Hidden Nuggets Series #83 – “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” – Matthew 22:21
Talking about taxes sets our blood to a boil. We don’t like that we work so hard only to see that much money taken from each paycheck. “Isn’t there a way to avoid it?” we ask.
That question should raise alarm bells for everyone. While certain maneuvers with money are legal, many others are not. If we are not careful, that question can lead us down a path of handling our money in a way that we might regret one day.
Like so many other life issues, I filter my attitude about paying taxes through my worldview – which includes my faith. It may surprise you to know the Bible does speak about taxes and encourages a specific response to those who claim to be followers of Jesus.
Jesus’ Discussion of Taxes in the Bible
Jesus spoke about taxes in the Bible in two different situations. The first answers the question, “Did Jesus pay taxes?” We find the answer in Matthew 17:24-27:
“When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?’
He [Peter] said, ‘Yes.’ And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, ‘What do you think Simon [Peter]? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?’
Peter said to Him, ‘From strangers.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free.’
“Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
It’s interesting to note in this passage why Jesus chose to pay the temple tax. As a spiritual teacher he should have been exempt. However, the religious leaders of his day did not recognize his authority as a spiritual teacher of the people. So even though he didn’t have to pay his tax Jesus chose to so as not to offend them.
Jesus was concerned how the people viewed him. As a follower of his that’s something I should be concerned about as well. In being so I pay taxes for the sake of my personal testimony of faith.
Another discussion of taxes in the Bible centers on the Pharisees. One day they approached Jesus with a scenario designed to trap him. They asked a straightforward question,
“Tell us, therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17)
This was truly a dicey situation. If Jesus responds by saying “No” the Pharisees can have him arrested for speaking out against Rome. If he says “Yes” they believe he will be rejected as the Messiah by the Jewish people who were none to fond of Rome. Jesus has really been put in a situation where the religious leaders think there is no escape.
Perceiving their deception Jesus calmly responds in a way they were not expecting. He said,
“…Show me the tax money.’ So they brought Him a denarius.
And he said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’
They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are Gods.’”
Based on these two accounts it’s evident Jesus taught his followers in words and in deeds to pay the taxes that were due the government. It was not something to intentionally avoid.
Pay Taxes in Submission to God Ordained Authority
Paying taxes in the Bible resurfaces later in the New Testament writings of Paul. In the book of Romans we find these words written to the Roman believers:
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
“Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves…
“…Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.
“For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.
“Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:1-2, 5-7)
In this passage Paul is not advocating that believers should obey every law. Clearly a government could pass laws that are in conflict with a Christian worldview. However, as much as possible we are to respect and comply with those laws where we can. And as you can see from the text, one of the situations he cites relates to the paying of taxes.
But What About…?
We all have “but what about…?” scenarios where we think that it’s wrong to pay taxes for some reason. I live with a CPA so I know how tricky these situations can get.
I don’t see any teaching from the Bible that says we can avoid taxes altogether. Put the above verses together and it seems clear we have an obligation to pay taxes based on the authority vested in governments to institute applicable tax laws.
However, there are no instructions about the morality of reducing one’s tax burden. As long as an individual is working within the framework of applicable tax law, they would not be violating Scripture to lessen the amount of taxes they pay.
But therein lies the rub for most people. “What’s legal?” and “What can I get away with?” are the two questions we ask at tax time. Those are the wrong questions to ask when making a decision. Those questions allow us to walk right up to the edge of indiscretion into some very gray areas. In many cases, we’ll cross the line if there is little chance of us getting caught (i.e. not reporting cash revenue from work).
Those strategies may save you money but they won’t leave you with a clean conscience.
You’ll clearly have to think through your own tax paying strategy. From my standpoint as a follower of Jesus, it’s a matter of personal testimony and obedience. Yes, I don’t care to pay so much in taxes but the potential consequences – both spiritual and personal – are far worse.
Questions: What do you think about these Biblical teachings on taxes? Do you think it’s OK to reduce your tax burden by legal means? Do you think governments have gone overboard in taxing people? What can we do about taxes if we don’t like what our government representatives are passing into law?