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Render To Caesar

There are few days on the calendar which everyone seems to dread. April 15, though, is probably one of those days, as it is the final deadline for paying any taxes we owe to the government for the previous year. Believe it or not, Jesus actually spoke about exactly such an issue 2000 years ago.

During the last week of His earthly life, Jesus began to confront certain religious figures in increasingly challenging ways. These folks in turn tried to test or trap Jesus into taking stances that would diminish His popularity with the people who had welcomed Him into the Jerusalem on the Sunday of that week by hailing Him as King. Because the Jewish people lived in territory that was occupied by the Roman Empire, Jesus’ opponents thought the easiest way to give Him a bad name with the people was to make Him appear to be on the side of Rome. Given this, we read verses such as those below from Mark chapter 12.

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him. Mark 12: 13 – 17 [ESV]

Those who were testing Jesus were hoping and assuming that because He was such a dedicated follower of God, He would denounce any involvement with or support of a human government. But Jesus did just the opposite. The lesson for us today is obvious. Though God should have our hearts and our lives should be focused on how we can spread God’s fame and glory, we are to be excellent citizens as well, paying all taxes and providing all service (such as jury duty) willingly and in the best manner possible.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this as well in the thirteenth chapter of Romans.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. … Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13: 1, 5 – 7 [ESV]

Of course, the Bible does speak – in both the Old and New Testaments – of our giving money to the church. For example, king Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs (which is a collection of wise sayings):

Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. Proverbs 3: 9 – 10 [ESV]

In other words, don’t spend all your money on yourself but give a portion back to God and the work of the church on earth. Especially, Solomon says, consider giving the first portion of the income you make to the Kingdom before you set the budget for anything else. I have heard some televangelists / prosperity Gospel types suggest you should give their church more money even if it causes you to be delinquent on your bills or your taxes. That is simply unbiblical!

God requires us to take care of our families and pay money to those whom we owe money in addition to being good citizens of the government under whose authority we find ourselves. But God does not require us to protest paying taxes or supporting government functions just because we are Christians. In fact, we should willingly render to the government what belongs to the government.

Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.

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