Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
The Bible tells us that a day is appointed for all of us to die (Hebrews 9:27). But, there is also appointed a day for us all to pay taxes, it seems. For Americans, it’s April 15. But recent circumstances changed that.
In 2018, Tuesday, April 17, was Tax Day since April 15 fell on a Sunday and April 16 is Emancipation Day. Then, two years later, the date was extended by three months to July 15 due to the escalating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government had never extended the deadline before then. The Internal Revenue Service announced later that year that there would not be another blanket filing delay.
Even after indicating as late as mid-February this year that the tax deadline would not be extended, the Treasury Department and IRS officially announced that the filing due date would be automatically extended from April 15 to May 17, 2021.
April 15 has served as Tax Day in the United States since 1955, but the IRS can delay the filing deadline when it coincides with a holiday. While the federal government does not observe Emancipation Day, the IRS recognizes it as a legal holiday because it’s observed in Washington, D.C.
Taxes appear to be certain. The date not so much.
Why pay taxes?
We live in a transactional world. For every cause, there is an effect. If we want to have Medicare and Medicaid, a national defense, and other services, there is a cost. And after a year living under a pandemic that affected the national economy for all Americans, we most likely will see a greater effect.
Higher taxes at all levels of government are anticipated. President Biden said in an interview on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, that he plans to raise taxes on Americans making more than $400,000 a year as his post-stimulus legislative plans come into focus. “Anybody making more than $400,000 will see a small to a significant tax increase. If you make less than $400,000, you won’t see one single penny in additional federal tax.”
Higher taxes are unwelcome but not new. Conditions were worse in Jesus’ day when he not only sought out a despised tax collector but also called for paying taxes, even in a corrupt atmosphere. Jesus “entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich” (Luke 19:1–2).
Tax collectors at that time were despised because they were considered traitors, Jews collecting money for the hated Romans. And they were corrupt. Rome charged a certain amount per person in taxes, then allowed the tax collectors to take anything over that amount for themselves. They became rich from their corruption, and Scripture makes it clear Zacchaeus was rich.
So what did Jesus see in Zacchaeus? How does the general public often feel about our elected officials and agencies like the IRS?
Zacchaeus could stop people on the road and charge a tax for the use of the road, for the cart, and for the animal pulling the cart. And Roman guards could protect him while he did so. As a result, he was grouped with murderers and robbers in the mind of the public. He was barred from the Jewish synagogue. Today, some feel the same about those who tax us.
Yet Jesus looked for him. As a result, Zacchaeus became a changed man.
None of us like to pay taxes. But, as citizens of this nation, we must. The account of Zacchaeus gives us a picture of what taxes were like when Jesus answered a question about paying taxes. It was not pleasant then, nor is it now.
Jesus set the tone for obedience to government authority when he was asked by the Pharisees seeking to entrap him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). The question required a yes or no answer, and either answer would pit Jesus either against the crowds following him or against Rome.
Asking for a coin for the tax, he asked the Pharisees whose image was on it. They replied, “Caesar’s,” to which he replied: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21).
The Apostle Paul clarified this image of citizenship when he called believers “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). American ambassadors live in foreign countries under appointment by their president at home. They are to obey the laws of the country where they are stationed and support its leaders. But they will always have a higher allegiance to their home country and leader.
So do we as ambassadors of Christ.
God’s word is clear on this:
- “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
- “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:6–7).
- “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).
It’s natural for us to divide our financial loyalties between what we owe in taxes and what we can keep for ourselves.
Unfortunately, such bifurcation is also common in our spiritual lives. Why?
Transactional religion vs. transformational relationship
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis observes:
The ordinary idea which we all have before we become Christians is this. We take as starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests. We then admit that something else—call it ‘morality’ or ‘decent behavior,’ or ‘the good of society’—has claims on this self: claims which interfere with its own desires. What we mean by ‘being good’ is giving in to those desires. Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call ‘wrong’: well, we must give them up. Other things, which the self did not want to do, turn out to be what we call ‘right’: well, we shall have to do them. But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on.
Jesus’ way is different.
Our Lord told his followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, my emphasis). God’s word calls us to “seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (Psalm 105:4).
If the Bible clearly calls us to live unconditionally for and with our Lord, where do we get the idea that we can separate Sunday from Monday and the “spiritual” from the “secular”?
The answer is in our cultural “genes.”
Do you remember studying Greek mythology in high school? Zeus, Apollo, and the rest of the pantheon live atop Mount Olympus but act more like humans than gods. Capricious and scheming, their lives read like an ancient soap opera. But the Greeks believed that they had to be worshiped before they would give worshipers what they wanted.
Thus, we find temples to the various deities across the ancient Greco-Roman world. In Corinth, a temple to Apollo stands in pristine condition. In Athens, “the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). The Romans renamed many of the Greek gods but continued their worship.
However, people in the ancient world did not want a personal, intimate relationship with these gods. Their deities were too conniving and untrustworthy for that. Instead, they developed transactional religion: if we give the gods what they want, they will give us what we want. The Greeks and Romans made their sacrifices to do their “religious” duty, then went about their lives.
When Christianity grew into the larger Greco-Roman world, some of its followers adopted this spiritual bifurcation. Over time, they separated the “clergy” from the “laity” and built buildings so the clergy could do their work while the laity watched.
But the Bible does not offer a transactional religion with a distant god; it offers a transformational relationship with a loving Father.
Jesus led a sinner to himself even on the cross (Luke 23:43). Peter and John met a crippled man and used his healing to witness to massive crowds (Acts 3:11–12). Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison at midnight, “and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). John turned his Patmos prison into a global ministry platform (Revelation 1:9).
This relationship, however, is founded on an unconditional commitment to Jesus as our King and Lord. Jesus began his public ministry with the announcement, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). He taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) and to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (v. 33). When he returns, his name will be “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).
Our God is king of the realm, not just his “castle.” He is king of Monday, not just Sunday, of our private lives, not just our public religion. He can lead only those who follow and give only what we will receive. To the degree that we make him our unconditional king by surrendering our lives to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), we experience his “good and acceptable and perfect” will for our lives and world (Romans 12:2).
We are to obey and serve our king, not because he needs what we have but as our loving response of stewardship and faithfulness to the One who “owns” all we have.
His government does not require one penny from its residents. It is because he can do so much more with us than we can do with ourselves. He will use every gift, ability, and resource we surrender to him for his greatest glory and our greater good.
Ben Franklin was right, it appears, as far as life here is concerned. We all face death and taxes. While some may cheat their taxes, there will be no cheating death before our Lord’s return. Those of us with dual citizenship, here and in heaven, will live for eternity with him after we pass through physical death’s portal.
But, as for taxes, they will cease.
Now, that’s good news!
Do not fear. God’s economy prepares us for 2021 and eternity.
By Chuck Bentley with Crown Financial
Recently, I spoke with a journalist over the phone who explained that he was on assignment to learn the differences in teachings about finances and economics among a variety of faith perspectives. He said that he was asking the same questions to “professing Muslims, Mormons, and Christians, as well as a number of others.” I had been recommended to him to represent the Christian perspective. While I feel somewhat qualified to speak on this topic, I always pray and ask the Lord to give me clarity of thought to represent his Word accurately and honestly in every interview. I am never sure if there will be a “gotcha” attitude behind the questions.
Fortunately, he seemed sincerely interested in knowing what I had to say. His first question was very direct and non-combative: “What is the most unique teaching about money in the Bible?”
Without hesitation, I said, “That it is not ours. God owns everything, and we are temporary stewards of anything he entrusts to us.”
The interviewer said, “That is interesting and certainly different from my other interviews.”
I could tell that he was not getting the answers he expected because we quickly moved on to other practical subjects about personal finances that he wanted to focus on, like giving, saving, and debt. Unfortunately, far too often as Christians, we only focus on what the Bible says about managing money, not on what the Bible teaches us to believe about money.
The pandemic has ushered in a time of great economic uncertainty. More and more people are nervous and worried about their finances.
Following the interview, I began to consider how, in today’s volatile economic environment, Christians should be the most prepared of all people to navigate the challenges we face without fear.
God’s Word gives us more than three thousand references on money and possessions with directives on our attitudes toward both. If we rely upon the economic principles that God gave us, we can get through this year and those ahead, readying for “that day” when we stand before the Lord to be evaluated for how we managed what he entrusted to our care.
Three parables provide a condensed look at God’s economy. I believe that these teachings of Jesus provide the operating system that defines just how radically different his economy is from the world’s. It consists of three essential elements: lordship, stewardship, and generosity.
Lordship: The ten virgins (Matthew 25:1–13)
In the parable of the ten virgins, five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise. The five wise virgins brought oil for their lamps, which I believe represents the Holy Spirit. The foolish negligently took no oil. When the groom finally returned for his bride, the foolish were unprepared. They tried to buy oil, but it was too late. Their money was worthless.
No amount of money can buy the Holy Spirit. He is of priceless, eternal value. The wise enter his economy with the recognition of his Lordship. The beginning point is to ask: Does the priceless Oil of God dwell within us? Is he Lord of our lives? Have we made him Lord over all things? We cannot enter God’s economy until he enters our hearts and transforms us from death to life, from darkness to light. Wisdom recognizes our need for him and responds with vigilant stewardship in honor of and in preparation for his return.
Stewardship: The talents (Matthew 25:14–30)
In the parable of the talents, three servants were evaluated on their stewardship. One servant was given five talents, one servant was given two talents, and one servant was given a single talent. It did not matter if they had a lot, a little, or were somewhere in the middle. All three stewards were evaluated. It appears that the parable is about the affluent, the middle class, and the poor, but it is really about the heart of all people when it comes to money and possessions.
Please note that these stewards were rewarded for their multiplication of what the Lord had given them. This is not a generosity parable; it’s about work and multiplication. A key responsibility as a steward is to multiply resources. This is the mandate to be fruitful and multiply all that has been entrusted to us.
To the servants who were faithful, the master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). In other words: “You’ve made me happy. I’m thrilled with you. You’ve done it right.” I marvel at the thought that God would be so pleased with the multiplication of what he has given us!
He will put the faithful stewards in charge of cities. They will be his managers, in charge of much. Heaven is not a vacation!
In contrast to the doomsayers of the world who view the earth as overpopulated with greedy consumers of its resources, God created his people to be producers. Working diligently, more resources are created than we need for ourselves. This affords us the privilege of being generous with others.
Matthew 5:5 offers this promise: “The meek shall inherit the earth.” He will reward for all eternity those who are willingly obedient. This can be applied to our use of money. Those who overcome their own selfish desires and use all they have for God’s purposes, in addition to providing for their own families, will be trusted with eternal, God-honoring positions of responsibility. His stewards are the workforce of heaven.
Generosity: The sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31–46)
You know the difference. There are the sheep, and there are the stubborn ones—those who refuse to follow the master’s lead. Goats are very, very stubborn. They use their heads to butt and will not be corralled. Jesus essentially said, “Don’t be the goat. Be the sheep—those who obey their Shepherd by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, tending the sick, welcoming the alien, and taking care of the less fortunate.”
God makes this aspect of his economy very personal. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). He said, in essence, “You did those things unto Me. I was hungry, and you fed Me.”
As believers, we should aspire to live as sheep who follow the Shepherd. Sheep are generous, giving away their number one product every year—their wool. They are sheared to near nakedness year after year and just keep giving and giving. In fact, their entire lives are ones of giving until, ultimately, they are sacrificed and consumed as Jesus was. I think that’s why he calls us sheep. He wants us to be sacrificially generous with what he provides.
So, how do we tie lordship, stewardship, and generosity together?
When we acknowledge him as Lord of our lives and multiply the resources he provides, we have something to share. We are enabled to give to those who need help. This is the system he designed. It is the economy that carries his blessings to the lost and hurting.
With his Spirit inside of us, we have oil in our lamps. We have been set apart to value things differently than the world—to know what has lasting value and what true riches really are.
When these principles are right in our hearts, we’re truly set free to operate in God’s economy, to faithfully manage whatever he gives us in the present while also anticipating the day we stand before him.
So, here we are in 2021, with ever-increasing economic challenges, not only in America but also in the global economy as well. Do not fear. His principles, like him, are unchanging and reliable. Make him Lord of your life. Faithfully steward all that you have been entrusted with. Give to those he puts in your life, to bless and advance his kingdom. No matter what happens this year or any other year, you will be laying up for yourselves the “better and lasting” treasures that cannot be lost, stolen, or destroyed.
As I shared with the journalist, all that we have is not ours. God has better and lasting possessions prepared for those who love him (Hebrews 10:32–36).
If you would like to learn more about God’s economy, visit us at crown.org.
Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian financial ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, 7 Gray Swans, Trends that Threaten Our Financial Future. You can follow Crown on Facebook.