Paul brings to his readers’ attention their responsibility to pay taxes imposed by the government. What taxes were required in Rome? There were taxes on produce, on property, on personal income, on selling slaves, and on other things. Apparently, one reason why the Empire later collapsed was due to the reluctance of people to pay tax.
We know that taxes in our country are used to provide benefits such as health care, education, provision for the poor, protection from danger, roads and other benefits. I think we can see that these things come into the category of love towards one’s neighbour. When the government uses taxes to provide these things, we should see that it is serving God.
Yet we also know that governments use taxes to pay for things that are not in line with what the Bible advocates. What do we do with regard to such? I think we can be helped in this regard by noticing what Jesus did. On one occasion, he was asked was it correct to pay taxes to Caesar and he replied that it was, even although some of the ways the taxes were used would have been wrong. He taught people that Caesar had authority and it should be acknowledged.
On another occasion, Peter was asked if Jesus paid the temple tax, which was based on the instruction of Moses in Exodus 30 that a person could be taxed in support of the tabernacle. By the time of Jesus, the temple authorities had adjusted that divine instruction and replaced it with their own practice of an annual tax. Even although their method did not have written divine approval, Jesus told Peter to pay the tax for them both in order to avoid causing unnecessary offence and even arranged for a fish to have the coin in its mouth (Matt. 17:24-27). Everyone knew that taxes for the temple could be abused, but Jesus told his followers to pay the tax, otherwise it would give the impression that the temple did not matter.
As the disciples of Jesus we should see his common grace in action through the governments he raises up. None of them will be perfect, but when they enact laws that help society to function we should see that as expressing love for our neighbours. And we should thank God when that happens. Avoiding paying tax is the same as saying we don’t love our neighbours.