Taxes, and tithing; holding and letting go.
Matthew 22:19-21 (CSB)
Show me the coin used for the tax.” They brought him a denarius. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked them.
“Caesar’s,” they said to him.
Then he said to them, “Give, then, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
I’d like to change up what tends to be the typical application of this passage a bit. We typically reference this as our responsibility to pay legal taxes to the governing bodies. While perhaps this is part of what Jesus was teaching us, I really don’t believe that it was central to His message. While taxes can become burdensome; Jesus is delivering a message of freedom in these three verses. A message that is much more important than the money we surrender to fund the governmental apparatus.
Turning a situation into a truth
The Pharisees were not at all happy with the attention that Jesus had garnered to His message. They had a good setup from their perspective and were looking for any way to discredit the Lord. Jesus had become renowned for his teachings and so this was a trick question they were throwing out to him to diminish his esteem with the people that were following him.
So what they asked Jesus was a political question with some teeth; ‘Are the taxes being levied by Rome legal and do we have an obligation to pay them’. That was the crux of their question. Understand that at this point those following Jesus many felt that if he was the messiah that He would be soon setting up his early kingdom and casting off this Roman foot off the back of the Jewish people. So, the question was tailored to extract a damaging response either side of the issue.
If Jesus was to say the tax was legal and just, he could be perceived as being weak and subservient to the Roman occupiers. If on the other hand, should he say that Rome was unjustly imposing a levy on the Jewish people, they could report this to the Roman’s for him being a subversive. They knew how to play the system.
Jesus actually did neither, he simply diverted the question to another topic and that is where this gets lost a bit too many readers. He turned the issue of taxes into responsibility to God.
Giving it up to authority
This in essence is what Jesus responded to their question with, ‘Surrender to the authority that which belongs to them’.
Jesus responded with a question as he often did when confronted with a question. “Whose image and inscription is this?” It obviously was Caesar’s image on the coin and they responded as such.
Now the Lord takes this image as a symbol of possession for the object, the coin was stamped with a bust of Caesar. What follows next is important. Jesus validates their response in saying “Give, then, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. And the important element where he transfers the ownership concept of the coin to us, give “to God the things that are God’s.”
What things belong to God?
Here is exactly where Jesus was redirecting the question to. Give God that which is His.
Deuteronomy 10:14 (CSB)
The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God, as does the earth and everything in it.
Oh! That settles it very abruptly! Everything created by God belongs to God. I guess maybe we hadn’t considered that so literally but knowing the scriptures as well as both Jesus and the Pharisees did, it would seem highly likely that this was exactly what the Lord was expressing. It all belongs to God!
Exodus 19:5-6 (CSB)
Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.”
Clearly, when we consider the possessions of God we are talking everything and still there is a distinction for those that God calls to himself.
Psalm 24:1-2 (CSB)
The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord;
While this possession argument would be consistent for all creation is based on the fact of God being ‘the creator’, for the follower of Jesus Christ there is another additional claim to proprietorship.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (CSB)
Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.
Bought with a price; the Cross! Jesus paid our debt, as a result, we not only belong to him by virtue of creation, but by virtue of him paying our debt for sin on the Cross of Calvary.
Not your own
Humanity has no claim to the term ‘My Life’. In reality, God the creator, established that life. Obviously there are those would to take issue with the creator and they are capable of doing this because the creator has given us all ‘free will’. The opportunity to seek the will and favor of God through obedience or to reject that authority and go it alone. Along with this option are the consequences of this choice, which is eternal death. Not a very pleasing prospect.
This second claim to ownership draws a line through mankind. Two distinct collections of people. Those who would reject the construct of divine proprietorship –vs– those who would surrender their life to the creator (Jesus Christ) in exchange for forgiveness of the debt of sin.
This second group of humanity, is twice procured! But surprisingly even though that is the case the majority of us in that group will at times (sometimes more often than not) use that ‘free will’ granted to us by the creator, to welch on the bargain so to speak.
I’m sorry to have to put it in such an abrasive term but in fact that is what we as Christians do when we ‘choose’ to step outside of the will of God. Placing self-interest before God. When we robe ourselves in the righteousness of Jesus Christ only to continue to persist with an agenda to fulfill the desires of self we are placing ourselves as a false God between us and our savior.
Romans 13:14 (CSB)
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t make plans to gratify the desires of the flesh.
John 15:4 (CSB)
Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, remain in him, he in you; our only means of being fruitful and productive.
I fully realize that while we are present on this earth we occupy corrupted bodies of flesh and as such we will find ourselves deviating from the path the Lord has set before us. Even Paul, whose writings make up more of the New Testament than any other author, struggled with this very thing.
Romans 7:18-20 (CSB)
For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one that does it, but it is the sin that lives in me.
Works of the flesh
Galatians 5:19-21 (CSB)
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These are the exhibits of deviation from the will of God in our lives. Don’t simply glance over these as it is virtually assured that some of these exist in every heart reading this. Remember too, that God views these things beyond the physical act but from the very contemplation of such in the heart constitutes the act.
Matthew 5:28 (CSB)
But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Thinking evil of another equates to murder, and on and on. This is precisely why without Grace we are humanly unable to stand up to the judgement of our sins.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (CSB)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.”
Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.
How is it possible?
Romans 5:20 (CSB)
The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more
So we are sustained by Grace constantly. So, it is okay to keep sinning?
Romans 6:1-5 (CSB)
What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.
Walking ‘in the Spirit’
When we render “to God the things that are God’s.” we surrender to God our will and replace that with His will. We discard those things of the flesh in favor of His favor. We know this by the fruits of the Spirit that become evident as a result of walking in the Spirit in that life of surrender.
Galatians 5:22-23 (CSB)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.
Not always perfect, perhaps more often not perfect than when we are. But in striving to be in the will of God and putting on the righteousness of Jesus, we are made perfect in the eyes of God, for we are cast in the in image of His Son!
Give to God, the things that ARE God’s! All of our life, our prosperity, our talent, our abilities. It’s all His in the first place!