“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” John 15:19

In this article we continue our theme by putting together the passages in which the Lord Jesus Christ made comment upon our relationship to the State. The position of the Lord is consistent with that of the patriarchs and prophets (see article 1) but because of the stature of the Son of God, his thoughts come through with such uncompromising power and authority. We find no doubt in his mind as to where we stand in this world.

The seventeenth chapter of John’s gospel records the prayer of Christ after the last supper and before the company of the twelve departed for the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a most poignant time for the Son of God for he knows all that shall befall him, and also the extreme pressures that will fall on his beloved team when their leader and shepherd is taken by physical force and interrogated and humiliated before the elders of the Jews and the authorities of Rome. A great emphasis of his prayer is his passionate concern as to how the disciples will hold up in this public pressure. So the prayer concludes with these words, “that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (v26).

In this prayer Jesus clearly implies where the disciples would stand in their relationship to the world: “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (v14,16). Many other similar expressions are in this prayer:

  • “the men which thou gavest me out of the world” (v6)
  • “I pray for them: I pray not for the world” (v9)
  • “I am no more in the world, but these are in the world” (v11)
  • “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (v15)
  • “… and that the world may know that thou … hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (v23).

Here is an emphasis most telling. He does not want them “out of the world”, where their work in fact lies, but the Lord does affirm they are not of the world. In this late comment in his life the Lord strikes a decisive note in our study – we are not of the world.

The Sermon on the Mount

This whole discourse, at the opening of his ministry, is in striking agreement with the above. Note the figures of speech by which he characterises his people:

  • “Ye are the salt of the earth”,
  • “Ye are the light of the world”
  • “A city … set on an hill”
  • “A candle … on a candlestick” (Matt 5:13,14,15).

Put together these statements present a stark contrast between the disciple and the world. A similar conclusion is experienced when we put together the subjects of the Beatitudes. Blessed are:

  • “the poor in spirit”
  • “they that mourn”
  • “the meek”
  • “they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness”
  • “the merciful”
  • “the pure in heart”
  • “the peacemakers”
  • “they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”.

So the Master spells out the essential attitudes of the disciples and whilst we marvel and perhaps tremble before this profound description of high principles we cannot but acknowledge that all of these features are the very opposite of those of the world in which the disciples live. Everyone who heard these grand words by the Sea of Galilee must have felt a jolt of conscience, as we do in reading them today. But disciples cannot act this way unless they are thinking this way. They need to be ever conscious of the loftiness of the Lord’s calling, not aligning their standards with the world but striving for allegiance to their master. He will come first in all their personal and ecclesial decisions and they will refuse to be manipulated by the opinions of the world as to where they should stand. And if persecutions come with that then Jesus says, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad … for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”!

So the soldier of Christ is a strong character, ‘warring a daily warfare’ with his sight fixed upon ‘Christ going on before’!

“If any man will sue thee at law”

Among the many memorable passages of the Sermon on the Mount is this one about someone taking us before the law courts (v40). The case cited is that of the prosecution seeking to take our coat; the Lord’s command is “let him have thy cloke also”! This would mean the law case would collapse and the prosecution would get more than they bargained for! In reality the suing party might withdraw charges with shame in the face of the believer’s generosity. This comment of verse 40 is set in the midst of a section that begins with the Lord’s advice, “that ye resist not evil”. It speaks of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and giving and lending with an open spirit.

Again the distinction of the disciple of Christ is arresting. Our society does not think like this any more. Litigation is a prominent feature of the ‘self-destruction’ of the latter days. It spreads suspicion, increases costs and sets up a vicious cycle of recriminations. The sneaky opportunist is encouraged by the lawyers and the burdens of insurance and risk provision augment the overhead costs. Considerable provision for litigation encourages others to litigate because they know the ‘resources’ are there to be taken.

Such is the way of our world; but it must not be our way. “Resist not evil”, give “cloke” and “coat”, “forgive (your) debtors”, “pray for them which despitefully use you” (5:39,40,44; 6:12). The challenge to us is to keep these higher thoughts in our minds in all present circumstances. Those who think this way are diminishing, but therein lies our challenge. As a people we do not seek redress in the courts of the land: we do not certainly take one another to court under any pretence and ecclesias do not support members who would dare to do so. “Suffer yourselves to be defrauded” (1 Cor 6:7) is the injunction of the Apostle Paul and harmonises beautifully with the words here of the Lord Jesus.

The same warning against contending in human courts of law is found in Luke 12:58–59, “When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite.”

The Lord’s advice is to think deeply about our own vulnerable position lest the swing of legal argument come back upon the disciple and the case go against him and greater complications result. The bitterness of contentions in law maximises the vindictive intentions of assailants: “I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite” (v59). What the Lord tells us is to avoid, if at all possible, going before the courts of the land to resolve disputes; better to settle the matter between the disciple and the “adversary”. Again, the summary is, “suffer yourselves to be defrauded”.

“Doth not your master pay tribute?” Matthew 17:24–27

The incident that brought forth this question happened in Capernaum, on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. The question was asked by those who received taxation money; so they may well have been some of Matthew’s work associates because it was here in Capernaum that he was posted as a tax gatherer. However the question was put to Peter and he was embarrassed by the implication that the name of his beloved Master was being reproached. So he gave the pesky enquirers a one word answer, “Yes”, even though he probably had no evidence that Jesus had paid the tribute money (in this case the half-shekel Temple tax, based upon Exod 30:13). He must have been somewhat uneasy about his hasty response for he never even raised the matter with the Master.

But when they entered the house Jesus himself raised the issue with Peter, “What thinkest thou Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom (octvi, a tax on goods) or tribute (census, a poll tax for the Roman treasury – cp Luke 2:2)? of their own children or of strangers?” Those having Roman citizenship were tax free and Peter knowing this replied correctly, “Of strangers”, to which the Lord drew the conclusion, “Then are the children free”.

What was the Lord saying in this? If the children of Roman citizens were free of the bondage of taxation how much more free is the Son of God, whose Father was Lord of heaven and earth, by whom the Roman Empire was appointed! So whilst it was nice to think that Peter had answered out of loyalty for his Lord, yet it was not correct that he had some fawning embarrassment over the issue. In fact Jesus broadens the issue, “Then are the children [plural!] free!” The disciples were people of a different order, servants of the Son of God, destined to be kings and priests in the Kingdom of God. Peter needed to see this first. Heavenly citizenship does not allow us to be in debit to the world.

Jesus then provides the balance: “lest we should offend them” go to the sea and take a shekel from the mouth of the first fish caught and with that pay the tribute amount for both the Lord and Peter. The amount was of no significance, but it fulfilled the terms of the Law. “All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do.” So the offence was taken away. The manner in which the money was found was the significant issue and revealed the pitiful miscalculation of the tax gatherers. They were dealing with the King of all the earth who could have granted them eternal wealth and sonship of the living God, as Matthew had chosen. But they preferred their little silver shekel for the Temple tax. We wonder if they were ever told where it came from! Peter could hardly hold back from saying! Even the fish of the seas were part of the dominion of the Son of Man (Psalm 8).

What is the Lord teaching us from this remarkable incident? Freedom in Christ is true – it is liberty even from sin and death. It also provides us with a citizenship far higher than any human government. Nevertheless, those in our present world rarely understand that being “free” in Christ is liberation from the dominion of our human nature. They despise those with scruples and misuse freewill to exploit opportunities to avoid obligations such as taxation. So his disciples pay their due taxes without complaint, even though they are not of patriotic spirit to their present country or its worldly purposes. They are fundamentally loyal to the Kingdom that is coming but they avoid unnecessary offence to the world in which they presently live.

How wonderfully our Master balanced these principles in this incident.

“Whose image is this?

This is the question to the crowd of Pharisees and Herodians in Mark 12:13–17. The principles are similar to the incident of the shekel in the mouth of the fish, but the onus to pay our taxation dues is even more imperative. Some have said that because Jesus didn’t say “yes” or “no” to the question that he avoided the issue. The fact is that his answer overpowered the niggly resentment of his opponents; for he more than made clear that we should pay our rightful quota of taxation to Caesar, and that the rest of our life with all its values was to be given to God. Whatever Caesar may do with his money is his business but the disciple is relatively disinterested as his real focus is to “render … to God the things that are God’s.” Always there is loyalty to the principles of God accompanied by a compliance with the laws of “Caesar”, where there is no conflict with the higher calling. This is inspiring teaching and very penetrating. The Master’s mind was there, clear and emphatic. And in all the other kindred issues of daily business dealings and contracts the same balance must be there.

“Before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession”

The Lord Jesus was very aware that his disciples would be arraigned before the elders and authorities in their preaching work. “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (John 16:2; 12:42; Matt 10:22–23). To the converted Saul of Tarsus it was very specific: “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). He took responsibility for the stoning of Stephen – and continued to throughout his life!

Yet it is the Lord who provided the prototype. In an unexpected comment the Apostle Paul writes of “Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession” (1 Tim 6:13). The occasion is recorded in John 18:28–19:11. To Herod Jesus spoke not a word (“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs” – or foxes!), and the high priest fared little better, yet there are many verses describing Christ’s arraignment before Pilate, the governor. Topics covered were the accusations against him, his kingship of the Jews; his Kingdom being not of this world; the conscientious objection of his disciples; his Kingdom which was yet to come; that he was born to be king; that this is the truth; that he was convinced that Jesus was a faultless man (as the king must be! 2 Sam 23:3); that Pilate was but a powerless puppet in the hands of his Father, and that the more guilty party was the Jewish rulers who delivered him to Pilate. John’s record is probably a short summary, but how many items of our Statement of Faith are covered in the above! Pilate sought to wash his hands in innocence, but his conviction seems to be that which he defiantly wrote on Jesus’ cross, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews”. Here was a man responsible because of knowledge, received directly from the Son of God.

Here then is the most striking example for us all. That is why Paul told Timothy about it for his inspiration. Paul may have witnessed some of it. Whenever the Lord had opportunity to preach he grasped it. He attended many places and he always witnessed to the Truth. Matthew’s house was full of his old workmates; publicans and sinners sat down with the Lord at the meal table, but he used the occasion (Matt 9:9–13). Simon the Pharisee, at the other extreme of society, was his host when the woman, a “sinner”, brought in her box of ointment but all present learnt from the Lord’s witness (Luke 7:36–50). The Lord was never obsequious, but always ready to speak up for his Father’s name and principles. He wants us to be the same. “Ye are the light of the world … a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” Even Zacchaeus’ house became a gospel outpost!

He did advise “the seventy” sent to preach in the cities of Galilee to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”. We do well to discern our company and pitch the message in the most appropriate manner. The condemnation though is in hiding our light under a bushel! If we deny the Lord he has told us that he will deny us before the angels. This is a solemn thought. We cannot be closet Christadelphians. There is a sharp distinction between the world and the servants of Christ and in this age of no discrimination it is quite possible that we may feel correct or even wise in not speaking up. Why are some of our Sunday evening meetings lacking interested friends? It’s not because no-one is interested, for our seminars and advertisements show there are many seeking the Truth. Perhaps our sense of duty and willingness to witness needs an overhaul. Perhaps we have ‘settled back’, in keeping with the mind of the world that sees any bold witness as ‘politically incorrect’.

Closing thought

“They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.” This is the ultimate expression of the Master in the subject before us. So our calling is high and loyalty is to him. His opinion rules over all others in every matter. Therein lies our challenge, not only personally but ecclesially. Somewhere in the line of church history that distinction was broken and it led to Constantine’s ‘Christian’ legions going forth in carnal warfare. The church had lost its focus; it had become “of the world”.

And where these lines are being penned, in the crowded, tepid suburbs of Dhaka, Bangladesh, dozens of interested friends come by day and by night, through dust, smoke and traffic and sit for hours to learn of the gospel of the Kingdom. It is all very unworldly but it does help to remind us what our calling is.