So Samuel passed on the Lord’s warning to the people who were asking him for a king. “This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. … He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. … and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.” [1 Samuel 8:10-11,15-18 (NLT)]
Both prophet and judge, Samuel was getting on in years and appointed his sons to be Israel’s judges in his place. Unlike their father, they were corrupt and used their positions for financial gain. Adding to Israel’s problems, with each of the twelve tribes having their own leader, it was not a unified nation. This situation caused the elders to ask Samuel for a king to unify and govern their land. God warned them about the price they would pay for the kind of government they desired. Nevertheless, the people wanted a king to judge them, unify the tribes, and lead them into battle. They got their king and the heavy taxation about which they’d been warned. Trusting government rather than God came at a heavy price and, within one hundred twenty-five years, Israel had divided into two kingdoms.
Just as it did over three thousand years ago, government continues to reach into the lives and pockets of its citizens. Today, tax day, we’re acutely aware of that hand in our pockets. Security, protection, administration, infrastructure, and a legal system all come at a cost. Taxes are the price we pay for the government we have chosen.
Ben Franklin said that nothing is certain except for death and taxes. In actuality, some people do a pretty good job of dodging taxes. There is a fine line between tax avoidance and tax evasion and, as Christians, we must be careful not to cross it. Legally minimizing our taxes by taking all allowed deductions is fine. Hiding income, embellishing deductions, or outright deceit are not. We are called to be ethical and honest and that means no creative accounting! If it was four pairs of Levis we donated to the charity resale shop, we don’t list six pairs of designer jeans; if it was just a dollar that went into that red kettle at Christmas, we don’t say it was ten; and, if we’ve been paid in cash, we’re still supposed to list it as income. People who’d never pinch sneakers from Walmart, embezzle from their employer or stick-up a 7-Eleven, often think nothing of stealing from the government (and their fellow citizens). Not paying our taxes is no less wrong than shop lifting, misappropriating funds or armed robbery! A white lie is still a lie, petty theft is still theft and, no matter what we call it, a sin is still a sin.
We have dual citizenship. Because we are citizens of this nation, we’re obliged to pay for the services and benefits we receive. Because we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, it is to God we owe our allegiance and obedience. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He responded that we must give to the government that which belongs to it. We often forget that was not his entire answer. He also said that we must give to God that which belongs to Him. While we’re giving the government their share, we might want to pause and ask ourselves how we’re doing in the God department. A little creative accounting may fool the IRS but God cannot be deceived. He knows exactly how much we’ve been given. Are we joyfully giving back to God what belongs to Him: our tithes, offerings, time, talents, love, thanks, praise, worship and testimony?