Taxes and God
Taxes and God
“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
No one wants to pay taxes. Come tax season, we all complain about the taxes we must pay. There are even some who refuse to pay, claiming it is unconstitutional. However, we are no different from the people of Jesus’s day. Seeking the trap Jesus in a problem, the Pharisees and the Herodians approached Jesus and asked him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees and Herodians were normally bitter enemies. The Pharisees were strict adherents to Jewish law and deeply resented the rule of the Romans. They saw Herod, who was not a Jew, as a usurper to the throne and an illegitimate king. The Herodians, on the other hand, were compromisers. They accepted and collaborated with Herod and the Romans to gain political power and prestige. The only thing the Herodians and the Pharisees could agree upon was that Jesus had to be removed. The fact that they came together hints that something is up. They are collaborating to set a trap for Jesus. The question they ask is designed to place Jesus in an impossible position. If he approves of the tax and sides with the Herodians, then he will conflict with the Jewish people. If he agrees with the Pharisees, Jesus will conflict with the ruling power of the Herodians and the Romans. Either way he will become embroiled in controversy and risk alienation of the people.
When they ask the question, Jesus sees through the ruse. In response, he asks for a coin used for paying taxes. They produced a denarius, which had the portrait of Caesar upon it. In reply he then tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. In this response, Jesus affirms two things. First, he demonstrates the legitimacy of Government, even a totalitarian and unpopular government. Throughout scripture, God makes it clear that God ordains human governments and ultimately appoints the leaders for his purpose. This is not an affirmation of the character and worthiness of the individual leader but an affirmation of the legitimacy of the government they represent. Second, Jesus affirms the legitimacy of taxes. Reasonable taxation is a right of the government, for as citizens, we receive benefits from the government. Because God ultimately ordains the government and we receive benefits from the government, we are responsible for paying our taxes.
In this discussion we often overlook Jesus' following statement, that we are to give to God the things that are God’s. Jesus points out that if we are to pay our taxes for what we receive and the government's benefits, how much more should we give back to God what is legitimately his? This confronts us with the question, “What are the things that belong to God?” The answer is everything, including our life. Jesus points to the fundamental heart problem gripping the Herodians and the Pharisees. Neither one was willing to acknowledge God’s sovereign rule over their lives. They revealed that they were following their agenda rather than God’s sovereign rule by asking the question. Jesus was not a political revolutionary. Instead, he called people to a life of obedience and surrender to God’s sovereign rule. When we surrender to God’s sovereign rule, we will also surrender to his representatives in human government. When we question government and refuse to obey the laws of the government, we are ultimately rejecting God’s authority. The only time we are to disobey and reject the laws established by the government is when they directly oppose God’s word. When we pay our taxes and obey the government's laws, it serves as a reminder that we are also to obey a higher one, which is the laws of God. The one is grounded in the other. When we pay our taxes, instead of grumbling about what we deliver, let it serve as a reminder that we are ultimately to surrender all things to the authority of God and his representatives on earth. This is true whether it be the government of the nation or the leadership of a church (see Hebrews 13:17), whether in obedience to human law or obedience to God’s law. Our attitude towards one will reflect our attitude toward the other.