Yes, we should. But why? And what about when our taxes go towards things that aren’t right?
“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… 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, 6-7 (ESV)
I think most of us would agree that paying taxes is right for a Christian. After all, it’s outlined pretty clearly here. God establishes government to keep law and order. We obey him in paying taxes. We should not do this begrudgingly. We should see it as our due to the institution God has given to serve us and keep us safe.
Paul goes further by saying we should honor and respect our leaders, not merely tolerate them. This can be hard in our current age of partisan hatred and vitriol, but it’s our job as Christians to be different from the world. Resist the temptation to fall in line with how everyone else is acting.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”Romans 12:2 (ESV)
Jesus offers us another angle on paying taxes when the Pharisees challenge him.
“‘Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'”Matthew 22:17-21 (ESV)
Jesus confirms Paul’s words (perhaps the other way around), but as usual, he goes even further. Have you ever stopped and really thought about that phrase before? “…to God the things that are God’s.” That’s the real kicker. Not only should we offer up our taxes to the government, but we should offer up ourselves to God. He rightfully purchased us on the cross. We owe him our time, our money, and our lives. That’s a tall order.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
It is a far higher and more difficult calling to give God the things that are God’s than to give Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Yet the Pharisees saw it the other way around. They were shocked Jesus would support this tax. They hated their government, and for good reason. This brings us to another point. Should Christians pay taxes to corrupt governments committing evil acts?
“If Christians can support Rome, what government could they not support? This is the government that killed Christ and almost all the apostles. And here Jesus is telling them, pay for it. Pay that tax that is going to pay the salary of the very men who are about to drive the nails into My hands, not because what they are doing is right, but because government reflects the character of God. God will deal with them.”1Mark Dever
The key principle here is not about where your money eventually goes, but about respecting the role of government as God has laid it out. Our role is obedience. It’s not ultimately up to the church to keep authorities accountable. It’s up to God.
Does this mean we should never try to improve our government or work to prevent evil from being committed with our tax dollars? No. There’s absolutely a time and a place for making a positive difference, especially in America where we have the privilege to participate in our government. Some of us are called to be godly missionaries, some to be godly office workers, and others to be godly civil servants. My goal is not to dissuade anyone from upholding justice or acting according to their convictions. My goal is to make it undeniably clear that Jesus instructed his followers to pay a tax to their tyrannical ruler and to give themselves up to their glorious Creator.
Let me know your thoughts about taxes in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.
- Mark Dever, God and Politics: Jesus’ Vision for Society, State and Government (Leyland, England: 10Publishing, 2016), 27.