By paying taxes we avoid scandalizing our Savior’s name and making the gospel irrelevant.
In biblical times, the tax collector was the least respected person in society, yet Jesus called a “tax collector” (Luke 5:27), Levi, to be one of His disciples and then was bitterly accused of associating with his friends (5:29–-30).
However, Paul referred to tax collectors as “God’s ministers” (Gk. leitourgos, from which we get our word liturgy, or “religious service”), which is the same title given to Christ in His high priestly function in the “true tabernacle” (Heb 8:2), and Paul calls himself “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles” (Rom 15:16). These officials owe their authority to God, thus Paul says,“this is why [we] also pay taxes” (13:6).
The command is a financial integrity issue: “immediately pay everyone what is owed” means to “throw off a weight” and therefore have all debts up to date, taxes paid without cheating, and salaries paid to employees in full and on time.
The command is also a relationship issue: “respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” To respect (Gk. phobos) means “to fear,” a concept that varies from “respect” to “terror”; respect is demonstrated by listening to what is said and seeking to obey the instructions of an authority with a submissive attitude.
The fear aspect in relations with governments is real, as Romans 13:4 indicates: “He is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”
The command is also a political issue: “honor to whom honor” refers to respect for the “rank and state of office” regardless of who holds that office. Respect is vital in society.
It is supposed that Paul’s objective was to ensure that Christians would not provoke undue governmental reaction against the church, limiting its aggressive evangelistic thrust. Every businessman knows how to cheat on taxes, but the Christian must refuse to be disobedient regardless of the temptation.
We must commit ourselves to never do anything that would discredit the gospel or our Savior before the world.
“Lord, there are times when my greed or desire for things has put me over my ability to repay. Teach me the foolishness of my selfishness and give me the grace to sacrifice whatever it takes to pay every debt for Your name’s sake.”