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What does the Bible say about money, death and taxes?

money, cash
Unsplash/Pepi Stojanovski

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” 

The Bible tells us that a day is appointed for all of us to die (Hebrews 9:27). But, there is also appointed a day for us all to pay taxes, it seems. For Americans, it’s April 15. But recent circumstances changed that.

In 2018, Tuesday, April 17, was Tax Day since April 15 fell on a Sunday and April 16 is Emancipation Day. Then, two years later, the date was extended by three months to July 15 due to the escalating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government had never extended the deadline before then. The Internal Revenue Service announced later that year that there would not be another blanket filing delay.

Even after indicating as late as mid-February this year that the tax deadline would not be extended, the Treasury Department and IRS officially announced that the filing due date would be automatically extended from April 15 to May 17, 2021. 

April 15 has served as Tax Day in the United States since 1955, but the IRS can delay the filing deadline when it coincides with a holiday. While the federal government does not observe Emancipation Day, the IRS recognizes it as a legal holiday because it’s observed in Washington, D.C.

Taxes appear to be certain. The date not so much. 

Why pay taxes?

We live in a transactional world. For every cause, there is an effect. If we want to have Medicare and Medicaid, a national defense, and other services, there is a cost. And after a year living under a pandemic that affected the national economy for all Americans, we most likely will see a greater effect.

Higher taxes at all levels of government are anticipated. President Biden said in an interview on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, that he plans to raise taxes on Americans making more than $400,000 a year as his post-stimulus legislative plans come into focus. “Anybody making more than $400,000 will see a small to a significant tax increase. If you make less than $400,000, you won’t see one single penny in additional federal tax.” 

Higher taxes are unwelcome but not new. Conditions were worse in Jesus’ day when he not only sought out a despised tax collector but also called for paying taxes, even in a corrupt atmosphere. Jesus “entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich” (Luke 19:1–2). 

Tax collectors at that time were despised because they were considered traitors, Jews collecting money for the hated Romans. And they were corrupt. Rome charged a certain amount per person in taxes, then allowed the tax collectors to take anything over that amount for themselves. They became rich from their corruption, and Scripture makes it clear Zacchaeus was rich.

So what did Jesus see in Zacchaeus? How does the general public often feel about our elected officials and agencies like the IRS? 

Zacchaeus could stop people on the road and charge a tax for the use of the road, for the cart, and for the animal pulling the cart. And Roman guards could protect him while he did so. As a result, he was grouped with murderers and robbers in the mind of the public. He was barred from the Jewish synagogue. Today, some feel the same about those who tax us.

Yet Jesus looked for him. As a result, Zacchaeus became a changed man.

None of us like to pay taxes. But, as citizens of this nation, we must. The account of Zacchaeus gives us a picture of what taxes were like when Jesus answered a question about paying taxes. It was not pleasant then, nor is it now. 

Jesus set the tone for obedience to government authority when he was asked by the Pharisees seeking to entrap him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). The question required a yes or no answer, and either answer would pit Jesus either against the crowds following him or against Rome.

Asking for a coin for the tax, he asked the Pharisees whose image was on it. They replied, “Caesar’s,” to which he replied: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21).

The Apostle Paul clarified this image of citizenship when he called believers “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). American ambassadors live in foreign countries under appointment by their president at home. They are to obey the laws of the country where they are stationed and support its leaders. But they will always have a higher allegiance to their home country and leader.

So do we as ambassadors of Christ. 

God’s word is clear on this:

  • “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” (Romans 13:1).
  • “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 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” (Romans 13:6–7).
  • “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

It’s natural for us to divide our financial loyalties between what we owe in taxes and what we can keep for ourselves. 

Transactional religion vs. transformational relationship

Jesus’ way is different.

Our Lord told his followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, my emphasis). God’s word calls us to “seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (Psalm 105:4).

If the Bible clearly calls us to live unconditionally for and with our Lord, where do we get the idea that we can separate Sunday from Monday and the “spiritual” from the “secular”?

The answer is in our cultural “genes.”

Do you remember studying Greek mythology in high school? Zeus, Apollo, and the rest of the pantheon live atop Mount Olympus but act more like humans than gods. Capricious and scheming, their lives read like an ancient soap opera. But the Greeks believed that they had to be worshiped before they would give worshipers what they wanted.

Thus, we find temples to the various deities across the ancient Greco-Roman world. In Corinth, a temple to Apollo stands in pristine condition. In Athens, “the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). The Romans renamed many of the Greek gods but continued their worship.

However, people in the ancient world did not want a personal, intimate relationship with these gods. Their deities were too conniving and untrustworthy for that. Instead, they developed transactional religion: if we give the gods what they want, they will give us what we want. The Greeks and Romans made their sacrifices to do their “religious” duty, then went about their lives.

When Christianity grew into the larger Greco-Roman world, some of its followers adopted this spiritual bifurcation. Over time, they separated the “clergy” from the “laity” and built buildings so the clergy could do their work while the laity watched.

But the Bible does not offer a transactional religion with a distant god; it offers a transformational relationship with a loving Father.

Jesus led a sinner to himself even on the cross (Luke 23:43). Peter and John met a crippled man and used his healing to witness to massive crowds (Acts 3:11–12). Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison at midnight, “and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). John turned his Patmos prison into a global ministry platform (Revelation 1:9).

This relationship, however, is founded on an unconditional commitment to Jesus as our King and Lord. Jesus began his public ministry with the announcement, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). He taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) and to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (v. 33). When he returns, his name will be “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).

Our God is king of the realm, not just his “castle.” He is king of Monday, not just Sunday, of our private lives, not just our public religion. He can lead only those who follow and give only what we will receive. To the degree that we make him our unconditional king by surrendering our lives to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), we experience his “good and acceptable and perfect” will for our lives and world (Romans 12:2).

We are to obey and serve our king, not because he needs what we have but as our loving response of stewardship and faithfulness to the One who “owns” all we have. 

His government does not require one penny from its residents. It is because he can do so much more with us than we can do with ourselves. He will use every gift, ability, and resource we surrender to him for his greatest glory and our greater good.

Ben Franklin was right, it appears, as far as life here is concerned. We all face death and taxes. While some may cheat their taxes, there will be no cheating death before our Lord’s return. Those of us with dual citizenship, here and in heaven, will live for eternity with him after we pass through physical death’s portal. 

But, as for taxes, they will cease.

Now, that’s good news!

Originally published at the Denison Forum where this article can be read in its entirety

Adapted from Dr. Jim Denison’s daily cultural commentary at www.denisonforum.org. Jim Denison, Ph.D., is a cultural apologist, building a bridge between faith and culture by engaging contemporary issues with biblical truth. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture in February 2009 and is the author of seven books, including “Radical Islam: What You Need to Know.” For more information on the Denison Forum, visit www.denisonforum.org. To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit www.twitter.com/jimdenison or www.facebook.com/denisonforum. Original source: www.denisonforum.org.

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