I have received my first tax return payment here in Germany. It was quite a generous sum. The country of Germany gave me back what I previously had given to The Salvation Army.That is actually how the system works here, though it certainly does not just happen by itself. Firstly, I need to give donations to a church or another organisation that contributes to the wellbeing of people. Secondly, I need to collect proof of that and then I can fill in a tax return form.
There is, of course, another basic requirement. I received something back because I work and pay taxes here. I am enjoying the benefits of this society because I am also contributing financially to it.
If you belong to a Salvation Army corps or another church, you are also part of a society, a fellowship of believers. However, there are some important differences in how the society of the world works compared to the society of God’s children.
No reward for work but a gift of grace
From God and from our friends in church we receive many things: love, fellowship, support, a place to worship God, an opportunity to use our talents - for example, leading worship or being a Sunday school teacher or doing other interesting things. However, nothing of the blessings we receive can be considered a wage for our contribution. All God’s gifts are given freely, by grace – in order that no-one shall boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). We can never work our way towards a reward from God or our friends.
Not a tax but a voluntary offering
Because we receive so much from God and his family, it is also expected that we give something back. The big difference to the way the world works is that God and our corps never tax us. God is special in the sense that he doesn’t take from us what rightly should be his. To him it is very important that we give time, money and talents as a voluntary gift.
Our relationship with God is one of mutual agreement, a covenant. It is not the relationship of a provider and customer. It is not the relationship of the law-making state and the citizen. It is the relationship of a Father who loves his child unconditionally.
My response in practical action
Jesus had a conversation where he makes clear how to handle paying taxes and giving to God’s mission through the church. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).
The meaning is clear. Pay the taxes that your country requires from you and give to God what he expects of you. So, what does God require from me? First of all, I think he expects you and me to have a heart open to his guidance, a heart and mind that are willing to obey him. That includes stopping making excuses for not giving regularly. Secondly, I believe he expects me to obey the instruction he gives. Give a tenth of your income, preferably to the fellowship you are part of. Then give more to God’s mission in this world, according to your ability (Malachi 3:10).
Read more on this subject in my post: ‘Giving and paying – the difference‘.
Enjoy the great freedom God has given you, in that he does not want to get money, time or services from you through legal demands. Keep that relationship of grace with God by organising your life with him in a way that makes the giving regular, enjoyable and an act of worship.