Tax time is something that most of us dread—working our way through those forms and paying our taxes! What does God say about paying taxes?
It’s been said that two things are certain in life: death and taxes, neither of which people look forward to. Soon after the turn of the year millions of us in the United States start to work on something that is about as much fun as having a tooth pulled.
According to RandomHistory.com, there is no known civilization in history that did not tax. Even the very first known civilization, the Sumerians, recorded their tax history on clay cones.
Taxes are what some call a “necessary evil.” After all, we daily use services that make life more convenient or safe. We drive on roads or highways with signs and lights that regulate traffic flow. We’re thankful to have the services of emergency personnel when there’s an accident or dangerous situation.
Taxes in the Bible?
We’re admonished to come out of this world and not participate in some of its systems, such as politics. Does that include the paying of taxes?
Early in the Gospel record, we find Joseph and Mary submitting to a decree by the emperor of Rome to register their names. Normally, taxation followed such a registering of a household.
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child” (Luke 2:1-5).
We can see that the stepfather of the future Savior of mankind was willing to pay taxes, even to one of the most ruthless governments in history. And God used Joseph’s willingness to obey to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
“Render unto Caesar”
Jesus wisely avoided their trap and showed the need to pay both taxes to the civil government (represented by Caesar) and tithes to God.During Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees tried to trap Him by getting Him and the disciples in trouble with the authorities about paying taxes.
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’” (Matthew 22:15-17).
Notice His response was an admonition to pay taxes:
“But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, ‘Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 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 God’s’” (Matthew 22:18-21).
Jesus wisely avoided their trap and showed the need to pay both taxes to the civil government (represented by Caesar) and tithes to God.
“Taxes to whom taxes are due”
After Jesus’ death and the beginning of His Church, this same teaching continued.
The Roman Empire was not always just in its rulings, but it did provide some semblance of law and order. The apostle Paul exhorted Christians to submit to the laws and authority of the civil government.
“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” (Romans 13:1-2).
He went on to say, “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” (verses 5-7).
As we benefit from many of the services provided by man’s government that are paid for out of our taxes, it is only right that we help pay for these. While we now live in this world, under its governments, we should abide by its laws so long as they do not conflict with the higher laws of God and our worship of God (Acts 5:29).
Pay your taxes and give thanks to God
When we complete our tax returns, in many cases we need to include a check to pay the remaining taxes due.
I’d like to suggest that when you do so, you read what God inspired Moses to record, and then give thanks to God.
You might be thinking, “What! I’m paying all these taxes, and you’re suggesting I give God thanks?” But consider if there are parallels between what the nation of Israel experienced and the blessing you have received.
God freed a nation of people who were slaves in the land of Egypt and brought them to a land to receive for their own. He told them that if they would obey and serve Him, that He would bless them abundantly. Once they began to enjoy those bountiful blessing, they were to acknowledge the One who had given them the blessings by taking some of the produce of the land to His priests.
“And it shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. And you shall go to the one who is priest in those days, and say to him, ‘I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the country which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’
“Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 26:1-4).
And then the one bringing the offering was to reflect on how God had delivered and blessed him.
“And you shall answer and say before the LORD your God: ‘My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the LORD God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, “a land flowing with milk and honey”; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O LORD, have given me.’
“Then you shall set it before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God” (verses 5-10).
Though we can view the paying of taxes as a negative thing, we need to realize it is because we have received an income and blessings that we can and should pay what we owe.
Many don’t have to pay taxes
A number of years ago, a fellow minister and I were traveling down a highway in Nigeria. We came to a section where there were some Nigerian women and children standing just off the edge of the pavement in ragged clothes with their hands stretched out. The minister I was with, who had been there several times before, asked our driver to stop. He then took a handful of coins to pass out the window to them.
I learned they were lepers trying to get a little money for food from the passing cars.
So, as you take care of your annual tax responsibility, take a few minutes to express your thanks to God for your physical blessings and pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom when all the world will enjoy much greater blessing under the government of Jesus Christ.These poor lepers didn’t have to pay any taxes.
A few years later, I was in the impoverished African country of Zimbabwe conducting a religious meeting with a group of its citizens who were members of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. In this group was a younger widow living in a hut with only a dirt floor. Her meager possessions consisted of only a few pots and pans. Her husband had died in the past year. She was left alone to take care of her four young children.
She timidly raised her hand and asked a question that was on her mind. In that culture, a dowry was part of marriages and would be set aside so that if something happened to the husband, there would be something for the widow to survive on. But it was very important to her that she live a life that was right before God. She asked if she should tithe on the dowry her husband had left her. I informed her this was not be tithable income.
She also didn’t pay taxes.
Such stories could continue without end. Multiple millions today live on an income less than $100 a year. Those of us in the Western world who face what we see as an onerous task each year of tax preparation and payment should realize how many people would happily trade places with us—thankful to have income on which to pay taxes.
Though few understand it, most of us in the English-speaking world enjoy the abundance of national blessings because of God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants. (For more on this, download our booklet The United States, Britain and the Commonwealth in Prophecy.) Compared to so many around the earth, we are tremendously blessed and would be viewed by them as quite wealthy.
One of the prophecies directed to Abraham’s descendants speaks of the loss of those blessings because they failed to obey and give thanks to the One who gives us these blessings.
“Moreover all these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.
“And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever. Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you” (Deuteronomy 28:45-48).
So, as you take care of your annual tax responsibility, take a few minutes to express your thanks to God for your physical blessings and pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom when all the world will enjoy much greater blessing under the government of Jesus Christ.