I want to dwell on this issue of freedom for a minute. We saw that — “Render to Caesar.” Do you remember this passage from Matthew 17? This is Peter again, and I can’t help but think that it’s a little bit behind this text. Let’s see what you think.
The Sons Are Free
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher [meaning Jesus] not pay the tax?” [And he said he wasn’t sure.] He said, “Yes.” [Meaning, yes he does.] And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others.” (Matthew 17:24–26)
The emperor doesn’t tax the emperor’s son to raise his army — money for his army. He doesn’t tax his children, he taxes others. “And when he said, ‘From others,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free’” (Matthew 17:16). However, not sedition — “Oh, we’re free? We don’t have to pay the tax!”
“However, not to give offense to them” — he puts everything on a different footing — “go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and [you, pay the tax]” (Matthew 17:27).
Now, I wish all taxpaying were that easy. I do think just like with the feeding of the five thousand, this catching of the fish with a coin in his mouth is intended by Jesus to be illustrative about how God will come through for us. He will. He will never ask you to minister in a way that he doesn’t give you grace to minister. He won’t ever ask you to pay anything for which he will not over time provide what he expects you to pay.
So, if you’ve gotten yourself into a deep hole that’s making you miserable because of really stupid plastic expenditures, he wants you out of that mess and he’ll help you. Yes, he will. He may not catch a fish with a coin in his mouth, but if you devote yourself to being faithful to your promises, that is the bankers or whoever, he’ll help you. He will. He doesn’t want you in bondage to debt like that.
So I think “the sons are free” here is probably behind Jesus. I mean Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 2. Let’s go back to it.
Freedom in Submission
“Live as people who are free” (1 Peter 2:16). Live as people who are free. Right there. That is, I am paying my taxes. I am keeping the speed limit. I am submitting because I’m free, and God has called me to render to Caesar at this point. What a glorious thing to stand in front of a king and the king says, “You owe me fealty. You owe me allegiance. You will do what I say.” And you say, “I don’t owe you anything. I don’t even live here as a citizen. I am a citizen of heaven. Jesus is my King. If I do anything you say, I do it for his sake, not yours, sir.” That’s freedom. That’s freedom.
It’s probably not freedom to thumb your nose and give him the finger and then do what you please. That’s probably not freedom. That’s bondage to what? To me. I know my ego well enough to know I’d really like to do that. I want to do that right now. I want to put him in his place. But putting him in his place with my uppityness is just self-exaltation. Setting him in his place meekly and calmly by exalting Jesus as his Lord and my Lord, that doesn’t have to be ego, might be contaminated. It doesn’t have to be.
Marks of Free Submission
So let me see. What are the marks of free submission? Because that’s what we’ve got here. We got live as free people and be subject to the government — the government as those who are sent to punish evil and praise the good. Come back to that in a minute about when don’t you submit. But here’s what free submission I think looks like.
1. Submission to the Lord and His Representatives
We’re all submitting to the Lord in our submission to those whom he sends. And this is supreme, which is why this cannot be absolute. This cannot be absolute because this is the only absolute allegiance in our lives. We are submitting here relatively this absolutely because he says, “Do this.” That’s number one of what it means to be free in your submission.
2. Exiles Shaped by Another Kingdom
We are exiles shaped by the demands of a foreign king, not a present king. Our whole mindset and demeanor is shaped by the country where we live. We live in heaven. We have died with Christ; we’re raised with him. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. We are keying off of heaven as we live on the earth, and that’s shaping us. That’s the second thing it means to be submitting as a free person. Our whole being is not being shaped by the world. It’s being shaped by another world.
3. Submission to People with No Final Claims
We submit to people who have no final claims on us. We submit to people who have no final claims.
4. Freedom from Men by Submission to Men
We show our freedom from men by submission to men. Freedom. There’s a lot of worldly people who don’t love Christ at all, who think they’re free. Freedom marches fifty years ago, and there was unbelievable ego in it. “My way or the highway and get out of my life. I’ll wear what I want, do what I want. We are free.” Well, they weren’t free. They weren’t. And today their minds are wrecked from drugs and whatever else. So the bondage that is supposed to give you freedom.
Tattoos and Christian Freedom
This is going to offend five hundred people. I just read an article yesterday on the medical problems with tattoos, like one in ten — I don’t think it’s necessarily a sin to get a tattoo, but I don’t like them. But if you’ve got ten of them, I like you. And had some horrible pictures of infection and inflammation, and said one in ten people have problems ultimately with their tattoos.
And so I thought this is all about freedom, really. I think it’s not about beauty because they’re not pretty. Sorry, just gray. And even the yellow and red ones are blah. (So you can all leave and write me your mail, and I’ll be sorry I said that.) The point is what felt like freedom turns out to be bondage. In the end, be careful. Be careful. She won’t be your girlfriend at 58.
I bought a brace for Lucille when I was in sixth grade. I’m so glad we didn’t do tattoos back then. I’ve had Lucille right there on my arm. It would’ve been right there on my arm, Lucille, sixth grade. I didn’t date until I met my wife. Not sure why I said that.
A Picture of Submission
To whom are we submitting? Back to this issue right here. Human institution. To whom are we submitting? And here we’ve seen “honor everyone” (1 Peter 2:17). Isn’t that a kind of submitting? Like, I meet you as a human being full of tattoos, let’s say, and I honor you, and if I don’t, I’m sinning. I honor you, I lift you up and put myself under.
Or here’s Martin Luther. This is very indicting and very powerful. “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one” (Three Treatises, 277).
So when I say who are we submitting to? I think Luther is right because of Philippians 2:3. Do not just take thought for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Count others more significant than yourselves. . . . Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant . . . and he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. (Philippians 2:3–8)
That’s the picture of 1 Peter’s submission. And we do it to everybody in various ways in accord to their various roles. So husbands love your wife as Christ loved the church. Wives submit to your husbands and respect him. Those are mutually submissive, but in very different ways. We’ll get to that marriage issue shortly.
Conclusions on Submission
Let’s draw out some conclusions before we move on to the next paragraph. We are aliens and exiles and we’re supposed to order ourselves in the city government of Birmingham and the state government of Alabama, and the federal government order ourselves in a certain way of freedom and submission to the powers that be.
So there’s a spirit of universal service that we should have, that means a readiness to conform to structures. If you live at work and you got this big manual for how things are done at work; arrival times, departure times, break times, style formats, just everything. A Christian disposition is not to say, “I’m free, I don’t need to do any of that stuff.” That’s not a Christian disposition.
Absolute Allegiance and Civil Disobedience
The Christian disposition is to basically conform to that. And if you’re a good employee and you see something in there that’s really counterproductive, this is not helping the company, not helping the relationships. Your attitude will be one of humble suggestion, not feisty suggestion. We’ll see why in a few minutes.
Two more things. An absolute allegiance to all that is commanded by our true King. Absolute allegiance to our true King, even if it contradicts what’s expected by our worldly kings. Which brings us now finally to the whole issue of civil disobedience. And how limited are these? How absolute is this human institution, the emperor supreme, the governor who is sent to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good? How absolute is that?
And you know the texts. Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than man.” If the government requires you to do something that your king says, “Don’t do,” that issue is settled and you’ll go to jail rather than disobey that.
Considerations on Civil Disobedience
If I had little kids and my government said, I can’t spank my kids, I would spank my kids.
I have big reasons for that. Biblical reasons, psychological reasons, just big reasons for why I would go to jail over that. Probably wouldn’t do it in the grocery store, but I wouldn’t let the government tell me how to parent my kids. If they said I could not do homeschool, I must send my kid to the secular school. I’ve got people in my church, my church, you know what I mean? The church where I was for 33 years who are here from Germany because that’s true there. They moved to Minneapolis to homeschool their kids from Germany. That’s serious.
And there are many other illustrations you could think of probably. And they will increase and some of them will not be clear. This is going to cause tensions. I sat down in front of abortion clinics in ‘89, ‘88, ‘90, ‘91, got arrested over and over again, hauled off to the courthouse, went to jail one night. A lot of people thought that was wrong, what I did. Christians thought that was a misunderstanding of the application of Christian truth to the situation and I thought differently.
And so we won’t always agree on the most appropriate action to take or not to take. But if the principles here, the deep underlying principles of I am free and I’m not a swaggering braggart ego trip, my way or the highway kind of person, but a person ready for the sake of my king to submit to all appropriate authority. That will affect how you disobey if you have to disobey.
So we need much thought and prayer as the days go forward in regard to that. So Acts 5:29 and Acts 4:19 are two illustrations, numerous others in the Bible of people who disobeyed earthly governments, meekly because of God’s authority.