Tag Archives: taxes

Taxes: A Spiritual Issue

We are to pay taxes.  God has ordained government for certain functions.  What happens when government steps outside those functions for which it is ordained and established?  Are our tax dollars paying to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty? 

According to the Office of Management and Budget at the Heritage Foundation about 30cents of every tax dollar pays for those things. 70% of the federal budget goes to pay for welfare and dependency programs.  This is not as much a political issue as it is a spiritual issue.  Here is why:

lbj war on povertyA fundamental spiritual shift took place in our culture during the great depression. Our country began to look to government to provide and solve our problems instead of God. This spiritual problem accelerated with the Great Society plan in the 1960’s. All of these compassionate programs to help the needy, the underprivileged, those who are down and out began to be funded by the government. The war on poverty is now 50 years old and are there less poor people? Actually there are more people on food stamps now than ever before. In 2010 we spent almost $900 billion on welfare programs, more than we spent on the war in Iraq during all of G.W. Bush’s presidency.

Since the beginning of the war on poverty in 1964, the US has spent 15.9 Trillion dollars on welfare. The price tag for all the wars the US has fought is only 6.4 trillion. (Please don’t get me wrong. I am not in favor of war nor do I think, as some might accuse, that it is cheaper to kill people than help them. I am simply comparing numbers. Both Republicans and Democrats have suggested that fighting wars is the cause of such large spending and deficits. I am simply pointing out that this is not the case. These numbers come from the Heritage Foundation’s The Economy Hits Home: Poverty, pg.4.)

Having said all that let me emphasize that this is not a political problem. Both Republicans and Democrats have controlled the government and contributed to this. This is a spiritual problem. Why?

We have made an idol of the government and we worship it instead of God. I know our national motto is “In God We Trust.” But our actions are “In Govt we trust.”

uncle samWho do we look to for food, housing, jobs, education, child care, health care, and retirement? Whenever there is a problem or crisis the first thing out of people’s mouth is, “The govt should….   The govt needs to…” And politicians are quick to say, “We need a program that provides…..for all Americans.” Whenever a person looks to anything other than God to provide, that other becomes an idol. America is guilty of idolatry. We worship at the altar of big government. The only thing lacking is little wooden statues of Uncle Sam that we can bow before and pray.

Now I’ve heard many Christians, even Bishops say things like God judges nations on how they treat the poor and marginalized, the widows and orphans, the aliens and the unwanted. It is true. God will judge us on that scale. But God also sends nations into exile and slavery for idolatry. (See ancient history of Israel.)

We are to love our neighbor as our self, so how are we to care for the least of these if the government doesn’t do it?  What are your thoughts?  I’ll share a few of mine in the next post.

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Taxes

Taxes have always been a controversy for preachers. Some people get upset when you talk about money from the pulpit, how much more so if you talk about taxes? Which is exactly why the Pharisees ask Jesus this question. They want to get Him in trouble. It is a trap.

Julius-Caesar-coinMark 12:13-17, “Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial taxto Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.”

 Jesus doesn’t do what most of us do (that’s avoid the issue), He answers the question. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Well, the Lord’s answer leaves us to ask a few follow up questions. “What is Caesar’s? And what is God’s?”

Let’s start with easiest question, “What is God’s?” The answer is obviously, “everything.” Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” It is all God’s. We are just stewards of His creation. All the things we possess – from materials, talents, to the breath in our lungs and the beat in our hearts –  are really His and we will give an account of how we used them on judgment day. Did we use all of our resources to glorify Him and expand His kingdom or not? (For further reading see Matthew 25:14-30, Parable of the Talents.)

So what does God require of us with these resources? Jesus summed it up nicely, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31.)  In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah put it this way, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)  Easy to answer, difficult to do.

Now, what is Caesar’s? What is owed to the government? I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “If 10% good enough for God, good enough for the IRS.” This question is a bit trickier to answer.  In order to do so, we need to know what God has established government to do.

Romans 13:1-7. 1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.  6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

God establishes government for maintaining justice in society. Commend those who do what is right and punish those who do wrong. You see the Bible says that all of us are sinners. Left to ourselves we have a natural inclination to sin and do evil. We are not basically good. The Bible calls this condition of humanity original sin. (See Romans 7:14-25).

God gives us government for the benefit of society to bring order from chaos, provide the rule of law, and ensure justice is done among the people. We pay taxes to pay for the courts, police, prisons, salaries, maintain defense, roads, etc.   We must have structure to live together in peace and prosperity.  The preamble to the preamble constitutionUnited States Constitution gives us the reasons our founders established our government.  We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

God institutes government for these reasons and we owe Caesar for these services.  But that leaves me with this follow up question: Is that where our taxes are going?  In the next few posts I’m going to delve into the spiritual issue of taxes.  Jesus says to pay taxes, but what if our tax money is going for purposes that oppose God and limit liberty?  What if our tax money is going to things that are good, but God did not ordain government to do?  And more practically, what if some of those things just don’t work and bring harm rather than good?  Then what?

I’d love to hear your thoughts….

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