Taxation is a challenging extension of this chapter. Nowhere is the average believer more tempted to bend their integrity than filing their tax return. The Bible gives simple and straightforward advice in this area.
“Tell us therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar or not? But Jesus perceived their malice and said, ‘Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?’ ‘Show me the coin used for the poll-tax.’ And they brought Him a denarius. And he said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:17-21, See Also: Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:22-26)
“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient.” (Titus 3:1)
Jesus keeps the answer to the question of taxation simple--render what is due. Be obedient, pay your taxes. Regardless of your convictions, disagreements, or frustrations with the government or tax structure, what is due is still due. Reread the passage from Matthew and simply replace the word “Caesar” with “Uncle Sam.” If you have a reason for disagreement with our current government, the Jews had far more. The Romans were a militant government that conquered and controlled Israel at the time of Christ. They were a foreign, imperial power that the Lord (in His sovereignty) knew would be putting Christians to death in a few short years, yet He still called the Israelites to render what was due.
Our honesty on April 15th is not optional. This idea was also picked up by Paul and Peter.
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves…Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13:1-2,5-7)
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors…For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” (1 Pet. 2:13-15)
“Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due.” Deduct, exempt, claim, and write-off, with painstaking integrity. Do not deceive yourself: “Whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” There is no relaxation of God’s moral standards in the context of taxation. The Lord doesn’t look the other way on April 15th. This type of thinking is selfish and immature. It has always surprised me how many believers cheat on their taxes, fudge numbers, and don’t report income, yet pray for the Lord to bless their business, investments, and financial life in general. The audacity of such a request is shameful. This moral disconnect should not be found among the people of God. Solomon said, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Prov. 28:13) If you have cheated on your taxes, find compassion by confessing and forsaking such a transgression.
Christians must be marked with the highest form of honesty because we are submitting “for the Lord’s sake…that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” It is not the IRS the believer should be worrying about, but rather the impact that a lack of integrity on our part could have on the cause of Christ. When we make light of the moral implications of dishonesty on our tax return, our accountant makes light of Christianity.
In a somewhat related situation, Christ models this very principle to us with clarity. The Christian must recognize both the seen and unseen impact of their financial actions.
“When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’ When Peter said, ‘From strangers,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are exempt. However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” (Matt. 17:24-27)
The tax being discussed here is a temple tax paid to the Lord, which is why Jesus explains that He was exempt. Even though Christ was exempt, He recognizes the impact of His actions on others and pays the tax. As Christians, we must be aware of this principle and the high calling our financial obligations present to us. Believers must recognize that the world is watching the way we handle our money. May all Christians be as mindful as our Lord and Savior--to be willing to go beyond what we are obligated for the sake of another’s conscience.
Simply as a matter of curiosity, you might have wondered why the tax structure in America does not tax ministers. The idea comes from the Judeo-Christian roots of our country. This type of tax was not permitted in the Old Testament: “We also inform you that it is not allowed to impose tax, tribute or toll on any of the priests, Levites, singers, doorkeepers, Nethinim or servants of this house of God.” (Ezra 7:24)