January 25, 1999 was the day I became a hater. As I slowly tore open the envelope with my very first real paycheck I was looking forward to the juiciest check on which I had ever seen my own name inscribed. But as my eyes darted from my name to the amount, I felt as though I was on Candid Camera and there was an audience awaiting my distraught response as I fell for the cruel joke. But it was no joke. My salary had conspicuously shrunk since it was negotiated the month before.
I realized with a coming-of-age epiphany that the amount being bandied about in the compensation discussion was my deceptively robust “gross package” as opposed to this somewhat anemic “net salary.” What the rest of the world takes for granted—the certainty of death and that other nasty thing— was a face slapping reality check for those of us whose job experience was limited to the waitron’s cash tips and Mom’s sympathy bills tucked into a coat pocket.
It was the sheer unexpectedness of it all that struck me. Like when you first notice a mosquito that has been surreptitiously sucking on your arm. It was that day that I began to realize the biblical aversion to tax collectors. If that slice of my earnings had been carried away by a living person, my indignation would have had a target.
Over time, the shock fades to reluctant acceptance, which moulds into a sullen resignation to the way things are in this sin-cursed stage for the trauma of death and taxes we call Earth. But for believers in Christ, tax time is an opportunity to worship. No, seriously.
Facts on Tax
The Bible is not silent on the role taxes play in our worship. From the earliest time worshippers understood that what they had earned was still a gift of God, and giving back a portion in sacrifice to Him was the essence of practical worship. The first fratricidal fracas in humanity was over the envy of a sacrifice accepted and one rejected based (most likely) on the accompanying attitude.
Israel had a God-ordained tithe to support the Levites, as well as the various other offerings and contributions, not only in religious rites but also in support of the civil government, tallying as some have calculated to over thirty per cent of one’s income. But it is the NT that brings clarity to the teaching on taxes as it applies to New Covenant believers.
Whatever you do
There must be a way to perform all our human duties, no matter how mundane or secular they may feel, to God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31). And there is. The secret is to realize the place taxation plays in God’s economy. He is the one who institutes authorities, and wields them as tools to accomplish His purposes on Earth. And He ordains for them to be supported by the denizens under their charge.
Rom 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Governments are clumsy, lumbering entities that are insatiably fed by cash. But that is the way God wants it. The reservoir of funds is there to keep the beast fueled so that God can use it. The fact that governments gush with overspending, splash out on the wrong pursuits, leak untold fortunes through inefficiency and corruption, is all besides the point.
Let’s not forget whose money this is (hint: not yours).
Remember how Jesus masterfully slipped out the entangling noose of entrapment (ESV) when the Pharisees baited Him with a question about taxes? Jesus pulled up a PowerPoint of Caesar’s regal profile on the denarius coin and said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesars…” (Matt 22:21). I.e. this is the government’s stuff, so give it back when they ask for it. God doesn’t need metal discs to accomplish His will, though if He did He has no shortage of it (see the piscine ATM miracle of Matt 17:27).
It’s not your money they are wasting or mismanaging. It’s theirs.
God gave it to them to use, and you are not accountable for what your government does with their money. The fact that God sourced the cash from your earnings is a jagged little pill you need to swallow and move on; it gets bitter the longer you chew on it.
Your responsibility is to obey God, to cheerfully part with what is required by law (though not a penny more, as a good tax consultant will tell you), and to trust your Provider who can and will cover your needs (Matt 6:33). Of course, it helps to define your needs the way God does (1 Tim 6:8).
So mail off those returns today with a smile and a prayer, knowing that it is worship. And enjoy what’s left over to Gods glory, knowing that even that diminutive amount is more than you deserve.