October 10, 2013

Faith & Finances – Taxable Integrity

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’” (Mark 12:17 / NIV).

“What the IRS doesn’t know won’t hurt them.”

Those words came from my college professor while justifying his reasons for intentionally misrepresenting his tax returns. In view of the recent scandals involving the Internal Revenue Service and their intrusions into people’s privacy, it would be tempting to agree with his philosophy. It is easy to rationalize our actions when there is corporate misconduct – even easier when it benefits us financially.

The justification goes something like this: As a Christian who gives to the local church and missions, I sponsor and support many homeless, underprivileged, widowed, and orphaned people, and the government doesn’t seem to be doing an adequate job addressing this need; therefore, it’s okay for me to “creatively doctor” my tax returns since I’m already doing my fair share for the nation’s good. Another rationalization is: since the government continues to sponsor organizations and fund activities that oppose Scriptural morals, it’s okay to fudge on my tax returns to reduce the amount of taxes I owe. Unfortunately, this perspective doesn’t align with what Jesus taught.

The Pharisees brought a similar “situational ethics” question to Jesus. “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (Mark 12:14). Although they were trying to catch Jesus in a no-win situation, I love His wise response. By telling them to pay Caesar his dues and to pay God His dues, Jesus changed the entire paradigm. Instead of a question of financial obligation, He made it one of financial integrity.

As a resident of the country, I am obligated to pay my fair share of taxes. When Jesus said to be “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew10:16), I believe it includes being knowledgeable about the tax code and using as many legal allowances available to reduce my overall financial exposure. However, I am also accountable to a higher moral code.

One day, I will stand before God to give an account for all my actions (Romans 14:12). This includes explaining my taxable gains, losses, and write-offs. Since God’s audit process is much more thorough than the IRS, my financial integrity must incorporate prudent practices that stand up under God’s scrutiny. All our financial resources are blessings from God. He will hold us all accountable for honest stewardship – including the money we’ve hidden from the IRS.

Now if we could just hold the IRS accountable to that same standard…..

As a “missionary kid” who grew up in a Christian home and church, Nate Stevens has enjoyed a 30-year banking career in a variety of leadership roles. Recently, God made it clear he should use his writing talents for God’s kingdom. He writes online devotionals for his home church (Calvary Church in Charlotte, NC) and articles for several other publications. Information about his book, Matched 4 Marriage – Meant 4 Life is available at www.natestevens.net. God is opening doors for speaking engagements at conferences, seminars, and Bible study groups for singles, young adults, young marrieds, and youth. Nate currently lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, and is an active dad with his two awesome kids, Melissa and Mitchell.

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