1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
October 19, 2014
We all want our taxes to be as low as possible, for everyone to pay their fair share, and to get the best value in services. We are in the midst of a significant debate on what fair share means, what taxes should pay for, and how to control waste.
Tax debates and revolts are hardly new. The 1773 Boston Tea Party was a commodity tax revolt that moved toward the American Revolution. The 1791 Whiskey Rebellion during George Washington’s Presidency was a revolt against a commodity tax levied to pay the debt incurred in the American Revolution. In our time we’ve had revolts against taxes that pay for war, welfare and abortion.
3,000 years ago, the Prophet Samuel warned Israel that having a king would bring taxes (1 Samuel 8:14-17).
In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees rope the Herodians into using their dispute over paying taxes to Rome to discredit Jesus. This was one of several taxes, one denarius per person each year as tribute recognizing the sovereignty of the Emperor, which funded the occupation of conquered lands, so was especially despised. It was equal to one day’s wage for a manual laborer. Jesus had insulted the Temple leaders with the parable of the wedding banquet about riffraff from the streets displacing invited guests.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay [tribute] to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the [tribute].” And they brought him a denarius.20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Jesus did not just escape the trap set for him, he roundly embarrassed both the Pharisees and Herodians with his deceptively simple answer. The word for “amazed” is very strong. Both Pharisees and Herodians were shocked and stunned. They wanted to get away as fast as they could.
The denarius had a picture of Tiberius Caesar and the inscription “Son of the Divine Augustus, High Priest.” In compliance with the Ten Commandments’ prohibition of graven images, Jewish coins never had a picture of a person or even an animal, but flowers, trees and lamps. The Jews would not have put God’s name on their coins lest it be profaned by being used for evil. They regarded the claim that the Emperor was a son of a god and high priest as idolatrous and sacrilegious. Paying the tribute with that coin was a tacit acceptance of those claims and thus resented by faithful Jews. When Jesus had them show him the coin, he exposed that they had defiled the Temple by bringing in this blasphemous object in there.
Some of our politicians say that lower taxes let us keep more of our own money. But the Roman Emperors believed that the money all belonged to them because they had ordered its minting and were graciously allowing people to use it for commerce. Jesus’ words “the things that belong to the Emperor” have an ironic twist. While seeming to permit paying taxes, Jesus was clear that the title “Son of the Divine Augustus, High Priest” did not legitimately belong to the Emperor. In a subtle way, he was claiming to be Son of God and High Priest himself.
In contrast with the Emperors’ claims to own all money because they ordered it to be made, when Jesus spoke of the “things that are God’s” he was saying as creator, God was the rightful owner of everything we are and have and enjoy. Stewardship is not about giving God some portion that belongs to God but about giving something to God as a tangible acknowledgement that everything is God’s.
We get a perspective on this in 1 Thessalonians 1:3. We know the triad “faith, hope, love” from 1 Corinthians 13, but it infuses the whole New Testament, and here Paul presented it as active. We can see that giving our money to God is a tangible sign that we are giving our work of faith, our labor of love, and our steadfastness of hope.
Work of faith is not working up faith or working to get faith. Work of faith is living daily by faith, especially pursuing the ministries to which God calls us by trusting God rather than our own ideas and efforts.
Labor of love is expressing the love of Christ for others with practical compassion. It is reaching out to hurting people in the name of Jesus.
Steadfastness of hope is an endurance that does not give up when the way is hard or slow, but keeps focused on God’s sovereign faithfulness for a glorious future.
We are at the convergence of three significant currents in the life of Highlands Christian Church: the interim journey between pastors, the annual stewardship emphasis, and the unexpected need for major repairs to our facilities. All of these call on the best of our stewardship. More than ever, giving our money to God is a tangible sign that we are giving our work of faith, our labor of love, and our steadfastness of hope.
As you pray about your pledge for Highlands Christian Church’s 2015 budget, keep in mind that a healthy church’s budget is not so much about how to stretch out the money to pay the bills in the upcoming year as it is an expression of faith in how much you believe God wants to do with and through you in the coming year. So filling in a number on your pledge card and working out a balanced budget for the church use financial tool as a work of faith.
I want to affirm and encourage you to expand the ways you use your facilities to serve people in the community, some but not all in overtly Christian ways. Having an attractive, comfortable facility, as you do, is not really about what you enjoy but about extending the love of Jesus to as many people beyond the church as possible. A pastor who preaches inspiring sermons is not just about building you up on your journey with Jesus, but about proclaiming the Gospel for those who need to know Jesus.Steadfastness of hope is deeper than patience. Patience will carry us through the weeks until the building is repaired and fully usable again. Patience will carry us through the months until your new pastor is with you to lead you on your next ministry adventure. Steadfastness of hope is confidence that God is leading through all the circuitous crossroads of your journey with Jesus and sustaining you to endure seemingly innumerable, insurmountable obstacles to glorious fruitfulness. Steadfastness of hope keeps you from giving up when there is no end in sight. Eugene Peterson, who did The Message paraphrase of the Bible, has spoken and written about “a long obedience in the same direction.” That is the stewardship of steadfast hope.