The Christian Taxpayer
- 2007 30 Mar
Jesus was once asked about paying taxes. In Matthew 22:16-22, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees regarding to necessity of paying taxes. Of course, they weren’t really interested in knowing whether or not they needed to pay taxes. They were more interested in trapping Jesus. But, as usual Jesus not only puts the Pharisees in their place, but gives us some wisdom to live by.
You are impartial and don't play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to the Roman government or not?" ... Here, show me the Roman coin used for the tax." When they handed him the coin, he asked, "Whose picture and title are stamped on it?" "Caesar's," they replied.
"Well, then," he said, "give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God." His reply amazed them, and they went away.
Jesus acknowledged that the government makes lawful requests of us. We are responsible to God in all things, but we must be obedient to the powers that be in things civil and national.
In Romans13:1-7, Paul confirms what Jesus was talking about:
Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience.
Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honor to all to whom it is due.
Jesus and Paul make it clear that we are to pay taxes because we are to respect the governing authorities. As a Christian, we also have a higher calling than the law to be ethical and completely honest about everything. I have spoken to many people who tell me that it’s ok to cheat “a little” because the government gets enough already. But Jesus told us in Luke, chapter 16, verse 10: "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much."
The basic distinction to be made is between "tax avoidance" and "tax evasion.” It's okay to minimize taxes by taking advantage of legal provisions of the tax law, or even taking a sensible position on a vague question of law. But we cross the line into tax evasion, which is a criminal activity, when there's no sincere claim of truth.
A good way for the average person to distinguish between a prudent plan to save money and an illegal and immoral scam is to ask a reputable tax adviser. If this professional openly advises that you don’t have to declare sheltered income, he or she probably believes your acts are solidly defensible. But an evasive answer such as "nothing will happen to you if you don't report" is a sign of danger.
Another guide is the degree of secrecy called for. Watch out when ordinary, prudent discretion crosses the line into "cloak and dagger" activities like wiring small amounts repeatedly, moving cash or using way stations in moving money, etc.
Of course an accountant, like a lawyer or a judge, may interpret the law in a completely new light - if the interpretation is professional and defensible. One thing we know about the law is that it is not always easy to interpret (hence Einstein’s belief quote above). But it is unethical to make an audacious claim based on the hope that the tax authorities won't notice.
Personally, I take full advantage of all of the tax deductions the government allows me. I take deductions for my charitable donations, business expenses, gas mileage, and anything else that is provided for in the tax law. I have come across quite a few people, Christians included, that cheat on their taxes. And, in every case, I have been able to show them that by keeping good records and playing the game ethically, they can actually pay less taxes AND honor God. And a funny thing happens when you honor God: He blesses you.
This article originally posted March 3, 2008.
Steve Scalici, CFP® is the Senior Vice President of Treasure Coast Financial, located in South Florida. Steve is available to speak to your church or organization. You can contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or 772-600-1053. Steve is a registered representative of INVEST Financial Corporation. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of INVEST Financial Corporation.