Matthew chapter 22, verses 15-22
15 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way.
The Pharisees devised a trap for Jesus. If he said yes, give tribute to Caesar, then he could be accused of accepting the coin of the Romans, which bore the image of Tiberius Caesar, who was held up as the son of Deity. Such an admission could be construed as accepting false idols, a mortal sin punishable by stoning. But if he said no, then the Romans could accuse him of sedition for encouraging his followers to not pay their taxes. Sedition against the government was also a capital crime.
Notice how skillfully Jesus avoids the trap. By acknowledging that the coins bore the image of Caesar, and saying the coins belonged to Caesar, he put the burden of idolatry squarely onto Caesar, where it belonged, for he had ordered the coins to be minted with his image. The Pharisees were defeated, and they went away marveling at the wisdom of Jesus.
Conventional wisdom teaches that this scripture means you should pay your taxes, and so you should. But what else is contained in the words of Jesus? There is more to this story than just a skillful avoidance of a trap.
Some churches use the second half of his statement “and render unto God that which is God’s” to mean you should give your tithes and offerings as commanded in the Old Testament. And it is important to support the church. Not because you are obligated, but because you have the opportunity to help the work of God’s kingdom.
But what exactly is “that which is God’s”? Use the same test that Jesus used to determine that which was Caesar’s. The coin which bore the image of Caesar was Caesar’s. Likewise, the coin which bears the image of God is God’s. And where is this coin? It isn’t minted in gold or silver. The coin which bears the image of God is the human heart. We are to bring our hearts to God in humility and gratitude, in all things giving thanks. This is how we render unto God that which is God’s.
God’s grace be with you always.