Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Here the apostle is dealing with our actual response to what these demands of government are. We haven’t the right to withhold taxes if the government doesn’t use them quite the way we think they should. Governments are made up of fallible men and women just like us, and we can’t demand that the government always handle everything perfectly. Therefore what Paul wrote to these Romans, who had the same problems we have about taxes, was, “If you owe taxes, pay them.”
The point the apostle is making clearly is: Don’t resent these powers of government. This is all set within the context of Paul’s word in Chapter 12, “Be not conformed to this present age,” (Romans 12:2a). Don’t act like everybody else acts about taxes. The world grumbles and gripes and groans at paying taxes. You have a right, of course, as does everyone, to protest injustice and to correct abuse. There is no question about that. But don’t forever be grumbling about the taxes that you have to pay.
I don’t hold up any defense for the gross injustices that prevail in our American system. But the very fact that we can meet for worship and don’t have to hide behind closed doors, the very fact that we have relative freedom from attack when we walk about is due to the existence of a government that God has brought into being. I want to make every effort I can, as a good citizen, to improve it and to see that it does things better. But we can thank God for the privilege of paying our taxes. This is what the apostle is after. He wants us to have a different attitude than the world around us about these matters. We are not to come on with gimlet-eyed fanaticism, attacking the government and seeking to overthrow it because it doesn’t behave quite as we think it ought. But rather, we are to understand that God has brought it into being, and he will change it if the hearts of the people of the land warrant that.
Somebody has well said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” And so as we pay our taxes, let us do so cheerfully. Remember that the apostle says not only that we are to pay our taxes, but if we owe respect, we are to give that; if honor, give that. Never forget that the worst of governments are, nevertheless, better than anarchy, and serve certain functions which God himself has ordained.
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Therefore let us respond as Christians, with cheerfulness and gladness for what we can do under God, and let us do so in such an attitude that people will see that there is something different about us. Thus we commend ourselves to God and the people around.
Our Father, help me to be faithful to my responsibility to show honor to those to whom honor is due, and respect to those who deserve it.
The taxation burden tests our willingness to respond out of obedience to the Word. Do we seek to respond to this pressure as dutiful and thankful servants of Christ?