“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ 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.’ When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away” (Matthew 22:15-22).
The social reality of Jesus’ day was as brutal as it was complex. Rome had been the occupying force inside Israel for generations and had brought with their occupation the iron rule that provided Rome’s political stability and sprawling footprint throughout the world. In the Jewish context, this amounted to a rich and prideful culture being shamed into the role of peasants and servitude. Israel’s history before Jesus had been filled with multiple political uprisings and insurrections as Jewish hero after hero sought to rid the land of Rome by force. All these attempts were met with swift Roman justice, and many found the roadways in and out of Jerusalem littered with the dead bodies of men suspended between heaven and earth on crosses as a symbol and warning for those who dared defy Roman authority in the future.
In Matthew 22, the Pharisees were attempting to lure Jesus into a political discourse on taxation, in order to trap Him between political factions. If Jesus were to answer that taxation was unjust, He would put himself at odds with Rome and be charged with treason. If He said the tax was appropriate, He risked alienating the Jewish audience that He, by His own admission, had come to serve and save. In His answer to the question, Jesus gives His church a blueprint for our existence in and around a troubling and changing political landscape. Jesus simply refuses to enter into the conversation. In His response, Jesus makes a clear distinction between the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of Rome. There will be no discussion about Rome, because Rome was not the kingdom Jesus had come to represent.
We live in a perilous time for the influence of the church in America. Unity, in the bond of the gospel, stands shaking on a ground that’s being eroded by an intense focus on the temporal shaping of world events. Over the past several months, we’ve seen brothers and sisters excoriate each other over political leanings and opinions without considering whether their quest to be “right” about matters of the present are worth damaging the Kingdom that’s eternal. If we were to ask Jesus if America’s politics were moral, He would answer by speaking about the Kingdom. If we were to grill Him about fair tax code for businesses and the poor, He would talk about the economy of heaven. If we were to beg Him to speak ill of our leadership and give credence to our deep disdain and concern over their moral failings, He would remind us, as He did Pilate, that leaders have power because He has willed it and that His Kingdom is not of this world.
If the recent political season has done anything, it has shown us that new power of our social voice has consequence. What we say no longer just reaches across the table; it now has the power to reach across the world. With this power comes great opportunity, along with dangerous repercussions.
In many ways, the church is failing. So, what are we to do? We believe the New Testament gives us the answer. It is fascinating that Paul never spoke ill of the Roman government in his letters. Many were written as he was unjustly imprisoned, and yet his energy is solely spent on communicating the gospel and unifying the church. One of those moments occurs at the first of his letter to the Philippians, where he actually rejoices that he is in prison, because God had used it to bring some of his captors to faith. Paul’s mission was not to change Rome; his mission was to bring people into the Kingdom of God by faithfully preaching the gospel.
Our mission should be the same. How tragic, in the light of eternity, would it have been if Paul had spent his life trying to get people to agree with his politics? Will the Kingdom of God be strengthened if you spend your life trying to get people to agree with yours? What if, instead, God is calling you to be a unifying voice in the gospel by pointing people to our common need that is remedied in the blood of Jesus? Instead of trying to bring “Hope and Change” or “Make America Great Again,” what if your vision extended so far into eternity, all the way to the place where America is not even a memory anymore—that you could see people standing beside you, extolling the glory of Jesus, because you brought them near to Jesus rather than sending them away with opinion? What if, instead of posting and screaming about the injustice of a president, you reminded people that your hope was built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness—that if Satan himself were elected president, it really wouldn’t matter, because the Kingdom of God, of which you are a part, is still moving and inviting?
So, how should we, as Christians, use our power and influence on social media? Before you post and update or a response, ask yourself if what you are about to post has implications for eternity. If you only had one chance to speak to someone about what’s most important to you, ask yourself if what you are about to say is worth being the last thing they ever hear from you. If you offend and lose the attention of someone who desperately needs to hear the gospel, just so that you can air your opinion on the president, is it worth it? If someone’s eternity is impacted by your immediate need to feel better, has the Kingdom of God been served? Are we willing to relinquish our American right to express our personal commentary on social issues of the day for the ongoing unity of the eternal Kingdom of God? We must trade in our American rights for Kingdom purpose.
The world has always been and always will be broken. Roman oppression did, indeed, end on this earth, but oppression itself did not die with Rome. Those who spent their lives trying to rid the world of Rome’s oppressive force were too shortsighted and foolish to understand that there will always be those ready to step in and fill the vacuum left by defeated oppressors. The flags may change, but the brokenness of Genesis 3 will remain until Jesus’ return. Is your life being spent for the eternal? Is your message one of hope and unity under the banner of Christ? If America were to be overrun by Communist foes next week, and we found ourselves, like Israel, under the thumb of absolute oppression, would your social media messaging change? If the answer is yes, you are not preaching the gospel. The gospel rings the same in any circumstance, in any culture, and under any political system. Jesus’ temporary opinions about Rome were irrelevant, because in the landscape of human history, Rome itself was eventually rendered irrelevant. His Kingdom remains and will remain for eternity. May our hearts beat with this vision, and may our lips be moved to proclaim His Kingdom alone.
Common Sense Rules for Social Media
- If I am to offend, let me offend with the gospel alone.
- If there’s a chance I lose the opportunity to speak about Jesus because of what I am about to post, do not proceed.
- Always seek the unity of the Body of Christ.
- Realize that what I say is attached to my local church, the church universal, and the Kingdom of God.
- Be certain you are truly informed on issues before you voice your opinion.
- Be cautious of sources from which you are drawing your opinions.
- Evaluate whether your voice on social media misrepresents what matters to you most.
- Don’t say to everyone publicly what you really just need to say to someone personally.
(This piece was written by Chuck Hooten on behalf of the staff of Shoreline Church. It represents several conversations we’ve had among ourselves in light of what we consider an increasing issue of concern. We pray that it will provide both Biblical commentary and helpful instruction to our church and others.)