Monday, December 3, 2012

Render Unto Caesar… Taxes

We live in a society that expresses a great deal of complaint regarding the paying of taxes.   No one likes to pay taxes, and most feel that somehow the tax structure is putting them at a disadvantage.  Many feel like the tax system is too complex, and should be replaced with something simpler.   
In addition to these concerns, other questions arise regarding the use of tax revenues.   In many cases tax revenues are applied to programs, agencies, and bureaucracies of which many citizens may disapprove.   Some of this disapproval may be due to personal scruple or political ideology; others are the result of the funding of things which are contrary to biblical teaching.   Because of these questions, some Christians  question their responsibility to pay taxes.   Is it right and biblical for Christians to pay taxes?   Are there occasions when Christians are afforded the biblical basis to withhold the paying of their taxes?   
In truth, the answer to these questions and objections are given at the very heart of Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees concerning taxes.   The account of this event is found in Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 20:20-26, and Mark 12:13-17.    Luke records it in this way:
 So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
There are a lot of lessons that may be learned from considering these passages.  We can see the wickedness of men who used flattery in an attempt to trick the Lord.  We can see the wisdom of Christ’s answer that left the Pharisees speechless.  And, we can see the answer to the question before us now.  Jesus said “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…”     The child of God bears the responsibility to pay his taxes. 

Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Rome noted the importance of children of God to be subject to the governing authorities.   He wrote “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1).    Paul points out the reasons for this in the following verses.  He notes that one role of government is to punish evil (cf.  Romans 13:4-5).    In that vein, he penned these words “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they [the governing authorities] are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:6-7). 

The responsibility of Christians to pay taxes is clear in the context of these passages.  There is no provision made for withholding them because we may disagree with the governmental use of the revenues.   It is true that our government today funds, with tax dollars, some programs that are reprehensible.  Yet the same could be said of the Roman government during the early days of the church.     However, this was not an excuse to forego the requirement. 

 Consider an example in Jesus’ life wherein he was called upon to pay the annual temple tax.  This was a Jewish tax that was paid annually by Jewish males, and used for the preparation of the temple for the Passover season.    In Matthew 17, Jesus was teaching his disciples.  In verse 24 they came to Capernaum, and Peter was called upon to pay this tax.    The text records,  “When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?’  He said, ‘Yes’” (Matthew 17:24-25).  In  verse 27, we learn that the coin for the tax would be provided in a miraculous way, yet one point that we note is that Jesus ensured that this tax was paid. 

Think about this though, this coin went into the temple treasury.  This is the same temple that Jesus had previously cleansed, driving out those who were wicked (John 2:14-16).  He would do so again, and pronounce its destruction (Matthew 21:12-13).    This temple represented a system that would soon come to an end, and that in A.D. 70 would be utterly destroyed.    The leaders of this temple would pay 30 pieces of silver to Judas for Jesus’ life.  Yet the tax was paid.     When those collecting the tax came to Peter and asked if Jesus paid the tax, there was no long speech about how he did not pay for things that he did not support.   Peter’s answer was simply “yes.” Jesus paid his taxes, even when he may have disagreed with the intended use. 

Christians should be the best citizens, and always subject to the governing authorities “not only because of wrath, but for conscience sake” (Romans 13:5).  God has given the government its authority for a purpose.   It is the duty of Christians to submit to the authority of that government, even in the paying of taxes. For in doing so we submit to God’s authority.  “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God “  (Romans 13:1)  We see that there is no biblical bases to exclude oneself from the responsibility, even when the proceeds of those taxes fund programs which are contrary to biblical precept.   We also note that in Christ, the perfect example, we see his willingness both in teaching and practice to “render therefore to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” Can we, his followers, do any less?  

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