Render Unto God What is God’s!

No this post is not about tithing!  Fear not!  And for those of you who know this passage, I’m not going to talk about paying taxes either!   Sweet relief, right?   This is an examination of Christ’s response to the questioning by the Pharisees who attempt to trap him in Matthew 22.  They asked Him:

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

It’s important to understand that both Roman soldiers and Jews were present, and the Roman Tax on the Jews was a highly controversial issue at this time.  The Romans were taxing the Jews as much as 80% of their household income.  People were being arrested, impoverished, and dying as a result of this tax.  If Jesus were to instruct that the Jews should not pay taxes, the Roman Soldiers would have had cause to arrest Him.  At the same time, the Jews were highly vexed by this situation, and these taxes were being used to fund the army that was enforcing the oppressive rule of Rome over them.  If Christ simply instructed the Jews to pay the Roman tax, they would have turned on Him.

 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.[c]

20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…”

It has been discussed ad nauseum that Christ says here that we should pay our taxes.  Given.  What I would like to draw your attention to is the coin.  Specifically the image on the coin and its implication.  The coin was created by Caesar, and his image is what gave the coin its value.  By the image and inscription on the coin it was not simply a piece of metal, but was made and marked specifically in such a way that all would see that this coin had a specific purpose, a designated value, and belonged to the man whose image it beared.  Christ was not terribly concerned with the money, or with Caesar’s desire to take the money back from the Jews.  (Christ of course knows that The Father provides what is necessary for His children.)  But…what is more important is what Christ said next.

 “…render unto God the things that are God’s.”

What is he talking about here?  What are the “things that are God’s?”  Brothers and sisters, you and I were created in the image of God.  We bear His image.  He has placed his inscription on us.  “Imago Dei” – in Latin, translated – “Image of God.”

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

If the image of Caesar on a denarius gives it such value, how much more value then does the bearing of God’s image place upon His children?  This is what Christ is communicating here.  The tax, and money in general, are not important.  What is important is that you are God’s.  You were created by Him, and you are valuable to Him.  He expects you to return to Him.  “Render unto God what is God’s.”

God Appoints Political Leaders

There is a raging debate of late over whether or not it is right to pay taxes or submit to political powers that do not support Christian ideologies.  The Bible does fairly well to address this topic directly.

At the time Christ was on earth, Rome ruled the known world from England to India, and the nation of Israel was captive to Rome.  To financially support  the standing army necessary to control the Jews, taxes were 70 to 80% of the annual income of the average Jewish household.  The Jews and Romans definitely did not share the same beliefs or virtues.

The Jews expected their Messiah to be a powerful king who would militarily throw off the oppressive rule of Rome and free the nation of Israel.  But, when asked whether or not his followers should submit to Roman authority and pay taxes to this unjust government, Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”

Why does Jesus say this?  Christians are a people not of this world.  We are people of the kingdom of God.  God’s call is a call for the submission of our hearts to Him, and the denial of the importance of the things of this world.  Christ has tasked us, as His followers, to fight a spiritual battle, through discipleship.  Our faith is not a call to rebel and fight, but a call to unite and spread His Word.  Very little is necessary for us to achieve God’s purpose for our lives (relationship with Him and spreading of His Word).  God is a God of justice and saving grace, and he is our deliverer.  He is working on a grand plan, all of which is laid out in detail from the beginning to the end in the Bible.  We can see His plan coming to fruition as prophecy is continuously fulfilled.  When we are obedient and put our dependence on God, in His time, according to His purpose, He always delivers.  Christ did not lead a Jewish rebellion against Rome, rather, He submitted to their authority and allowed them to crucify Him.  After the crucifixion of Christ, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were driven out from Israel across the world.  But, because of his crucifixion, the sins of God’s elect became atoned.  And because of the wonder of the resurrection, and the dedication (to death) of Christ’s followers, the Christian faith exploded.  Today, the Roman Empire is long gone, but the Kingdom of Christ spans the globe.  Christ’s teaching is incredibly counter-intuitive to our human instincts, but is proven righteous, and God has a plan for our redemption.

Here is what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

The power ordained to all rulers of the world is by God, and is vital for His purpose in His story (the redemption of man from sin and the gathering of His children back to Him, as laid out from Genesis to Revelation).  We must have Faith in God’s plan.

If you enjoyed this post you might also appreciate my article To Christian Exiles in Babylon on the application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian living and approaching culture today.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, and theology student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

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