Light for our path: Paying taxes

In Matthew 22:17-21, Jesus instructs us to pay the taxes due the government. When we are informed that our government is using tax dollars for the support of wicked and sinful enterprises such as Planned Parenthood (abortion), how are we to look at paying taxes?

James F. Pope

Christians are rightly troubled when they recognize that roughly $500 million from the federal budget goes to Planned Parenthood each year. The organization is the leading provider of abortions in our country. The answers to your question will lead us to see our duty, limitations, and privileges when it comes to paying taxes.

Our duty

Paying taxes is not optional for Christians. In the section of Scripture you cited, a coalition of Jesus’ enemies tried trapping him with a question about the propriety of paying taxes to Caesar. Many people, even some outside Christianity, are familiar with Jesus’ answer: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

Years later, through the apostle Paul, God expanded on that instruction: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:6,7). Part of our Fourth Commandment responsibilities is that we support God’s representatives in government through the paying of taxes.

Our limitations

Some representatives of God in government (and the church and the home) represent him well, while others do not. The Caesar whose likeness was on the coin presented to Jesus in Matthew chapter 22 was one of those authorities who failed miserably in representing God faithfully. That was also the case with the Caesar who was in power when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Rome. But neither our Lord nor his apostle qualified the directive to pay taxes to the Roman government, even though some of their taxes funded idolatrous worship practices involving state-paid priests. Neither our Lord nor his apostle burdened the consciences of Christian taxpayers by leading them to conclude that they were personally supportive of ungodly activities because their taxes funded those activities. Christians who paid taxes to Caesar could not control how Caesar used their taxes even if there were definitely limitations to how Christians wanted their tax payments used.

Christians in America face similar limitations. Whether it is funding abortion providers, sponsoring questionable research projects, or wasting money on overpriced expenditures, Christians recognize their role and the government’s role: Christians provide the revenue, and the government distributes that revenue through budgetary disbursements and appropriations.

But does that mean that Christians simply pay taxes and have no recourse but to grumble about the ways in which government uses their tax dollars? Not at all. Christians can contact their governmental representatives to express their displeasure when tax revenues fund immoral activities. Christian citizens can vote for candidates who will use tax revenues wisely.

Our privilege

Christians can do even more.

Christians can exercise the privilege they have of speaking to the King of kings in prayer. We can do what God’s apostle instructs: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1,2). It is good that God’s people remember their governmental leaders—at all levels—in prayer.

So, pray that God leads governmental officials to act wisely and to use resources in ways that benefit human life.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at Submit your questions there or to [email protected].



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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 105, Number 07
Issue: July 2018

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