Here’s a test to see whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. When I say “April,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If you say “Spring,” you’re basically an optimist. If you say “Taxes,” you’re inclined to be a pessimist. If you’re a “Taxes” person, you may want to correct me and insist that you’re just being a realist; you want to take care of your taxes first so that you can begin to enjoy spring. You rightfully point out that the person who said “Spring” might go through a last minute panic on April 15, or may even pay a penalty for a late filing. Both of you, optimist and pessimist, probably have this in common – you resent every dollar of taxes you pay.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul encouraged us as believers to accept taxes as the logical cost of living in a stable society, where government protects us from fear, insecurity and chaos (Romans 13:1-6).
The TurboTax company has been running an ad that gives this a very personal twist: “That’s what taxes are, a recap, the story of your year.” If you watch the ad at http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7fpP/intuit-turbotax-the-year-of-the-you you’ll find that the average taxpayer is taken through a variety of positive experiences during the past twelve months that have in some way been enabled by the fact that a stable government makes life predictable. It’s kind of like going through a secular stanza of “Count Your Many Blessings.” Then the happy taxpayer is asked to go on line and begin filling out the answers to the site’s simple questions, all the while celebrating 2013-14 as “The Year of the You.”
At the end of Paul’s discussion in the Romans passage, he takes the personalization of taxes in a different direction:
“Pay to all what is due them-taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (verses 7-10)
Paul begins by saying that taxes are simply a cost of living in society, as is paying your debts (“revenue to whom revenue is due”). Then he moves out into other areas of obligation, such as respect for those around us and honor toward those who have achieved certain status or accomplishments. And without missing a beat, he begins talking about love.
Love is our ultimate obligation. Like taxes and respect and honor, we owe love as part of our existence in the human family. Just as paying taxes implies our indebtedness to our government for services rendered, paying love to the people around us, who are created in God’s image, is the only fair response to the love we have received from him.
Paul reminds us of the Ten Commandments, which we sometimes see as a difficult burden (as we do taxes). But he echoes the teachings of Jesus when he makes the sweeping statement “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” If you consistently show love to others, you can write on line 76 of your spiritual 1040 “PAID IN FULL.”
Back to the TurboTax ad. “The Year of the You” is celebrated by paying taxes. Can you look back over the past twelve months and review loving interactions and attitudes toward family members, friends, neighbors, Democrats, Republicans, homeless people, policemen with radar, tattooed gang members, Taliban zealots, Wall Street stockbrokers? If you can, you’re a better person than I am. I still owe a lot of love taxes.
—Pastor George Van Alstine