I know I’ve talked a lot about money and God and stewardship lately, but the text this last Sunday was so perfectly on that topic that I had to speak on it. Next week will be on a different topic, I promise.
‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ It sounds fairly simple. Yes, Christians are to pay taxes and be good citizens, while at the same time staying faithful to God. You might say we have dual citizenship—we are citizens of our country here on earth while at the same time we are also citizens of God’s kingdom, which will be fulfilled on earth when he comes again. We need to be good citizens of both heaven and earth, and that means participating in all just requirements of citizenship in our earthly country, including taxes.
But there’s more to this passage than simple advice to be good citizens of both kingdoms. ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ There’s a lot of political debate in our country about what and how much should be taxed, how much should be “given to the Emperor” in the words of today’s lesson, and just about everyone I know has a strong opinion on the subject one way or the other. Here’s something we don’t think about as often: what should be given to God? I know that time and talent sheets have been mailed out, so you’ve probably given this a little bit more thought recently than you usually would. Here’s something to keep in mind.
Jesus divides it up that if it belongs to the emperor, it should go to the emperor, and if it belongs to God it should go to God. But wait a minute. Doesn’t everything belong to God? God created heaven and earth. God created everything, from the planet we live on to the stars and sun that shine above us, to the plants and animals we share the planet with, to our very lives. God created us and everything around us. Everything we have, from our lives to our families to our possessions, is a gift from God. Our salvation through Jesus Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst, the faith that brought us here today and sustains us through our lives, all are God’s gifts to us. We acknowledge this in our offering prayer, but have you ever really stopped to think about what that means?
We like to think we’ve earned everything we get. Study hard in school, work hard at your job, and you’ll get ahead and earn money to buy things with. But the intelligence that helped us learn and the health that helps us work are both gifts from God, for our use. And the things we buy with our money were all made from resources God has given us. The fabric in our clothing comes from plants and animals created by God, the metal in our cars comes from the planet created by God, the plastics that are in just about everything these days were created from materials given by God using knowledge gained by chemists using the intelligence God gave them. Everything we have comes from God, one way or another. And we have so much.
The Pharisees knew that everything comes from God. That’s what they based their question on—the Romans were foreign overlords who wanted them to worship Roman gods. They didn’t think it was lawful to give anything that belonged to God—including the money for the tax—to the people who ruled them and didn’t want them to remain faithful to God. But at the same time, they were looking at the whole thing from a purely political standpoint, as if God were merely a rival king and paying taxes to his rival were treason. They missed the deeper truth that God is not a petty ruler looking to consolidate his power at the expense of everyone else’s. God gives us everything he gives us because he loves us and wants us to have an abundant life, and he wants us to learn to love and share that abundance he has given us. Giving to God is not just about paying your share of the church’s bills, it’s about taking care of the people all around us, sharing our abundance so that all of God’s children here and around the world can live happy and healthy lives.
When we forget that everything comes from God, when we think of everything we have as things we earned on our own, it’s harder to be generous. We worry about not having enough, about not earning enough and saving enough, particularly when the economy is troubled. So when we do give things to others, we base it on needs and expectations. The church needs to make its operating budget and we are expected to contribute so we figure out what we can comfortably spare. The school band needs money for new uniforms, and we are expected to support them so we buy a sandwich or two. We do what we need to do to stay members of the community in good standing. It’s not bad, but it’s not particularly good, either.
Give to God the things that are God’s. When you find yourself having trouble with that, remember this: Everything in heaven and on earth belongs to God, and God has given to us everything we have. God will continue to give to us, though perhaps not always in the ways and quantities he has in the past. God wants us to give generously—not just with money but with time and talents, too. God wants us to give, not because it’s expected of us or simply to fill a need, but cheerfully and with love because we have so much to share.
Stewardship isn’t just about paying the bills on time. Stewardship means taking care of the things that have been entrusted to you. It means using them where they will do the most good and passing them on to the next generation. It means recognizing that in the end, everything belongs to God. Including ourselves.
If you have any questions about Christianity, please comment and I will answer them.