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The Joy of Paying Taxes

Do you delight in paying taxes? That’s a tough question as April 17 stares us in the face. The income tax deadline looms in the United States as we sort through piles of W-2s, 1099s, receipts, mileage records, various forms, the tax code, and perhaps TurboTax. Jesus commands us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). God has appointed civil government, and Jesus himself paid taxes (Matthew 17:24-27). Obedience should always involve joy. Therefore, paying taxes ought to be a thing of joy for the believer. Certainly, some duties, like disciplining our children, or submitting ourselves to discipline, do not call for giddy ecstasy, but doing God’s will should be our delight even when difficult. Hebrews 12:11 reminds us that: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

What takes away joy in paying taxes? Excessive tax rates, which are evil, make rendering even what is rightfully Caesar’s difficult. On the other end of the spectrum, forty-six percent of American wage earners paid no federal income tax for 2011 (according to the Tax Policy Center). Not paying income taxes also saps us of joy. It’s not only an economic problem; it’s a spiritual problem that is bound up in our tax code. For the forty-six percent, it doesn’t feel like a problem at the moment. Those forty-six percent feel like the kid who just got away without a spanking! In reality, they have gotten away without the joy of knowing true responsibility. We all know what that kid grows to become when he has routinely escaped responsibility and discipline.

Where do we find answers? The “general equity” of the Old Testament is a good place to start. We do not believe that civil laws of old should be enforced today, “further than the general equity thereof may require,” as stated by the Westminster Confession of Faith (19.4). But the “general equity” of the law, or principles that can be derived from the law for application today, should inform the way Christians think about civil law.

One of these general equity principles that we clearly find is that of equity itself.  The laws were concise (the Old Testament Law in the Pentateuch looks small compared to the IRS tax code).  Leviticus (27:30-32), Numbers (18:21-32, 12:10-11, 12:17-18), and Deuteronomy (14:22-29, 26) lay out a system whereby all wage earners were required to contribute. Just weights and measures were to be used in trade. Tithes, without exemptions or graduated rates, were required so that their governing functions could operate. In this way, everyone would understand that God who governs all had graciously given all of their income and required some in return for the ordering of society. Everyone needed to feel this responsibility in the pocketbook so that they would be able to rejoice in the Lord’s provision. This discipline also served as a reminder to everyone that if they forsook the Lord, they would all pay taxes at far higher rates to ruthless kings of foreign lands (Deuteronomy 28:33).

Our republic would engage in a much more robust and personal discussion of proper taxation if every wage earner contributed in an equitable way. As it is, we have an imbalance in which about half the nation’s wage earners are paying too much, and about half are paying too little. Those who pay nothing are being lulled to sleep. If they paid taxes, they would most certainly pay closer heed to who they elect. Presently, nearly everyone is being robbed of joy that accompanies the discipline and responsibility of rendering to Caesar what is his.

This is not to suggest that Americans should voluntarily open their wallets and send Uncle Sam money any more than to suggest that adult children who were undisciplined by their parents should voluntarily give those same parents money to support ongoing addictive behaviors. What we need is a fair tax code so that all parties would truly understand the nature of taxation.

Taxes also teach a greater truth in a very tangible way, which is yet another reason every wage earner ought to pay.

Jesus framed the whole question of taxation when he said:  “Show me the coin for the tax.” When showed the denarius (a Roman coin), Jesus asked, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” The Pharisees said, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus said to them: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (from Matthew 22:18-21).

Caesar is due the denarius because his image is on it. We should pay taxes with joy – praying and laboring to see fair tax rates established. As we pay, God also wants each person to remember again what is stamped with his image – himself – and give that to God in faith and obedience. The Lord designed tax season to be a season of joyful spiritual growth. Is it for you?

37 Comments Post a comment
  1. alcoramdeo #

    Clearly, edifyingly, and encouragingly stated– thank you Brother James.

    Of course, it is the “greater truth” of the last three paragraphs that must be confronted and grasped before there will or can be joy in the overall theme of the article. The natural man just doesn’t “get” the principles of life– hence the need to be born again. If only that he is stamped with his Creator’s image impresses a man, he may find a starting place has been provided toward his reconciliation with Him– it is then, for him, the first page of the Good News!

    Thank you again, Sir.

    April 10, 2012
  2. James, one problem with your view is that we no longer have Caesar. We are ruled by law, not men. The power of civil government resides in the people. We rule ourselves through representatives. There is much more Christians can do to change the present system that to “joyfully” pay. Here is a good start: http://kevincraig.us/burden.htm

    April 10, 2012
    • Jon Held #

      Thank you Kurt. We suffer from a GREAT misunderstanding in the church and a Great unwillingness to study the issue. I’m afraid the issue will not be studied until the wage earning elders realize they are being saped of the joy of paying taxes on up to half of their income (sheltered in a unique clergy only housing tax dodge) Or until they recieve the full and total joy of paying into the FEDGOV ponzie sceme called the Social Security (rathole). Until then I have almost given up and pray that for the most part they try not to teach on matters such as government or economics.
      Jon Held

      April 10, 2012
      • Ron #

        Jon, I trust that this comment was done tongue in cheek, as I sense a little harshness toward “wage earning elders” (pastors). I understand the frustrations of a tax system that is unjust and burdensome, as well as that of a governing body that is often wicked to its core. The reality remains, however, that we are a rich people, and even with all these things, we have much to be thankful for. Even when paying our taxes.

        April 11, 2012
    • Ron #

      Kurt, I beleive that you are wrong in your view here. Yes, we have a nation that is “ruled by law” yet we still retain a governing body who we are called to submit to. In that sense, they are our “Ceasar.” As such, we are called by Scripture to submit to them, as well as to pray for them. It is the person in the position of authority we are called to submit to and pray for, not “the law.” In that light we must seek to submit willingly, thankfully and joyfully, even when we do not like or agree. Not an easy thing for us, yet something we must seek to strive for.

      April 11, 2012
      • Ron, I can only respond by saying that you do not understand our government. The people delegate authority to our representatives. They are to submit to us! It took us several centuries to overcome the false government doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings & Popes.” We don’t want to go down that false path again.

        April 12, 2012
      • Ron #

        Kurt, I beleive that we are actually not far apart in our views, but rather where our emphesis is in this discussion. yes, by the establishment of our form of government those in authority are to bmit to the desures of we the people, yet, we still remain under the rule of scripture that calls us to submit to them. They have their authority ultimately from our Lord not simply we the people. In a breif discopurse such as this it is too easy to confuse points. My point is the Biblical call to submit to those in authority, to pray for them and ultimately to do all we do to the glory of God. My point is not a discourse of the governmental structure in our land.

        April 12, 2012
      • Ron, the form of government has everything to do with it. The law rules with the authority given to representatives through the people. The representatives are to submit to the people. Both people and representatives are responsible to God. What is happening to our country is a not the fault of the representatives but the people who grant them authority. If God is angry with our country, it is because of the people, not the leaders who only reflect what the people want them to do. That is why it is so important to understand what our country was actually founded as, and why it was considered the greatest experiment in government ever attempted in history, outside of the God’s establishment of His direct rule of Ancient Israel through His law.

        April 12, 2012
      • Ron #

        Again, I would agree with you to a point, yet I believe that we must not paint everything with one broad stroke of the brush. Yes, I am sure God is angry with the people of our nation as we call for a greater and greater rejection of God’s standards. I do believe, however, that He is equally angry with representatives who insist on both granting what the masses are demanding, as well as doing what their own hearts would desire. It is too simplistic to point to just one or two things. The problem in our land is huge and connected to every fabric of society.

        April 12, 2012
      • Ron, since we’re talking numbers here, I thought it would be worth noting that this comment of yours is the 1,000th in the history of Gentle Reformation. That popped up when I logged in. Congratulations! You win a free lifetime pass to keep coming back!

        April 12, 2012
      • Ron #

        That is so cool! I am so excitied! The people down the hall are all wondering what my screaming is about. The think I won the mega lotto jack-pot. Actually, I’m telling them that I just won an amazing prize off an an amazing website. Well, actually, I’m saying nothing, except for my comments on the post. I really appreciate Gentle Reformation and hope that the Lord will further open people’s eyes to the great wealth of wisdom and inetraction the website offers.

        April 12, 2012
  3. I must admit I have never thought of paying taxes as a joyful enterprise, maybe a necessary evil at best. Perhaps it’s because we happen to fall into the category of wage earners that pay a ridiculous percentage of taxes. It sometimes feels as if we are working just to pay the taxman!

    A very thought provoking post with much to mull over. I certainly agree that it would be a good thing if each wage earner contributed in a more equitable way. But, maybe that’s because I feel like we pay more than our fair share.

    Thankfully, our real treasure is in heaven. Even the IRS has no jurisdiction over that!

    April 11, 2012
  4. Diana Vice #

    I have known Jon for most of my life and I can assure you that his comment was not made with tongue in cheek. Jon has been a student of government for most of his life and he is the go-to-guy in the conservative Christian community when it comes to these types of issues. The same argument of render unto Caesar was made against the tax rebels of 1776. Thankfully, the Lord saw fit to bless those rebels with victory; otherwise, our countrymen would be loyal subjects of Queen Elizabeth and the state-sanctioned Church of England.

    April 11, 2012
    • I very much agree that we need big change in our system of taxation and that we should labor for that change. There are times for drastic action in such matters. The colonists determined after much consideration that to submit was to obey man rather than God. However, they were no anarchists and very much believed in authority and submission. Finally, they put their money and even their lives where their mouths were.

      April 11, 2012
  5. Gordo #

    We should find the same joy in paying taxes, income or otherwise, as we do in any other crook in our lot, for they are all ordained by God and all come from the hand of God.

    April 11, 2012
  6. joe #

    “Certainly, some duties, … do not call for giddy ecstasy.” Brother, surely our present tax system must be one of these duties. I’ve no issues with a head tax. I am, after all a citizen of my country. What about income taxes that make me a slave of the gov’t? Aren’t we God’s free men? What about property taxes? The earth and the fulness thereof belong to the Lord and he distributes His stuff as he sees fit. Then the gov’t comes along and essentially asserts ownership of your property (property taxes are rent you pay the gov’t for your property – don’t pay them and they’ll take your property). Just a couple of things that can be added to the “excessive tax rates” mentioned in the post. Indeed it’s difficult to be “joyful,” when the current tax system is unjust (resulting from the gov’t doing things outside of it’s biblical sphere). This seems like a far more complex issue than this post suggests.

    April 11, 2012
    • Joe, you are right that this is a very complex issue. The post makes a couple of points but is not intended at all to be all-inclusive. We do need to labor for change in our tax structure. There’s a lot more work to be done in this area – that’s part of the point of the post. However, let’s not make everything so complex that we separate obedience from joy. Jesus delighted to do the Father’s will (Psa 40:8), and if it is the Father’s will for us to submit to certain authorities, then we must delight to do the Father’s will.

      April 11, 2012
  7. Pete Smith #

    The discussion in the comments section is quite interesting. Makes me wonder what the effective tax rate is for the blogger and the commentators. When I was in the pastorate and had 4 children my effective income tax rate was negative. However, that has all changed now that I am no longer in the full-time pastorate. But leaving that aside, Paul wrote to the Romans to render to all what is due them be it tax or custom, fear or honor. So I will pay my taxes this coming April 17. I may not like the current system, but it is the system we have. I may lobby and vote to change it, but in the mean time I will pay, being joyful and grateful that I live where I live. And remember that Caesar/Rome was far more oppressive than uncle Sam.

    April 11, 2012
    • Pete, those in the Roman Empire paid no where near the 40 – 50% tax rate paid by most of the middle class of the American Empire.

      April 12, 2012
      • Pete Smith #

        Kurt, you are correct re: tax rates, and yet historians talk about excessive tax rates in the empire and the debasement of currency as contributing factors to Rome’s collapse, however, I was speaking more broadly of Rome’s oppression. Citizenship was limited – most people under Rome had no rights at all; slavery was common; etc.

        April 12, 2012
  8. While I agree with Pastor James, I have to also make note that all men in the United States of America do pay some taxes from their income when they make purchases that require a State or Federal Tax attached to the purchase. I am not knowledged in tax law. If I am not mistaken a State and Federal Sales Tax is immediately attached to the purchase of certain items and services rendered.

    Those of us who pay this sales tax probably don’t realize how much we pay into the public coffers. My point is that everyone does pay taxes. It isn’t just the 54 % who have to pay. And maybe the Government calculates this into why the other 46% don’t specifically pay directly from their stated income.

    Just thinking out loud.

    April 11, 2012
  9. alcoramdeo #

    In Psalm 16:11 David says to God, “in your presence there is fullness of joy,” and again in Psalm 139:7 he asks, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” continuing on to elaborate on the impossibility of avoiding or evading the divine Person. Whether or not we acknowledge it, we live before the face of God and under His constant view. Whether or not we choose to appreciate and enjoy it, there is fulness of joy in His presence.

    The post above is not primarily about paying taxes, but regards our engaging in the privileges of practicing discipleship to our Lord Jesus Christ, one of which happens to be rejoicing in all things, even paying taxes.

    The difficulty occurs when we confuse ownership with stewardship. We are cautioned in Scripture to keep mindful that we do not belong to ourselves, but are twice-over the property of God: first because He made us and, much more, because we were redeemed from our fallen estate at the inestimable cost of the precious blood of God’s only begotten Son. We are to present ourselves to Him bodily, which must include all which pertains to us, and to be renewed in the spirit of our mind. We have nothing that we weren’t given, no matter how hard we may have worked for it. If our affections are set on things above and not on the earth, we cannot be grudging, even against thieves. Those who would rob us commit their crimes not against us, but against our Lord, and will answer to Him for it. We can and should pray for their benighted souls.

    The joy factor comes much more readily (though not necessarily easily) when we know and confess that we lose nothing nor risk anything by placing our full trust and hope in Christ. Let us embrace the living God of the Bible as our Lord and King, and divest ourselves of thinking of Him as merely a guiding principle or concept. In His PRESENCE is fulness of joy, whom having not seen we love.

    April 11, 2012
  10. Jeff Kessler #

    Hey Jon….become Amish…where even the lay person can escape the Ponzi scheme.

    April 12, 2012
    • No need to become Amish, Jeff. Aren’t we all “ministers of God” in the church? Maybe, you can look into how we can get that minister legal status so we all can reap the benefit of the housing tax credit and opting out of Social Security.

      April 12, 2012
      • Pete Smith #

        To clarify, the housing tax allowance was introduced so pastors who rented/owned their homes would receive similar tax treatment as those who lived in manses or parsonages. You may reap the benefit of the housing allowance – live in a church owned home. This allowance is similar to the one offered members of the military. The amount of the housing allowance actually spent on housing, up to fair rental value, may be excluded from income for income tax purposes, but it is included for Social [In]Security purposes. So a pastor will pay 15.3% in Social Security taxes, er, contributions, on that housing allowance.

        And if a minister opts out of Social [In]Security he must do so for a matter of conscience. And then only income received for work as clergy is treated as exempt from SS taxes. If the pastor has a side job or business he will pay SS on that income.

        April 12, 2012
    • But then Jon would have to shave the ‘stache…

      April 12, 2012
  11. Ron #

    I think we have two issues here – the injustice of of our current taxation system and our attitude before the Lord in all that we do, including paying taxes.

    April 12, 2012
  12. Jeff Kessler #

    James, thanks for the courage to bring this up. You had to know it would bring comments.
    To answer your original question: NO I don’t delight in paying taxes. Perhaps I’m in sin for this and I plan to spend some time in prayer over the issue.

    As for our current tax system, to be critical of it is to attack the symptom and not the desiese. This system makes perfect sense when you consider we have become a socialist country. If the church is serious about the tax system, she must be willing to go after the socialism first.

    Socialism has grown by great leaps under Wilson, FDR, LBJ, and now BO. The other party has done little to slow it down and sadly at times added to it. Exceptions would be Reagan and the great Coolidge.

    April 12, 2012
    • Jeff,

      If it is obedience to God, is should involve some measure of joy, right? I suppose part of the challenge is in defining the nature of the joy. Jesus asked in agony that the cup be taken from him, but he is the same one who said “to do thy will I take delight.” If it is God’s will that we submit to a certain government, they we have to obey God with joy – trusting him.

      You comments on socialism paint with a rather broad brush, but then, so does my article in many ways. As for part of the background behind this article, I have a good friend running for public office in a district that pays very little in federal taxes and receives a lot of government funds. He points out that people will never choose different leaders unless they see the real cost of it all hitting them in the pocketbook in the form of taxes.

      Obviously, real change only comes with changed hearts. But don’t you think it’s at least possible that a change in tax structure might help to awaken people to the problem? Maybe implementing this idea would be like trying to get the tail wagging the dog, but it seems to be practical step in the right direction that flows from biblical wisdom.

      April 12, 2012
      • Jeff Kessler #

        I don’t much care where we start attacking the problem as long as we (the church) realize taxes are just a part of the problem and perhaps as I argued above a symptom of the real problem. I would argue the USA has become an European, welfare, socialist state. As such, our tax system fits rather nicely with what we have become. Just because if fits doesn’t necessarily means it works well over the long term…$15.5 trillion national debt being exhibit A.

        Socialism -economic central planning almost always accompanied by wealth redistribution- never works, is unBiblical and should be resisted by the church with as much (or at least almost as much) zeal as we resist abortion. The welfare part makes slaves of the poor. The tax part makes slaves of the rest of us.

        With all that said, I do realize and promote changed hearts…prayer, gospel preaching, etc.

        Socialism as I understand

        April 12, 2012
  13. Jeff Kessler #

    The Founders vs. The Progressives

    The Founders vs. The Progressives
    Posted: 11 Apr 2012 05:27 AM PDT
    What is the nature of man? Are we basically good people, corrupted somewhat by our environment, or are we flawed, and in need of divine help? The answer to that question is at the heart of the difference between our nation’s Founders, who wrote the Constitution, and the progressives, who came much later and dominate much of our political life today.

    The Founders wanted men of decent character to be our leaders. But even if the U.S. elected men of sterling character, their power, the Founders believed, should still be limited. Why? Because even outstanding people could make huge mistakes, or be corrupted by power. That thinking was reflected in the writing of the Constitution, which divided power among the president, the House and Senate, and the Supreme Court. The best chance to secure and perpetuate freedom, the Founders argued, was to divide authority among several groups.

    The progressives disagreed. President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), among others, believed in the perfectibility of man. If men were perfectible, they should be trusted with more power–so that they could overcome the fragmented power under the Constitution, and do good works directly for humanity. “[T]he only fruit of dividing power,” Wilson argued, “was to make it irresponsible.”

    Once Wilson was president, he only wanted to be bound by a “living Constitution,” a document he could stretch to do good works. To do good works, Wilson needed much federal revenue. Wilson favored a progressive income tax, one where some groups would be taxed higher than other groups. The Founders, by contrast, believed in equal opportunity (on most issues) and protection of property. A progressive tax, by hitting some groups harder than others, is by definition unfair and a potential deprivation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to those highly taxed citizens.

    The Founders believed that if some Americans were heavily taxed, and others taxed not at all, that we would be encouraging envy and instigating class warfare. No nation can endure if envy and class warfare is intense. Thus, a key question for our nation is this: Will we continue down the path of the progressives, or will we recognize that human nature is flawed, and that even good people entrusted with power may be tempted to increase it and deny constitutional liberties to others. Will we return to a more limited government?

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    April 12, 2012
  14. Jeff Kessler #

    The above is from Burt Folsom, Jr. He is prof. of history at Hillsdale College and author of “New Deal orRaw Deal?: How FDR’s Economic Legacy has Damaged America.” I received it today and thought it fit the discussion.

    April 12, 2012
  15. mama4liberty #

    I think the reason paying taxes touches a nerve with almost everyone is because one’s own life energy goes into earning and providing for himself/his family, and as a result it’s heart wrenching and can be embittering to see what you’ve poured your life into ripped away from you by corrupt and selfish bureaucrats. ‘Tis an old, old story, and that’s where God’s Providence comes in–trusting that God in His tender care for those who are His will take care of it from start to finish, just as Jesus did with the fish and the coin. He “establishes the work of our hands” and “supplies all our needs” despite efforts of the wicked to the contrary.

    In contrast, the tithe is a very beautiful and equitable thing. God takes the little we offer and does great things with it! We can completely trust Him to reward our gifts to Him, from whom we gained them in the first place, to see His Kingdom go forth, and to bless us for eternity. Makes me want to invest more in that side of giving.

    April 13, 2012
  16. Peter also thought that people should pay taxes with joy. The tax collectors came to the house where Jesus was staying, to collect taxes from Him, and Peter hastened through the house to give Jesus the “good news.” Jesus slowed him down with a pertinent question: “What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
    Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
    Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them…”
    “Kings of the earth” might be a king, governor, president, congress, or whoever had attained to the position of being able to tax his people. “Strangers” are non-citizens. “children” are citizens of the country, rather than the immediate family of this ruler. Jesus asked this question under an ideal setting, as would be in our country, i.e., no socialist-minded beaurocrats in government, and no one bent on “redistributing the wealth of the citizens,” etcetera. When his thinking was jogged a little, Peter knew the right answer, and Jesus commented that the citizens should be free of that burden. Then He said, “Notwithstanding, lest we offend them…” Nothing was said about any “joy” of paying taxes, Jesus said that taxes should be payed to avoid offending the authorities. That’s sort of what we do now.

    Peter was, by trade, a fisherman, and Jesus told him to go about his business of catching fish. The extra fish for taxes would be provided, even miraculously, if need be.
    By the way, the slogan, “Render unto Caesar the things which belong to Caesar,” does not apply.Tax money earned by working people does not belong to the government unless first the government steals it.

    November 16, 2012

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