“In view of governmental waste and funding of some projects which I consider immoral,” someone asks, “can a Christian properly protest by refusing to pay income taxes on April 15?” (which is annual income tax day in the USA.)
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Most thoughtful tax-payers probably share your frustration from time to time, but the biblical command is too clear to avoid. “Render to all what is due them,” writes the Apostle Paul, “tax to whom tax is due” (Rom. 13:7). The Apostle Peter also instructs his readers to fulfil their civil duties (1 Pet. 2:13-17). The Roman government under which both apostles lived was far from godly. Indeed, within a few years that very government would execute both Peter and Paul as martyrs for their faith in Jesus.
In giving such instructions, these faithful disciples of Jesus reflected the teaching and example of our Lord. Jesus’ enemies once tried to set him up with a trick question involving Roman taxes. “Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” they asked (Matt. 22:15-17). Rather than answering directly, Jesus said, “Show me the coin used for the poll-tax” (v. 19). “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” he inquired (v. 20). “Caesar’s,” was the reply (v. 21). Jesus’ response was immediate. “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21).
Even a radical Jewish nationalist could not dispute Jesus’ logic. But Jesus’ final phrase contains the main point: “render to God the things that are God’s.” But what is God’s? It is what bears God’s image and name, just as Caesar’s coin bore his likeness and inscription. God made human beings in his own image (Gen. 1:27). And his covenant people are called by his name. Little wonder that Jesus, a few verses later, identifies as “the great and foremost” commandment the one which says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:36-38). Pay your taxes. Give “Caesar” what is rightfully his. But along the way, remember to give God what rightly belongs to him. Yourself — all your heart and soul and mind.