Ezra 7:24 “You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.”
How about that! This is the earliest mention I’m aware of of tax exemption for churches! Taxes were a big deal back then, no less so than today, so this declaration on the part of Artaxerxes was huge. Government often seems to be in the way of a lot of things (even though there are valid things that can be done best through government), but government is not above God. Sometimes politicians and bureaucrats seem to feel they are above God, but that is a sad delusion. Some governments, like North Korea, for example, actively set themselves against the God of the Bible. That can be terrible for believers on this earth, but it accomplishes nothing in the long run. Right now the whole world is anxious about what North Korea might do, but even if it is the trigger for a nuclear war (the worst possible scenario) it won’t ultimately block God’s plans. Human governments of all sorts are limited to this earth, which means they are strictly temporary. The only problem with that is that our physical bodies also are temporary, but the abiding hope of the believer is that there is far better to come. Paul famously tells us to pray for government leaders, for the express purpose of improving society. (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Government that functions as God intends can indeed be a good thing, but we are not to be dependent on even a good government. Rather, we are to recognize that we are accountable first to God, and then to human authority. There have been many forms of government down through the millenia and none of them have been – or are – perfect, because human beings aren’t perfect. Modern democracies give the populace far more voice in government than past forms of government, so every believer should seek God’s will in what part they are to play. However, we must remember that God is, after all, God, and never think that any human institution has more power than He does.
It seems a little strange to me that at this stage in my life I am so much more interested in government than I ever was as a young person. I have become something of a “news junkie,” and I’ve got to remember to let God show me what is and what isn’t important. At this point Japanese government regulations tend to be a real irritation, but I’ve got to remember to submit first to God and then to the government. I am to thank Him for His sovereignty over all things, and submit everything to Him in prayer. He can thread any bureaucratic maze! I am to thank Him for the high level of public safety and the reasonable level of personal liberty in Japan, while at the same time finding my own safety and liberty in Him.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the visit we could make to the group home yesterday, and for the hope that it gave us of being able to get through all the red tape ourselves. I continue to ask for wisdom for each of us involved in this project, and above all faith that it is Your project, and You are going to see us through to a successful outcome. Thank You. Praise God!