set in place good leadership to protect the church from false teachers, who were disrupting the Christian household by scorning marriage (1 Timothy 4:3; 3:4-5, Tit. 1:11, et. al.).

Give to God!

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s
and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

Mark 12.17

THIS IS THE ANSWER Jesus gave the religious leaders and politicians who attempted to trap him into admitting that Jews should pay tribute to Caesar. Believers today tend to understand Jesus’ answers to be, “Of course, good Christians pay their taxes.” However, that understanding cannot come from this story.

First, if Jesus had answered clearly and unambiguously—that Jews should pay taxes to Caesar—then his adversaries could have revealed Jesus as the false Messiah they believed him to be. Since no true King of Israel would concede that tribute should be paid a pagan overlord like Caesar.

Secondly, if Jesus had answered clearly and unambiguously that Jews should not pay taxes to Caesar, then his adversaries could have handed him over to Rome as a subversive and be done with him.

So what did Jesus’ response mean? How was it an answer that eluded both of these trap doors?

By reviewing the image on the coinage, Jesus underscored the religious leaders and politicians’ hypocrisy in using “Caesar’s” money in the first place. Though the Jews strongly detested images of any kind as in keeping with the Ten Commandments not to make graven images, they had, in this case, capitulated. They had to admit how dependent they really were on Rome; and consequently—if they thought more deeply about it, how little they actually trusted God. “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19.15) was truer than any of them would have admitted.

What amazed the people is not that Jesus said believers should pay their taxes without actually saying believers should pay their taxes; but that Jesus had been able to bypassed totally the either/or mentality of his opponents (as well as most Christian interpreters today).

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s
and to God what is God’s.”

Using the common poetic device of parallelism Jesus crafted a conundrum (a riddle designed to tease and puzzle one into a deeper levels of understanding). Thus when we read this saying along the lines of “Pay your taxes and don’t forget your tithes” we greatly miss the point; most of us give Caesar more money than we do the church anyway.

The wonder of the statement is that once we give God his due, what is left for Caesar? Nothing! This was the beauty of the statement! It rested in the eye of the beholder! One inclined to trust Caesar would hear it one way; while those inclined to trust God would hear it another.

He who has an ear to hear!