This is the time of year we are beginning t0 receive tax forms from various financial entities. It reminds us that April 15 is coming, to get our records together and file our income taxes. And then pay up!
While we may grumble to some extent about taxes, the waste of government and the supposed inequities in the system, taxes are necessary.
In my Bible reading this week, I was reminded it’s nothing new. Even in Bible times taxes were an issue for God’s people. The Pharisees and the Herodians asked Jesus, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
Jesus’ answer was classic: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk. 12:17)
It is ironic that these two groups would join forces with a common question. The Herodians supported the house of Herod and the Roman rule. The Pharisees regarded Herodians as “evil usurpers of the throne of David.” They resented the Roman occupation of Palestine. And opposed the poll tax.
But they had a common enemy. Jesus. They were trying to trap him. Mark says they were trying “to catch him in his words.” But Jesus knew their hearts and was aware of their hypocrisy.
His response was “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” Then he asked, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
“Caesar’s,” they all had to admit.
Jesus’ deft retort let them all amazed. But his answer was more than a snappy comeback. As Warren Wiersbe observed, “Jesus moved the discussion from politics to principle and caught the hypocrites in their own trap.”
Through the years I have encountered some Christians who object to paying taxes because they disagree with the way our tax dollars are used. They point to the support of programs they find morally objectionable as a defense. Some have even gone so far as saying, we are not responsible to obey and support a corrupt government.
Apparently, they’ve never seriously considered the words of Jesus. We live in a country where we are protected by its freedoms. We receive wages with the inscription of our nation’s presidents and patriots. We use the United States postal system. Drive on roads built and maintained by tax dollars. And take advantage of social services and governmental programs. We cannot divorce ourselves from the reach of “the powers that be.”
Thus, we are told to “render unto Caesar.” That means “to pay a debt, to pay back.” Our tax money provides fire and police protection. Supports our military. Cares for the indigent and underprivileged in our communities. And it pays the salaries of those who administer those programs. Some of whom are Christians.
While we may not agree with all elected officials or their policies and programs, we are duty bound as disciples of Christ to pay the taxes we lawfully owe. When we meet our obligations as citizens we are obeying God. The Bible states the governmental authorities that exist are “appointed by God.” When we resist, we are disrespecting God (Rom. 13:1-2).
When we try to justify disobedience due to the corruption and immorality of our leaders, imagine being a Christian in New Testament times. Paganism was widely practiced. The Governors were corrupt. Many of the Roman Emperors were homosexuals and even pedophiles. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote the Emperor Tiberius, who was in power during Jesus’ day, retired to the island of Capri to engage in “wanton sexual pleasure” with young boys and girls.
“To render unto Caesar” is to accept that our spiritual commitments involve secular responsibilities. Christians are called to be honest, honorable and ethical. To fail in this regard is to dishonor our King–Jesus Christ.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman