Friday, January 16, 2009

Should We Pay Taxes?

It’s that time of year…income tax time. Between now and April 15 we will all have to face the music and send in our income tax forms. But you might be surprised to discover that the topic of taxes was as controversial in Jesus’ day as it is today. We see this exemplified in Mark 12:13-17. A group of “Sadducees” (who did not believe in miracles or in a future resurrection); “Pharisees” (who were strict traditionalists who held to every letter of the Mosaic Law and of the 615 additional traditional laws) and “Herodians” (who were loyal supporters of the Roman government) try to trap Jesus with a trick question which would cause him to speak ill-advisedly or to make an unguarded statement. There insincerity is clear. They used flattery to try to lure Jesus into their trap by calling Him truthful; One who deferred to no one (even Caesar); One who was not partial to anyone (not even Caesar); and One who taught truthfully the Word of God. Jesus obviously sees through their flattery and recognizes their hypocrisy and evil motives by his question, “Why are you testing Me?” (v15)

The inquiry of this group concerned if it was lawful to pay a poll tax to Caesar? Should they pay it or refuse to pay it? This was a census tax that was imposed by Rome on all Jews that went directly into the Emperor’s treasury. It was a very hostile topic which had led to earlier revolts. Rome also required other taxes including an annual land tax of 1/10 of all grain, wine and oil; a 1% income tax on all wage earners; and a customs tax on all merchandise traveling through ports and other major crossroads. How was this a trap? To say “yes” would result in charging Jesus as being disloyal to Judaism. To say “no” would result in His being denounced to and by the Romans.

But Jesus was no match for this trap. He asked to see a denarius to use as an object lesson. This was the only coin that could be used to pay the poll-tax. Jesus asked whose likeness and inscription was on the coin to which the answer was given that it was Caesar’s. By asking and receiving this answer, Jesus was showing the legitimacy of Caesar and Rome as their governmental authority. Based on this, Jesus’ first instruction was for them to “render to Caesar the things which were Caesar’s.” To “render” means to pay back, showing that taxes are a legitimate way for the government to receive back for services provided the people. Now if the government that crucified Christ was worthy of receiving taxes, how much more is our government worthy of the same today?

Jesus’ second instruction was that we are also to “render to God the things which are God’s” Every believer is also obligated to perform his spiritual duties, after all, consider the benefits of being under the authority of God. Paying taxes is not a violation of one’s spiritual obedience, but Jesus did make a decisive distinction between Caesar and God. Christians ought to be known as those who are quickest to honor, obey and pray for all authorities in their life, in spite of the individual who may hold that position of authority over us! By the way, what is the image of God upon? Us! We were made in the image of God. So we should give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s (our taxes) but we should give to God that which is His (our lives)!

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