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Jesus asked them, “Show me the coin for the tax.”
They handed him a denarius.
“Whose image is on the coin? Whose inscription?”
And they answered that it was Caesar’s.
Jesus replied, “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
When they heard his answer, they marveled.
(A paraphrase of Matthew 22:15-22)
I don’t marvel at first.
They had to pay taxes. Even to the Roman government. Even to the government who would drive the nails through Jesus’ hands and hang him on a cross. Their taxes would pay for it all.
Jesus’ teaching is difficult. Not marvelous.
Why did the coin belong to Caesar? It had Caesar’s face, his image on it. So what belongs to God? What bears his image? Me.
I begin to marvel.
I owe the government taxes, honor, respect. I owe this to the government on election day and every day. But I owe God something today too. I owe him myself.
What I owe God is fundamentally different than what I owe the government. Mark Dever, preaching what some have called “The Best Sermon on Christianity and Politics,” explains it this way: “Our duty to earthly authority is limited … Our duty to God is comprehensive.”
But, as C.S. Lewis points out, I’m tempted to pretend that my duty to God is limited too:
Our temptation is to look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted. We are in fact very like honest but reluctant tax payers. We approve of an income tax in principle. We make our returns truthfully. But we dread a rise in the tax. We are careful to pay no more than is necessary. And we hope – we very ardently hope – that after we have paid it there will still be enough left to live on …
[But] there is no parallel to paying taxes and living on the remainder. For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all of our time and all of our attention; it is ourselves … Let us make up our minds to it; there will be nothing “of our own” left to live on, no “ordinary” life … For He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.
~ C.S. Lewis , emphasis mine
I have failed to give God what I owe him. We all have. And it is infinitely worse than cheating on our taxes. It took the death of Jesus to pay what we owe. The fight of the Christian life is the fight to quit withholding what we owe God.
O God, show us what we are withholding from you.
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