Give to God what is God’s
What goes through your mind as April 15 approaches?
I don’t know about you, but I am conditioned to get an upset stomach by just hearing the date “April 15.” In the United States, April 15 is the date taxes are due to be paid. Tax Freedom Day is the day when the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay its total tax bill for the year. This year, Tax Freedom day falls on April 21—that is we need to work for 111 days to pay our tax bill.
Again, I don’t know about you, but there are days when I hate to pay those taxes. Yet, I know that without them we would have no government and no society, as we know it. So, taxes seem to be a necessary evil. This was true even in Jesus’ day.
The Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus in the tax issue.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. (Matt 22:15–22, NKJV)
Notice in this passage that the Pharisees plotted how they might “entangle Him in His talk.” They were attempting to pit Jesus against the Romans in an effort to get rid of Him. The Pharisees hated paying tax to Rome and they assumed that all Jews felt the same…including Jesus. Notice the trap they attempted to set. First, they paid some complements to Jesus (but they didn’t really believe any of these):
- We know You are true
- We know You teach the Way of God in truth
- We know You care about anyone, for you do not regard the person of men (i.e. You put God above all)
Though they did not believe any of these statements (notice, however, that they intellectually really knew much about Jesus), they made the statements to catch Jesus off guard. Then they could ask the real question—“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
Questions like this appear to have no clear-cut answer. Thus, it was supposed to be a trap. In the thinking of the Pharisees, there were to possible responses. If Jesus declared it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He would be siding with the Romans against Israel and the Jews and He would be declared a traitor. If, on the other hand, He said taxes should not be paid to Rome, He would be accused of being an insurrectionist who opposed the authority of Rome and He would be declared an enemy of the State. In their best human wisdom, the Pharisees had Jesus in a lose-lose situation.
As a side note, whenever you are confronted with an either/or situation, you need to consider if either selection is true or is there a third condition that has not been stated. Jesus did just that. He rejected the entire premise as set forth by the Pharisees. Jesus answered their question by sharing two important concepts.
Government does have a rightful place in everyone’s life
Jesus perceived their wickedness and hypocrisy. In His response, He demonstrates that a person can be in subjection to government and God at the same time. He uses a coin to make His point. Jesus asked for the coin used to pay the Roman tax and He was given a denarius. On it was the image of Caesar—the Roman emperor. Jesus then declared that it was obvious they were under Roman authority and taxation. Thus, Jesus could say, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”
In the United States, we pay our taxes in dollars—often thousands of them. Across the top of the one-dollar bill is “The United States of America.” Thus, the bill is issued by the government and we therefore must be in subjection to this government.
But Jesus did not stop answering the Pharisees’ question at this point.
Give to God what is God’s
Individuals are to be subject also to His authority. In other words, man has political and spiritual responsibilities. The Pharisees were simply amazed at Jesus’ answer. The best minds of the time were unable to trap Jesus. They were silenced and they went away with “their tail between their legs.”
This leaves us now with another question, “What can I possibly give to God?”
First, I trust in the finished work of Jesus. Jesus, The Christ is the only way for us to regain our fellowship with God. Man has several characteristics without Christ:
- All have sinned (Rom 3:23; 5:12)
- Hostile toward God (Rom 8:7)
- Under the wrath of God (Rom 1:18; 2:5a)
- The penalty for sin is death (Rom 6:23a)
- Eternally separated from God (Rom 6:23a)
- Will face judgment (Rom 2:5b)
These characteristics are completely reversed once a person has trusted in sufficiency of the Messiah’s death on the cross:
- Dead to sin (Rom 6:11)
- Hostility between man and God is removed (Rom 5:9)
- At peace with God (Rom 5:1)
- Given a life of hope (Rom 4:17b; 5:2; 15:13)
- Given eternal life (Rom 5:21; 6:23b)
- Will not be condemned (Rom 5:16; 8:1)
But to receive these benefits, we must be reconciled to God through faith in what Christ did on the cross (Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. (Rom 3:28, NKJV)).
Second, I am compelled to give myself to God (i.e. since I now belong to God, I must render to God the things that are God’s). I know it is very possible to cheat on our taxes. Rather than pay 100% of what we lawfully owe the government, many people pay substantially less, 90%, 50%, 20%, or even 5%. When we do that, we can fear that at some point the government will come after us.
But many try to give less than 100% of themselves to God. God expects us to give all we are to Him. God expects 100%. Some give 10% and some give 90%. Just giving of oneself on Sundays (14% or less) doesn’t count. Or what about the Christmas and Easter crowd (0.5%)?
God’s standard is that we give ourselves totally to him, all day, and every day. But what does it really mean to give ourselves to Him?
God wants us
Perhaps one way to consider what God wants from us is to consider Jesus’ great command.
Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37–39, NKJV)
Jesus gave us a very straight command consisting of two components.
- Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind
- Love your neighbor as yourself
This needs to be the basis for our lives…to love the way God loved us (Rom 5:8).
Do you love?
Do you believe in the sufficiency of Christ?
We live in a world that is growing in discontent, a place where people put themselves, their money, and their power before the care of others. People are more and more seeking personal gratification instead of seeking to serve God with their giftedness (even in the church).
Are you willing to allow your love for God and others grow?