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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Taxes for the Lord's Sake

Matthew 22:15-22 (ESV)
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

The Herodians, the part of Herod, and the Pharisees didn't normally see eye to eye. They were enemies because the Herodians owed everything that had to Rome. They approved of the Roman occupation and profited from it. The Pharisees believed that Israel would become a self-governing theocracy when the Messiah returned. They believed that keeping the law meticulously would usher His coming. They believed that Roman rule was God's punishment for the unfaithfulness in keeping the law.

So, things had to be pretty serious for these two groups to unite. They both wanted one thing desperately- Jesus to be discredited among the people. He was their common foe. So, they devised a plan to trap Him in front of the people.    

The Romans required three taxes from the people. First, there was the ground tax. Each person was required to pay one tenth of their grain and one fifth of the oil and wine they produced. Some of this was paid in kind but could also be paid in a monetary equivalent.

The second tax was an income tax. This amounted to one percent of the earnings of every man.

The last tax and the one mentioned here is the poll tax. One denarius for each male age fourteen to sixty-five and each female age twelve to sixty-five was required regardless of the person's means.

Taxes are generally unpopular to everyone who pays them unless they are receiving more benefits from the taxes than they are paying out. Many politicians don't mind taxes because the taxes allow them to do as they wish. Many others get more benefits from the taxes being paid than they are paying and many don't pay any taxes at all. The latter sometimes think that more taxes need to be paid. But these taxes deal with income rather than merely existing. The poll tax was paid just for living in the country.

Every citizen receives benefits in the country in which they live. They travel the roads, drink the water, enjoy the safety and are often educated by the government of their respective countries. Christians are not exempt in these benefits nor are we exempt from paying the taxes the government asks of us.

However, I hope you can understand why this poll tax was so unpopular. The people could not understand having the same tax paid by everyone regardless of their means. They especially hated paying taxes to a foreign government. I believe we would feel the same way.

Each ruler would have his image stamped on the coins used for trade. Jesus already knew whose image would have been on the coin. No doubt, He had already paid His poll tax. He used the coin as an illustration. Currency belongs to the government which prints it. That is true even of the currency we use in the US. It is used as legal tender but ultimately belongs to the government. The image of the government is printed on it. Thus, Jesus essentially said, "Give Caesar what is his and give God what is His." (An incredible statement of the separation of church and state when you think about it.)

I am to be a good citizen of my country until that country violates any principle that infringes upon my greater allegiance to God. I give to my county what is theirs. I give to my Lord what is His.

I will carry no money into heaven with me. It will stay here because my ultimate citizenship is in heaven. I am to serve my Lord fully. That service may also be done as a service to my country. Peter tells us to "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution." (1 Peter 2:13) There is an obligation for the Lord's sake to be good citizens as far as is possible.

So, Jesus encouraged people to pay their taxes because they were due to the one whom they belonged. He pointed out the image to remind the people of this truth. But He didn't stop there. God requires much more than money. That is why I am a little distressed when people say they are giving God back a little of what they have when they tithe. All of it belongs to God. That is why we pay taxes out of it for the Lord's sake while being subject to the human institution of government.

I say all of this so you might have a different attitude as you pay your taxes this year. I hate doing my taxes. I don't like finding receipts and doing all the things in order to get the tax forms done. So, this year I have decided to take a different attitude toward it. I will pay my taxes for the Lord's sake.

1 comment:

Anthony Chia said...

What are "Caesar's", what are God's?
These, perhaps:

All our love
Accomplishments or accolades


Priority: Almighty over "Caesar"
Perspective: stewardship
Position: love not the world or anything in it

Anthony Chia, high.expressions