By Michael E. Brooks
“. . . And he said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s'” (Matthew 22:21 NKJV).
It happens every trip. Several times in fact. When we apply for visas, there is a tax (fee) to be paid. When we go to the airport in Nepal or Bangladesh to return to the U.S., we first go to the departure tax counter. Taxes, taxes, taxes! Over a twenty year period the only thing more certain than the fact that there will be taxes is that those taxes will increase.
This past week saw the coming and going of April 15, income tax day throughout the United States. Millions rushed to meet the deadline. Everywhere one overheard comments about the burden of taxes and the difficulty of making ends meet. The government never seems to get enough; working men and women feel persecuted and mistreated.
These conditions and emotions are certainly not new. Biblical commentators point to the Jewish hatred of paying taxes to Rome as the backdrop of the Pharisees’ test of Jesus in Matthew 22:15-22. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not” (Matthew 22:17)?
If his answer was “no”, Jesus would be liable to charges of rebellion or treason against Rome. If he said “yes” however the Jewish population could be counted upon to rise up in outrage against him. His reply was brilliant. “Give Caesar what belongs to him, and give to God what is his.”
It would be a mistake to view this answer as merely a clever way of avoiding his enemies’ plot. Jesus was not straddling a fence or dodging a trap. He answered seriously and sincerely.
His answer is given as a command, and has the force of his absolute authority (Matthew 28:18). Christians benefit from the God-ordained structure of government and it is just and right for them to shoulder some of the obligations inherent in supporting it (Romans 13:1-7).
At the same time, no government may require of its citizen’s what truly belongs to God. Nor may those citizens refuse to give God what is his because of governmental or other regulations. Government’s authority is delegated; God’s is absolute. We must submit to both where appropriate.
While we complain about taxes let us remember the blessings and benefits we receive from all God’s omniscient provisions. He has given us all things. He holds us accountable for their proper use, but allows us to enjoy their benefits. That portion which we return to him and to his agents is but a small portion of his magnificent blessings. For all of them let us be thankful.
By Michael E. Brooks