Render to Caesar

Somewhere in between higher and no taxes, Christians make it their ambition “to lead a quiet life, to mind their own business and to work with their hands so that they may walk properly before outsiders” (1 Thess. 4:11)

Topics: Politics

Israel wanted a king like the surrounding nations. God gave them one with a warning: “You won’t like him.” Samuel reported to Israel God’s words and said the king “will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves” (1 Sam. 8:14-17).

It appears that God was warning His people that kingship may lead to oppression. However, He probably used “slaves” as a metaphor – that it will feel like slavery. Another possibility is that the oppression would come as punishment – not because kings are evil but because they rejected God as their king (Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life). In fact, Samuel may have been explaining what happens in any monarchy: Kings are expensive. They require military, government and civic infrastructure – and to pay for it they tax. Some kings or governments do so justly. Others don’t (1 Kings 12:4-14; 21).

Jesus wanted His followers to pay taxes – to their surprise – and apparently regardless of how those taxes are used (Matt. 22:17-22). Caesar used taxes to support his satanic rule – he claimed to be god. Nero used taxes to sponsor the slaughter of Christians. Paul said, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed” (Rom. 13:7) and then was later beheaded.

While Christians should be discerning as to where their money goes, they are never forbidden from giving money to governments or even organizations involved in sin. “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Cor. 10:25). Those payments certainly would have funded pagan practices. Paul was more concerned with freedom and not the kind of freedom most fear they’ll lose if they let the government decide where to subsidize a public transportation system or how to feed hungry children.

Many are quick to remove any appearances of guilt by association by steering clear of companies financially involved with alcohol or gambling, but who in Western civilization can avoid profiting from sweatshops? Structural evil is sweeping; the more we are involved in the world, the more we will be part of sinful global systems (Schnieder, Godly Materialism). Christ was no different, incarnated into a Roman economic system in which He participated. He was not implicated, and neither are Christians today. World-flight does not free anyone from paying taxes, for who can go far enough (1 Cor. 5:10)?

Higher taxes probably don’t make good economic sense, and governments are proficient, if anything, at wasting money, but then I doubt Caesar or Nero was especially fiscally responsible. Neither Jesus nor Paul rescinded their demands. They were in favor of governments – God’s servants for your good, ministers of God to be respected and honored (Rom. 13:4-7).

Somewhere in between higher and no taxes, Christians make it their ambition “to lead a quiet life, to mind their own business and to work with their hands so that they may walk properly before outsiders” (1 Thess. 4:11). It is concerning that with our tax system – one that is so heavily based on honesty – some evangelicals who are not looking for that balance are content to cheat and for supposedly “godly” reasons.

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