Render unto Washington

Individual income tax return form, glasses, pen and calculator on desk

Here we are once again. It’s tax time! Don’t you just hate it? It doesn’t quite seem fair, does it? You work hard for your money, and then the government comes along and takes it. The worse part is that they can’t even spend it wisely. It’s enough to make you want to just hide your income so you don’t have to give it to a government on the verge of bankruptcy. After all, it’s an illegal tax anyway, right? The Sixteenth Amendment never having been properly ratified. Not to mention the whole “separation of church and state” thing. Why should we, as Christians, pay taxes?

Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “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.”

Luke 20:21-25

Jesus said so. In the above passage from Luke, which appears in all but John’s Gospel, Jesus was asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to the occupying government. His response is give the government its stuff and give God his. He is basically saying, “the government minted the money so give it back to them and focus on your spiritual relationship with the Father instead.” If he were here today, the text of his statement would probably read “Render unto Washington the things that are Washinton’s.” Ok, so probably not as it is still a bit archaic, but you get the idea.

When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”

He said, “Yes.”

And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”

Peter said to Him, “From strangers.”

Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”

Matthew 17:24-27

Jesus did so. When they arrived in Capernaum, the Temple Tax Collectors came to Peter for the taxes. Before Peter could ask Jesus, the Lord asked Peter a question. The question amounted to “is the tax on us or others?” It was on others, but Jesus instructed Peter to pay it anyway albeit by extraordinary means. Therefore, if Jesus paid a tax that was unfairly levied on him how can we be any different. After all, as Christians, we should strive to be more like Him.

Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:7-8

Paul also said so. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul said to give everyone what is due them and the first example was taxes. So, pay taxes to whom they are due and owe no one anything except love. Love is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law. I should clarify that what I am talking about is the love of God and other people, not the love of stuff. The love of stuff is the opposite. It is envy. It is greed. It is covetousness. It is all the things that run contrary to the Law.

The bottom line. Why should we pay taxes, even unlawful ones? Because it is proper to do so. Not because it’s the law but because we Christians should strive for a higher ideal. To be more like Jesus and less like the world. So don’t be greedy and try to hold on to your money out of love for it, for “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Rather, be loving of others and let your treasure be not the paltry riches of this world.




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Richard L. Foland Jr. is an Author, Lay Speaker and former Youth Leader. He has lived a mostly nomadic life in western Pennsylvania, southeastern Ohio and (briefly) western New York. Currently, he resides somewhere in the chimney of Pennsylvania with his wife and a constantly shifting array of children and stepchildren. He hates divorce, having been through one, and loathes large gatherings. The latter probably explains why he would prefer to sit alone at a keyboard rather than go to a party. You can follow his slow descent into inanity at the Pharos Blogject, on goodreads or Facebook.