Rendering to Caesar
A little reminder of Jesus’ words about rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s may be beneficial for us as Tax Day arrives. So often we are frustrated with the governing authorities: their taxation and their poor leadership. The Jews of the first century were also frustrated with the occupying Empire. They had many reasons to be upset with Rome, the greatest being a theological one: Rome occupied the Promised Land and oppressed God’s chosen people.
Heavy taxation was only part of the problem that the Jews had with the Romans, but it was a constant reminder of their own inferiority to a Gentile Empire. Some of the Pharisees and Herodians, two groups of Jews, thought that they could set a trap for Jesus by getting Him to publicly speak ill of the authorities. Yet, as usual, Jesus knew the wickedness in their hearts (yes, the ill will they had toward the Romans but, even more so, the ill will that they had toward Jesus). So, how does Jesus respond? Did He tell the people that they were right to rebel against the governing authorities? Did He tell them to not give in to the tax demands and pay hard earned money to the filthy Gentiles?
Jesus, in a most clever fashion, tells His opponents to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. He also told them to give to God what belongs to God (we may have to talk about this next week). Is it hard to honor such corrupt American leadership like we have today? Sure. No one is denying that. Is it difficult to send so much money to the government every year? Yes, it is a hard pill to swallow. Is it the right thing to do? Honoring the governing authorities and paying our taxes is most certainly the right thing to do because the Lord has instructed us to do so. He has commanded us on several occasions, Himself and through His apostles, to submit to the governing authorities and to honor the national leadership. Part of living as a good citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven is living as a good citizen of the kingdoms is this world (in our case, the United States). Let us stand for what is right despite how corrupt our culture or government may become.
Rendering to God
When we begin to ponder what Jesus meant by, “Render to God the things that are God’s,” we may feel a little guilty over the many compromises we have made when it comes to our Christian responsibilities. One commentator has said, “The most significant part of life is that which belongs to God. . .” (Morris, 558). And yet, we so often neglect this part of our lives. We are blinded by the things of this world. We are distracted by trivial pursuits. We get wrapped up in things that do not last. We often times do not use our energy, time, finances, minds, possessions, and the rest in service to God in the ways that we should.
This writer goes on to say, “We should be clear, too, that Jesus is not saying that we can divide life into separate compartments so that God has nothing to do with that section which belongs to Caesar. The obligation to God covers all of life; we must serve Caesar in a way that is honoring to God” (Ibid.). In reality, for the Christian, there is no divide between the sacred and the secular. All of life is sacred. Every part of our lives should be influenced and, often, directly determined by the Lord. We like to think that Sunday is God’s day (if we even give Him that anymore) and the rest of the week is “mine.” We like to think that 10% of our money should be “paid back” to God when, in fact, it all belongs to Him. We like to think that we can serve a few minutes here and maybe an hour there, but God wants us to serve Him at all times (often by serving others). We like to separate “sacred” and “secular” but there is no room for such thinking in the Christian life.
To use the idea of Caesar again: Caesar most certainly represents the worldly government, but he may also represent all of the things of this world. The Christian realizes and submits to God’s Lordship above all others, the worldly government and all of the things of this world. God is, therefore, sovereign over Caesar, the President, America, or any other. We have obligations to the authorities and systems of this world; we also have obligations to our families, employers, and communities, but our greatest obligation is to the Lord Himself. Let’s render unto God the things that are God’s, that is, the entirety of our lives.