Rendering Unto Caesar: Should Christians Pay Taxes? + How Can We Pray According to God’s Will? #345
Happy Lord’s Day, friends! After today, we will only have 3 more Sundays left in 2020. As I always do – broken record, I know – I’d like to invite you to join us online for our church gathering Sunday at 11am at VBC Salinas on Facebook. We begin celebrating Advent this Sunday, and we will be talking about how the coming of Jesus leads us away from fear! If you drop by, be sure and leave a comment to say hello.
We are reading Habakkuk 1, Luke 20 and 1 John 5 today – no 2 Chronicles passage for today, because we read it yesterday. Two fairly short questions for this episode – one more practical and one more spiritual. Should Christians pay taxes? Is taxation theft? Today Jesus is going to give us a parable that doesn’t completely answer either of those two questions, but we will also be checking out some other Scripture in the Bible that does. Please do remember that the whole counsel of God on a particular subject isn’t usually contained in one verse, so we look for other passages to build our understanding of God’s truth. One caveat before we get going: There are some taxes that are burdensome and some taxes and tax situations that are unjust and just plain wrong. We aren’t talking about specifics today, but more along the lines of the general question: Can a government tax its people, according to the Bible? Let’s read our Luke passage and then discuss that question.
We should realize that this is a tough question to pose to Jesus. Either a yes answer or a no answer here could be quite divisive in His current situation. The fact that He does not give a clear yes or no here indicates, I think, that there isn’t a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in every situation that this question is asked. Perhaps sometimes taxes are okay, and sometimes not. Jesus’ answer could certainly be seen as cagey. In another passage, however, we DO see Jesus paying a tax:
24 When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” 25 “Yes,” he said.When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes? From their sons or from strangers?” 26 “From strangers,” he said. “Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him. 27 “But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for me and you.”
I love Peter’s answer here – ‘Yes,’ of course He pays the temple tax! But, I kind of get the feeling that Peter really had no idea whether He did or not. And then Jesus indicates that, at least He should be free from paying a temple tax, but nevertheless He gives Peter a miraculous way to pay the tax regardless. I am not entirely sure this passage is very helpful in the overall tax question, because Jesus’ answer is again a little ambiguous, and this is a temple/religious tax, which is not quite the same as most taxes that Westerners are faces with…but this isn’t the only place in the Bible that discusses taxes – indeed, the Bible mentions taxes in one context or another almost 50 times! There is only one of those passages, however, that is really decisively instructive as to our question, and it is found in Romans 13, which I think ranks as one of the most challenging passages in the Bible to some Christians:
5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath but also because of your conscience. 6 And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s servants, continually attending to these tasks. 7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.
Also, worth remembering: Jesus was a friend to tax collectors, was criticized for hanging out with tax collectors, had a tax collector for a disciple, and even told a parable where the Pharisee was the bad guy and the tax-collector was the good guy.
Also worth noting: John The Baptist’s advice to tax collectors, “13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.” (Luke 3)
Does the Bible require Christians to pay taxes then? I would say the answer appears to be yes. Does the Bible also require governments to not be unjust or collect excess taxes? I would say the answer to that is a big and hearty yes also. Here’s the million dollar question: What should Christians do when the government is taxing the people to excess? And, unfortunately, I can’t see an answer to that question in the Bible that goes beyond groan and cry out to God for deliverance. Injustice on one party’s part does not usually relieve us of an obligation to obey God…but, I will also admit, that there is a time and a place for a good old fashioned dumping of the tea into the harbor.
Next question: How do we pray according to God’s will? Our 1st John 5 passage is going to hit this question square on the head, so let’s go ahead and read it and then discuss.
14 This is the confidence we have before him: If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.15 And if we know that he hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked of him.
1 John 5:14-15
So the big question is: How can we know what we ask is God’s will? This is a very tricky question to answer, because so many preachers, teachers and ‘christian’ writers have given some very unbiblical answers to this question. Some teachers say, “It is ALWAYS God’s will to heal you.” I find that absolutely wrong, and for evidence I can point to the fact that no only human person mentioned in the Bible still walks the earth – they are all dead and have stepped into eternal life. Was it God’s will to heal them on this earth? Apparently not. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and yet, a few years later, he died again. It was not God’s will for Lazarus to live forever. The Word says, it is appointed for man to die once. So – unless Jesus comes back in our lifetime, all of us will taste death, and those saved by Jesus will taste glorious LIFE abundantly immediately afterwards. Is it always God’s will to bless somebody with wealth and riches? Well, the Son of Man had no place to lay His head, and some of us might face that too. It is NOT always God’s will to bless us the way we want to be blessed, otherwise Jesus would never have prayed, “nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” HOW then do we know that we are praying God’s will? John Piper gives the best answer to that question that I’ve heard:
We can have undoubting faith if we know what God’s will is in a particular situation. How can you keep from doubting if you don’t know what God intends to do? How can anyone have assurance that the answer to his prayer will come to pass if he is not first assured that this is what God intends to do in response to his faith? There has to be a basis for faith; you can’t just will to have no doubts if you are not sure that what you are asking for is what God intends to do.
I have had the flu all week. But I have not been able to pray for healing with undoubting faith that it will happen. The reason is that I do not know the will of God in regard to my health. It may be that he intends for me to be sick for two weeks that I might learn to rely not on myself but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9). And since I don’t know what God intends to do about my health, it is impossible to have complete confidence that he will heal me when I ask him. In such cases we must always say, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Mark 14:36).
I hope with this teaching to alleviate a lot of unnecessary guilt. How often we berate ourselves that we cannot ask for certain things with complete confidence that God will give them! But if we do not know that God intends to give them, how then can we have complete confidence that he will? Whenever we are forced to say, “Yet, not my will but thine be done,” we are admitting that we have no certainty about whether our specific request will be granted. And there is no reason to feel guilty about that because faith that has no doubts is only possible where we know, at least in general, what God intends to do for us.
The question that cries out to be answered, therefore, is: “How can we know what God wills to do in response to prayer, so that we can ask him and trust him for it?” How do we find out what God intends to do in response to faith? There are two answers. One is that God reveals much of what he intends to do through the Scripture. The other answer is that God can reveal his intention apart from Scripture privately to an individual or group.
What I mean by this second answer is that when Scripture does not give a promise that a particular blessing will definitely be given in answer to prayer, God may make known in some other way that he intends to give the blessing. I mention this with some hesitancy because I have never in my life experienced it. God has never communicated to me what he intends to do any other way than by the Scripture. But I think he could, so I will leave open this possibility of how we can find out what God aims to do in response to faith.
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1980–1989) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).