Romans 13:6—Pay your taxes.
attending to this very thing.
It is because of conscience (“this”), as we saw in the previous message, that Christians in Paul’s day paid taxes and the reason we pay taxes. Our conscience should inform us that we are responsible before God to finance the administration of God’s appointed government. Paul echoes Jesus: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:13-17).
Roman taxation and the Jewish revolt
Roman authorities required people throughout the empire, including in the province of Judea, to pay two types of taxes: direct and indirect. Direct taxes were levied on landowners’ produce from farming and on manual workers’ registered income. Indirect taxes included tolls, market levies, and taxes on goods, and these were collected by tax agents who were able to jack up the amount owed and pocket a sizable percentage for themselves. In an attempt to minimize Jewish resentment, the Roman procurator in Caesarea employed Jewish tax collectors, but the Jews detested even these fellow countrymen.
Objection to taxes and other indignities led Jewish Zealots in a revolt against Rome that began with some initial success in 66 A.D. and ended four years later in catastrophe. The revolt began in Galilee. After Rome sent 60,000 troops to quell the revolt there, the surviving Zealots retreated to Jerusalem and set about killing all the moderate Jewish leadership who had opposed the revolt. It the summer of 70 A.D. Roman soldiers breached the wall of Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Approximately one million Jews died in the Great Revolt, and survivors were exiled. Not until 1948 did Jews regain political authority in Israel.
These consequences of the Zealots’ revolt were precisely what Paul feared could happen and one reason he warned Christians to avoid even the appearance of a threat to the state. No doubt some of the believers in Rome, especially those who had converted from Judaism, would have been sympathetic to the Zealots’ cause.
Compensation for public service
Paul refers to government workers as “ministers of God.” These people minister on behalf of the public for God in that they do good and restrain evil. Paul endorses fair pay for these public servants, whose duties for the common good fulfill God’s purpose. In this sense, the work performed by public servants is of a sacred nature, and the taxes we pay to enable their work are paid to God.
Bob Utley says that because government officials carry out a divinely ordained service, “Government is thus elevated into the sphere of religion.” In our nation’s present cultural climate, we readily see the irony of this statement, as most of the same people who want religion out of the public square also support bigger government, and many conservative Christians want a smaller government. The reason for this upside-down reality is obvious: our government now does some evil along with the good and restrains some good along with the evil.
We Christians must always support good government. Charles Swindoll sees a parallel with the advice God gave the Jews in exile at the time of Jeremiah: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Public servants deserve fair pay, but this principle must be balanced by Paul’s implicit understanding that government will efficiently and ethically fulfill its ordained role with the money it collects and not burden its citizens with unnecessary taxes in doing so. By implication, the taxes collected are to be used by government to restrain evil and keep an orderly society—not to enrich the political officials themselves or to punish their opponents through use of taxation as a weapon.
PS: A thought to ponder
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, said in his address to Harvard graduates, “In order for men to commit great evil, they must first be convinced that they are doing good.”