17 “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 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.” ~ Matthew 22:17-21
Late in Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees and other religious leaders tried everything they could to entice Jesus into some mistake so they could remove him from the scene. In Matthew 22, they fed on their fellow Jew’s general distaste for Roman rule to trap Jesus. If he said, “Yes, you must pay your taxes,” then they could accuse him of being a Roman sympathizer; but if he said, “No, keep that money,” they could report him to the authorities as a lawbreaker.
But as with all their tricks, Jesus replied with the perfect answer. “Whose image is on that coin?” “Caesar’s.” “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
There is also a greater depth in Jesus’ answer than what we first see on the surface. Consider for a moment, the things that are God’s.
First, In Romans 13:1-7, Paul told the church to be subject to and pay proper taxes to the governing authorities. At the onset he wrote, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” This is not to say that no government is evil, some are quit evil. The Old Testament in particular has many stories where God pulls down evil rulers and governments, yet also sometimes uses them for his good ends (think: Habakkuk). Such exists, but they meet their just end. It’s also not to say that we should obey the authorities when their commands are contra to God’s commands. God trumps the king for Jesus is the King of kings.
It is to say that even the governments belong to God. To honor the king and pay taxes to Caesar is to honor God who has established governments and nations “having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God” (Acts 17:26-27).
Second, in Psalm 50:10, while rebuking Israel for worthless sacrifices God said, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.” This is simply a poetic way for God to say, “All the earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5). Everything belongs to God. He is the Creator, the Sustainer, the Savior, the Restorer—everything is his and everyone depends on him. Every good thing we have is a gift from his hands (James 1:17).
There is nothing in our lives of which we can truly say, “This does not belong to God.” This is why when God tells us to open wide our hands and be generous with our belongings, he is not telling us what to do with our stuff so much as he is telling us what to do with his (Deuteronomy 15:11, 1 Timothy 6:18-19). Such an attitude should reshape our stewardship—yes (also 1 Timothy 6) God has given to us to enjoy but he has also given to us to share and do good to others.
Third, think back to the Bible’s original idea of image and likeness. In Genesis 1:26-27, God declared that he would create humanity, male and female, in his image. Though the fall into sin marred this, it did not destroy it (9:6). All things belong to God, but this God-mark upon humanity means that we belong and relate to God in a unique way.
When Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24), he was calling us back to the life we were created to live. A life in which we live every breath and every moment completely dedicated to him because we are his image bearers to creation. A life in which the things of this world do not steal our hearts away because being captivated by God’s grace we do all for God’s glory.
So, let us give unto God by giving of ourselves through Christ, who gave himself that we could find rescue from sin and restoration for God’s image in us.
This post first appeared at: www.fbcadrian.com