Giving God His Due
The Pharisees knew that Jesus would recognize them for what they were, so they sent some of their followers to the Lord to try and trick Him into saying something that would get Him into trouble. First they flattered Him. They told the truth but they didn’t believe the truth they told (Matthew 22:16). That made them hypocrites, which was precisely what the Lord called them (22:18).
The question was whether or not the Jews should pay the taxes imposed on them by their overlords, the Romans (22:17). Jesus asked for a coin, and using it to turn the question back on them, Jesus asked whose face was on that coin (22:20). Of course it was Caesar’s face. Then He said: “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (22:21).
It sounded like a fairly uncomplicated answer until you ask yourself the question: “What belongs to God?”
Caesar only wants his tax money. But if we are to give back to God what belongs to Him, we are talking a whole lot more than simply a small token of our commitment. A short time later, having had reported to them what Jesus had said, the Pharisees sent one of their legal experts (22:35) to test Jesus as to what the greatest commandment was. This should have been a trick question as well, since the religious leaders of the day had more than 600 laws that He could choose from and one could debate endlessly and become hopelessly entangled in useless discussion for a long, long time.
But the Lord cut right to the heart of the matter and actually drew His audience back to that original question of what belongs to God. He said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (22:38). Everything else hung on this one, as well as the second commandment to love our neighbours.
But the first great commandment answers the question as to what belongs to God. To love Him with everything we are and have, is to return to Him all that we are and have. By right it all belongs to Him anyway. The implications are huge since our natural tendency is to bless ourselves with all that we are and have rather than to bless God with all that we are and have.
We accomplish for ourselves.
We accumulate for ourselves.
We act for ourselves.
To give back to God, to love Him with all we are is to weigh every mark we seek to make on our world, everything we seek to gain, and everything we do, in the light of how those things accomplish His redemptive mission in the world.