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Paying Taxes to Caesar August 17, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 22:15-22.

Summary: In this passage, the Pharisees plan to trap Jesus in a statement. They send their disciples – and those Jews who belonged to the political party of Herod – to Him. Addressing Him as “teacher”, they assert that He is:

  • truthful
  • a man of integrity
  • not intimidated by the face of anyone.

They then ask Him if it is lawful for them to give the census tax as a gift.

Yet He discerns their hypocrisy, asking them why they attempt to trap Him in a statement. He then asks for a denarius that they typically use to pay the census tax. Upon receiving a denarius, He asks them whose image and inscription it bears.

They acknowledge that it bears the image and inscription of Caesar. He responds by inferring that they should:

  • pay the census tax back to Caesar
  • continue to worship God only.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus deftly repels the challenge of the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

The principle laid down in these well-known words is one of deep importance. There is one obedience owed by every Christian to the civil government under which he lives, in all matters which are temporal, and not purely spiritual…There is another obedience which the Christian owes to the God of the Bible in all matters which are purely spiritual.

Clearly the opponents of Jesus could only conceive of two answers to their challenge. Either answer would advance their position, since:

  • if He asserted that it was lawful for them to pay the census tax, then they would denounce Him as a God-hater and an idol-worshiper
  • if He asserted that it was not lawful for them to pay the census tax, then they would denounce Him as a rebel against the Roman Empire.

They certainly did not contemplate a third answer to their challenge; thus, they were bamboozled by His response. Now as modern-day believers who (hopefully) pay our taxes, we readily adhere to the approach that He establishes in verse 21. As law-abiding citizens, we can comprehend the gravity of tax evasion – yet it is heartening to know that paying our taxes does not disqualify us from citizenship in God’s kingdom. Moreover, we can be thankful that God is sovereign over our government, working through our taxes to advance His kingdom in mystical ways.

The Temple Tax June 10, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 17:24-27.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples arrive in Capernaum. Some tax collectors ask Peter if Jesus pays the Jewish tax relating to the temple, and Peter responds in the affirmative.

Later, Jesus asks Peter if a king would collect taxes from his family or from strangers. Peter acknowledges that the latter is correct; thus, since Jesus is the Son of God, God would not collect taxes from Him. Yet He chooses not to offend the Jewish tax collectors.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus is willing to pay the Jewish tax relating to the temple, even though He is not obligated to do so. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Let us remember this passage as citizens and subjects. We may not like all the political measures of our rulers; we may disapprove of some of the taxes they impose. But the big question after all is, Will it do any good to the cause of religion to resist the powers that be? Are their measures really injuring our souls? If not, let us hold our peace, “so that we may not offend them.”

I should note that after I registered to vote about ten years ago, I began to think more seriously about politics and the impact of my vote on an arbitrary election. Since I would like to optimize the allocation of my financial resources for God’s glory, I often wrestle with the following questions as a voter with a Christian worldview:

  • should we combat fraud and waste by our lawmakers?
  • when faced with a tax hike, should we support it?
  • does God call us to oppose certain ballot measures and/or political candidates?

Regarding the third question, I posit that there is general agreement on certain issues (e.g. opposing child sex trafficking), but other issues open up a can of worms (e.g. assisted suicide). I still believe that voting is consistent with God’s desire that believers fulfill their civic duties, though it’s often difficult to know if God is pleased with my final ballot.

Submission to the Authorities May 10, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 13:1-7.

Summary: Paul begins by commanding all people to be subject to those who have authority over them – especially civil authorities – because their authority is derived from God. Therefore, anybody who resists those who have lawful authority over them is disobeying God, and they will be condemned and punished by God. In particular, governing authorities have been appointed to hinder the progress of evil while facilitating the progress of good; thus, those who do good will not be punished by the powers that be. Rulers have been appointed to both benefit society and punish the wicked – in fact, they have the right to inflict capital punishment. Also, Paul commands his readers to submit to the governing authorities because it is inherent to obeying God. Now that Paul’s readers have a clear picture of the nature and purposes of civil government, it is clear that they should pay their taxes, since public servants are actually God’s ministers, and God has ordained taxes as the proper means of supporting them in their work. Paul concludes by telling His readers that since it is God’s will for them to pay taxes to support benevolent civil servants, they should give them whatever they owe them – including land and per-capita taxes, duties on merchandise, respect to their superiors, and honor to their peers.

Thoughts: Perhaps the first question that arises when reading this passage is, “what if the governing authorities are oppressing me and treating me unjustly? Doesn’t God allow me to rebel against them?” In his commentary on verse 1, Hodge addresses this issue as follows:

We are to obey authorities because they derive their authority from God…All civil authorities of whatever grade are to be regarded as acting by divine appointment; not that God appoints the individuals, but as it is his will that there should be authorities, every person who is in point of fact clothed with authority is to be regarded as having a claim to obedience, a claim founded on the will of God.

He later adds:

The actual reigning emperor was to be obeyed by the Roman Christians, whatever they might think about his title to the scepter. But if he transcended his authority and required them to worship idols, they were to obey God rather than man. This is the limitation on all human authority. Whenever obedience to man is inconsistent with obedience to God, then disobedience becomes a duty.

Hodge is essentially taking the position that Christians can rebel against their governments, but only when obeying them causes one to disobey God. Some well-known situations where it can be said that Christian rebellion was justified include those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Beijing Shouwang Church. If we consider the unique circumstances that gave rise to those rebellions, though, it is clear that Christian rebellion is not something to be performed at the drop of a hat. Indeed, Christians should carefully choose their words and deeds when responding to hotly-debated acts of their governing authorities, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.