Tag Archives: taxes

When to subject ourselves to the authorities, and when not to – Titus 3:1-8, Part 1

5 Aug
Photo by Jacob Morch on Unsplash

I recently heard what is reported to be a true story from a Sunday school teacher in Dublin, Ireland.  She writes, “I was testing the children in my Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting into Heaven. I asked them, ‘If I sold my house and my car and had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?’ ‘No’, the children answered.

‘If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the lawn and kept everything tidy, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again the answer was ‘NO!’

‘If I gave candy to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again they all answered, ‘NO!’

I was just bursting with pride for them. I continued, ‘Then how can I get into Heaven?’ A little boy shouted out, ‘You’ve got to be DEAD!’ **

It’s funny to hear things from a youthful perspective, isn’t it?  Yet when we tell the Gospel story, we can make it seem like what God really wants is for us to be dead.  You might think, “What?  How can you say that, Joel?”  What I mean is that we often start telling the good news of Jesus with, “When you die,” or “After you die.”   Have you ever heard the method of sharing the story of Jesus that starts like this: “Do you know where you’ll go when you die?” 

Is God only concerned with what happens when we die?  As we continue studying the letter Paul wrote to Titus, Paul will speak about this. Turn to Titus 3:1-8, which we’ll be studying in this series of posts.

In verse 1 Paul says to Titus, “Remind the people.”  Why do they need to be reminded?   Remember that Paul and Titus had been on Crete previous to Titus’ current trip.  They had seen people become believers in and followers of Jesus, and thus Paul and Titus had grouped these new Christians into house churches in various towns on the island.  During that initial trip, Paul and Titus had already taught the people what it means to know and follow Jesus.  Now Paul senses that the people need to be reminded.  So Paul is saying Titus, you need to remind the people in Crete of some stuff, and by extension you and I in 2019 need to be reminded of it as well. As we’ll see throughout this series of posts, God is definitely interested in what happens to humans after we die, but he is also very concerned with how we live in the here and now.

What do we need to be reminded of?  Paul has a list of six things in verses 1-2, and they all relate to how Christians live now.  In this post we’ll look at the first one in which he reminds them to be subject to rulers and authorities.  Paul was talking to a very different cultural and political context than our own.  Crete was a part of the Roman Empire in the first century.  Roman emperors would claim that they, the emperors, had become gods.  Thus the people should worship the emperor as their savior.  So in the Roman Empire there was a religion of emperor worship. 

Into that culture, Paul has been clear in teaching that Jesus is God, the true savior of the world. Just glance back at chapter 2, verse 13, where Paul says, “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  From there you can keep going back and see it in 2:10, and even at the very beginning of the letter in 1:4.  Jesus is God and he is the savior.  Not an emperor in Rome. 

One potential result of this teaching is that the new Christians on Crete could get the idea that they are free from having to obey Caesar or any ruler.  Caesar is no longer their lord.  Jesus is their Lord.  But that freedom in Christ could have disastrous consequences if not handled well.  Christians could believe they were above the law of the land, which could bring them into conflict with rulers, and that could be disastrous.  So Paul says the people need to be subject to rulers and authorities.  

I think it is best to see Paul as teaching that in the vast majority of situations it is right and good to follow the law.  Pay your taxes.  Obey traffic laws.  In a society that is attempting to base its legal system on justice, we can and should be subject to and obey rulers and authorities. 

But what about societies that are unjust?  Or what if one particular law is unjust?  That happens, right? It has happened many times in the history of the USA, and still happens today on the federal, state and local levels.  Thankfully we have a justice system to address this.  But justice doesn’t happen automatically.  It usually starts with individuals speaking up, and often practicing what is called civil disobedience to unjust laws.

The civil rights movement for example broke a ton of laws, but those laws were unjust.  Think of Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her seat on a bus.  What a wonderful Christian example of practicing civil disobedience to unjust laws.  In her case, the law of segregation, was unjust, based on racism and prejudice, and she was right to break it. 

We must remember that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first, and if human government creates unjust laws, we practice civil disobedience seeking to move our government and laws in the direction of justice.  In some places around the world, Christians have an exceptionally difficult time with this because in their countries it is illegal to practice Christianity!  We need to pray for the persecuted church.  Here in America, while our nation is far from perfect, there is still, enshrined in our Constitution, the pursuit of justice for all. So, Christians, let us be subject to authorities when they pursue justice, and let us practice civil disobedience when the authorities promote injustice.

**Thanks to Jim Ohlson for sharing this story with me.

Angry about taxes or money? How a widow can help!

15 Apr

Last week we looked at Jesus’ comment “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God was is God’s.”

How many of you gave money unto “Caesar” this week as you filed your taxes?  Michelle and I did.  It is almost always an agonizing process for me. When I work on taxes, I could definitely use a padded cell like the guy in this picture.  What gets me upset is a combination of how complex the forms and instructions can be, as well as saying goodbye to my money.

Our son had opened a bank account in 2015, and the bank ran a promotion where if you deposited money in the count through direct deposit, you would get a $150 bonus.  It was great!  But guess what came in the mail this year?  A form 1099 from the bank calling that $150 bonus as interest income, saying it was reported to the government and was taxable.  So he had to pay $4 to the Commonwealth of PA for that.  It is easy, from a story like that, to quickly get on to a bunny trail about how the government has its fingers picking our pockets.

But we’re not going to do that!  Instead I want to ask about the feelings going on in your heart and mind when you hear a story like that.  Maybe anger, maybe frustration. Where do those feelings come from?

Let me suggest that the feelings come from an unhealthy sense of ownership of our money.

In that one line Jesus addresses something that can be very hard for us.  Giving.  Whether it is giving taxes to the government or giving God an offering, if many of us are honest, we can feel negative about it.  We don’t want anyone telling us what to do with our money.  And not just government, but also God.  Or a preacher.  Too many government officials and preachers have abused their position and profited off of people.  So we can get really jaded about giving, whether to church or state.

Last week we talked a good bit about how to have a healthy attitude when it comes to paying taxes.  This week we’re going to see how some people had a very poor attitude toward giving to God.  It was the religious leaders.  But why?  They had a faulty attitude toward giving, Jesus will tell us, because they had a major error in their theology.  Jesus is about to lay a smack down on those high and mighty leaders again, and he’s going to get help from the unlikeliest of places, especially consider that culture.  He’s going to get help from a widow.

Check it out at Luke 20:41-21:4.  And join us at Faith Church to learn more!

How to handle confrontation

11 Apr

Spies, taxes, a woman with seven husbands, and the most intelligent man in the world.

That pretty much sums up the next story in our ongoing series on Luke’s Gospel, which you can read about in Luke 20:20-40.  In the story, Jesus is in the final days of his life, and he has bunkered down in Jerusalem, spending each day teaching in the temple courts, and each evening in prayer outside the city.  The religious leaders hate that not only is he on their turf, but he is doing their job leading the people, and the people adore him.  They send two groups to try to take him down.

The first group the NIV calls “spies”.  Jesus had wrapped the religious up in a lose-lose situation just before, so now they are hiding in embarrassment, and they hire secret agents to try to do their dirty work.  These secret agents come up to Jesus while he is teaching in the temple courts, and after buttering him up (“You’re such an amazing teacher!”), they try to snag him with a political controversy.  About taxes.

One scholar tells us that “The secret agents are in effect asking, ‘Are God’s people exempt from paying such a tax to a foreign power? Jesus, are you loyal to Israel, looking for its independence, or should we knuckle under to Rome?’”[1]

Though the Romans did bring some benefits, the Jews hated being occupied.  As any people would. So obviously the Jews were no fan of paying taxes to Rome.  Imagine if China invades the USA and occupies our land.  Then they start taxing us.  And our taxes don’t stay here to help improve our land, our taxes go over to China to help improve theirs.  How would you feel?

Paying taxes was as much an issue back then as it is now!  So Jesus is in a really tough spot here. If he agrees with paying taxes, he could be perceived in a very negative light by the people who hated paying taxes (pretty much everyone).  If he disagrees with paying taxes, he could be accused of sedition and charged with inciting insurrection, arrest by the Roman governor, and tried as a criminal.

There seems to be no right answer.  It’s another lose-lose situation.

As we see in verses 23-26, Jesus asks for a coin, then asks them to tell him whose picture is on it.  They say “Caesar” and Jesus responds with genius: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

Response by the secret agents?  Astonished silence.

Then Luke tells us that the religious leaders come out of hiding.  This second group, the Sadducees, try to trap him with a theological controversy.  

What was their theological issue?  Theology is the study of God.  So a theological issue is an issue about the Bible or doctrine, in this case, resurrection and marriage.  Luke tells us the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection.  They create what appears at first glance to be a bizarre case study thinking they could trap Jesus and hopefully discredit him in front of all the people.

Maybe it was a real story, a woman who outlived seven husbands.  The theological issue? In heaven whose wife would she be?

It sounds outrageous, but their example is using something from the Old Testament Law called Levirate marriage.  You can see from this passage in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 that if a husband died, his brother would marry his widowed sister-in-law to preserve his brother’s line.  So the Sadducees ask Jesus to imagine a family with seven brothers.  One gets married first, then dies.  One by one the brothers marry their sister-in-law and one by one they die.  Sound impossible?

My grandma outlived three husbands, which would have been enough to prove their point.

The Sadducees believe they have created a situation that clearly shows the ridiculousness of the doctrine of the resurrection.  A woman in heaven with seven husbands?  Who gets her?  You can see them looking at Jesus saying “There, how are you going to respond to that, smart guy?  Resurrection, which we have heard you talking about, is stupid!  Our situation proves it.”  Basically they are saying that Levirate marriage disproves resurrection.

But Jesus theologically outduels them.  He says “Well gentlemen, you are wrong in many ways.”

  1. This life is not like the afterlife. They are different!
  2. Not everyone goes to heaven. Only those considered worthy.
  3. And what’s more, there is no marriage in heaven.
  4. Resurrection is TRUE. Want proof?  Just open your Torah which you love so much.  What do you read there?  God is the living God, the God of the Living. Disproving your faulty disbelief of resurrection.

See what he does there? Another genius response that silences the religious leaders.

We can learn from Jesus’ Way.  How did he handle people who tried to trap him?

Have you ever been confronted?  I’m sure you have.  The confrontation could be about what you believe.  Could be about choices you’ve made.  Could be about a great many things.  How do you handle it when you are confronted?

Look at how Jesus handles himself:

  1. Remains self-controlled. He’s okay when people disagree with him. He doesn’t get offended, take it personally, or get angry.  He shows us a calm confidence.
  2. Does not cave on the truth just because high-powered people are confronting him.
  3. Knows the Word.
  4. Speaks the truth in love.

In the end Jesus silences both groups.  But not by force.  Not by telling the crowd to attack them.  He doesn’t use aggression or bully tactics.

Let us be people who respond to those who confront us in love.

That is true intelligence. Let us become like the one who was the most intelligent of all.

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 1611.

Spies, Taxes, a woman with 7 husbands & the most intelligent man who ever lived

7 Apr

The most intelligent person who ever lived? 

Albert Einstein?  Marilyn vos Savant? King Solomon?  Leonardo Da Vinci?  Stephen Hawking? Shakespeare? Newton? Mozart? Marie Curie?

I researched a bunch of “Most Intelligent People in the History of the World” lists, and there are plenty more candidates.  There are lots of opinions as to who should be on those lists, not to mention who should be #1.  Furthermore, does intelligence simply refer to IQ?  What about those who have shown astounding ability in the arts?  What about people who don’t have an astronomical IQ, but they have achieved great accomplishments.

While most lists didn’t include him, one of the “Most Intelligent” lists I found put Jesus at #5.  It’s not #1, but considering all the possible names, I thought it was interesting that he even made a list.  I was surprised by that because most people and lists don’t think of Jesus when asked to name the most intelligent person in history.

As we have seen in our study through Luke, Jesus was amazingly intelligent too.  In fact when I started this series over a year ago, I suggested that we would find out that Jesus was the most intelligent man who ever lived.  Now we near the end of the series.  We have only a couple more months, about 10 more sermons.  We have watched Jesus’ way, heard his words, and seen his amazing works.  Now we are in his final days before his arrest.  Each day he is teaching in the temple courts, right in the middle of the religious leaders’ HQ.  Not surprisingly, this has them shaking with jealousy and anger.  Last week, we watched as they had him in what appeared to be a lose-lose situation, and he got out of it with ease, binding the religious leaders in a lose-lose situation in the process.

This week, they are really upset again, and they try to trap him again.  The way he handles himself, intellectually, emotionally, physically, is amazing.  What do you think?  Was Jesus the most intelligent person to ever live?  If you want to preview the story, check out Luke 20:20-40.

Join us at Faith Church and judge for yourself.  (Oh, by the way, there will spies, a discussion about taxes, and a woman who outlived seven husbands.)