Category Archives: Money

1 Corinthians 16

Working with workers

Discussion Question

What does it look like to be a member of a church?

Background (Context)

We’ve arrived at the final Chapter of this letter to the Church of God in Corinth. Paul has written passionately with instruction, rebuke and grand theology that points all to Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Our faith is in Him and Him alone. Our hope is in an imperishable spiritual body like nothing we have known in this age. Our method in everything is love which flows from the love of God.

With a full letter written and delivered to the saints in Corinth, how shall he sign off? We shall see some things to be expected (Verse 13) and yet we discover that after a letter of rebuke, Paul anticipates a positive response from them.

Read 1 Corinthians 16

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)
  • Paul’s travel plans (5-9)
  • How to treat fellow workers (10-18)
    • About Timothy (10-11)
    • About Apollos (12)
      • Faith, (hope) and love (13)
    • About Stephanas (14-18)
  • Final greetings (19-24)

Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)

“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people…” What is this collection? We see in Verse 2 that it is money and in Verse 3 that it is a gift to Jerusalem. Acts 24:17 describes Paul’s habit of bringing gifts to his people for the poor and to present offerings. In our present Verse, Paul describes the collection as to the Lord’s people – meaning the holy ones in Jerusalem. Just as Paul is writing to the Lord’s people in Corinth, he expects this church to be connected in support to the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. Paul’s theme in Chapter 16 is to elevate the fellowship of the churches throughout the world since they are all of the same faith. It ought to follow that when you are on board for Jesus then you are on board to support one another who are also on board for Jesus. Christianity has never been a solo act or a Lone Ranger faith. We are in it together. His advice on raising the collection in the following verses, despite the exact usage for the money, is a helpful one for us all today. See also 2 Corinthians 8-9 on this topic of financial support.

“…do what I told the Galatian churches to do.” The Corinthians would not know what Paul has told the Galatian churches. He is introducing his instructions as something that is not unique to this letter to Corinth but the same advice he has given elsewhere.

“…set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income…” What Paul says in Verse 2 is great financial advice for anybody trying to use money for something beyond impulse buying and he is applying it specifically to the giving portion of a salary. He is not specifying an exact amount. He is recommending that each person set aside a proportion of their salary – thoughtfully, carefully and intentionally. When Paul arrives, he does not want to see everyone reaching into their wallets to see what spare change they have! At the beginning of your pay cycle, set aside the money that you have decided to give to the work of the gospel. As intentional as we ought to be about our faith and works (and Paul will remind us later in this Chapter) we need to be intentional about our faith and money. As we listen in to Paul’s advice to this church, it would be grand for our groups to stop and consider how we are going in this area. Do we put our money where our faith is?

“…letters of introduction to the men you approve…” Paul does not intend to take the money and run away with it. He plans to write a note of introduction for some men chosen by the Corinthian church and they will send the money with them to Jerusalem. In this way, the fellowship with the churches is strengthened – they will gain mutual encouragement – and the collection and distribution of the money is above board and transparent.

Paul’s travel plans (5-9)

“After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia.” Paul will be going through Macedonia 😉

“…I hope to spend some time with you…” Paul appears unclear of what he will do after reaching Corinth but assures them that he does not wish to simply pass through as he plans to pass through Macedonia. His plans are for mission in Macedonia (including Ephesus) but to stay and be a pastor to the church in Corinth. His rebuking letter ought not to be thought of as coming from an outsider who doesn’t know them or care.

“…if the Lord permits.” A reminder to us always to consider God’s will above our own. See James 4:15; Luke 22:42; Matthew 6:10.

“…I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost…” Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks which took place fifty days after Passover (Deut 16:9-12). It is associated with the promise of divine blessing and Christians came to associate it with the day God poured out His Spirit on the church. Ephesus is in modern day Turkey, north of the Mediterranean Sea. On Paul’s 3rd missionary journey (3 journeys described in the book of Acts) he travelled up the coast from Ephesus, around the Aegean Sea before passing through the region of Macedonia (consisting of towns like Philippi and Thessalonica), this takes him to Athens and then a quick hop down to Corinth. Although he spoke in this letter of staying for quite a while, Acts 20:2-3 tells us that he was forced to keep travelling because of persecution from others (not Corinth). Paul had first visited Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:1-11) where he stayed with them for 18 months.

“…door…opened to me…many who oppose me.” So, this is Paul’s third journey that he is on and Acts 19 provides reading material for this. Acts 19:8-10 describes a period of 2 years where Paul preached the gospel and the opposition actually created more interest in it!

How to treat fellow workers (10-18)

About Timothy (10-11)

“…see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you…” The church is a refuge for believers. While the world may be hostile, indifferent, uncaring or other toward the gospel, our churches become a network of safe havens for believers alike. Paul aligns Timothy’s work with his. If you treat Timothy badly, you are doing harm to Paul. A cute parallel to the way that Jesus spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5). Timothy was younger than Paul, called a son in the faith (1 Tim 1:2) and Paul advised Timothy not to let others look down on him because of his age (1 Tim 4:12).

About Apollos (12)

“Now about Apollos…” Acts 18:24 introduces us to Apollos. It was friends of Paul who found Apollos teaching from the Scriptures and educated him in the true gospel. Apollos spent time in Corinth while Paul was elsewhere. He was a capable man of God. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for dividing over who was the best leader – Paul was not feeling insecure but wanted the church to be united over the gospel. Each leader does this or that but it is the gospel of Christ that gives life and eternal hope.

“…I strongly urged him…he was quite unwilling…but he will go when he has the opportunity.” Paul has had disputes and disagreements with people with regard to mission (Acts 15:37-40). Here, Paul shares a disagreement between himself and Apollos about when Apollos should go to Corinth. We mustn’t conclude, however, that this was a sharp dispute. It is an example of two people looking to please the Lord. Apollos’ missionary work was not Paul’s mission but the Lord’s. Our work with one another for the gospel does not boil down to setting up a leader and doing whatever they tell us to. It is about unity, peace, discussion and prayerfully moving forward. Paul’s next words may seem out of context but it could very well be an insight into how Paul has responded himself to this disagreement with Apollos…

Faith, (hope) and love (13)

“…Do everything in love.” Verse 13 helps us frame all of our relationships in the church and with regard to fulfilling the commission of the Lord:

  1. Be on your guard. Other texts remind us to be watchful. We are not to be found snoozing, idle, or misdirected in this life. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober minded because our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. When Paul and Apollos spoke about their differences, this would have been a great moment for the devil to take a bite! Be careful with every conversation – you never know which will lead to a moment of destruction rather than encouragement.
  2. Stand firm in the faith. The gospel is our firm foundation to stand on. Everything we do must be built up on top of that sturdy ground (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). See also 1 Cor 10:11-13; 15:1; 15:58. The warning to stand firm is given so that those who love the Lord will listen and take heed. Those who do not love the Lord will not take heed of such warnings. Paul is wise to consider what rock he stands on. If this gospel is built upon his logic or strategy, then it is not the gospel. He is wise to seek God’s kingdom and not his own. If Apollos is being pulled in a different direction, then trust God with that decision. Time will reveal if it was the will of God or not.
  3. Be courageous; be strong. Not just a good Colin Buchannan song, this is a charge given to the Lord’s people across the ages (Joshua 1:9). The reason we can be strong is because the Lord is with us. Paul has not been writing to a water-polo club – but to the church of God in Corinth. As God’s people, do not let any forces of nature or man overwhelm you. With Apollos delaying his travel to Corinth and Paul also remaining away for a while longer, the church in Corinth are called to be strong and courageous because God is with them. The absence of a leader does not mean the absence of the Lord.
  4. Do everything in love. He has spoken of this in Chapter 13. Without love, Paul may have shown impatience and no kindness toward Apollos. He desires the church in Corinth to respond in love also.

About Stephanas (14-18)

“…the house of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia…” Paul remembers Stephanas in passing back in 1Corinthians 1:16 when he was recalling the few people that he had actually baptised. Achaia was the province or region where Corinth and Athens were/are located. See Acts 18:2. Stephanas was part of Paul’s first visit to Corinth.

“…I urge you…to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labours at it.” We are getting the theme of this Chapter emerge by bits as we join up the little elements together. Churches everywhere who call on the name of Christ, such as the church in Jerusalem, are all part of the same mission. Giving financially, helping workers feel safe, allowing differences to exist without being divided, and getting behind those who are working hard for the Lord. This is not secret men’s business. It is open and transparent communication of the Lord’s business. It is not a closed ‘inner circle’ faith. All are welcome to hear the gospel, respond and then get on board the mission. With Paul’s direction in Verse 13 we shall be robust to work together and get behind one another.

“…they have supplied what was lacking from you.” The context implies that what was lacking was any refreshment for the spirit. Paul’s letter to Corinth is shaped by Paul’s disappointment with how they are living out their faith. If all he had to work with were the bad reports, perhaps he could dismiss that church as having abandoned the faith. But he has the refreshing visit from Stephanas and co. These men are worth getting behind! They deserve recognition. Not just from Paul but from the church that they have come from. There is a distinction between praising and fan-club-following like Paul was rebuking in Chapter 1 and when someone deserves to be recognised for their work in the faith.

Final greetings (19-24)

“…the province of Asia…” Not to be confused with what we call Asia, this is marked on historic maps as the western side of modern Turkey. Ephesus was the capital.

“Aquila and Priscilla…” They took Paul in as he worked with them as a tent-maker when he had first visited Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). This is a husband and wife team who worked for the Lord (Romans 16:3).

“…in my own hand…” The content may have been dictated but Paul always signed his letters with his own hand (2 Thes 3:17).

“If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!” Paul is not expressing anger toward anybody. Rather, stating the point that anyone found on judgement day without love for the Lord will be cursed. This is the harsh side of the gospel. It’s how salvation works and it’s how church fellowship works. There are those like Stephanas who ought to be recognised because they love the Lord, and then anyone who wants to take the words of this letter with hate can reconsider where they stand with the Lord.

“My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s letter of rebuke ends with a message of love. How people respond to this letter will depend on their love of the Lord! Paul hopes that they will respond with the advice of Verse 13 just as the relationship between Apollos and Paul is preserved on the basis of watchfulness, faith, hope and love. (I have aligned hope with courage and strength because it is based on how hope in the Lord for deliverance).

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Fellowship in the Lord’s work is made possible when the church loves the Lord. Giving financially, being flexible with plans, caring for the weak and respecting the strong and working through different perspectives can all be made possible when we love the Lord. Our faith is not dependant on the church but the church exists and thrives on the energy of faith. We are not alone. We are the church of God. Anybody who does not pursue love for the Lord can consider themselves not part of the church.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Planning to invest in the work of the Lord. When you are part of the church of God, our whole lives are given to the work of the Lord. Romans 6 says that we have died and now live for Christ. Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and money. So, what shall we do? Consider everything as though it belongs to God and make life decisions about how you use your money! With your salary, some of it shall be used for daily living, some of it to save for something, and some of it for giving! The rule is to be generous in all things (1 Tim 6:18; 2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Paul equates the gift of the gospel with riches given to us by God – not a prosperity gospel but that we now have everything we need in Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul had to write the Corinthians so that they would begin to save for the time that Paul came to collect their gift. Saving and giving are both conscious decisions. Spending is a piece of cake! But giving is a spiritual discipline which flows from our response to God’s great gift to us! Without sharing details of income and giving, take time to reflect on what approach people have to getting behind the work of God financially. Note that the church you are a part of is not the only place that you can give money too but it is an important place to give – because we are working on mission together.

Topic B: Dealing with differences without division. The church is filled with people who think differently, have different perspectives and different aims and goals. But when each member shares the same core truth of serving the Lord in all that we do, then these differences will not be about gospel issues but about which is best next. When people have a different view on something (as Apollos and Paul did) it is important to discuss it – otherwise we break fellowship and perhaps assume why the other person is acting in a different way. We need to share points of view, to listen and understand before differences flame into feuds. Then, we ought to go back to the basics of Who is LORD, Who’s kingdom are we serving, be on our guard against the devil taking advantage of us, stand for the faith, trust in God who delivers and then proceed with love.

Topic C: Inside the church or outside the faith. People say that you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. Of course there is a slither of truth to this since going to church does not make everybody Christian. But when we individually turn to Christ then Christ directs us to community. Paul expects that those who love the Lord will even take a stern rebuke and still remain friends. He expects that the church be filled with Christ-centred souls who love one another on the basis that Christ has loved them. Paul send his love to all of you in Christ Jesus. It wasn’t just to those people he liked but his fellowship is immediately handed out to those who call on the name of the LORD to be saved. Being part of our church is more than just being present when you can. We encourage all to 

  1. know God through Jesus Christ, 
  2. to be a regular member of a church service to encourage the people of God, 
  3. Be connected to a Growth Group. This is not always easy. But these are designed to help the people of God to grow in their faith together and to nurture one another in faith and life.
  4. Be serving at church in a ministry. This may be operating the screens in church, serving in a kid’s program, visiting members at home, praying and many other ministry.
  5. Be active in mission. Praying for at least one other person is where we begin. As a church, we also support local, national and overseas missionaries. But we also encourage one another to be missionaries where we are at.

Being on board at church looks like this. What do you think?

Luke 21:1-4

The truth about generosity

Discussion Question

What is the smallest coin that you would stop and pick up off the ground as you past by? This question opens up the discussion of wealth and value if some say that anything below, say, 20c (or $1) is not worth picking up.

Background

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in Chapter 19 he was surrounded by a crowd who praised God for him. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were not happy with the crowd’s reception of him nor the way that Jesus rebuked the practices in the temple. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus gone but feared the many who loved and respected him.

The church leaders approached Jesus three times in Chapter 19 to challenge him, trap him or mock his theology. Jesus responded to each confrontation with wisdom that was not refuted. He closed Chapter 20 with a description of the teachers of the law as those who like to strut like beautiful birds, loved and praised and respected by all and yet they devour widows’ houses. They are not to be trusted.

Read Luke 20:45-21:4

45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

 

21 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

What did you see?

Structure

  • Jesus describes the evil of the teachers of the law (20:45-47)
  • What Jesus saw (21:1-2)
  • What Jesus said about it (21:3-4)

Jesus describes the evil of the teachers of the law (20:45-47)

See the notes from the previous section which both concludes the challenges to Jesus of Chapter 20 and connects us directly to the topic of Luke 21:1-4. Note especially Jesus’ description of their flowing robes and of devouring widows’ houses. Exodus 39 describes the detail of the clothing that was to be worn by those who ministered in the sanctuary, and the robe is mentioned in Verses 22-26. Exodus 35:4-29 describes the instruction for all of Israel who are willing to give, to bring an offering for the construction (and maintenance) of the tabernacle and priestly garments. What the teachers of the law wore, was the byproduct of the free-will gifts of faithful believers.

What ought the teachers of Israel be like? The opposite of course! Their prayers ought to be genuine, an act of faith rather than for show. They ought to be an example of godliness for others to imitate and follow. They ought to love and take care of the widows rather than devouring the vulnerable.

The reason for including these verses are to provide the context for the next 4 Verses. It is not a story in isolation and therefore we need to examine what we are being taught in its context.

What Jesus saw (21:1-2)

“As Jesus looked up, he saw…” It is significant that what follows in these verses is not a parable that Jesus told in order to make a point, but a narrative description of what Jesus actually saw following his dark description of the teachers of the law.

“…he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.” The first question might be, what was the temple treasury and what were the guidelines for giving to it. What was the giving spent on? Luke and the other gospel writers do not expand much on details of the giving. In the earliest years of Israel, taxes or tithes were required for the upkeep of the temple (or tabernacle) and for the Levites since they did not have a land inheritance but were dependant on the produce of the 11 other tribes of Israel. See Deut 18:1-5; 14:22-27, also Neh 10:32-39. We should conclude as little as the text suggests for us to come away with. There was a receptacle (perhaps 13 according to Josephus the Jewish historian) intended for free will offerings going into the temple funds. See Exodus 35 and 39 as mentioned in the previous section. The gifts were meant to be free-will gifts.

What we should not miss is the continuing theme of paying tribute which began in Luke 20:9-16, continued in Luke 20:21 and completes its journey in this passage. God the Father has sent his son who is being rejected by the teachers of the law. These teachers are not working for God’s kingdom but are walking around with flowing robes and devouring widows. While a poor widow is giving all that she has to God.

Note that Jesus is not condemning the rich for giving gifts. They will simply be used as a comparison to the poor widow’s giving later. The fact that the gifts are going into the temple treasury is significant and we’ll reflect more on that later.

“He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.” The key features of this sentence is the emphasis on poor and the very small amount of money that was offered. It is plain to see in the english but ought to be emphasised. They are two lekma which, guess what, are two very small insignificant coins.

So, before we move to what Jesus has to say about this, let’s consider the THREE things that Jesus has seen. 1) a poor widow giving money to the temple treasury, 2) rich people also giving to the same account and 3) the teachers of the law (the priests) strutting around in flowing robes, looking praiseworthy but all the while ripping off widows.

What Jesus said about it (21:3-4)

“Truly I tell you…” Whenever Jesus starts a sentence like this, he means something like, ‘I kid you not’ or ‘let me be quite frank about this.’ He really means for us to listen to what he says and pay attention.

“…this poor widow has put in more than all the others…she [gave] out of her poverty…” This statement from Jesus leads many to conclude that the point of this passage is to encourage generous giving. Giving is not about the actual amount but about the sacrifice made by the giver. This lady represents someone who puts more value in the kingdom of God than she does in her own stomach. In this case, she certainly stands as a mascot for sacrificial giving. In support of this conclusion we recall the teaching of Jesus to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. We can see that she is denying herself.

In contrast, we see, not only the rich who are giving (and presumably only enough to still be referred to as rich), but those who are walking around in their flowing robes because of the generosity of people like this widow. Where is the kingdom heart of the teachers of the law? Jesus has accused them of devouring widows. Is this what he has in mind? Exodus 22:22; Deut 10:18; 14:29; 24:17, 19-21; 26:12-13 – these verses highlight the importance of looking after widows at the same time as looking after the Levites. This widow ought not to have only two mites to her name. The Law of Moses does not prescribe a system where the poor give their last money to the temple. This is the perfect illustration of how the teachers of the law had no right to be in such positions of power. They were not seeking the kingdom of God and ought to look at that poor widow with shame. She has done infinitely better than any of them.

What did we learn?

The teachers of the law had seen Jesus of Nazareth and made every attempt to derail him, rather than give him the honour he is due. The poor widow demonstrates how corrupt the whole system had become, how unlike the kingdom of God the leaders were behaving and how hypocritical they were for happily taking from the rich and oppressed alike while failing to do their task in humility and justice – especially the task of seeing Jesus as Lord.

Now what?

Topic A: Why do we give? Surely we give because we see a need and believe it to be worth supporting. If it is not something that the world needs, unless by law you are required to give anyway, then perhaps we ought not give to it. In the Old Testament, God instructed Israel to build the tabernacle and described how it would be furnished and how the ministers would be clothed. The centre of the Old Testament faith was obeying God when he knew where and how the forgiveness of sins would take place. The Levites had no means for self-funding and so the community were to provide for them. Widows and orphans and foreigners lacked any land ownership and so they were to be provided for also. The New Testament teaches us that we no longer require a specially furnished place or priests for the forgiveness of sins since Christ is the Temple and the sacrifice! In Galatians 6:1-10, Paul describes the importance of carrying your own load as well as helping others with their load. He draws together the burden of sin and of the cost of living as if it is all part of the same bucket. We are in it together. But not like a commune where everybody shares the wealth. More like an other-person-centred community where we honestly care about one another’s spiritual walk and daily needs. If you see something necessary in this world which does not have the means to support itself, then get behind it.

Topic B: How much should we give? Putting a figure on this is a-kin to declaring that your money is yours except for the bit that you give to God. 1 Timothy 6:6-7 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” These two verses go hand in hand. Living for God and being content with that decision is great gain – we surrender everything knowing that the kingdom of God is greater than anything we have acquired on this earth between cradle and grave.

Topic C: Are we the poor or the wealthy? With so much ‘stuff’ we have all around us, it is easy to feel the weight of money-trouble. We can feel poor because we have debt! Perhaps we gather and own so much because we a) worry about tomorrow as if God is not really in control of it or b) we do not have the resurrection hope in our minds when we live day to day. Luke 21:1-4 does not teach us how much we ought to give but it does illustrate a woman who invested in the kingdom of God over her own kingdom. Jesus spoke clearly about choosing which kingdom to live for in Matthew 6:19-24. The widow may not have seen herself as poor in kingdom currency.

Luke 20:20-26

The Truth About Tax

Discussion Question

Where would you be without a) tap water, b) road rules, c) God?

Background

At the end of Chapter 19, Jesus and his ever-growing crowd of followers entered Jerusalem on a journey that we have been following since Chapter 9. Even before entering the gates of Jerusalem, the Pharisees wanted to silence any idea that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah (Luke 19:39). As Chapter 20 began, Jesus spoke in a parable of a vineyard owner who sent his son to be respected by the farmers who were looking after the vineyard. The son was, of course, rejected and killed by the farmers. The topic of acknowledging and respecting the rightful ruler has come into focus. The teachers of the law and chief priests who heard that parable began to plot how to arrest Jesus without becoming hated by the multitude who loved Jesus.

Read Luke 20:20-26

20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Pretending to be sincere (20)
  • It’s a trap! (21-25)
  • Keeping their trap shut (26)

Pretending to be sincere (20)

“Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies…” Who are the ‘they’? Verse 19 is the closest identity to match with the pronoun: The teachers of the law and the chief priests. They were looking for a way to arrest Jesus. They couldn’t just walk up and arrest him because he was so popular and they feared the people. These are folk in high positions when it comes to teaching the Laws of Moses and leading the people in the ways of the LORD but they were clearly at the mercy of the crowd. Their power was being threatened by Jesus since people were hanging on his every word. So, rather than stand up for the Law as they read it, they sent spies to seek to trap Jesus. Their plan was to be ready for Jesus to say or do the wrong thing so that they could strip him of his followers and remove him.

“…who pretended to be sincere.” You know, it’s very possible to blend into any crowd as long as you know how to mimic others. It would seem that most people following Jesus were sincere about their reasons for being with him. But these spies only pretended sincerity. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. See Acts 20:28-30.

“…so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.” Reflect on that and see the irony. With their authority over the people of God (the Jews), they had to send in spies to pretend to be sincerely listening to Jesus so that they could catch him in his words and then – hand him over to the governor who had power to execute or imprison. They couldn’t catch him with any heresy and so they try to catch him saying something against the human authorities. If they had to resort to that, then why couldn’t they concede that this man speaks the words of God! It’s difficult at this point to work out who these Jewish leaders are actually serving! Are they even pretending to be sincere about serving Yahweh? Who do they wish to serve?

So, the scene is set and the characters introduced and the question is: how will they catch Jesus out? Will Jesus see through the trickery?

It’s a trap! (21-25)

“Teacher, we know…” Lies.

“…you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They lie about what they know but there is truth in the lie. Jesus was all that. But Jesus was more than that too. His teaching was not just the way of God but that he had the authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:17-26)! The spies, being insincere, do not realise who they are speaking with. They are likely to be buttering Jesus up. Flattery will get you everywhere – unless you are speaking with Jesus. But in their flattery they have mentioned that he speaks without partiality – or favouritism. Wouldn’t it follow that he will not respond to their flattery? They are hoping that Jesus will endorse an anti-government philosophy because he is an impartial speaker of following God! Caesar is not the true ruler of Israel. Only God is! This may have been their expected response. But God’s kingdom is not in competition with any rulers of this age. They are different categories of kingdoms!

“Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” They request a right or wrong answer – yes or no. Is it wrong to pay taxes to Caesar? Is it lawful for a Jew to pay taxes to Caesar? Should, by the command of God, a Jew rebel against a Gentile ruler? Who, after all, is this Caesar to God? This is the question they hope to trap Jesus with. The question is loaded because of their introduction to the question. “You are an immovable champion of God, Jesus. What do you want to say to Caesar?” It will only need a response like, “There is no ruler but Yahweh” for the spies to get what they came for. The commentator BOCK paraphrases their question and intent as “Is it right for us Jews to pay this tax to Caesar or not? Are God’s people exempt from paying such a tax to a foreign power? Jesus, are you loyal to Israel, looking for its independence, or should we knuckle under to Rome?”

“He saw through their duplicity and said…” That is, Jesus knew that this was a trap. He perceived their trickery. They were pretending to be sincere in their question but were really trying to catch Jesus by his answer. There need not be any supernatural gift read into this but certainly we concede that Jesus was no fool.

“Show me a denarius.” This was a common coin often representing a single day’s wage. It included a picture of Caesar on it and words such as “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of divine Augustus.” On the other side, according to BOCK, his mother Livia portrayed as an incarnation of the goddess of peace and the inscription “high priest.” These images and words may, to a devout Jew and even a devout keeper of the Laws of Moses, have been offensive.

“Whose image and inscription are on it?” This response from Jesus may have had the spies excited at first. To highlight that there is an image of Caesar with words that promoted him as something higher than a man – a god even! Wow! Jesus, who will not show favouritism and who speaks the true words of God may go Exodus 20:4 or 23 on them. But his request to present a coin will backfire on them…

“…give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” They were easily able to produce a coin out of their purse which represented fair trade in the Roman kingdom. The spies were quite happy to carry these coins on themselves and trade under that currency. If you make use of something, honour where it is from and respect what is expected in return. So, pay the tax if you carry the coin and if you breath oxygen, then use your lungs to praise God. More than that, it is not just the coin that carries an image on it – humans all have been created in the image of God (Gen 1:26). So, when Jesus says, ‘give back to … God what is God’s’ then surely it is a rebuke for all of the image-bearers of God to render their lives to Him!

Jesus says very little here to explore the difference between church and state or to create a thorough and conclusive doctrine of government and human authority. But he is certainly not teaching us to be politically insubordinate. Romans 13:1-7 gives us the words of Paul (and the Spirit) on this matter of paying taxes. Some will build a thorough model of a Godly society that establishes a government or monarchy that has been ordained by God. This does not mean that kings and queens and politicians are somehow unique in God’s view of the world. Good kings and evil kings are equally ordained to be in office. No law is given with respect to rebelling under evil government – only narratives in the books of Exodus and Daniel and so on. Paying taxes is not a mandatory law from God. The principal given in Luke 20 and Romans 13 is that we exist in community and we cannot enjoy the benefits of that community while rebelling at the same time.

The other side of this coin is the rebuke from Jesus that his hearers need to give to God what is God’s. What exactly is that? Respect? Honour? Praise? Thankfulness? Repentance? Sorrow? Humility? Micah 6:8. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. We cannot do that naturally because of our love for rebellion (going it alone without giving to God what is God’s) and so Jesus has become our righteousness, humbling himself to die for us in the greatest act of mercy ever seen. Jesus describes later in Luke 20 how horribly the leaders of Israel act (Luke 20:46-47. They are hypocrites like the spies that they sent to trap Jesus. Honesty before God and responding to Jesus as the Son, the sacrificial Lamb of God – this is what God desires. We don’t come to God to trap him. We come to God to confess our rebelliousness. We come to God to surrender the throne of our lives to his rule.

Keeping their trap shut (26)

“They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public.” Mission failure for the spies who were sent to trap Jesus. They came to catch him, they heard his excellent and faultless answer and went away unchanged by him.

“And astonished by his answer, they became silent.” Having failed to trap Jesus they were left standing with their traps shut. We are told that they were astonished by his answer. They must have thought they would have him either way! If he promotes paying taxes then people will dislike this. If he gives and anti-Caesar answer, then they have him on treason! Win-win! But his answer remains impartial to Caesar and to these spies, remains true to God and challenges people to honour God with their lives. It certainly rebukes the trappers to think carefully about what they will do with the One Whom God has sent.

What did we learn?

Some will listen to the words of Jesus and no matter what he says will not respond with worship. These spies illustrate those who do not come to Jesus to learn but to close him down, shut him out and trap him into hypocrisy, heresy or anti-humanity. Jesus challenges us to see clearly who is really in charge and give honour due to the One who rules.

Now what?

Topic A: If Jesus spoke what is right, impartially, in accordance with the truth about God… then how ought we respond to this man from Nazareth? And if God has created us in his own image, how ought we respond to him? We are bound to God inherently because of the way we are created, and how much more ought we give back to God because he is an upright, holy, sincere, generous and impartial God! This is not just his world and so give to him because you must (like paying taxes) but give to him because he is good!

Topic B: Being conscious of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not all who attend our Christian gatherings, sing with us or even serve alongside us are truthfully born again. It can be difficult to spot sometimes. But what should we do about this? Acts 20:28-30 warns us to keep watch and for leaders in the church particularly to stay alert as overseers. Jesus refuted these spies with exactly what they asked for, that is, truth without partiality. We are not to say what people want us to say but are to stick to the gospel truth and give to God what is God’s.

Topic C: Paying taxes. The point of this passage is not to declare a God ordained rule that taxes are a sure thing in life. The message from Jesus is to respect and honour those in authority. He does not endorse or expect a quiet rebellion from his sincere followers. On the contrary, we ought to be the first to give to the government what is expected of us as citizens in this land.