By Pat Knight
Soon we will be preoccupied calculating our annual Federal income tax returns, begrudgingly sending our sums to the IRS. Since most of us attempt to spend our personal funds wisely, it is baffling to accept that the big machinery of government may be using our funds inefficiently and with impunity.
Taxes have been demanded of workers for centuries. King “Solomon had twelve governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and his royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year”(1 Kings 4:7) Lest you think that a small task, the following list provides the daily requirements for feeding King Solomon’s court, totaling thousands of people:
185 bushels of flour
375 bushels of meal
10 head of stall-fed cattle
20 pasture-fed cattle
Deer, gazelle, roebucks and choice fowl (1 Kings 4:22).
In Nehemiah’s day there was a loud outcry from the people due to their astronomically high tax rates. The Jewish people were paying as much as one half of their harvest produce and a portion of their income in tithes to support the temple. Taxes placed such an extreme financial burden on some families, they were forced to mortgage their fertile fields to pay their assessment. Others in desperate situations sold their own sons and daughters into slavery. Bondservants were common during hard times when the poor, unable to pay their debts, sold themselves into slavery (Nehemiah 5:1-5). A slave could buy his freedom or another could do it for him. Such is the redemption of Christ, when He bought our sins by granting our freedom from slavery to sin.
It is estimated that during Jesus’ time the Jews were paying thirty to forty percent of their income for taxes and temple dues. No wonder the position of tax collector was so despised and the official himself deplored for padding his pockets by collecting more taxes than were actually due.
One day the Pharisees, the religious, political leaders among the Israelite people, deliberately attempted to trap Jesus by asking Him an ambiguous question. It was a verbal snare designed to destroy Jesus’ credibility, no matter how He answered. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “‘is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’”(Matthew 22:17).
Jesus responded, “‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax’” (Matthew 22:18). Jesus then asked the men to describe whose image and inscription was engraved on the coin. When the Pharisees replied to Jesus that both sides of the coin focused on Caesar, Jesus emphatically responded, “‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:21).
Jesus instructed that all people have obligations to the government as long as those demands do not conflict with their allegiance to God. The Pharisees were amazed by Jesus’ answer and left in utter defeat. They failed to acknowledge that they were daily reaping the benefits of their taxes paid to Rome by gaining access to Caesar’s currency for monetary exchange, traveling on Rome’s government subsidized highways, and enjoying of a degree of military protection and peace.
In our current culture, there are many requirements of our government that do not conflict with our obligations to God. The apostle Paul taught that the people’s main priority is dedication to God: “‘everyone should submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted’” (Romans 13:1-3).
Christians are instructed to obey laws and to respect elected officials, as a matter of civil obedience, but also for conscience’s sake (Romans 13:5). We are instructed to pay taxes and to show respect for authority, even if we are aware of corruption. Injustice and fraud likely exist in all governments, yet God rules over them all. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors (1 Peter 2:13).”
Let us readily participate in any democratic process to lessen the bureaucratic burden of tax laws. Consistent prayer, in which we ask God to advocate for change, will unleash power and potential for revision beyond any strategy man can employ.
An old adage says that two absolutes in life are death and taxes. It may seem like taxes have existed forever, but a Christian defines forever as eternal life in heaven.
The imperfection of justice in this life is the strongest proof that in the next world justice and vengeance will be fulfilled to the utmost. —David Augsburger
Let us adopt Jesus’ attitude when He was apprehended at the temple at age twelve, instructing the teachers of religious law. When questioned about His educational endeavor, Jesus responded, “‘I must be about my Father’s business’” (Luke 2:49). Who among us has the time or energy to complain about tax rates if we prioritize our life’s activities to conform to our Savior’s objectives?