Sunday April 18th
Now that April 15th has come and gone, I guess we can all relax about our taxes until next year. But tax day made me think about a story of a man who got away without paying any taxes.
This man would cross the border every morning riding on a donkey loaded with bags of straw. When he reached the bridge at the border, the tax collectors would search his bags to calculate how much tax he would be required to pay on his exports. Every day, they would find nothing in the bags but straw. So the man paid no tax. But after their shift had finished and they were back into the city, these tax collectors would see that same man spending lots of money and boasting that he was a tax-evading smuggler and that no one would ever catch him.
Every day the tax collectors continued to search through his bags of straw. They sifted the straw, cut it into pieces, and ripped open the fabric of his bags. They checked his hat, his pockets, his beard and even his shoes in the hope of finding hidden coins or treasure. And still they found nothing.
But there he would be, each evening, back in the city growing ever more prosperous - even offering to pay for the tax collectors meals and drinks while continuing to brag about his smuggling. The tax collectors continued their futile searches of the straw bags for years, to no avail.
This continued on, year after year until, one day, the smuggler moved away to another city and settled down to enjoy his immense wealth. Years passed by and then by chance, one of the retired tax collectors met him on the street and asked,
'Many years have passed by: I am no longer a tax collector and you are no longer a tax evader - we are just two old men. Please, can you tell me, what were you smuggling past us all that time?'
The smuggler replied, 'Donkeys.'
Unfortunately for all of us, we can’t get away with avoiding taxes that easily. And according to Romans chapter 13, God actually tells us not to avoid paying our taxes!
Here’s how Paul starts out in verses 1-2
Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
These verses make it quite clear that Christians have a duty to submit to the governing authorities, no matter whenever and wherever the live. That duty is based on the recognition that God is the source of any governmental authority in our society.
This isn’t the only place where we see this idea in the Bible.
In Proverbs 8:15 God says,
By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice.
In Daniel 2:21we see that:
It is He (God) who changes the times and the periods; He removes kings and appoints kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men,
And knowledge to people of understanding.
Paul then goes on to point out that people who are behaving properly, like Christians are supposed to, should have no reason to be concerned about the power of government ruling over them:
3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.
In verse 4 Paul says that government is actually God’s servant for our good.
One commentary puts it this way:
The state’s authority is for society’s benefit; this is its normal function, and Paul assumes it may be realized in practical terms even when governments are professedly non-Christian.
In fact, Paul says that the government can even “bear the sword” on God’s behalf. This would include enforcing punishments for wrongdoing, including Capital punishment for serious crimes
Now Paul is going to bring this issue of governmental authority to a very specific focus, paying taxes:
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
When Paul says, “you also pay taxes” we can interpret that to mean “I certainly hope that you, as believers, are paying your taxes!”
Listen again to how this commentary describes the reasoning behind this:
Because the task of government is divinely ordained and requires financial support, the Christian can pay taxes with a distinctive motive and understanding, as an element of devotion to God.
What? Paying taxes as a form of worship? You’ve got to be kidding me! But verse 7 reinforces this:
7 Pay to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor.
Let’s take a moment here to consider what Paul is saying in light of Jesus’ response to this same issue in Matthew 22:15-21
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and do not care what anyone thinks; for You are not partial to anyone. 17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it permissible to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then pay to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
Boom! Drop the mic! Could that be any clearer?
We can add to that the story of Jesus, Peter, and the fish from Matthew 17:24-27
24 Now when they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 27 However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”
It’s pretty plain that Jesus did not feel obligated in any way to pay that poll-tax, but He did it anyway.
In some ways that reminds me of the fact that Jesus chose to get baptized. He didn’t need to get baptized, but He did it anyway.
In both cases, Jesus is doing something to show us how we should respond. He is demonstrating proper godly behavior by setting an example for us.
Paul now continues on by saying that if we are paying everything that we are supposed to pay to everyone we are supposed to pay it to, then we shouldn’t owe anyone anything, other than to love them:
8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law.
This is the basic principle of Christian living – love one another – love your neighbor as yourself. Yes, a Christian has a financial obligation to pay taxes to the state. But this love obligation is even more significant.
So we shouldn’t be cheating the government of our taxes.
But even more importantly we shouldn’t be cheating our neighbors of the love that Jesus asks us to give them!
In 1 Peter 2:13-17 we see this same comparison being made:
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God, that by doing right you silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Act as free people, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-servants of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Do you see how Peter also ties in our respect for authority with our call to love one another?
In the final verses of this chapter, Paul puts an emphasis on the need to do this NOW, without delay or hesitation:
11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let’s rid ourselves of the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
I believe that when Paul speaks about the “night” the “darkness”, he is referring to the unsaved condition of the world around us. Now that Jesus, the “light of the world” has come we need to be focused on spreading that light as far as we can, and ASAP.
By using of the phrase “the armor of light” he stresses that the establishment of God’s light in a dark world is going to feel like being in a battle at times.
And one thing you don’t ever want to do when you’re in a battle is to give your enemy more ammunition! So Paul includes this warning:
13 Let’s behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and debauchery, not in strife and jealousy.
14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
Do you see the concept here of not giving the enemy any help? We can’t be bringing the light of Jesus into the world if we are running around committing deeds of darkness!
And Paul’s warning against sin includes not only the sins of the flesh that can easily be seen on the outside, but also sins that can be hidden within our hearts such as “quarreling and jealousy”.
Darkness is darkness, whether it’s on the outside or on the inside.
And the idea of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” is basically the same thing as “putting on the armor of light”, because Jesus is the light that we put on as we go into battle. Take off the darkness, put on the light.
Now it wouldn’t be proper to wrap up this chapter without addressing the concept of exceptions, those times when we are actually called to resist the authority of our government rather than yielding to it. For example, there is this incident from Acts 5:27-29
27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the Council. The high priest interrogated them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us.”
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
And then we know this familiar story from Daniel 6:
7 All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors, have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who offers a prayer to any god or person besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it will not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 9 Thereupon, King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction.
10 Now when Daniel learned that the document was signed, he entered his house (and in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and offering praise before his God, just as he had been doing previously.
So, yes, we are called to disobey the authorities if they order us to disobey or dishonor God.
But that is the exception rather than the rule.
In most cases, whether we like our current governing officials – whether we voted for them or not – as Christians we are called to be model citizens, and model employees, obeying the laws of the land and paying our taxes.
We may not like it sometimes, but unless those who have authority over us are literally asking us to violate the commandments or to deny our faith in Christ, the Word of God is very clear about our responsibility.
And part of that responsibility is to pray for our leaders – even the ones that we don’t like!
1st Timothy 2:1-2 tells us:
First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made in behalf of all people, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
Paul tells Timothy that he is URGING that intercessors would cover their authorities in prayer. And he explains that doing so can help to ensure that all of us can lead peaceful, dignified, and godly lives.
That’s certainly a good thing, isn’t it?
So let’s make it a point in our lives as believers to obey and to pray!
Obey God’s Word by obeying the law, and pray for those that make our laws and enforce our laws that they will be guided by the very hand of God!