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Payback

When faced with a trick question from His detractors Jesus gave a most insightful answer – “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:21). When I read that I marvel at the cleverness of Jesus’ answer in trapping the Pharisees.  However the real punch in this statement are two powerful truths that His answer illustrates.

Jesus acknowledges that there is a role for human government in our lives. He also endorses the collection of taxes by that government. The Pharisees seemed to think that Jesus would somehow implicate himself as “anti-government” in His answer, but He did no such a thing. Instead He affirmed that government had a right to some portion of payback because it was theirs. In Jesus day the government in Rome had established roads throughout the empire, it provided stability and security in many areas that were once lawless, it brought a level of opportunity in trade and education that many areas had never known before, it brought a common currency. In short the Roman government provided benefits to the communities where they held sway and it was appropriate for those who benefited to pony up and pay taxes. That does not endorse everything they did nor all the methods they used in bringing about those benefits but it does provide a legitimate basis for the collection of revenue for services rendered.

Jesus’ statement does not address the issues of how much tax, what level of benefits, etc. It only touches on that fact that the government was due payback. As I study Jesus’ life He comes across as the least political, high profile person ever. In fact in one sense it can be argued that His lack of political manuevering resulted in His untimely death (from a human perspective).  A little wheeling and dealing probably could have saved His life from the political machine at work in his day… but then we all would still be lost in our sins.

This brings us to the second half of Jesus’ statement which I hold up is far and away the more important point of the exchange – “give to God what belongs to God”. If the government provides a few roads and some military protection for the entire population then a combined group offering to pay for these benefits is due.  But Jesus’ action is ultimately a personal act.  Jesus action is intensely personal.  He saved MY Life.  He radically altered it for the good while I am living here on earth and He has promised an eternity in heaven with Him. This is way more than roads and a tenuous security, it is life that rich and full. In a very real sense Jesus bought me with His love and sacrificial death on my behalf. I belong to Him so my only appropriate response is to give Him all of me.

What does it mean to give Him all of me? Well I have figured out a few things that seem to fit into the definition of all.

First off all my finances less what He said I owed to the government is rightfully His. But if we take scriptures as a whole we see that God gave a guideline of a tithe, 10%. While He rightfully can ask for it all, He allows us to begin at 10%. I recognize that the rest is also His so when He asks for more I seek to be in a position to give more. I won’t go there today, but this speaks to being financially responsible with the remaining 90%.

Next there is my time. Since I belong to Jesus then all my time is His.  Obviously my quiet time with God is a blessed shared time with Him.  He speaks through His Word and by His Holy Spirit He breathes life into me during these times of sweet communion.  But when the quiet time ends, my time is still His.  Some persons have postulated that we give God 10% of our time.  Setting aside 2.4 hours each day for dedicated alone time with God CAN be achieved by a few and I don’t doubt that it can have benefits, but I honestly believe that God’s expectation for our time is not the tithe but the total.  Brother Lawrence, a monk in the middle ages, penned a devotional called “Practicing the Presence of God”.  In it this humble man identified that He was able to commune with God while peeling potatoes and performing the most mundane of tasks.  I believe the same concept is captured in 1 Thessalonians where we are admonished to “pray without ceasing”.  We are to live with a constant awareness of God and respond immediately to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. These promptings can be to pray, to perform a kind act, to give a word of encouragement, to provide an appropriate word of correction, to speak or sing or shout or wait – any number of God-directed acts that fit within the plan that only He sees in its entirety.  I would like to say I have achieved this… or that I have made significant progress, but the truth is while I have matured and I do better than I once did, I still have a long way to go.  However I believe this to be God’s call to me, to live fully in Him and give Him all my time in this manner.

Lastly I want to speak to those relationships and possessions that we call ours.  It naturally follows that if I belong to God, then everything that I call mine belongs to God as well.  Holding back anything falls short of the total surrender that Jesus calls us to.  He gave us the perfect example in His obedience to the Father. In leaving heaven to become a human, born in the most humble of circumstances, raised in relative obscurity and meager provision, Jesus surrendered more than any of us can imagine. But He did not stop there. He willingly submitted to a mock trial, accused of false charges He did not even defend Himself, but He accepted a punishment that He did not deserve. He truly gave everything to God… and He did it on our behalf. With Jesus as our model and inspiration we can offer every relationship and every thing in our lives for His use. For things I have learned this means not to hold on too tightly. For relationships I have learned this means to love with all the intensity that we have and hold them up to God for Him to do what He knows needs to be done.

While I would love to continue, my time is again about up. Remember to give to God what belongs to God. You were bought with a price. The precious blood of Jesus covered your sins and made you part of God’s family. You are His. Live fully for Him today and always.

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