Not sure where you may be reading this, but in my home province of Newfoundland, Canada, we are experiencing an unprecedented provincial budget full of new taxes.
The provincial debt has ballooned.
Taxes and fees have increased.
Services are continually being cut.
All economic classes are affected.
Tax-payers are backed into the corner of repayment.
Those seem to be the facts. After that, everyone seems to bring their particular set of circumstances to the forefront. No matter how difficult it may be, however, I’m constantly asking the question: as a follower of Jesus, how do I respond responsibly and effectively?
Christians have a responsibly to act humbly and selflessly, while respectfully making a difference.
Paying tax isn’t a new issue; neither are the problems and potential economic pain that can follow. Yes, we see it in modern history. But there are biblical examples as well.
The Jewish temple tax…
Long before Jesus’ ministry, the Jews were paying taxes to pay for their way of life, buildings, walls, and other projects. Gifts were often used, but the regular form of income was the “annual half-shekel tax” paid by all adult Jews.1 This “temple tax” was a long-time observance and continued into Jesus’ ministry (Nehemiah 10:32-33; Matthew 17:24-27).
Paying taxes to Rome…
In Jesus’ day, the Romans had economic control over the Jews. In terms of tax rates, there was very little difference between today and that of the first century Palestine. The problem was that what Rome instated and what was collected was dramatically different.
Publicans (“tax collectors”) paid Rome the instated amount and in turn collected the tax from the taxpayer and pocketed the extra. Ultimately the weight of the expenses fell on the poor.2
Jesus’ response to paying taxes…
In order to trap Jesus they asked him whether or not it was lawful to pay tribute. As many have noted, Jesus was between a rock and hard place. If he said, “yes,” then the tax-payers would hear his support of the Romans. If he said, “no,” then the Romans would charge him. This was his response:
24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. (Luke 20:24-26, ESV)
Knowing the two “tax systems” (Temple and Roman), this starts to make sense. Jesus wasn’t about to deny the system the Romans had put in place and he certainly wasn’t about to deny what God asks of his followers. However, there was a problem with their focus.
The people were more concerned over the secular than that of the sacred. Jesus’ main point, as he already stated in the gospel, “you can’t serve two masters…you can’t serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13)5 While they were trying to trap Jesus, Jesus was trying to show them their true responsibility.
Christians paying taxes today…
For the most part, when I’m in the middle of “Christian conversations” regarding taxes, I hear comments of how “it affects me.” I believe we, and I’m including myself, need to re-evaluate how we view our position on the economic scale. We very seldom think we’re in a position of wealth – there’s always someone richer. Christianity is all about selflessness and helping the poor. It’s the message of the gospel and one of the main purposes of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:18).
Jesus simply stated, “Give back to Caesar what is already Caesar’s.” The political system was created by them, so give it back to them. After all, we are called to support and submit to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7). But Jesus didn’t stop there. He also simply stated, “Give to God the things that are God’s.” We are also called to support and submit ourselves to the ministry of those around us (Acts 4:32-37).
The question isn’t if we pay tax or become upset with the amount we have to pay. That’s a given. The question is are we focused on the message of the gospel or worried about the state of our chequing account?
That’s where our re-evaluation needs to come into play.
What’s the real impact and how do we respond?
When taxes increase and services decrease, everyone is impacted in some way. Everyone will have less money in their pockets and fewer services at their disposal. But we need to ask: Am I in economic trouble or do I simply have to cut back spending?
There’s a difference, and a different response for both.
For some, the increased taxes will mean further economic trouble. Just as the poor took the weight in the New Testament, the same is very possible today. If I find myself needing financial help, I should have the confidence that God will work through fellow believers to provide the help that I need.
For others, that means finding ways to cut spending in other areas in order to fulfill our responsibility as believers. Perhaps it means helping someone with an expense, offering a free service (ie. childcare), or sending respectful correspondence to your leaders in an effort to help the marginalized. If we limit our help to things like complaining on social media, then we have already lost our impact.
In either case, we need to be honest, remain faithful with the resources we have, stand up for those who are truly impacted, and bring relief to those who need it.
Economic despair is no match for the hope of the gospel!Economic despair is no match for the hope of the #gospel! #nlbudget2016 #taxes Click To Tweet
Let’s be the Church – pay our taxes and help those in need!
- Are you in a place of economic trouble or in a place of cutting back spending?
- Are you TRUSTING in God’s provision; how is God calling you to HELP?
|⇑1||James C. VanderKam, An Introduction to Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 203.|
|⇑2||E. Badian, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993), 632, 782.|
|⇑3||What might be surprising is that the Jerusalem Sanhedrin (the Jewish temple court) was historically responsible to collect this tax. The idea: “as long as fidelity to the temple was preserved, compromises of a smaller order were justifiable.” So, in a roundabout way, these taxes included services and protection of their religious system, not just supporting the wealth of the Roman Empire.|
|⇑4||Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 712.|
|⇑5||Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 716.|