It’s been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. As April 15th rolls around this week, perhaps we should once again give careful consideration to our obligations toward government.
Matthew 22:15-22 records an ingenious (or so they thought) test contrived by the Pharisees to discredit the Savior in the eyes of the Jews. For many years, the Jews had debated the wisdom of paying taxes to a Roman government that was not only corrupt, but sometimes systematically persecuted the Jewish people. Additionally, the Law of Moses only prescribed taxes to be paid to the government of Israel (cf. Lev. 25-27). Nothing of consequence was said about obligations to pagan governments in the Law. From a Jewish perspective, then, it seemed rather easy to justify the practice of non-payment. After all, could it really be God’s will that His people give their hard-earned money to the corrupt and often psychotic Caesars?Could God really expect them to pay for “bad” government???
The Pharisees hoped to impale the Savior on the horns of a dilemma. If Jesus answered that the Jews should not pay taxes to Caesar, then the Pharisees could deliver Him to the Romans for inciting sedition against that government. On the other hand, if Jesus answered that the Jews were obligated to pay taxes to Rome, He could be discredited as the Messiah who most Jews thought would be their earthly King and Deliverer.
Jesus calmly took a coin from the Pharisees and asked whose face was imprinted on it. When the Jews answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).
We would do well to heed the command of Jesus today. Perhaps, like the Jews of Jesus’ day, we don’t think we’re getting “good” government for our tax money. Maybe we question the wisdom of helping pay for roads and battleships when we could “better” use that money for the Lord’s work. It’s even conceivable that our government might make some very unwise and ungodly decisions regarding our tax money. The bottom line is, Jesus told us to be good citizens, no matter how corrupt or ungodly our government may or may not be. He told Pilate (a representative of Rome) that Rome’s power to govern came from God, and He then allowed Pilate’s government to abuse its power and execute Jesus (John 19:10-11). Even Paul wrote that, “every soul should be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1-7). What’s striking about that statement was thatPaul encouraged and commanded Christians to pay taxes during the reign of Nero Caesar, one of the most violent persecutors of the early church!
Brethren, our obligation to pay taxes is part of our obligation to God. In a day when it’s relatively easy to find “loopholes” and other less-than-ethical means of shirking our duty, Jesus still reminds us to, “render unto Caesar.” The IRS may or may not bring cheaters to justice, but all of us will one day give an account to God regarding our honesty with the governments under which we live (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10-11).
Will we really be lights in a dark and ungodly world (Matt. 5:16)? Will our righteousness really be a reflection of what’s in our hearts (Matt. 5:17-48)? Christians ought to be model citizens, because we hold citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Let’s develop the character of Jesus in us as we reflect on our great hope of an eternity spent with Him! — JB