Have you sent in your IRS Tax return yet? Many of my retired friends finished theirs way back in February and probably would have done it sooner if they had the information. My younger friends have yet to face the dreaded 1040 because they haven’t had time to gather all of their financial information. Maybe you are self-employed, a business owner, or made a great return on your investment last year and you’re afraid that you owe taxes. I went for about thirty years owing nothing because I earned so little. When I retired and started withdrawing funds for much higher living expenses in a retirement community, I had not paid any estimated taxes the previous year. I was shocked at the amount I owed, even after praying about it. By God’s grace I could write one huge check to the IRS, but not painlessly. It required that I weigh the benefit of what I had received for living expenses with the ease of living in a country with good roads, good schools, and social security income. But even that did not assuage my feelings about paying money to the government.
I finally remembered the passage in Matthew recounting the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus with a trick question about taxes. Jesus rebutted, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) That did it; our Savior stated that we owe our government for the services they provide without prejudice. There are many interpretations of the verse regarding the relationship between civil government and Christianity, but for my purposes here, the minimum we should take away is that we are to obey our government leaders and their decisions. “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 13:7)
Some of us are quite opinionated about our government’s work, even serving politically. It’s hard to achieve a neutral point of view about things, and you may not want to, because you enjoy your ideas of how to make the government (any government) “right.” This is not the biblical view. We can look to David, King of Israel, for instruction in this matter. “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalms 131) David, seen as an enemy of King Saul, knew that God has raised him to be Israel’s leader. He “did not seek human greatness, or the great things of this world, for himself; he had no ambitious views… had no more ill designs against Saul than a weaned child; humble, meek, and lowly, and had no more aspiring and ambitious views than such an one…and as a child that is weaned from the breast wholly depends on its nurse for sustenance, so did he wholly depend upon God, his providence, grace, and strength; and as to the kingdom, he had no more covetous desires after it than a weaned child has to the breast, and was very willing to wait the due time for the enjoyment of it.” (1)
David’s example of peace amid intense conflict can serve us well if we are willing to humble ourselves and make the great trade of opinionated, resentful attitudes for the peace of God. After all, the historical fact of our salvation is that “…he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14). Refusing to confess our resentfulness or lack of respect for our governmental leaders and their decisions is unbiblical. As a matter of fact, by refusing to confess regularly, it’s as if we are working to rebuild the dividing wall that Christ has destroyed. In sincere confession, we remind ourselves that God is no longer hostile to us and we, in truth, in our souls, are no longer hostile toward him. Our internal warfare, between our new creation and our old sin nature, is exposed. But when we neglect to pray confessionally, we are turning our backs on Christ who is continually interceding for us as our great High Priest. Doing so is much worse than throwing a two carat diamond ring in the trash or taking a hammer to a brand new Rolls-Royce. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46) Should we not “sell” our obnoxious attitudes toward our government for peace with God? (2) After all, it’s the Lord who gave us these civil servants to protect and look after many of our practical needs in this life.
Recently, in one of my Bible study groups on Philippians, we shared about what gives us the most spiritual joy. For me, it is forgiveness for my sins. Some of the most glorious, peaceful and beautiful times I have shared with God are those when I pray to confess about one of my inadequacies and violations of God’s glory, when the Lord somehow assures me of his forgiveness. The hard work on my part is to recognize that I know very little and that everything I know is tainted with my sin. I am never pure, but I have a Savior who is and who delights in purifying me through prayer. We do the praying, but Christ, our Great High Priest through the Holy Spirit, is the one who gives us peace. I am not quiet, like David when I begin, but somehow by the end, I am like a suckling baby happy to be at her mother’s breast. The peace we find in prayer has the potential to be more than just a break in our routines or a desperate cry for help—it has the power of God to transform our thinking and our hearts. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) I wrote a bit about peace in prayer in three previous blog posts (3) and I will write about it again, because it is an essential grace for obtaining peace from and with God.
Why don’t we pray? Why don’t we want God’s peace? Maybe we are attached to our difficulties because they give us an excuse for our sin. Perhaps we are trying to solve our problems by ourselves because of pride. Or, we are angry with God and reject His peace because we blame him for our suffering, which he wants to ease. But, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh…” (Proverbs 14:30a) What’s stopping you from praying confessionally right now? How might God’s peace transform you?
(1) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 131, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-131.html
(2) “There is no suggestion of purchasing salvation, but that coming under the sovereignty of God means the complete denial of self…(John 12:25).” Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Matthew 13:45-46, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
(3) Devotions mentioning the value of prayer are January 17, March 7, and March 14.
March 27, 2019