How Should Christians Think About Taxes?
By Matthew Castro
Today House Republicans in the Ways and Means Committee released details of their plan to overhaul the U.S. tax code. Many would likely agree on the extreme complexity of the tax system in America. Just ask anyone, who regularly gets anxious and overwhelmed by the annual spring tax return process. My wife, who is the smartest person I know, finds filing taxes a hair pulling activity. Yet, taxes are a regular part of our lives. Benjamin Franklin famously wrote in 1789, "Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Jesus also spoke about the reality of taxes. He says in Luke 20:25, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The government is owed its share. The issue for debate is the degree. How much is the government owed from its people?
God basically warned the people of Israel of the nature of kings and nobility to take more than is necessary from the people. Samuel says to the people for God in 1 Samuel 8:4-15, "He 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." However, this passage does not mean taxes are evil.
The Old Testament law communicates a tax system that was established by God for the nation of Israel. Moses writes for God in Deuteronomy, "At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. . . . When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is ithe year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, . . . ." A tithe was basically a every three year income tax, which was used for feeding the priests, migrants, orphans, widows, and the poor.
Taxes have a specific purpose and must be obeyed. However, the government is a steward of God over the people. The magistrates have the responsibility from God to collect and utilize taxes with wisdom.
Christians should enter the debate understanding the need and purpose of taxes. Too often the church is dragged into the 'all taxes are evil" side of the issue. However, the Bible clearly does not defend or articulate that position. Christians rather should passionately speak and vote for sensible approaches and uses of taxes by local, state or federal government with the knowledge that governments have a tendency to take more than it needs.
At the heart level, the anti-taxes position comes from a belief that we are the master of our hard earned money. Convinced we should have complete autonomy of the fruit of our labor. However, that opinion is simply not affirmed by God's Word.
Return to Christ's words to the Pharisees in Luke 20:25, he says, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." God deserves a portion of the wealth he has ultimately provided to us through our work. Many of us struggle to even give to God what he is owed. Our heart towards the government and taxes is a reflection of our heart towards God. Christians must not reflect an attitude of self-mastery over our things. Instead, we must give and obey, while also praying and advocating that our taxes be spent on the wellbeing of our fellow man.