Render to Caesar

Tax day is here again. I do not know anyone who gets excited about tax day, or about paying taxes. Sure, those who get nice refund checks after filing look forward to their refund, but that is not happiness about taxes. After all, if you’re entitled to a refund, that refund simply means that the government has been holding your money for a year or so, getting an interest-free loan from you. So taxes are not fun, but they are necessary, and Christians do have a responsibility to pay them.

Perhaps the fact that I feel a need to point that out strikes you as odd, but I have actually had intelligent, well-informed and articulate Christians tell me that paying taxes is wrong, and that Christians should not pay taxes. If you’ll allow me, then, I would look to point out several examples where the New Testament very clearly instructs that Christians in fact should pay their taxes.

Probably the clearest example is found in Matthew 21. In this chapter the Pharisees are up to their favorite activity–trying to trick Jesus. Verse 15 says that they “plotted how to entangle him in his words” (ESV). How did they intend to do this? By asking Jesus this question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and their followers in His usual way, calling them hypocrites, but He proceeded to answer the question. First He asked for a coin, and He was handed a denarius. Jesus then asked those assembled whose likeness was on the coin, to which they replied that it was Caesar’s likeness. Jesus then told them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The fact that Caesar’s likeness was on the coin was indicative of the fact that the coins were issued by the government…much like coins in the U.S. say “United States of America” and “E Pluribus Unum.” Jesus was making the point that it would be foolish to accept and use money issued by the government and then refuse to pay the taxes that support the government. The issuance of money is one of those responsibilities which clearly belongs to government–then and now.

There are other passages that make it equally clear that Christians are called to submit to the government. In Titus 3, for example, Paul writes, “…[B]e submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work…” (ESV). In Romans Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2). That passage goes on for several more verses to stress the responsibility of believers to obey the government.

Now, am I saying that Christians are instructed to be supportive of the tax code regardless of how severe the tax burden may become? Of course not. Christians have the same rights as any other citizen, and perhaps even greater responsibility, to be informed, involved and influential in government affairs. In The United States, Caesar is “We the people,” and therefore we ultimately have no one to blame but ourselves for the actions of the government. Now that oversimplifies things, I know, but you get the point (I hope). We may not like the tax code, we may not like the government’s policies, and we may not like individual people who hold elected or appointed positions. In such cases we should work to bring about change, but we must still submit and obey in the meantime. Unless and until the government requires Christians to do something (or not do something) which is contrary to God’s Word, we have the responsibility to obey.

Think that Paul didn’t exactly have taxes in mind when he wrote his letter to the Italians? Read the rest of the passage: “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:5-7).

Happy Tax Day!

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