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Paying Taxes

by David Johnson

IMG_0666(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program.)

It is good to be together again, to be able to look into the Word of God and to make personal application. The title for the lesson from the Scripture is, “To Pay Taxes,” and our text, the gospel of Matthew chapter 22 verses 15 through 22. Let’s listen to the Word of God.

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians, “Teacher,” they said, “We know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us, then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent said, “You hypocrites. Why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius. And he asked them, “Whose portrait is this and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s what is God’s and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. This is the Word of God.

Do you realize that even Jesus Christ paid taxes? On another occasion in our text Jesus had to pay a different type of tax. It is found in Matthew chapter 17 and verse 27. Jesus told Peter, “Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” Here in this context it was the annual temple tax, worth about who days’ wages, used for the upkeep of the temple.

You have probably heard the saying: There are two things that are certain in this life, taxes and death. Well, actually, for the Christian, if the Lord comes in the air and we are still alive, we don’t have to die, but we still have to pay taxes. Only dead people do not have to pay taxes. And there have been cases where even dead people were required to pay taxes. So only the payment of taxes is certain in this life.

But, again, have you ever been caught with a question that no matter how you answer, whichever way you answer, it would offend somebody? I once visited a church member in the county jail and there were about 20 men in the same large holding cell. And I was asked in front of all of these men: What do you think of ... and then they named a certain denomination, a certain Christian denomination. And I felt sort of entrapped with all eyes and all ears on me. Now, sure, I know the truth about what the Word of God says concerning doctrine, behavior and the things of God. But I also know that most people that you are trying to reach with the gospel are turned off if you condemn or if you criticize another’s denomination. Truth is certainly important and it needs to be shared, but it needs to be, that is, truth needs to be shared in love according to Ephesians 4:15. But, moreover, when it comes to the gospel, when it comes to salvation, when it comes to eternal life, it is not about a denomination. It is about being in Jesus Christ by genuine, saving, obedient faith.

The Pharisees and the Herodians were usually enemies. They teamed up on this occasion trying to trap Jesus in his own words. Usually, even as Christians, we are tempted to twist the truth rather than to offend anyone. Or we can choose not to answer to side step the question. Jesus Christ answered an entrapping, potentially self incriminating question truthfully and wisely, which is an object lesson for all of us in the future for our similar situations and circumstances.

In Matthew chapter 22 and verse 15 the Pharisees laid plans to trap him. Now you understand that the Pharisees were fierce Jewish nationalists. They were opposed to Roman rule and, for example, they deeply resented the payment of taxes to the Romans, to a foreign, Gentile ruler, Caesar. To pay taxes to a Gentile ruler was to admit validity of Caesar over them and to insult Jehovah God, their only ruler and master.

In verse 16 the Pharisees actually allied themselves with the Herodians. The Herodians were a party of Jews that supported, generally speaking, supported the Roman backed Herods, the puppet local leaders of Caesar. The Pharisees were a religious party, but the Herodians were more a political party, largely made up of Sadducees, rulers of the temple. The Herodians were the establishment. They didn’t want to rock the boat. They Pharisees were against the establishment and yet they conspired together because they hated Jesus of Nazareth that much. Hate is a terrible thing that can even unite bitter foes.

In the latter part of Matthew chapter 22 and verse 16 it says: We know, speaking to Jesus, we know that you are a man of integrity. You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men.
What is the tactic that these were using on this occasion? They were cunning like serpents and they tried to put Jesus off guard with flattery. As we would say today, they were buttering him up, false praise. Beware of people who speak with forked tongues. They try to lather us up when they are really conspiring, even laughing at us on the inside. And, here, they were getting ready to spring the trap.

In verse 17 then they sprang their venomous question. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Sounds innocently enough, but at issue here was the annual tax of one denarius, a silver coin with a value of about one day’s wage for a Roman soldier and it was a tax per person, male and female, aged 12 to 65. This was referred to as the poll tax and which was especially obnoxious to the Pharisees, because it was used to finance the occupying Roman army. The poll tax was called that, because it suggested that Rome owned even the people while most Jews viewed themselves and their nation as owned only by Jehovah God, by Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

So the conspirators, especially questioned Christ about the poll tax, because it was a trap. If Christ answered no it is not right to pay this tax to Caesar, the Herodians would charge him with treason against Rome. And it was not yet Christ’s time to be taken. However, if Jesus answered yes, pay it to Caesar, then the Pharisees would accuse him of disloyalty to the Jewish nation and he would lose at least some support of the people, lose his popularity among the masses. Evidently, this question was posed to Christ publicly for witness to hear.

And so either way that Christ answered, it was thought he opened himself up for trouble, self incriminated by his own words. And so the Pharisees and the Herodians thought they had him hook, line and sinker. He couldn’t wiggle out of this one, they thought.

In Matthew chapter 22 and verse 18 it says: But Jesus, knowing their evil intent... You understand no one can entrap the Son the unique, only begotten, one and only Son of God, because he is deity in bodily form and, therefore, omniscient, all knowing. And he knew their hearts. He knew their evil intent in their minds.
Now, by application, none of us can fake or hide our thoughts, our attitudes, and our motivations from the Lord. It is impossible. And so if we mess up, it is best to fess up, to be truthful with yourself, be truthful with others and to certainly be truthful with the Lord.

In Matthew chapter 22 and verse 19 Jesus said, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax,” which was a denarius. So what did Christ do? How did he answer this entrapping question? Now this is food for thought for the future, for us. First of all, notice that Jesus freed himself from their boxed in question with only a response of yes or no that they sought. Jesus is not someone that anyone can box in or dictate to. There is great wisdom here from God. When we receive a difficult, perplexing question, a thorny issue, we must not allow ourselves to be boxed in silently. We need to prayerfully ask God for wisdom.

Now sometimes silence or side stepping a question is wise or even answering a troubling question with another question. But lying or deceit or twisting the truth or not being truthful is never appropriate. God detests fakes, lying liars, deceit, the twisting of the truth.

In Matthew chapter 22 and verse 20 notice how Jesus answered. He answered with a question of his own while looking at the coin, “Whose portrait is this?”

In Jesus’ day the emperor, Caesar, was Tiberius. Therefore, on one side of the coin was the portrait or the image of Tiberius’ face. Jesus also said: And whose inscription is this? On the other side of the coin was engraved the inscription of Tiberius sitting on his throne in priestly robes.
Now in verse 21 they answered, when Jesus said: Whose portrait is this? They answered: Caesars, they replied. Then he, Christ, said to them: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. So Christ wisely said, in effect, Caesar minted this coin, the denarius. It has his portrait and inscription. So give it back to him. It is his.

Now there is an application for us today. We are certainly to give to secular authority in the form of taxes, that which is needed for the common good and for the needs of society where we live. Christ acknowledged government’s right to assess and collect taxes. Our duty is to pay taxes and we find this in Scripture. For example, in Romans chapter 13 and verse seven it says very plainly: If you owe taxes, pay taxes. God has instituted government. It is necessary for society and for the collection of taxes to deal with the needs of society, at least the basic needs. But also Jesus said: Give to God what is God’s, which should include, as Christians, our free will offerings for God’s work locally and abroad, mission work for the evangelization of those around us, for the giving out of the gospel and all the other needs of the Church, legitimate needs of the Church. And, therefore, Christ cleverly and clearly distinguished between Caesar the secular and God, the spiritual. Both have their place. As Christians we need to obey both.
But when a conflict does arise between the secular and the spiritual, between mere men and God, according to Acts chapter five and verse 29 we have the very important overriding principle. We must obey God rather than men when there is a conflict between the secular and the spiritual, between men and God. God is always our, as Christians, as believers, God is always our first and most prominent charge.

Now consider Caesar or a president’s image on a coin or currency. You remember that in Genesis chapter one and verse 27 it reads: God created man in his own image, in God’s image, which would include the image of God being for us, as human beings, that we have reason, as God does, intellect, certainly not at the level of God’s, but we are not mere brute animals. We have reason. We have intellect. We have emotion. We have will. And we have the ability to worship. As Christians, our will must be God’s will. And his will includes obedience to government including paying taxes. In our representative government if we don’t like certain taxes, we should retire legislators, not refuse to pay taxes.

But, lastly, regarding Tiberius and the inscription, the actual wording that went along with the engraving on a denarius, on a silver coin, the inscription that was inscribed there in Latin, the language of Rome was this, and I quote: Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus, end of quote. So when Jesus Christ the Son of God said: Give to God what is God’s, he knew whom alone is to receive glory, the one and only true God of the universe.

Have you made God your Lord and master in Christ Jesus through saving faith, through obedient faith? You must. We must make him Lord.


David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, IN.

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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10