Give to Caesar

by Jon Cook

            Taxes.  How does one word create an automatic groan from a vast portion of the population?  Couldn’t something be done to lessen the pain?  It’s the paperwork, the frustrating collation of information and the different forms that need to be filled out, i’s dotted and t’s crossed, before it can be all neatly tied into a bundle and sent off to Uncle Sam.  We groan and fuss about the hassle, claiming that it’s highway robbery and that we should stick it to the man by cutting our own various corners.  We all do it; we all wish there was some way we could get out of having to give up so much.

            As I think about taxes this season, my perspective is still a struggle but it is changing.  When it comes to taxes, we’re asked to give back portions of what we’ve been given, all for a variety of reasons.  The different areas that our taxes are directed towards had their initial purposes and benefits.  It makes me think about what God has called us to give back to Him.  So many times we think of giving back to God as being about money, just writing a check or giving a cash amount to some charity or to our church.  We like to think that giving back to God is only conducted through our checkbook and that somehow we whet His sacrificial appetite whenever we spend money in Jesus’ name.  It is so much more than that.  It’s about committing all that you own and possess, including the very breath in your lungs, to the One who gave it to you.

            One of the stories of Jesus that talks about taxes and our response is found in Matthew 22:15-22.  The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by asking Him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar but Jesus’ insight brought an entirely deeper teaching, beyond what the Pharisees could have anticipated.  Jesus responded to their question by asking to see one of the coins, a Roman denarius, that was used to pay taxes.

            “And He asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”

            “Caesar’s”, they replied.

             Then He said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

            The deeper meaning of this passage was lost on me before a friend of mine explained its significance to me.  The coin itself had Caesar’s image stamped on the front of it, certifying that it had originated from the Roman government and was recognized as ultimately belonging to that higher power.  In my ignorance, I always thought that it meant we should be paying taxes as good citizens or some other surface, albeit legitimate, interpretation of that passage.  But Jesus mentions the image of Caesar for a very important reason.

            As human beings made in the image of God, being “fearfully and wonderfully made”, we ourselves have His image fashioned in us showing that “it is He who made us and we are His…” (Ps. 100:3)  By having His image imprinted on us, we are recognized as belonging to a Higher Power working in the world around us.  We are made in His likeness, having been fashioned in His image, and He has blessed us with attributes and characteristics that are reflective of Him in order to carry out our purpose: representing God in His creation.  Every part of who He has called us to be, not the sinful fallen self but the new creation that is called to a life of holiness and surrender, is a divinely infused opportunity to reflect His glory back to Him through the imitation of His attributes.  However, all of the many attributes that He has allowed us to reflect about Him pale in light of the true majesty and splendor that He possesses and demonstrates in the world around us.

            Can you picture a proud parent bragging about his children, showing off their pictures from his wallet or phone, and talking about how much they mean to him?  He talks about the intimate details that are characteristic of each of them and their different personalities.  Wouldn’t it then be so incredibly sad for that parent to also have to tell people that His kids don’t talk to Him that often, that they hardly spend any time with Him, and are constantly ignoring His loving care for them?  We are made in His image, capable of imitating His attributes, and yet our hearts naturally drift away from echoing His calling on our lives.  We fall so short of the life Jesus called us to live; the fullest, most complete life that is greater than we could ever imagine.

            As you get ready to send off that 1040 form to the IRS this tax season, think about what you’re giving back to God.  Are you making a conscious effort to surrender your life to God as a living sacrifice?  Are you living your life as an act of worship to the One who made you and knows you far better than you know yourself?  Is your heart looking for opportunities to reflect God’s glory back to Him?  Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  Give to God what is already His.