February 28, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 20:22, 25 (NRSV)
“Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” . . . [Jesus] said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
When Jesus’s opponents tried to trap him with a question about paying taxes to Rome, he answered that people should give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s. What would it mean for us to give to God the things that are God’s? What in our lives belongs to God? In fact, to God our Savior belongs everything, all that we have and all that we are. We are called and blessed to give our whole lives to God every day.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
I find it ironic that one of the things I do in Lent each year is to prepare to pay my federal and state taxes. Though I get lots of help from my wife and our accountant, nevertheless I end up spending a couple of evenings doing something that brings me little joy. I wish I could turn it into some kind of Lenten discipline, something that would redeem the experience. But, so far anyway, that hasn’t happened. (Though, to be honest, I have been working on living into God’s peace in such a way that I don’t get cranky with my wife while I’m working on the tax documents. I guess there’s a kind of “Lenten-ness” in that effort.)
Of course I’m not the first person to fret about paying taxes. Jews in the time of Jesus disliked doing so, not only because of taxation’s financial burden, but also because their taxes supported the Roman government, the oppressive overlord of the Jewish people. Some Jews believed that faithfulness to God meant they should not pay tax to Rome. Of course the Romans didn’t take well to that line, regarding it as seditious. So, any debate among Jews about paying taxes was messy, both theologically and politically.
The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sought to exploit this situation for their advantage by setting a trap for Jesus. They asked him, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (Luke 20:22). If Jesus said “Yes” then many would consider him unfaithful to God and God’s kingdom. If Jesus said “No” then he would be in trouble with Rome. Jesus’s opponents seemed to have put him in a bind from which he could not escape.
But Jesus was not to be tricked. Sensing the motivations of his inquisitors, he asked to see a denarius, the Roman coin used to pay taxes. He asked, “Whose head and whose title does it bear?” to which the questioners answered, “The emperor’s” (Luke 20:22, 24). (In fact, it’s likely that the coin in question also identified Tiberius Caesar as “son of God.”) In response Jesus said, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25). By saying this, Jesus not only escaped from the trap that had been set for him, but also showed that the Jewish leaders possessed a coin bearing the emperor’s image – indicating their own sell-out to Rome.
In this devotion I’m not going to delve into the issue of paying taxes. We could have fun wondering what to do with our coins that say plainly, “In God we trust.” But now’s not the time for this. Rather, I’d like to reflect with you on the last phrase in Jesus’s saying, “[Give] to God the things that are God’s.” This speaks to much more than the question of taxes. It challenges us to consider what we owe to God and what it might mean for us to give to God all that is due.
How would you answer the question: What do you owe to God? What things in your life that are God’s? When I reflect on this, I think first of my physical body. I remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:20: “For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” This verse suggests that we owe to God more than just our bodies, however. We have been bought with a price. We, our whole selves, body and soul, mind and heart. God who created us and recreated us through Jesus Christ rightly claims as his all that we are, every single bit. According to Ephesians, our every existence is for the praise of God’s glory (Ephesians 1:11-14). Moreover, as Paul writes later in this letter, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10).
What do you owe to God? What things in your life are God’s? Everything! God deserves all that you have and all that you are. This doesn’t mean you should spend all your time in church, however. It does mean that you should offer to God every part of your life, all day, every day. This way of living doesn’t come naturally to us. Yet as we are formed by the Spirit of God, it can become more and more instinctual. We can learn to give ourselves to God in our daily lives much as we do when we’re gathered for worship.
In Lent many Christians decide to give up something they enjoy. We do this not to earn God’s favor, since that has already been given to us through Christ. Rather, by giving something up we are learning to give to God all that we are. We are saying, in effect, “God, you matter more to me than this thing I value. Help me to learn to love you more than all my other loves.”
For you, is there any connection between paying taxes and your faith? If so, what is that connection?
When you think about your life, when you consider all that you are and all that you possess, to what extent do you really act as if everything belongs to God? Are there parts of yourself that you are holding back from God? If so, why is this happening?
Are you willing to offer your whole self to God today? Why or why not?
If you’re aware of a part of your life that you’re holding back from God, talk with God about this. Be honest! Tell God why you’re reticent to give this to him. Ask the Lord for help in surrendering more fully to him.
Lord Jesus, today I’m struck by your statement that we’re to give to God all that is God’s. I could easily avoid this instruction by focusing only on the taxation question as it’s framed in Luke. But when I pause to reflect, I hear you saying to me “Give to God the things that are God’s.”
Help me to know what this means for me today. If I am holding back parts of myself, show me this by your Spirit. Stir up within me a desire to give everything to you.
Lord, you gave all that you are for me, offering your life on the cross. Help me to give all that I am to you today, in all that I do, with gratitude and freedom. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Taxing Issues (Luke 19:1-10; 20:20-26)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.