“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said.… “He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves 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: 11,14-18 (NLT)]
When the people of Israel demanded a king, Samuel cautioned them about the price they would pay. In spite of his warnings, they wanted a king and got the taxation that came with the government they wanted. Even without a king, government continues to reach its hand into our pockets and today is the deadline for filing our 2021 income taxes! We actually got three extra days this year because Emancipation Day, a public holiday in the District of Columbia, fell on the 15th. Security, protection, administration, infrastructure, and a legal system all come at a cost and taxes are the price we pay for the government we have chosen.
Although Ben Franklin said that nothing is certain except for death and taxes, some people actually 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”! 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 may not like the government or agree with the way they spend our money; nevertheless, because we are citizens of this nation, we’re obliged to pay for the services and benefits we receive. 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. While rendering unto Washington, let’s not forget that there was more to Jesus’ answer. We may be citizens of this nation but we also are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. As citizens of God’s Kingdom, we are to give to God that which belongs to Him—our lives, allegiance, and obedience.
Like the IRS, the rabbis of old established an elaborate system of tithing. The Levites received the first tithe—a tenth of all agricultural products (with each crop counted separately). In turn, the Levites gave a tenth of what they received to the priests. Rather than tithing goods, people could tithe with a product’s cash equivalent plus a 20% penalty. This, however, was not allowed with livestock which were counted singly with every tenth one becoming part of the tithe. The second tithe, taken from what remained after the first one, was to be taken to Jerusalem to be consumed there during festivals. The third tithe, taken after the first two, was to be given to the poor. While no tithes were taken in the seventh year, the first two tithes were taken in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years and the first and third tithes were taken in the third and sixth years. Depending on the year, the total tithe ran anywhere from 19 to 27%!
We don’t have an elaborate tithing requirement in the Christian church but that doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to render unto God His share. What we render unto God, however, isn’t a matter determined by the calculator; it’s a matter determined by our hearts. Moreover, it’s not just our material things that should be given to the Lord. Even if we’re penniless, we still have our time, talents, love, thanks, praise, worship, and testimony. If we wonder what or how much to give, all we have to do is ask Him. Whatever He lays on our hearts is what it should be—nothing more and nothing less. But, since we are to render unto God that which is His, let us remember that it all belongs to Him!